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One evening of late summer, before the nineteenth century had reached one third of its span, a young man and woman, the latter carrying a child, were approaching the large village of Weydon-Priors, in Upper Wessex, on foot. (from the first line)
|Thomas Hardy''s novels about the cruel twists of fate that blight our lives have a timeless power to move us. In The Mayor Casterbridge, a young Michael Henchard makes a rash, alcohol-fuelled decision to sell his wife. Despite abstaining from alcohol from this point forward and living an upstanding life, this lapse is a revenant that returns to plague him at the peak of his career. In his struggles to overcome his hot-headed, belligerent nature, Henchard is very recognisably human and sympathetic hero.|
Born in Dorset, Thomas Hardy wrote about his native region all his life, calling it "Wessex" in his novels. Hardy was apprenticed to an architect at 15, but began to write novels in his spare time when he was in his 20s. His first novel was rejected by George Meredith, a reader for the publisher he sent it to, but he was considered promising, and Meredith encouraged him to try again. Hardy, who had also been writing poetry, gave it up temporarily for fiction, and his first novel was published three years later. He abandoned architecture for the life of a writer, producing a series of masterpieces that ended with "Jude the Obscure" in 1896. That novel's frankness and unsparing bleakness met with such a hostile reception that Hardy returned to writing poetry, which he continued to produce until the end of his life. His novels are strongly determinist, demonstrating the ways in which the forces of nature shape human existence: People are at the mercy of their passions; fate and chance rule their lives, and the only heroic path is endurance. His poetry contains similar themes, and all of his work is permeated with a melancholy that often turns to tragedy.