Thomas Hardy: the life and the landscape that inspired his novels

Thomas Hardy's statue in Dorchester
Thomas Hardy's statue in Dorchester | Source

Thomas Hardy, the well loved author of such classics as Tess of the D'Urbervilles, Jude the Obscure and Far From the Madding Crowd, is well known for his Dorset roots. He famously set his novels in his native landscape, and wrote about the rural community and the lives of the country folk that he encountered in 19th century Dorset. This article explores his life in Dorset, with a brief biography, original photographs of the houses he lived in and a glimpse of the local countryside that helped to inspire his novels.

His life

Thomas Hardy was born in 1840 in Lower Bockhampton, near Dorchester in Dorset, to a working class family of stone masons. The pretty thatched cottage where he was born and raised was built by his great-grandfather in 1801, and was left to the National Trust a few years after Hardy's death, so is now open to the public. It was an idyllic rural location, set on the edge of a pretty woodland and heath. Thomas led a quiet childhood in the countryside, going to the local church on Sundays with his family and attending the local schools in Stinsford and Dorchester, where he received a good basic education. At sixteen he became an apprentice architect with a local firm in Dorchester, going on to work in London for five years, and then returning to his beloved Dorset again in 1867. Hardy started to write poetry during this period, and also began to write his first novel, The Poor Man and the Lady, which was initially rejected by publishers in 1868. He was not deterred, however, and continued to write, having his first book, Desperate Remedies published in 1871, shortly followed by Under the Greenwood Tree in 1872.

Hardy's cottage. The house where he was born and grew up.
Hardy's cottage. The house where he was born and grew up. | Source
The woodland walk to Hardy's cottage in Lower Bockhampton, near Dorchester.
The woodland walk to Hardy's cottage in Lower Bockhampton, near Dorchester. | Source

By the time he married his first wife, Emma, in 1874 he had published four novels, and was earning his living as a writer. Far From the Madding Crowd was published at around this time to huge critical acclaim and public popularity, ensuring the couple's good fortune for their married life. The couple lived in London for some years, and were very involved in the London literary society of the time, but eventually returned to Dorchester in 1885 to live in the house that Hardy designed himself, Max Gate. It was here that Thomas Hardy wrote some of his best known and best loved novels - Tess of the D'Urbervilles, The Mayor of Casterbridge and Jude the Obscure. Max Gate is also owned by the National Trust and is open to the public.

Max Gate, Dorchester. The house that Hardy designed himself, and lived in until the end of his life in 1928.
Max Gate, Dorchester. The house that Hardy designed himself, and lived in until the end of his life in 1928. | Source
The rolling hills and vales of the Dorset countryside. Much of this farmland remains unchanged since Hardy's time
The rolling hills and vales of the Dorset countryside. Much of this farmland remains unchanged since Hardy's time | Source
Dorset County Museum, in Dorchester, which contains a wealth of information about Thomas Hardy as well as some of his personal possessions.
Dorset County Museum, in Dorchester, which contains a wealth of information about Thomas Hardy as well as some of his personal possessions. | Source

Hardy used his local towns and countryside as a backdrop for his novels, using the ancient title of Wessex for the county of Dorset, and renaming the towns with fictional names that he used throughout his novels. Dorchester, the county town, was known as Casterbridge, the setting for The Mayor of Casterbridge, while his local village of Stinsford became Mellstock, as featured in his novel Under the Greenwood Tree.

His final novel, Jude the Obscure, received mixed reviews, and caused some extreme reactions because of its criticism of the church and unconventional portrayals of relationships and marriage. This may be why he decided not to write any more novels, but to concentrate on his poetry from this point onwards. The bad press and controversy surrounding Jude had a profound effect on both him and his relationship with his wife Emma, and their relationship is said to have become strained and distant until the end of her life in 1912.

Hardy had met Florence Dugdale in 1905, and become close friends during the time of his estrangement with Emma. In 1914, two years after Emma's death Florence became Thomas Hardy's second wife, when he was 73.

Thomas Hardy died in 1928, and his heart is buried alongside his family at Stinsford church, while his ashes are buried in Poets Corner at Westminster Abbey.

St Michael's church in Stinsford, which Hardy attended as a boy with his family. This church was the inspiration for Mellstock Church, in his novel The Woodlanders.
St Michael's church in Stinsford, which Hardy attended as a boy with his family. This church was the inspiration for Mellstock Church, in his novel The Woodlanders. | Source
Hardy's grave in St Michael's churchyard, Stinsford. As the inscription says, only his heart was buried here, alongside his family. His ashes are interred in Poet's Corner, at Westminster Abbey in London.
Hardy's grave in St Michael's churchyard, Stinsford. As the inscription says, only his heart was buried here, alongside his family. His ashes are interred in Poet's Corner, at Westminster Abbey in London. | Source

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Comments 15 comments

vocalcoach profile image

vocalcoach 4 years ago from Nashville Tn.

What an incredible journey this is, into the life of Thomas Hardy. The photos are marvelous and add that special touch. I have shared this on my FB, twitter and more. Voted up, useful, awesome and interesting. Thank you so much!


Nettlemere profile image

Nettlemere 4 years ago from Burnley, Lancashire, UK

I had no idea he was an architect before he started writing, interesting that he was then able to design his own house - it looks like he was inspired by castles with the turret style outline.


SommerDalton profile image

SommerDalton 4 years ago

What an interesting life and hub on Thomas Hardy. So informative and great pictures too, voted up plus.


Imogen French profile image

Imogen French 4 years ago from Southwest England Author

Thank you for your comments vocalcoach, nettlemere and sommer, and for all the shares - I appreciate it. I see what you mean about the castles, nettlemere, I think it is a reflection the gothic style which was favoured by the late Victorians. I am lucky enough to live in Hardy country, and have always felt a close connection with his novels and the landscapes.


hi friend profile image

hi friend 4 years ago from India

Very informative. Thank u for a lot and vote up awesome.


WannaB Writer profile image

WannaB Writer 4 years ago from Templeton, CA

I enjoyed seeing the pictures. I wrote a paper on Hardy when I was in college and it was obvious how prominent his countryside was in his books. It made me want to see it, and how you've helped me do that.


Imogen French profile image

Imogen French 4 years ago from Southwest England Author

hi friend, thanks for reading and the votes. Wannabe - I'm glad you were able to get a glimpse of Hardy's landscape through my pictures. I am planning some follow up hubs featuring location shots from some of his best known books, so please look out for them.


tobusiness profile image

tobusiness 4 years ago from Bedfordshire, U.K

This is such a treat for me, I remember many cold nights as a student nurse away from home for the first time, with only Jude and Tess for company.

The nurses home was a lonely place back then, but Thomas Hardy proved to be the perfect escape and very good company. I think it's time to revisit, thank you for reminding me. Voting up and awesome.


Imogen French profile image

Imogen French 4 years ago from Southwest England Author

thanks for looking, tobusiness, I appreciate your comment. :)


Riviera Rose profile image

Riviera Rose 3 years ago from South of France

Beautiful hub - I love Thomas Hardy and Dorset's such a pretty county. I think I'd also rate Far From The Madding Crowd as one of my all-time favourite films - Julie Christie and Terence Stamp - what's not to love?!


Imogen French profile image

Imogen French 3 years ago from Southwest England Author

Thanks for reading, Riviera Rose. It is a lovely film, isn't it - Alan Bates was great as Gabriel Oak too, and it was all filmed around Dorset.


just helen profile image

just helen 3 years ago from Dartmoor UK

This is a beautiful hub, Imogen. I love Thomas Hardy's evocative descriptions of the landscape that so inspired his wonderful stories No other author, in my opinion had or has such powers of description as he did. Hardy is my favourite author. I go back to his books again and again!


uNicQue profile image

uNicQue 3 years ago from Philadelphia, PA

This hub is wonderful. Thomas Hardy is one of my favorite novelists and one of my favorite poets, and I would love to be able to visit these sites that inspired some of his best work. Your photos are beautiful. Thank you for sharing!


Imogen French profile image

Imogen French 3 years ago from Southwest England Author

thanks Helen and uNicQue, glad you enjoyed the hub, and always pleased to hear from fellow Hardy fans :)


chef-de-jour profile image

chef-de-jour 3 years ago from Wakefield, West Yorkshire,UK

A great poet and a fine novelist.

I enjoyed your photographs of and insights into the Dorset landscape that so inspired Thomas Hardy.

Votes.

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