I have written a lot about Thomas Hardy’s most well-known novels; their summaries, analysis, comments, joys, frustrations, and as far as I remember, none of his personal life has been included in this blog. Separating authors’ private lives with their works is inevitable though I want it to be untrue.
I have been wondering what makes Thomas Hardy’s novels are too hard to bear. I have been questioning how come the endings of his best books leave me with mixed feelings. Even the ending of ‘Far from The Madding Crowd’, which I think is his only happily-ever after-finale book among ‘Tess’, ‘Jude The Obscure’, ‘The Woodlanders’, ‘The Mayor of Casterbridge’ and ‘The Return of the Native’, doesn’t thrill me. It does relieve me but not excite me.
And today I reread the writer’s biography, particularly on his marriages. I have once read about it but missed some great points on his love life; that he and his first wife, Emma Lavinia Gifford, were happy in the first years of the marriage but later grew distant. Secondly, Hardy, though perhaps is spurred by his first childless marriage, began visiting some other women, one of whom was Florence Dugdale, his second wife, while he was still married to Emma.
However, his second marriage proved to have been bleak as well. Hardy, despite his aging period, became so glued at his study while Florence was in the shadows of Emma, whom ironically he ignored when she was still alive. After Emma died, Hardy regretted how much he neglected her and how bad her illness was. He had a wreath containing “From her lonely husband, with the Old Affection”.
I can’t imagine how miserable his life back then. The saying that goes “you don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone” is quite suitable to describe his life after the death of Emma. Hardy can’t remedy the things that have been gone away. This is the most saddening of all.
Despite the rumors that Hardy was an unfaithful husband, I put another concern on how complicated Hardy’s personality is. On one side, he had affairs with some women, including Florence, but in another side, he neglected her, too. He preferred working to have lived his second marriage, taken care and loved Florence as his wife. May be his only friend was his jobs, his writings, his views about life in general.
I myself sense that his personal stories either directly or indirectly add dreary tone in many of his novels. Although they don’t explicitly tell readers about Emma, or Florence or his childless marriage but there’s a lot of things to wonder beyond that somber atmospheres.
In ‘Tess’, Hardy mostly brings out its most dramatic, bleakest sides. Not to mention is his standpoints on the faith, trust and an almost long-life regret by Angel Clare.
“The Mayor of Casterbridge” is attached with sadness because Micheal Henchard dies amid the ending of the book that is sealed with the marriage of Elizabeth Jane and Donald Farfrae.
And oh, “The Return of the Native”. Although it’s better that Clement Yeobright lives alone after the death of his unfaithful wife, Eustacia Vye, I can’t help feeling a bit gloomy after reading the book. The union of Thomasin Yeobright, Clement’s cousin, and Diggory Venn, doesn’t help me much.
All I remember about “The Woodlanders” is the unrequited of Marty South, a faithful, peasant girl who is in love with Giles Winterborne although he loves Grace Melbury. Marty South remains faithful to Giles, visits his graveyard while Grace returns to the arms of Edgar Fitzpiers.
While for ‘Jude the Obscure’, Hardy’s last completed novel, is way too much heartbreaking. Besides “Tess”, this book puts Hardy and Emma in heated arguments. The outcry from churches and public at that time is said to have made Hardy no longer writing novels then devoted much of his time composing poems. For those who haven’t read the novel, “Jude” revolves around the love of Jude and his cousin, Sue Bridehead, which was controversial at that time. Furthermore, they eloped, were against license marriage though they later got married due to people disapproval on their romance.
Again, while my opinions may be incorrect, I think it’s worth noting how Hardy’s life say something about his forlorn ideas seen in his major novels.