In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Thomas Hardy

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Bibliographies and Textual Studies
  • Autobiography and Biographies
  • Early Criticism
  • Class Approaches
  • Gender Approaches
  • Structuralist/Poststructuralist Approaches
  • Hardy the Poet
  • Hardy the Short-Story Writer
  • Topography and Wessex
  • Hardy and Science
  • Hardy and Language
  • Reading and Reader Response
  • Adaptation Criticism
  • Other Approaches

Victorian Literature Thomas Hardy
Matthew Bradley
  • LAST REVIEWED: 02 March 2011
  • LAST MODIFIED: 02 March 2011
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199799558-0033


Thomas Hardy (b. 1840–d. 1928) was born in Higher Bockhampton, Dorset, the son of a builder. After an education at his local school and in Dorchester, at the age of sixteen Hardy was apprenticed to a local architect, although he always maintained his literary studies. He moved to London in 1870, and on a visit to St. Juliot in Cornwall in that same year, he met his first wife, Emma Gifford, whom he married four years later. After a false start with the unpublished The Poor Man and the Lady, he brought out his first novel, Desperate Remedies, in 1871, to mixed reviews. However, he went on to forge a career as one of Britain’s most successful and prominent novelists, producing a further thirteen novels, among them Far From the Madding Crowd, The Return of the Native, Tess of the D’Urbervilles, and Jude the Obscure, and four collections of short stories. In later life, Hardy came to see poetry as his true vocation and published eight volumes, as well as a Napoleonic epic, The Dynasts. In 1912, Emma Hardy died, and two years later Hardy married Florence Dugdale. Known chiefly for his portrayals of life in the fictional region of “Wessex,” his persistent interest in the disjunction between individuals and their environment, and for the tragic power of his narratives and lyrics, Hardy was a key focus for critics and writers well before the professionalization of English studies and has since become one of the most prominent and discussed figures in the literary canon.

General Overviews

Hardy studies have tended to favor the edited collection of critical essays, a practice that reached its peak in the 1990s. This can make choice difficult, particularly as it is rarely clear whether these are introductions for the student or “state of the field” works for the specialist. Kramer 1979 is quite clearly the latter, providing a real sense of the intellectual buoyancy of the Hardy boom in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Kramer’s second collection, Kramer 1999, mixes the two types (essays by Gatrell, Brady, Shires, and Boumelha for the postgraduate or scholar, and Kramer, Page, and Millgate for the student) and so fulfils its “companion” role to the full. Mallett 2004 and Dolin and Widdowson 2004 are similar but more focused on identifying new trends/areas of research for Hardy studies, with the latter more intellectually bold. Away from the edited collections, Page 2000 takes up the genre of the Hardy dictionary or encyclopedia and allows for more extended articles and much stronger critical awareness. Similarly, Ingham 2003 takes the traditional format of a student introduction and gives a readable but uncompromised work that effortlessly incorporates many of the theoretical questions regarding language and gender that the author had already developed in previous writing. The continued activity of the Hardy Association shows the ongoing enthusiasm for Hardy inside and outside of academic study and is an excellent starting point for surveying recent criticism, even without membership.

  • Dolin, Tim, and Peter Widdowson, eds. Thomas Hardy and Contemporary Literary Studies. Basingstoke, UK: Palgrave Macmillan, 2004.

    Focusing on “transitions” in academic studies, this collection is mainly from the theorized end of Hardy studies, with many interesting reflections on the then-state of the field, particularly in the introduction, and in the individual essays by Simon During and Hillis Miller.

  • Ingham, Patricia. Thomas Hardy. Oxford World’s Classics: Authors in Context. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003.

    Probably the most effective starting point for undergraduate students. Examines Hardy through fairly well-worn contextual lenses (religion, gender, and so on) but is extremely thoughtful on form and language issues and conveys more intellectual excitement and insight than is usual in works of this type.

  • Kramer, Dale, ed. Critical Approaches to the Fiction of Thomas Hardy. London: Macmillan, 1979.

    Essays from a number of major figures in Hardy criticism, with particularly noteworthy contributions from Elaine Showalter on “The Unmanning of the Mayor of Casterbridge” as a means to masculine self-discovery and also with strong essays by David Lodge and Mary Jacobus.

  • Kramer, Dale, ed. The Cambridge Companion to Thomas Hardy. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1999.

    The most comprehensive of the many edited collections on Hardy, with general introductions to most areas of Hardy criticism by leading scholars. Linda Shires on narrative instability in Tess is a superlative analysis. Much less coverage of the poetry than might be expected, however.

  • Mallett, Phillip, ed. Palgrave Advances in Thomas Hardy Studies. Basingstoke, UK: Palgrave Macmillan, 2004.

    Series of essays by a mix of well- and lesser-known critics of Hardy. Aims to move away from the critical emphasis on discontinuities in Hardy’s work and indicates various possible future directions for Hardy studies. Visuality comes out strongly, as do issues of national and cultural identity.

  • Page, Norman, ed. Oxford Reader’s Companion to Hardy. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000.

    Reference work containing alphabetically arranged entries written by Page and forty-two other scholars. Entries are generally detailed and critically aware (particularly Michael Irwin’s entry on criticism), although they do not extend to Hardy’s place-names or characters, and there are no entries for individual poems.

  • Thomas Hardy Association.

    Lively site of the principal Hardy society in America, with a very active discussion forum that is free to access and that contains many other useful resources, although some of these require membership (including access to articles in their journal, The Hardy Review). Particularly useful is a free section “Hardy on the Web: 1999–2004,” part of a project that describes and, importantly, evaluates websites connected with Hardy online in that period (undertaken by Hardy scholars Rosemarie Morgan and Robert Schweik).

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