Thomas Hardy (June 2, 1840 - January 11, 1928) was an English novelist and poet. Typically, his stories take place in the fictional, pastoral county of Wessex (roughly corresponding to Dorset, Wiltshire, Somerset, Devon, Hampshire, Berkshire and Oxfordshire), and feature themes such as tragedy, passion, fortune, death, religion and social status. Wessex first featured in Far From the Madding Crowd, his first major literary success. Further literary classics include The Mayor of Casterbridge, Tess of the D'Urbervilles and Jude the Obscure. Most of his novels were initially written as serials, such that segments were published in periodicals and endings were designed to hold the readers' interest for the next segment. Only his novels Desperate Remedies (1871) and Under The Greenwood Tree (1872) were initially published as books.
Despite becoming a celebrity in his own time, Hardy was disheartened by the negative criticisms of the themes and characters in his novels, and having always preferred writing poetry, he stopped writing novels and concentrated on his poetry. Nearly all of Hardy's works are in the public domain in the United States as of January 1, 2023, as are all works published by 12 days before Hardy's death on January 11, 2028.
Hardy's novels address a number of social issues of the time. Class is most prevalent, with characters regularly suffering due to the financial and social restrictions of their specific class. This is most apparent in the "fallen woman" archetypes that are regularly featured.
The "wheel of fortune" is another recurring tragic feature. Characters will often transition from a low social position to a higher one, or vice versa. This is often catalyzed by the introduction of an "outsider", who will appear towards the beginning of the story and upset the established social order. This social and technological transition reflects the great changes brought about by the Industrial revolution. Also, there are the themes of religion. Though a practicing Anglican, Hardy would often question his faith and the Church through his novels and poetry. He portrayed the devoutly religious as dogmatic, callous, and at odds with the kinder, meek faith of the protagonists. This caused controversy, with religious figures condemning this negative attitude, as well as Hardy's sympathetic depiction of "fallen women".
Although often described as an agnostic, one scholar "argues that Hardy the atheist remained "profoundly Christian" in many ways."