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Hardy, Thomas

Literature Reference: American Literature, English Literature, Classics & Modern FictionBooks & Authors: Award-Winning Fiction (Fl-Ha)

(British, 1840–1928)

Most of Hardy's novels and stories are set in Wessex, a fictional county largely based upon Dorset where he was born. His descriptions of the landscape are detailed and vivid. These, and his dramatic plots, have inspired repeated screen adaptations of his novels. Many of Hardy's characters are driven by inner passions they cannot control, often leading them into unhappy fates.

Start with Far From the Madding Crowd (1874), where Bathsheba Everdene inherits a farm and must choose between three suitors. She rejects the selfless, devoted love of her shepherd, Gabriel Oak, for the dashing and unscrupulous Sergeant Troy, whom she marries. After Troy deserts her Bathsheba is relentlessly pursued by a neighbouring farmer, Boldwood. When Troy returns Boldwood shoots him and is pronounced insane. Only after these tragic events does Bathsheba recognize the value in Gabriel's steady devotion, and they marry. There are strong elements of humour and affection in the characterizations of rustic, uneducated people in Hardy's novels. The tragedy of unrequited love is powerfully drawn in The Woodlanders (1887). Set in Little Hintock, deep in the woods of Dorset, the novel vividly captures the rhythm of life and work for those who depend upon the land for their existence. Giles Winterbourne's heart is broken when his betrothed rejects him for a more wealthy suitor. Marty South, a village girl, is quietly devoted to Giles, and after he dies, spends her days tending his grave. There is a deeply moving section where the selfless Marty cuts off and sells her beautiful hair to enable herself and her father to live.

In The Mayor of Casterbridge (1886) Michael Henchard sells his wife and child at a fair for five guineas when he is drunk. Henchard solemnly vows never to touch alcohol again and as a result becomes prosperous, respected, and eventually Mayor of Casterbridge (Dorchester). While his remorse is clearly genuine, he loses everything when his wife returns eighteen years later. He dies alone in poverty and desolation. The Return of the Native (1887) is set on the haunting and vividly described Egdon Heath. Beautiful Eustacia Vye is desperate to leave the Heath, and sees her escape in Clym Yeobright who has returned after training as a diamond merchant in Paris. Their marriage ends in tragedy because Clym wishes to stay on the Heath. Here, the brooding forces of nature symbolize those irrational forces that drive human beings. In Tess of the D'Urbervilles (1891), the genuinely innocent young Tess's marriage is wrecked through exploitation and by events over which she has no power. This novel, and the even darker Jude the Obscure (1896), were widely criticized for their pessimism, so much so that Hardy gave up novel writing to concentrate on his poetry.

Emily Brontë, D. H. Lawrence, Tim Pears. See FILM, ROMANTIC, SOCIAL ISSUES  DJ

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