One of the most renowned poets and novelists in English literary history, Thomas Hardy was born in 1840 in the English village of Higher Bockhampton in the county of Dorset. He died in 1928 at Max Gate, a house he built for himself and his first wife, Emma Lavinia Gifford, in Dorchester, a few miles from his birthplace.
While Hardy wrote poetry throughout his life and regarded himself primarily as a poet, his first collection was not published until 1898. Initially he gained fame as the author of novels, including Far from the Madding Crowd (1874), The Mayor of Casterbridge (1886), Tess of the d’Urbervilles (1891), and Jude the Obscure (1895). However, beginning in the 1950s Hardy has been recognised as a major poet; he had a significant influence on the Movement poets of the 1950s and 1960s, including Phillip Larkin. Most of his fictional works were set in the semi-fictional region of Wessex. They explored tragic characters struggling against their passions and social circumstances.
Emma died in 1912, and although they were estranged, Hardy made a trip to Cornwall to revisit places linked with their courtship, and his Poems 1912–13 reflect upon her death. In 1914, Hardy married his secretary Florence Emily Dugdale, who was 39 years his junior. In 1910, Hardy was awarded the Order of Merit and was also for the first time nominated for the Nobel Prize in Literature.
Hardy became ill with pleurisy in December 1927 and died at Max Gate just after 9 pm on 11 January 1928, having dictated his final poem to his wife on his deathbed and his funeral was on 16 January at Westminster Abbey.
Shortly after Hardy’s death, the executors of his estate burnt his letters and notebooks, but twelve documents survived, one of them containing notes and extracts of newspaper stories from the 1820s, and research into these has provided insight into how Hardy used them in his works.
After Hardy died, his ashes were deposited in the Poets’ Corner of Westminster Abbey and his heart, having been removed before cremation, was interred in the graveyard at Stinsford Church where his parents, grandparents, and his first wife were buried.