What becomes apparent from researching Thomas Hardy’s life is the multitude of experiences and influences that may have had some bearing on how he wrote and the content of these works. Obviously, his early life in Dorset and the bearing upon which this had on his early works is apparent through vivid descriptions and the recounting of certain episodes – so much so that it is impossible to ignore the inspiration that he derived from his birthplace. For example, the portrayal of the heath in ‘The Return Of The Native’ is the work of a man clearly saturated by his environment.
Hardy’s flirtation with the clergy during his early years, and his subsequent disillusionment, may also have been significant to his writings in the capacity of spiritual development and advancement. It seems that his temporary abandonment of the countryside in favour of the city and it’s hectic lifestyle, along with his rejection of religion, represents a man moving away in search of new inspirations and passions to indulge – which he most certainly did if accounts of his private life are to be believed.
With the introduction of Emma Guifford into his life and the qualities that she possessed – strength, vivacity and vitality, Hardy was perhaps more settled having found a muse and someone with whom he could share ideas, reflect and ruminate with. Dare I say that perhaps his love for this woman masked a Freudian desire to rediscover his mother’s strength of character and resourcefulness? After all, both women had married well beneath their social class yet found it in them to make use of their well-educated backgrounds.
Seeing as how Hardy trained as an architect, on reading his work one can detect a discernible acknowledgement of structure and form in which he creates images that stand alone without further referral to detail. It is in this strength of description that Hardy forms believable and tangible backdrops against which he can set his novels, once again using the heath in ‘The Return Of The Native’ as a prime example.
As I have barely touched on the issue, I must stress the importance of which class seems to have affected Hardy’s work. In order to become accepted by the class into which he had married and was now a part of due to his literary connections, Hardy felt it necessary to refer to works that only one of an cultured and educated background would be aware of. With his apparent shyness and easily influenced character, perhaps Hardy felt he had to compensate for his humble upbringings by donning a patrician façade. Yet his character is also contradictory, what with his pride of being a countryman and the fact that he would occasionally play the fiddle in country inns and taverns, soaking up the atmosphere for his novels.
It is through Hardy’s indulgent and addictive character that emerges the true face of the man responsible for such feats in modern literature (although he never actually won the Nobel Prize, once nominated) – a sensitive and aware man, paradoxically unsure of his placement in life but certain of the importance of his work. It is through these influences and loves that we now enjoy the wealth and variety of his legacy.