Thomas Hardy lived from June 2, 1840, to January 11, 1928. He grew up in Higherbockhampton, Dorset, the eldest son of a stonemason. He had one brother and two sisters. Sickly from an early age, he was educated at home until he was sixteen. He then began an apprenticeship, and then a career, as an architect. He started writing poetry in the 1860s but did not publish his first novel until 1871. He married Emma Lavinia Gifford in 1874.
It was not until the publication of Far from the Madding Crowd, Hardy's fourth novel, that Hardy won widespread popularity as a writer, and he was able to give up architecture. The book was published serially in 1874, in Corn Hill Magazine, a journal edited by Leslie Stephens, the father of Virginia Woolf. The novel was published in short sections, and as you read it, you can see that they intentionally leave the reader in suspense; this was a device to motivate readers to buy the next issue of the magazine. Early reviewers compared Hardy's writing to that of George Eliot and recognized him as an important new voice in English fiction.
Hardy went on to write novels at an extraordinary rate for more than 20 years, writing one every one or two years. His most famous novels written during these years include The Return of the Native,Tess of the D'Urbervilles, and The Mayor of Casterbridge. After the publication of Jude the Obscure caused a major scandal in 1895, Hardy stopped writing novels and devoted the rest of his life (more than 30 years) to poetry. His last great project was an epic poem titled "The Dynasts," a versed chronicle of the Napoleonic Wars. After some time in London he built himself a house in his native Dorsetshire and lived there for the rest of his life. He was widowed in 1912 and married Florence Dugdale in 1914.
Hardy was a devoted reader of philosophy, scientific texts, the Bible, and Greek literature, and he incorporated much of his knowledge into his own works. One of the most profound influences on his thinking was Charles Darwin, particularly Darwin's emphasis on chance and luck in evolution. Though brought up to believe in God, Hardy struggled with a loss of faith suffered by many of his contemporaries; he increasingly turned to science for answers about man's place in the universe.
One of Hardy's central concerns in all of his writing was the problem of modernity in a society that was rapidly becoming more and more industrial. One of his projects as a writer was to create an account of life in the swiftly changing Dorsetshire as it had once been. He was particularly interested in the rituals and histories of that part of England, as well as the dialect of its locals. The title Far From the Madding Crowd suggests avoidance of the life of a city, modernized government, crowds and industry; in it, Hardy tries to fashion a portrait of what he saw as an endangered way of life and to create a snapshot for future generations.