Thomas Hardy was born on June 2, 1840, in Upper Bockhampton, not far from Dorchester, in Dorsetshire, southern England. 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 about eight years in local schools. He was bright enough so that, by this time, he'd read a good deal in English, French, and Latin on his own. 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. Although the manuscript did not survive, Hardy used parts of it in other books. His first published novel was Desperate Remedies in 1871. The first novel to appear in installments in a magazine 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.
Hardy's real fame as a novelist, along with sufficient income to let him 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, Jude the Obscure, in 1895. Among these are some of the best of his so-called Wessex novels (Hardy uses the name of one of the kingdoms of Anglo-Saxon Britain to designate an area including his native Dorsetshire): 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 best should be added the earlier Far from the Madding Crowd.
In writing most of his novels, Hardy worked out the details of time and geography he wanted to use with great care. Almost every novel is, therefore, located in a specific, mapped-out area of Wessex and covers a specified period of time. The Return of the Native, for example, covers the period 1842-43 and is set on Puddletown Heath (called Egdon Heath in the novel), on which Upper Bockhampton is situated. This novel also reveals a side of Hardy's authorship for which he has been taken to task by critics. In response to requests from readers of the novel in serial form, he added a sixth book to the original five to give his story a happier ending. He says in a note to the novel that the reader can choose which of the two endings he prefers but that the rigorous reader will probably favor the original conception.
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, a woman with whom he had become increasingly incompatible, died. Several months later, 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. 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.