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“Thomas Hardy's English Lessons.” Rev. of Thomas Hardy, by Claire
Tomalin. New York Times Book Review 28 Jan. 2007: 1, 10.
Hardy, a clever, undersized boy born in a Dorset cottage, received a nonconformist education before he was apprenticed to one of the most successful architects in London. His "powerful rather than tender" mother was a literate, book-hungry servant before she married Hardy's father, a rural builder. Most of his life, Hardy was employed in church restoration, and though he fell away somewhat from religious belief itself, Tomalin argues in this excellent biography, he "cherished the memory of belief" as if it were an original stone church distorted by a facade of neo-Gothic "gimcrackery." Social class determined much of Hardy's life. He managed through hard work to rise from the servant class to the middle class. When he began to write fiction, he struggled against editorial rejections, unfair contract terms, and Victorian prudery. All of which were supported by critics who lashed out against the overly sensitive Hardy. Tess of the D'urbervilles was the book that made Hardy rich and famous. He then turned to writing poetry for the last thirty years of his life. Cited as some of his better poems were the "Emma" poems, elegies named after his first wife, his partner in a bickering, unhappy marriage, but the subject of these love poems. "The more risks he takes, the less he falters," Tomalin remarks. Critics agree that the moment Emma died, Hardy became a great poet. One contradiction in his personal life and also present in all his work is the omnipresent conflict between the "vulnerable, doom-struck" man as victim of society and "the serene inhabitant of a natural world." Tomalin feels that Hardy conveyed this, his main idea, better in his verse than he did in his fiction.
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