On this day in history : 2nd June 1840 – The birth of English novelist and poet Thomas Hardy – who brought us classics such as ‘Far From the Madding Crowd’, ‘The Mayor of Casterbridge’ and ‘Tess of the d’Urbervilles’….

Thomas Hardy between 1910-1915 – Public domain

Hardy was born in Upper Bockhampton (now Higher Bockhampton) in the parish of Stinsford, near Dorchester…. His father was a stonemason and builder – and his mother, being educated, was his teacher at home until he went to school at the age of 8…. He attended Mr Last’s Academy for Young Gentlemen until he was 16 – he learned Latin and showed promising potential but the family did not have the means for him to go to university…. Instead he became an architect’s apprentice….

Hardy’s birthplace at Higher Bockhampton – Image credit : Martinevans123 – own work – Public domain

Hardy moved to London in 1862 and enrolled at King’s College…. He then joined the architecture practice of Arthur Bloomfield and became involved mainly with the restoration of churches…. However, he found it hard to settle in London – he became all too aware of class division in the city and felt himself to be socially inferior…. It led to him developing an interest in social reform…. By 1867 he’d had enough of London and returned to Dorset, to live in Weymouth…. It was at this time that he began to concentrate on his writing – although for his first novel ‘The Poor Man and the Lady’ he was unable to find a publisher…. After being advised by his friend, the poet and novelist George Meredith, that his book was too political Hardy destroyed the manuscript…. His next two novels, ‘Desperate Remedies’ (1871) and ‘Under the Greenwood Tree’ (1872) were published anonymously…. His 1873 novel ‘A Pair of Blue Eyes’ was inspired by his courtship of his future wife….

Hardy met Emma Gifford whilst working on the restoration of the parish church of St Juliot in Cornwall during 1870…. It was to be a long courtship, they eventually married in Paddington, London on the 17th of September 1874…. Being unable to have children may have put a strain on the marriage – it is known that they did not get along together very well…. Her delusions of superiority would not have helped matters much either – Emma regarded herself as being above her husband socially and it appears did little to hide her feelings….

In 1885 they moved into ‘Max Gate’ – a house which Hardy had designed himself and was built by his brother…. Emma became involved with the Suffragist movement and she and Hardy began to lead separate lives, to the point of becoming estranged…. In 1912 she died – and despite their differences Hardy was devastated…. Nevertheless, just two years later he married Florence Emily Dugdale, his secretary and nearly forty years his junior…. Florence was also a writer in her own right, as the author of children’s stories….

Florence Hardy, 1915 – Public domain

Hardy’s own writing career was now beyond established…. ‘Far From the Madding Crowd’ had been written in 1874, ‘The Mayor of Casterbridge’ in 1886 followed by ‘Woodlanders’ in 1887…. ‘Tess of the d’Urbervilles’ was met with controversy in 1891 and was initially refused publication – Victorian society was scandalised that a fallen woman could be viewed in a sympathetic light…. ‘Jude the Obscure’, published in 1895 was even more controversial – due to the way it dealt with religion, marriage and sex….

In December 1927 Hardy developed pleurisy – he died at home on the 11th of January 1928…. His funeral was held on the 16th of January at Westminster Abbey…. He had always expressed his wish to be buried with his first wife, Emma…. However, it was insisted upon that he be interred at Poets’ Corner within Westminster Abbey…. Therefore a compromise was reached…. Hardy’s ashes were indeed interred in the Abbey – but his heart was buried with Emma at Stinsford….

Max Gate is now owned by the National Trust – as is his birthplace at Bockhampton….

Max Gate, 2015 – Image credit DeFacto – own work – CC BY-SA 4.0

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