The moving, humane tragedy of a deeply flawed and self-destructive man
In a fit of drunken anger, Michael Henchard sells his wife and baby daughter for five guineas at a country fair. Over the course of the following years, he manages to establish himself as a respected and prosperous pillar of the community of Casterbridge, but behind his success are always lurking the shameful secret of his past and a personality prone to self-destructive pride and temper. Subtitled ‘A Story of a Man of Character’, Hardy’s powerful and sympathetic study of the heroic but deeply flawed Henchard is also as intensely dramatic work, tragically played out against the vivid backdrop of a close-knit Dorsetshire town.
Thomas Hardy was born in a cottage in Higher Bockhampton, near Dorchester, on 2 June 1840. He was educated locally and at sixteen was articled to a Dorchester architect, John Hicks. In 1862 he moved to London and found employment with another architect, Arthur Blomfield. He now began to write poetry and published an essay. By 1867 he had returned to Dorset to work as Hicks's assistant and began his first (unpublished) novel, The Poor Man and the Lady.
On an architectural visit to St Juliot in Cornwall in 1870 he met his first wife, Emma Gifford. Before their marriage in 1874 he had published four novels and was earning his living as a writer. More novels followed and in 1878 the Hardys moved from Dorset to the London literary scene. But in 1885, after building his house at Max Gate near Dorchester, Hardy again returned to Dorset. He then produced most of his major novels: The Mayor of Casterbridge (1886), The Woodlanders (1887), Tess of the D'Urbervilles (1891), The Pursuit of the Well-Beloved (1892) and Jude the Obscure (1895). Amidst the controversy caused by Jude the Obscure, he turned to the poetry he had been writing all his life. In the next thirty years he published over nine hundred poems and his epic drama in verse, The Dynasts.
After a long and bitter estrangement, Emma Hardy died at Max Gate in 1912. Paradoxically, the event triggered some of Hardy's finest love poetry. In 1914, however, he married Florence Dugdale, a close friend for several years. In 1910 he had been awarded the Order of Merit and was recognized, even revered, as the major literary figure of the time. He died on 11 January 1928. His ashes were buried in Westminster Abbey and his heart at Stinsford in Dorset.