I loved this biography of one of my favourite writers. Claire Tomalin has done a marvelous job of showing us both Hardy the man and Hardy the writer. It appears she appreciates him slightly more as a poet than a novelist – but her insight into both his novels and his poetry is affectionate and fascinating and may help me better understand his work from now on.
I found the story of the young Hardy growing up in quite poor and difficult circumstances in Bockhampton really fascinating – I suppose I had assumed he had come from a more middle class background but within a rural community – I was wrong. Tomalin gives great insight into Hardy’s relationship with his friend Horace Moule and his first wife Emma. Moule was his only real great friend, and died by suicide trgically young. His wife Emma came from a higher social standing, he courted her over more than 4 years and they were both well into their thirties when they married. Tomalin’s recreation of the Hardy’s marriage feels accurate – and is all the sadder for that. The book opens with Emma’s death in 1912 and Hardy’s great grief for the loss of his wife – whom he knew he hadn’t treated well, and who had slept in the attic for sometime. Her death serving to remind Hardy of their beginning and how he had felt then, and which inspired some wonderful poetry about her. I also found the picture of the “old man of letters” that Hardy had become by the time of the first world war – terribly poignant. His marriage to Florence, their life togther in the house he shared for so long with Emma, and the strange friendship with Cockerell who became joint literary executor with Florence Hardy. This is definitely a book for anyone with a liking for Thomas Hardy – and it is likely to reawaken a love of his work.
I really need to acquaint myself rather better with Hardy’s poetry – something for the furture maybe.