Born on June 2, 1840, in Upper Bockhampton, not far from Dorchester, in Dorsetshire, Thomas Hardy was the son of Thomas Hardy, a master mason or building contractor, and Jemima Hand, a woman of some literary interests. Hardy's formal education consisted of only some eight years in local schools, but by the end of this period he had on his own read a good deal in English, French, and Latin, just as later in London he made his own rather careful study of painting and English poetry. He was also interested in music and learned to play the violin. At the age of sixteen he was apprenticed to an architect in Dorchester and remained in that profession, later in London and then again in Dorchester, for almost twenty years.
He began to write poetry during this time, but none of it was published. His first novel, The Poor Man and the Lady, written in 1867-68, was never published, and the manuscript did not survive except insofar as Hardy used parts of it in other books. His first published novel was Desperate Remedies in 1871; the first novel which came out in serial form before publication as a book, an arrangement he was to follow for the rest of his novels, was A Pair of Blue Eyes in 1873; his real fame as a novelist, along with sufficient income to enable him to abandon architecture for good, came with Far from the Madding Crowd in 1874. On September 17, 1874, Hardy married Emma Lavinia Gifford.
From this time on Hardy devoted his full time to writing, continuing to publish novels regularly until his last in 1895, Jude the Obscure. Among these are some of the best of his so-called Wessex novels (Hardy was, incidentally, the first to refer to Dorset as Wessex): The Return of the Native, 1878; The Mayor of Casterbridge, 1886; The Woodlanders, 1887; Tess of the D'Urbervilles, 1891; in addition to Jude. To this list of bests should be added the earlier Far from the Madding Crowd. In writing most of his novels, Hardy meticulously worked out the details of time and geography he wanted to use; almost every novel is, therefore, located in a carefully mapped out area of Wessex and covers a specified period of time. Jude the Obscure, for example, covers the period 1855-74 and is set principally in Fawley, Oxford, and Salisbury (called in the novel Marygreen, Christminster, and Melchester). Tess sold more rapidly than any of his other novels, and Jude was probably more vehemently denounced. During this period of time Hardy also published his first poems as well as short stories. On June 29, 1885, he moved into a house he had built in Dorchester and lived there for the rest of his life.
On November 27, 1912, Mrs. Hardy died, a woman with whom he had become increasingly incompatible; and on February 10, 1914, he married Florence Emily Dugdale, a woman whom he had referred to for several years previously as his assistant and who was about forty years younger than he. After the appearance of Jude Hardy devoted his attention entirely to poetry and drama, publishing a number of books of poems, including one which he prepared just before his death. He also wrote and published an epic drama on the Napoleonic era, The Dynasts, which appeared in three parts with a total of nineteen acts. He was given a number of honors, including an honorary degree from Oxford, which he had criticized so severely in Jude. The success of Tess had made possible a good income from his writing for the rest of his life, and when he died he left an estate of nearly half a million dollars. He died on January 11, 1928, and a few days later was buried in Westminster Abbey.