Synopses & Reviews
Whitbread Award winner Claire Tomalin's seminal biography of the enigmatic novelist and poet Thomas Hardy.
Today Thomas Hardy is best known for creating the great Wessex landscape as the backdrop to his rural stories, starting with Far from the Madding Crowd, and making them classics. But his true legacy is that of a progressive thinker. When he published Tess of the d'Urbervilles and Jude the Obscure late in his career, Hardy explored a very different world than that of his rural tales, one in which the plight of lower classes and women take center stage while the higher classes are damned. Ironically, though, Hardy remained cloaked in the arms of this very upper class during the publication of these books, acting at all times in complete convention with the rules of society. Was he using his books to express himself in a way he felt unable to do in the company he kept, or did he know sensationalism would sell?
Award-winning author Claire Tomalin expertly reconstructs the life that led Hardy to maintain conventionality and write revolution. Born in Dorset in 1840, Hardy came of age in rather meager circumstances. At sixteen, he left home for London and slowly worked his way through many rejections to become a published writer. Despite his mother's admonitions to never marry, he wed Emma Lavinia Gifford in 1874 and, even though he fell easily in love, stayed true to her till her death in 1912. He frequently toured London society, but few felt they knew the true Hardy, and it is this very core of self that Tomalin elegantly brings us to know so completely. Hardy's work consistently challenged sexual and religious conventions in a way that few other books of his time did. Though his personal modesty and kindness allowed some to underestimate him or even to pity him, they did not prevent him from taking on the central themes of human experience time, memory, loss, love, fear, grief, anger, uncertainty, death. And it was exactly his quiet life, full of the small, personal dramas of family quarrels, rivalries, and at times, despair, that infuses his works with the rich detail that sets them apart as masterpieces.
In this engrossing biography, Tomalin skillfully identifies the inner demons and the outer mores that drove Hardy and presents a rich and complex portrait of one of the greatest figures in English literature.
"Respected British biographer Tomalin (whose Samuel Pepys was 2002's Whitbread Book of the Year) sticks to the substantiated facts of Hardy's life (1840 1928) in her finely honed biography, dismissing the speculative claims of other Hardy scholars as she charts the great British novelist and poet's rise from humble rural origins to bestselling author and literary eminence. Tomalin captures the awkwardness of Hardy's conduct in high society following his literary success, brilliantly highlighting the snobbishly mocking diary entries of upper-class observers. At the heart of Tomalin's narrative is a gripping account of Hardy's long, troubled marriage to Emma Gifford in which Tomalin carefully shows how a heady courtship waned into disappointment and bitterness on both sides. Tomalin damns neither party, evoking Emma's eccentricities and frustrations along with Hardy's infatuations with other women. She also treats, with great sensitivity and insight, Hardy's poetic outpourings after Emma's death, in which he imaginatively returned to an image of her as his beloved muse. 'The wounds inflicted by life never quite healed over in Hardy,' writes Tomalin, although she avows she cannot completely fathom the underlying cause of his acute sensitivity to humiliation. A feat of distillation and mature judgment, Tomalin's biography artfully presents Hardy in his intimate and social world, offering succinct and insightful readings of his work along the way. Illus., map." Publishers Weekly (Starred Review) (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"Full of empathy and clear thought, Tomalin has written a compelling, riveting story as well as a thoroughly researched biography." Boston Globe
"Tomalin's discussion of his poetry provides the book's true through-line, and it's first-rate." Los Angeles Times
"A sensitive and nuanced portrait of one of the greatest 19th century writers." Newsday
"Tomalin gives us Hardy, the man and the artist, and the two halves are gently reconciled by virtue of this scrupulous and luminous biography." Chicago Tribune
"Tomalin's treatment throughout is well informed but popular in focus; she has no political or theoretical ax to grind." Library Journal
"A priceless resource for the general reader and the Victorian scholar." Booklist
A seminal portrait of the enigmatic nineteenth-century novelist and poet, written by the Whitbread Book of the Year-winning author of Samuel Pepys, discusses his humble origins, rise through the London literary scene, and efforts to challenge the sexual and religious conventions of his time. 50,000 first printing.
In this seminal biography of the enigmatic novelist and poet Thomas Hardy (Tess of the d'Urbervilles), Whitbread Award winner Tomalin skillfully identifies the inner demons and the outer mores that drove Hardy and presents a rich and complex portrait of one of the greatest figures in English literature.
"A masterful portrait" (The Philadelphia Inquirer) from a Whitbread Award-winning biographer
The novels of Thomas Hardy have a permanent place on every booklover's shelf, yet little is known about the interior life of the man who wrote them. A believer and an unbeliever, a socialist and a snob, an unhappy husband and a desolate widower, Hardy challenged the sexual and religious conventions of his time in his novels and then abandoned fiction to reestablish himself as a great twentieth-century lyric poet. In this acclaimed new biography, Claire Tomalin, one of today's preeminent literary biographers, investigates this beloved writer and reveals a figure as rich and complex as his tremendous legacy.
About the Author
Claire Tomalin is the author of Samuel Pepys: The Unequalled Self, winner of the Whitbread Book of the Year, the Whitbread Biography Award, the Samuel Pepys Award, and dubbed "invaluable" by The New York Review of Books. She is a trustee of the National Portrait Gallery, London, and the Wordsworth Trust, a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature, and a Vice President of English PEN. She lives her husband, the playwright and novelist Michael Frayn