Friday 27 July 2018

In the footsteps of Thomas Hardy by Mary Anne Yarde #amreading #ThomasHardy @nationaltrust

In the footsteps of Thomas Hardy
 By Mary Anne Yarde

Can you remember when you first read a novel written by Thomas Hardy? I can. I was thirteen, and at the time the publishing house Penguin had started producing 99p Classics, here in the UK. Having no notion of who Thomas Hardy was I picked up a copy of Tess of the d'Urbervilles. Consequently, my love affair with Hardy's work began. By the age of 16 I had read all of Hardy's novels, and then I had the joy of studying his poetry at A'Level.

Tess of the d'Ubervilles was first published in Britain in The Graphic, where it appeared in weekly instalments between July and November 1891

Thomas Hardy was born in 1840 in Dorchester. His father, Thomas, was a stonemason and builder, his mother, Jemima , was well-read and taught Thomas his letters and continued his education until he was eight years old. By which time, Thomas was old enough to go to a school at Bockhampton. Later he went to Mr Last's Academy for Young Gentlemen in Dorchester. His teachers saw his potential, but unfortunately, the Hardy's were not in a position to send Thomas onto university.

"Hardy's Cottage" This is where Hardy grew up. The house is now managed by The National Trust.

So instead, Thomas became an apprentice to a local architect, James Hicks. Thomas was a very gifted architect. He moved to London in 1862 and attended King's College. He won numerous prizes for his work, but London did not suit him. He missed the rolling hills of Dorset. He also became deeply distressed by what he witnessed. Social injustice was everywhere. He became very interested in social reform.

Thomas moved back to Dorset, and it was then that he decided to try his hand at some part-time writing.

Thomas's first book The Poor Man And The Lady failed to find a publisher. It had made for some uncomfortable reading and the world was not ready for Hardy’s take on social justice just yet. The next two books he published under a nom de plume. While working on Under A Greenwood Tree, Hardy met and fell in love with Emma Gifford. Hardy wrote about their courtship in A Pair Of Blue Eyes.

In 1874, Hardy release Far From The Madding Crowd. It was a great success. At last, Hardy could give up architectural work and pursue a literacy career. Two more books followed, and Hardy had enough money to design and build a house for him and his wife. He moved to Max Gate in 1885.

Max Gate. The house is now managed by The National Trust.

Here he wrote some of his most significant works. Most notable Tess Of The d'Urbervilles.

The study in which Hardy wrote Tess.

 When Tess was published, Hardy faced a backlash from critics. The book was too scandalous. How can a fallen woman, a murderer, be a heroine of a story? Of course, it was an instant hit with Hardy's readers! And he became something of a celebrity, with eager fans waiting outside of his house to catch a glimpse of him. Hardy was a very private man, and he hated this attention. He planted trees around the perimeter of his house. He even designed and made some shutters that he could raise up and cover half the window in their dining room so he could eat in relative peace without a group of people nosing in through the windows.

The garden at Max Gate

Hardy's success however, did not make for a happy home. Both Hardy and Emma were bitterly disappointed that they could not have a child. And as time wore on love turned to dislike. Hardy became fed up with Emma trying to take credit for his stories. Dislike turned to something very close to hate.

Hardy published Jude The Obscure in 1895. It did not go down well with his critics. Some bookshops sold Jude in a brown paper bag — so scandalous was it for the time. Bishop of Wakefield, Walsham How, burned his copy of the book. Hardy replied to this attack by saying:

"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."

He only published one other book after this. It is argued that Hardy gave up writing after the criticism he received for both Tess and Jude.

In 1912 Emma became very ill with impacted gallstones. Emma's maid found her first thing in the morning in a state of great distress. Hardy was called, but by the time he got to his wife's chamber, Emma was unconscious. She died soon after. While going through her things, Hardy came across a book that Emma had written about her life. To start with her life was filled with passion and adventure but by the end, there was only bitterness and hate. Hardy was overcome with guilt at how his indifference had affected her. This guilt was something he never got over, even though he dedicated many hours in writing poetry about his Emma.

The study where Hardy wrote his poetry.
Hardy hated the small square window panes, but he could not afford two full side panes, so he had two medium size ones made. That way he could look out on the garden without the frames getting in his way!

In 1914, Hardy married his secretary, Florence Emily Dugdale.

Florence Emily Dugdale

 They had a happy marriage, although Emma's ghost was a constant companion to Hardy. They hosted many dinner parties, but for their guests, it could be a very traumatic affair. The Hardy's had a somewhat infamous dog called Wessex. Wessex had a bit of a temper problem. He was vicious, and the Hardy's did nothing to discipline him. Wessex was not only allowed to come into the dining room when they were eating, but he was allowed to sit on the table and growl, nip and bite anyone who annoyed him. 

The Hardy's dining table, set for afternoon tea.
Unsurprisingly the Hardy's had some trouble keeping staff during Wessex's reign. For the dog was not choosey whom he bit. 

"The Famous Dog, Wessex — Faithfully Unflinching" Wessex's tombstone in the pet cemetery at Max Gate. 
Hardy died on 11th January 1921. His ashes were buried at Poets' Corner in Westminster Abbey, but his heart was laid to rest in the grave of his first wife, Emma.

"I am the family face;
Flesh perishes, I live on..."
Heredity by Thomas Hardy

Mary Anne Yarde

Mary Anne Yarde is the multi award-winning author of the International Bestselling Series — The Du Lac Chronicles. Set a generation after the fall of King Arthur, The Du Lac Chronicles takes you on a journey through Dark Age Briton and Brittany, where you will meet new friends and terrifying foes. Based on legends and historical fact, The Du Lac Chronicles is a series not to be missed.

Born in Bath, England, Mary Anne Yarde grew up in the southwest of England, surrounded and influenced by centuries of history and mythology. Glastonbury — the fabled Isle of Avalon — was a mere fifteen-minute drive from her home, and tales of King Arthur and his knights were part of her childhood.

Mary Anne loves to hear from readers. You can find her: Website/Blog •  Twitter • Facebook.


  1. Loved visiting Hardy's Wessex - thanks for reminding me to go back and re-read his novels :)

  2. Hardy's Wessex is indeed beautiful.


See you on your next coffee break!
Take Care,
Mary Anne xxx