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Thomas Hardy


Edited by Ann Godoff

Whitbread Award winner Claire Tomalin’s seminal biography of the enigmatic novelist and poet Thomas Hardy.

Today Thomas Hardy is best known for creating the great Wessex landscape as the backdrop to his rural stories, starting with Far from the Madding Crowd, and making them classics. But his true legacy is that of a progressive thinker. When he published Tess of the d’Urbervilles and Jude the Obscure late in his career, Hardy explored a very different world than that of his rural tales, one in which the plight of lower classes and women take center stage while the higher classes are damned. Ironically, though, Hardy remained cloaked in the arms of this very upper class during the publication of these books, acting at all times in complete convention with the rules of society. Was he using his books to express himself in a way he felt unable to do in the company he kept, or did he know sensationalism would sell? Award-winning author Claire Tomalin expertly reconstructs the life that led Hardy to maintain conventionality and write revolution.

Born in Dorset in 1840, Hardy came of age in rather meager circumstances. At sixteen, he left home for London and slowly worked his way through many rejections to become a published writer. Despite his mother’s admonitions to never marry, he wed Emma Lavinia Gifford in 1874 and, even though he fell easily in love, stayed true to her till her death in 1912. He frequently toured London society, but few felt they knew the true Hardy, and it is this very core of self that Tomalin elegantly brings us to know so completely.

Hardy’s work consistently challenged sexual and religious conventions in a way that few other books of his time did. Though his personal modesty and kindness allowed some to underestimate him or even to pity him, they did not prevent him from taking on the central themes of human experience—time, memory, loss, love, fear, grief, anger, uncertainty, death. And it was exactly his quiet life, full of the small, personal dramas of family quarrels, rivalries, and at times, despair, that infuses his works with the rich detail that sets them apart as masterpieces. In this engrossing biography, Tomalin skillfully identifies the inner demons and the outer mores that drove Hardy and presents a rich and complex portrait of one of the greatest figures in English literature.

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Other books by Claire Tomalin



Praise

“Tomalin comes through, recounting Hardy’s life with the amiable authority of a 19th-century novelist, unafraid of gentle, but firm, pronouncements (‘Like most people, he gave different accounts of what he believed at different times’). She has visited each important locale of Hardy’s life, noticing the large and seemingly simple things academic scholars often miss: ‘Most of his characters are prodigious walkers. Tess and Jude both walk themselves through the crises in their lives, and Jude effectively kills himself by walking in the rain.’ This is an observation that helps readers to square the circle of recognitions, to remember Hardy as a writer whose books they would once finish with the sudden need to get up from the chair and out of the house, to walk, alone, filled with the ancient surefire feelings of pity and fear.” —The New York Times

“Though there are objective ways to measure literary accomplishment, they fall far short of the scientific and ultimately are subjective. What matters most about Tomalin’s biography is the care with which she traces all of Hardy’s writing to its roots in his own life. Her study reminds us that though a knowledge of a writer’s life is unnecessary to an appreciation of his or her work, that knowledge can help us understand that work and its sources.” —The Washington Post

“This is the triumph of the biographer’s art, of which Tomalin is a master: to be absolutely true to the last scrap of fact-that is, never to embellish or contort those facts-yet to create something utterly new and undreamt of, something more than the mere sum of those facts.” —Chicago Tribune

“Admirable . . . One returns to Thomas Hardy with renewed pleasure and surprise.” The New York Review of Books

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