5 Fun Facts about Thomas Hardy

Thursday, June 02, 2011 at 5:00 AM

English novelist Thomas Hardy (1840-1928) posing for E. O. Hoppe
(LIFE Magazine)

Poet, novelist, short story writer and dramatist, Thomas Hardy was a nineteenth-century literary genius, whose profound influences continued to resonate years later in the works of famous literary stalwarts like D.H. Lawrence and W. Somerset Maugham.

Here's wishing "Happy Birthday" to an exceptionally gifted writer who gave us Far From the Madding Crowd, The Mayor of Casterbridge, as well as "The Darkling Thrush," among many others.

Despite his reputation as a great novelist, Hardy preferred to be known as a poet — who wrote novels for financial security. This pragmatism, often reflected in his novels, provided stark glimpses of contemporary reality — like the perils of Clym Yeobright in the rustic terrains of Egdon Heath in The Return of the Native.

Here are five fun facts about Thomas Hardy that shaped his character:
  1. Thomas Hardy was a skilled architect. He received his formal training from King's College, London, and went on to win accolades from the Royal Institute of British Architects. After the successful publication of Far from the Madding Crowd, Hardy decided to give up his vocation as an architect to become a dedicated poet and writer.

  2. Hardy almost gave up writing and destroyed the manuscript of his first novel, The Poor Man and the Lady, after several failed attempts to find a publisher for it. Noted novelist George Meredith is also said to have turned him down after a brief interview, urging him to experiment more with intrigues, rather than brooding protagonists. Hardy then anonymously published Under the Greenwood Tree, followed by Far From the Madding Crowd.

  3. The coining of the word "cliffhanger" is often credited to Thomas Hardy. The first mention of the word appears in one of serialized episodes of the novel A Pair of Blue Eyes, published in Tinsley's Magazine. Hardy depicts one of the protagonists, Henry Knight, as actually hanging off a cliff.

  4. Jude the Obscure received heavy criticism after publication in 1895 for expressing radical views on the institution of marriage and Christianity. Underlying motifs included children born out of wedlock and conjugal relationships between cousins. Some book merchants would wrap it in brown paper before selling it to the public. Hardy wrote an amusing postscript in the 1912 edition of the book, while referring to some of these incidents: "After these verdicts from the press its next misfortune was to be burnt by a bishop — probably in his despair at not being able to burn me."

  5. Hardy was a naturalistic writer and an ardent believer in Charles Darwin's theory of evolution. The plots of his novels were deterministic in essence, where the protagonists were subservient to the forces of nature, and their predicament was usually predetermined by environmental factors, which they had no control over.


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