Today is the birthday of the man who said, “The business of the poet and the novelist is to show the sorriness underlying the grandest things and the grandeur underlying the sorriest things.” English novelist and poet Thomas Hardy (books by this author) was born on this day in Higher Bockhampton, Dorset, in 1840. He often helped his father with various building projects, and when he was 16, he took a job as an architect’s apprentice. He moved to London when he was 22, to take a job with another architect, and he delighted in the city’s literary and cultural environment. He began writing fiction and poetry; his first published story was “How I Built Myself a House” (1865), and he also wrote a novel, The Poor Man and the Lady (1867), which was never published.
He set many of his novels and poems in “Wessex,” reviving the old Anglo-Saxon name for the counties of southwestern England, where he grew up. The Wessex he wrote of, though, was part real place, part literary conceit; he always insisted, “This is an imaginative Wessex only.”
His first commercial and critical success was Far From the Madding Crowd (1874); it did so well that he was able to quit architecture and write full time. He produced six novels in the 1880s, and seven in the 1890s; two of these — Tess of the D’Urbervilles (1891) and Jude the Obscure (1895) — caused so much scandal that he eventually gave up on novels forever. He wrote a few plays, but in the end he returned to his first love — poetry — which he regarded as a purer art form anyway. He produced eight collections before his death in 1928. He had two funerals simultaneously: His cremated remains were buried in Poets’ Corner in Westminster Abbey, while at the same time, his heart was buried in Dorchester, in his beloved Wessex.
From his poem “Wessex Heights” (1896):
There are some heights in Wessex, shaped as if by a kindly hand
For thinking, dreaming, dying on, and at crises when I stand,
Say, on Ingpen Beacon eastward, or on Wylls-Neck westwardly,
I seem where I was before my birth, and after death may be.