When Thomas Hardy's Jude the Obscure was first published in 1895, its critical reception was so negative that Hardy resolved never to write another novel. Jude the Obscure attacked the institutions Britain held the most dear: higher education, social class, and marriage. It called, through its narrative, for a new openness in marriage laws and commonly held beliefs about marriage and divorce. It introduced one of the first feminist characters in English fiction: the intellectual, free-spirited Sue Bridehead.
Hardy is famous for his tragic heroes and heroines and the grave, socially critical tone of his narratives. His best known works are Tess of the d'Urbervilles, The Return of the Native, Far from the Madding Crowd, and The Mayor of Casterbridge. All his novels are set in Wessex, a fictional English county modeled after the real Dorset county. They deal with moral questions, played out through the lives of people living in the countryside, and point to the darker truths behind pastoral visions.
Hardy was born to a builder's family in 1840 and died in 1928. He spent much of his life working as an architect and was married twice.