Friday, June 2, 2006

Common Sensibilities Redux - Rain and Thomas Hardy

It's the birthday of novelist and poet Thomas Hardy, born in Higher Bockhampton, Dorset, England (1840). Dorset was a poor, rural county where life hadn't changed very much for hundreds of years and older people spoke a local dialect similar to German. Hardy would stay up late reading poetry and magazines, and listening to his grandmother tell stories about the time of Napoleon. His father was a mason and a building contractor, and when Hardy was sixteen he left school and became an apprentice to a well-known architect.

He was more interested in poetry than architecture, though, and he would get up early every morning to study Latin and Greek. When he was twenty-two he moved to London, where he began writing his own poetry. He wasn't able to publish it, and so he tried writing novels instead. His first novel, Desperate Remedies, was published anonymously in 1871. His first big success was Far from the Madding Crowd, published in 1874. He went on to write The Return of the Native (1878), Tess of the D'Urbervilles (1891), and Jude the Obscure (1895), and he became one of the most popular novelists of his time.

Most of his novels were first published serially in popular magazines, and Hardy made sure not to write anything that might be considered too offensive to his readers. But when he published Tess of the D'Urbervilles in book form, he included several chapters that were cut from the magazine version.

Tess of the D'Urbervilles is about a young woman who has an illegitimate child and eventually goes on to murder the child's father, but Hardy portrayed the woman sympathetically and critics called the book shameless and immoral. His next novel, Jude the Obscure (1895), created an even bigger scandal.

Hardy had always thought of writing novels as no more than a way to make a living, and by this point he was so fed up with the criticism that he announced he would never write fiction again. He had been writing poetry for over thirty years, and now that he had become a famous novelist he was able to publish much of what he had written. His first collection, Wessex Poems, was published in 1898, and he would publish nothing but poetry for the last thirty years of his life. His Collected Poems came out in 1930.

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