Becoming a novelist

Life in London

Hardy enjoyed London life, especially its cultural side. He attended art galleries, theatres, public readings (including some given by Charles Dickens) and lectures etc. His work in London was with the prestigious architectural firm of Arthur Blomfield, but it left him plenty of spare time.

Hardy began to be drawn towards writing, and started submitting poems and essays to various London journals. One or two humorous essays were accepted. He then began to think of writing a novel and started to assemble materials and prepare himself as a writer. However, at 27 years old, Thomas’ health began to break down, although there was no obvious reason. Blomfield suggested he take the summer off.

Return to Dorset

In the summer of 1867, Hardy returned to Dorset. He had little to show outwardly for his years in London, and decided to remain in Dorset.

He started working for architect John Hicks again. Hicks specialised in church restoration and Hardy enjoyed this work, travelling over south-west England on various restoration projects. It was on one such visit that he met his future wife, Emma Gifford.

When Hicks died, a Weymouth architect, Crickmay, invited Hardy to work for him. But by this time, Hardy was writing quite seriously and so would take time off from his paid work. He moved between Weymouth, home and short trips back to London to see publishers.

Early works

Hardy’s first novel, begun in London, was called The Poor Man and the Lady (1868). Though it was never published, a literary figure of the day, George Meredith, encouraged him to continue writing. One of its central themes, about a poor man trapped in the British class system, was eventually re-worked into his last novel, Jude the Obscure.

Hardy’s first published novel in 1871 was called Desperate Remedies. It was full of melodrama, but also contained experiences from his actual life. He eventually found a publisher, Tinsleys, who were prepared to publish it if Hardy would put up seventy-five pounds to cover losses on a first edition of five hundred copies. It was a hard bargain but Hardy had the money saved. Reviewers liked the scenes of country life but little else.

Stimulated by this, Hardy took up another tale about country life on which he had been working, Under the Greenwood Tree. It was published in 1872. At 32 years old, he had his first real literary success and decided to become a full-time writer.

A reflection of life?

Hardy’s next novel came out a year later, and was probably his most autobiographical. A Pair of Blue Eyes contains descriptions very close to his own account of meeting his future wife, Emma Gifford, whilst in the north of Cornwall in 1870 on a church restoration project. However, whilst Hardy's novels contain much that he knew at first hand, they should not be read as truly autobiographical.

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