“Did you say the stars were worlds, Tess?”
“All like ours?”
“I don’t know, but I think so. They sometimes seem to be like the apples on our stubbard-tree. Most of them splendid and sound – a few blighted.”
“Which do we live on – a splendid one or a blighted one?”
“A blighted one.”
– Tess of the D’Urbervilles
Thomas Hardy was born in 1840 and died in 1928, at the age of 87. A Victorian writer, he is best known for his dark and tragic novels. Tess of the D’Urbervilles (1891) is perhaps the most famous, but other notable works include Jude the Obscure (1895), Far From the Madding Crowd (1874), and The Mayor of Casterbridge (1886). In addition to his novels, Hardy also wrote a number of short stories and poems. Some short stories can be found in the collection, Wessex Tales (1888), while a number of poems have been compiled in Wessex Poems and Other Verses (1898).
When Hardy was born, he was pronounced a stillborn. It was a miracle that he breathed at all, let alone make it to adulthood. Most, if not all, of his writings are set in Wessex, the Anglo-Saxon kingdom located approximately where Dorchester is now. Due to his family’s economic situation, Hardy only attended school until he was sixteen years old. However, he later received training as an architect, and his career in this field taught him how important constructions of space can be, an awareness evident in much of his writing.
He married his first wife Emma Gifford in 1874. She died in 1912, and he married Florence Emily Dugdale two years later. Toward the end of his marriage with Gifford, the two were on very strained terms. However, her death still had a very profound impact on him. When he died, his heart was buried next to her. His ashes are interred at Westminster Abbey, in the Poets’ Corner.
All of Hardy’s characters are helpless against the hand of Fate. No matter what they do, the plot moves steadily and relentlessly toward the tragic finale. This motif appears in his poems as well. For example, in “The Convergence of the Twain,” Hardy writes:
Well: while was fashioning,
This creature of cleaving wing,
The Immanent Will that stirs and urges everything
Prepared a sinister mate
For her — so gaily great —
A Shape of Ice, for the time far and dissociate.
In this poem, the writer suggests that the”Immanent Will” had fated the Titanic (“this creature of cleaving wing”) to sink. There was nothing anyone could’ve done. It had been willed by one that “stirs and urges everything.”
EVOLUTION AND RELIGION
Like with many Victorians, Darwin’s The Origin of Species, published in 1859, had a tremendous effect on Hardy. The writer had been raised Anglican, but his personal faith has remained ambiguous. Darwin’s works definitely caused him to question Christian theology. In general, his religious views seem to be more spiritualist and centered around his unwavering faith in Fate. (Tess of the D’urbervilles ends at Stonehenge, a nod to religious traditions that existed in England before the arrival of Christianity with the Romans.) Nevertheless, Biblical references populate his works.
Hardy has a very complex relationship with nature. At times, he portrays it as a fellow sufferer under the hand of Fate. Other times, he fears its decay and laments its destruction by mankind. The Victorian Era coincided with England’s Industrial Revolution, which spread quickly to the rest of Europe and the United States. Still other times, he portrays nature as a thing to be respected and even feared, an attitude most apparent in The Woodlanders (1887).
Have you read any Hardy? What were some of your favorites?