Thomas Hardy was born in Higher Bockhampton, Dorset, England on June 2, 1840, the eldest son of Thomas Hardy and Jemima (Hand) Hardy. His father was a stonemason and builder; his mother passed on her love of reading and books to her son. Hardy had somewhat of an isolated life on the open fields of the region. He grew up living and examining rural life, which figures prominently in many of his novels. His primary school education lasted until he was sixteen, at which time he was sent to an apprenticeship with John Hicks, a local architect.
By 1862, when he was 22, Hardy left for London to work as a draftsman in the office of Arthur Blomfield. While in London, Hardy was influenced by the works of Charles Swinburne, Robert Browning, and Charles Darwin (the author of Origin of Species, 1856). Poor health forced Hardy to return to his native region in 1867, where he worked for Hicks again and for another architect, G.R. Crickmay.
Hardy's education was interrupted by his work as an architect. He had wanted to attend the university and become an Anglican minister, but lack of funds and his declining interest in religion swayed Hardy away from that avocation and more toward a self-study of poetry and writing. Hardy tried his hand at writing when he was 17 and wrote for years while he was a practicing architect. His first novel manuscript, The Poor Man and the Lady (1867-68), was rejected by several publishers, but one editor, George Meredith encouraged him, and so Hardy set out to refine his style. A second story, Desperate Remedies (1871), was accepted and published. His next novel, Under the Greenwood Tree (1872), demonstrates a more polished Hardy now coming into his own style.
By 1870, Hardy was sent by his employer to begin a restoration project of the St. Juliot Church in Cornwall. Here he met his first wife, Emma Lavinia Gifford, whom Hardy married in 1874. Emma encouraged Hardy to write, and by 1872, Hardy left architecture to devote his time to his literary career.
When Hardy left his career as architect, he did so with a contract for 11 monthly installments of a tale, A Pair of Blue Eyes, in the Cornhill Magazine. His reputation as one of England's newer novelists sustained the Hardy family from that time on. The next novel, Far from the Maddening Crowd (1874), introduced the Wessex area setting, which also is the setting for Tess. The next two novels, The Return of the Native (1878) and The Mayor of Casterbridge (1886), established Hardy as a formidable writer.
Hardy published two more novels, Tess of the d'Urbervilles (1891) and Jude the Obscure (1895), which were his last long fiction works. The last novels challenged the sensibilities of Victorian readers with situations that ruffled many a Victorian feather: immoral sex, murder, illegitimate children, and the unmarried living together. Heated debate and criticism over these two books helped Hardy decide that he would rather write poetry. In fact, so stung was he by the criticism of his works that Hardy did not write another novel.
Hardy wrote short stories, poems, and plays for the rest of his life. Two further volumes of poetry and short stories appeared, The Dynasts: A Drama of the Napoleonic Wars (1903-08) and Winter Words (1928), a volume of verse. Hardy was quite prolific during this period, writing some 900 poems on a variety of subjects. In 1912, Hardy's wife, Emma, died, ending 20 years of "domestic estrangement." In 1914, Hardy married Florence Emily Dugdale, with whom he lived until his death on January 11, 1928.
Hardy's body was buried at Westminster Abbey in Poet's Corner, while his heart was buried in Stinson, England, near the graves of his ancestors and his first wife, Emma. His second wife was later buried near her husband.