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A Reader's Guide To The Works Of Thomas Hardy

Early Works
Hardy's earliest known writing, though not published till later, was the poem "Domicilium" (1862?). Hardy having been trained as an architect's assistant, his first published writing was the magazine article "How I Built Myself A House" (1865). His first attempt at a novel, "The Poor Man And The Lady," was never published, the 1868 manuscript being destroyed, though he reused parts of it in his story (written 1878 but published in his last collection) "Indiscretion In The Life Of An Heiress." His first published novel was Desperate Remedies (1871), an attempt at a Victorian Gothic "sensation" novel, which he soon saw as a false start.

The "Wessex Novels"
Hardy returned to his country and family roots for his first successful novel, the rustic comedy Under The Greenwood Tree. During the next quarter-century he wrote a dozen pastoral novels, mainly as commissioned magazine serials, all set in Wessex (including Desperate Remedies), though Far From The Madding Crowd was the first to use the actual term Wessex for his now-famous "partly real, partly dream country." Hardy enjoyed a run of success with these works as illustrated magazine serials [see sketches below], but he became disillusioned with their slightly romantic aspect. His stories became increasingly tragic, and soon Hardy's work came under attack as morbid, eccentric or obscene, to the extent that after 1896 he gave up prose writing. He later revised his serialized novels to the less censored form in which they now appear. (They are always listed under the original magazine-issue dates, though most were only published in their now-familiar form as bound novels in 1912-13). The main revision work was done for The Wessex Edition published by Macmillan, who have kept the dozen "Wessex Novels" more or less in print ever since, with paperback editions issued since the 1970s. (A Laodicean, arguably not a Wessex-pastoral novel but a satiric "Gothic," remains hard to find.) The stories have variant sub-titles not given here, e.g. The Hand Of Ethelberta: A Comedy In Chapters. The dates given below are of first publication. Some have also been filmed or produced as drama serials for television, when a mass-market paperback is usually issued as a tie-in, and known film-tv productions are noted parenthetically below:

1871 Desperate Remedies
—The "Wessex Novels" [mostly revised as novels 1912-13]:
1872 Under The Greenwood Tree (film 1929; ITV telefeature 2005)
1873 A Pair Of Blue Eyes
1874 Far From The Madding Crowd (films 1909, 1915, and 1967; ITV serial 1998)
1876 The Hand Of Ethelberta
1878 The Return Of The Native (TV film 1995)
1880 The Trumpet-Major
1880 A Laodicean
1882 Two On A Tower
1886 The Mayor Of Casterbridge (BBC-TV 1978; ITV serial 2002)
1887 The Woodlanders (BBC-TV serial 1970; film 1998)
1891 Tess Of The D'Urbervilles (films 1913, 1919, 1924; BBC-TV 1952; ITV 1960; 1979 film; ITV serial 1997; BBC serial 2008)
1892 [The Pursuit Of] The Well-Beloved [revised in book form 1897]
1896 Jude The Obscure (BBC-TV 1971; filmed 1996 as Jude)
Penguin Books and Macmillan both issue almost all the novels in paperback, including some in Penguin's discount Popular Classics line issued to rival Wordsworth's earlier paperback Classics reprints series, which included several Hardy novels. Hardy's work is studied world-wide and some titles are also issued in simplified texts (sometimes known as "readers" - see example at right) for the overseas market. If not obtainable locally, most of the standard editions can be ordered online, cf here.

Alec D'urberville

Short stories: Hardy wrote 47 short stories, again mainly for magazine publication and issued later in volume form. The original 5 main volume collections, representing 43 stories, were:
Wessex Tales: Strange, Lively And Commonplace (7 stories, coll. 1888)
A Group Of Noble Dames (10 stories, coll. 1891)
Life's Little Ironies And A Few Crusted Characters (9 stories, coll. 1894)
A Changed Man And Other Tales (12 stories, coll. 1913)
Old Mrs Chundle And Other Stories (5 stories, coll. 1929)
Since then, the main publisher's compilation has been Macmillan's Collected Stories (1928; 1988), which reprints the 5 original collections in one volume. The Allan Sutton 1980s reissues of A Group Of Noble Dames, Life's Little Ironies and A Changed Man, and Wordsworth Books's reprint of Wessex Tales, plus Penguin Books's ad hoc collection The Distracted Preacher seem to be the main paperback anthologies generally available. When BBC-TV filmed a "Wessex Tales" series of 75-minute telefeatures in 1973, a paperback was issued of the stories filmed, which were actually from three different anthologies above. Hardy's Gothic tales are poorly represented in the Wessex anthologies, but are collected (17 of them) in The Supernatural Tales of Thomas Hardy edited by Peter Haining (1988).

Verse: Poetry was Hardy's first literary love. Although he had to turn to writing prose serials and stories for a living, he wrote poems from the 1860s onward till near his death, completing nearly a thousand poems, mainly in the present century when most were published. The 968 poems are mostly undated and not collected in any order or yet issued in coherent annotated edition. Originally there were eight volume collections: Wessex Poems And Other Verses; Poems Of The Past And The Present; Time's Laughingstocks And Other Verses; Satires Of Circumstance — Lyrics And Reveries With Miscellaneous Pieces; Moments Of Vision And Miscellaneous Verses; Late Lyrics And Earlier With Many Other Verses; Human Shows, Far Phantasies, Songs, And Trifles; and Winter Words In Various Moods And Metres. All eight have been reprinted as one volume, by Macmillan and more recently in Wordsworth's Poetry Library facsimile-edition paperback The Works Of Thomas Hardy. As the original full anthology titles imply, the collections were something of a jumble, and a comprehensive annotated edition of the poems putting them in some order and context is not readily available. A few major poems are quoted with annotation in biographies or in the more expensive "Hardy's Wessex" pictorial souvenir books, as well as in academic journals and critical studies. Poetry is traditionally intended to be heard rather than read, and there are also spoken-word recordings of his work, such as the Naxos AudioBook Winter Words: Poetry and Personal Writings of Thomas Hardy.

Drama: Hardy wrote two plays in verse: The Dynasts (1903-08) (produced five times on BBC Radio); and The Famous Tragedy Of The Queen of Cornwall (1923). He also wrote an 1895 stage adaptation of Tess, much performed and the basis of the silent film versions, plus various unpublished stage adaptations of his novels and stories. (See also the film-tv adaptations as annotated above.)

Nonfiction: Hardy wrote only a few essays, the most reprinted being "The Dorsetshire Labourer" (1883). Hardy's final major nonfiction work was actually a literary forgery, his own autobiography meant to be published as a posthumous authorized biography by his wife and executrix. That is, for posthumous consumption, he wrote his own life story under his wife's name, the two volumes (1928 and 1930) being credited "by Florence E. Hardy." This was an attempt at what journalists call a "spoiler," to discourage the independent biographies that would surely appear after his death -a posthumous version of an authorised biography. This work is not generally available, but is the standard source for biographies, which cannibalize all its useful material, referring to it critically simply as The Life, its obscurities providing much of the basis of modern Hardy scholarship.

There is no shortage aat all of third-party works, i.e. about Hardy rather than by him - it's an entire cottage industry, with a thick new biography usually every year, and thousands of academic critical studies. For a general companion-guide to his life and work, there is also the 1999 paperback Cambridge University Press Companion to Thomas Hardy. §