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Thomas Hardy

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We've just heard from reader Lisa Hicks, who sent a contribution to the website about one of her favourites: writer Thomas Hardy. Reading most Hardy novels for me was like being in a lightning storm - dark and dramatic and unforgettable. Lisa writes -

. . .If a list of Great British Writers is being compiled, Thomas Hardy (2 June 1840 – 11 January 1928) must be included. He is considered by many to be the greatest British writer after Shakespeare.

Hardy takes us right inside the lives of the poor in Victorian England, into the cottage, barn or pub, below stairs as well as above, and the poor are often his main protagonists. Through his skill we get to know them, both male and female, uncomfortably well.

Prolific poet, great novelist and astute writer of short stories, Hardy was born too late to be considered one of the Romantic poets such as his great heroes Keats, Byron and Shelley, and unlike them, he lived a long life. A great Victorian romantic he was though; his poems in memory of his dead wife haunt one, and are breathtakingly beautiful, for example:

Beeny Cliff

I

O the opal and the sapphire of that wandering western sea,
And the woman riding high above with bright hair flapping free -
The woman whom I loved so, and who loyally loved me.

II

The pale mews plained below us, and the waves seemed far away
In a nether sky, engrossed in saying their ceaseless babbling say,
As we laughed light-heartedly aloft on that clear-sunned March day.

III

A little cloud then cloaked us, and there flew an irised rain,
And the Atlantic dyed its levels with a dull misfeatured stain,
And then the sun burst out again, and purples prinked the main.

IV

- Still in all its chasmal beauty bulks old Beeny to the sky,
And shall she and I not go there once again now March is nigh,
And the sweet things said in that March say anew there by and by?

V

What if still in chasmal beauty looms that wild weird western shore,
The woman now is - elsewhere - whom the ambling pony bore,
And nor knows nor cares for Beeny, and will see it nevermore.

However, there is so much more to Hardy’s poetical work than passionate love set against the rolling Dorset countryside. It covers a diverse subject range; the starvation of an orphan boy, snobbery, nature, abortion, writer’s block, anti-war views, grief, prejudice, the sinking of the Titanic, the passage of time, and so many other topics. Some of his poetry is like a rural song or a chant, some comical, some more than tinged with gothic horror:

By Her Aunt's Grave

'Sixpence a week,' says the girl to her lover,
'Aunt used to bring me, for she could confide
In me alone, she vowed. 'Twas to cover
The cost of her headstone when she died.
And that was a year ago last June;
I've not yet fixed it. But I must soon.

'And where is the money now, my dear?'
'O, snug in my purse... Aunt was so slow
In saving it - eighty weeks, or near.'...
'Let's spend it,' he hints. 'For she won't know
There's a dance to-night at the Load of Hay.'
She passively nods. And they go that way.


I Looked Up From My Writing

I looked up from my writing,
And gave a start to see,
As if rapt in my inditing,
The moon's full gaze on me.

Her meditative misty head
Was spectral in its air,
And I involuntarily said,
"What are you doing there?"

"Oh, I've been scanning pond and hole
And waterway hereabout
For the body of one with a sunken soul
Who has put his life-light out.

"Did you hear his frenzied tattle?
It was sorrow for his son
Who is slain in brutish battle,
Though he has injured none.

"And now I am curious to look
Into the blinkered mind
Of one who wants to write a book
In a world of such a kind."

Her temper overwrought me,
And I edged to shun her view,
For I felt assured she thought me
One who should drown him too.


Hardy’s novels and short stories cover a wide range of subject matter. They are exquisite portraits of rural folk in the 19th century struggling against fate, with all their hopes and sufferings, set against a turbulent world full of superstition and cruel injustice. Life takes its toll on his main characters. They are often damaged by life and alienated from those around them and, just as in real life, the endings of these tales are not always happy. . .

More can be learned about Thomas Hardy and Hardy country by visiting the Hardy website.

Many thanks for writing, Lisa.

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Thomas Hardy's Cottage, Bockhampton, Dorset, where he wrote The Greenwood Tree and Far From the Madding Crowd. David recently read and liked the earlier and happier Greenwood Tree.

Image: Martinevans123 at Wikipedia.

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