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64 of 68 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Hardy the Enigma
Thomas Hardy will always remain something of an enigma: a man best known for his lyrical descriptions of landscape and country life who almost without fail chose to spend the summer months in the smog and grime of London; a man who wrote some of the most moving love poems in the language in honour of his wife but only after her death and only after treating her with cold...
Published on 24 July 2007 by Gregory S. Buzwell

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32 of 40 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A good read, but. . .
For all that it is as well-written and page-turning as we would expect from Claire Tomalin, there is very little that is at all new in this biography, and one is left wondering just why it was written. She steers a path between the cold factuality and often wrong-headed assumptions and condescension of Michael Millgate, and the wonderfully sympathetic, red-blooded and...
Published on 4 Nov. 2006 by Garth Winter


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64 of 68 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Hardy the Enigma, 24 July 2007
By 
Gregory S. Buzwell "bagpuss007" (London) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Thomas Hardy: The Time-torn Man (Paperback)
Thomas Hardy will always remain something of an enigma: a man best known for his lyrical descriptions of landscape and country life who almost without fail chose to spend the summer months in the smog and grime of London; a man who wrote some of the most moving love poems in the language in honour of his wife but only after her death and only after treating her with cold neglect during their marriage. A man obsessed with class and social status who in his novels always sided with the underdog. He is, I suspect, simultaneously a biographer's dream subject (so many contradictions, such a fascinating character) and worst nightmare (so enigmatic and so inconsistent).

I thoroughly enjoyed Claire Tomalin's book, although I do have one or two reservations. She is excellent on Hardy's attitudes towards women. Hardy clearly adored the ladies, albeit in an idealised sense. One only has to read his descriptions of Eustacia Vye in 'The Return of the Native' or of Tess in the book that bears her name to see how much beautiful women appealed to him, and indeed how well he understood them. The women in his own life however, especially his first wife Emma Gifford, failed, through no fault of their own, to live up to his ideals and he sadly became tired of them. Emma's journey as Hardy's wife, taking her from a free-spirited girl to a sad and lonely figure living almost alone in an attic, is well explained in the book. You sense Tomalin has a deep sympathy for Emma and she does much to portray her as a thinking, feeling human being. A woman who played a major role in Hardy's development both as a novelist and as a poet.

The book is also very good on Hardy's childhood and his youthful friendship with the brilliant but troubled Horace Moule. Youthful experiences are important in the development of any writer and Tomalin does Hardy full justice here. Where I think she does less well is with Hardy the elderly gentleman. He struggles for success, he writes his novels, he falls in and out of love with numerous fascinating women, his wife dies and he writes several beautiful poems in her honour .... and then it all seems to drift into nothingness. Hardy lived for sixteen more years following Emma's death, he remarried, published several excellent volumes of poetry and became a grand old man of English letters, courted by royalty and the literary establishment alike, and yet this part of his life seems very sketchily dealt with in the book, almost as if the author had rather lost interest. Also a few errors creep in. At one point Hardy is described as visiting Samuel Hoare and his wife, Lady Alda Hoare, at Stourhead. Hardy certainly visited Lady Alda at Stourhead, but she was married to Henry Hoare, not Samuel. Samuel Hoare, the politician, had nothing to do with either Lady Alda, Stourhead or indeed with Hardy.

Still these are minor quibbles with what is generally a good and informative read. Besides, the best measure of success for any literary biography is the speed with which it sends the reader back to the works of the author under discussion. As I have already started re-reading one of Hardy's novels, in this sense, Claire Tomalin has succeeded admirably.
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13 of 15 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A good story, 6 Dec. 2007
By 
Jeremy Walton (Sidmouth, UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Thomas Hardy: The Time-torn Man (Paperback)
I borrowed this from my friend earlier this year and finished it last month on a trip to Dorset. I read Robert Gittings' two-volume (Young Thomas Hardy, The Older Hardy) biography of Hardy a long time ago, so the story of his remarkable life and his two contrasting marriages was familiar to me, but it was good to hear about these things again. Claire Tomalin has an easy style which occasionally slips into the second person as she suggests to the reader what "you" might have thought had you been there, but she's also worked hard at her research and brings up some interesting snippets. For example, at one point she notes that Hardy was friends with Bertrand Russell's aunt, and wonders what each would have made of the other had they met. She also gives a memorable vignette from (one of) Hardy's funerals, which was probably the only occasion on which Kipling and Shaw met.

But - as others have pointed out - it's Tomalin's treatment of the poetry that takes up most of her attention. The tale of how his guilt and regret at his first wife's death found its expression in a large collection of extraordinary poetry (which profoundly unsettled his second wife) is a distinctive one, and is worth telling in detail, but I'd've liked more attention paid to his novels. These - I think - are the route through which most readers encounter Hardy but unfortunately, she seems to lose interest in them as she goes through his life; certainly the treatment of his later books - which are far more important - is more cursory than the account she gives of the earlier ones.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Hardy Annual, 22 Feb. 2014
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The image for most people of Thomas Hardy is like the front cover illustration. Claire Tomalin charts the spectrum of his life particularly referring to the relationships he had with his family and his two wives. We do tend to forget that Hardy was young once and he experienced the vicissitudes of growing up in rural and later urban 19th Century England. She helpfully points out some of his life experiences which he would later use in his novels. Hardy is a complex man cocooned in his beloved Wessex comforted by the changeable but nevertheless reassuring natural world. This absorbing account of his life reflects the various different aspects of the man, his relationships and his environment and goes a considerable way to provide an understanding of what made him tick.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Crisp taut and readable, 21 Dec. 2012
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Unadorned and undeviating can be similarly applied to Claire Tomalin's rapid and readable romp through the life of the novelist and poet. The events keep the reader avidly reading on, and her perspicacious treatment of the novels and poetry reflects her love for her subject. This shines out right from the start of the book. For instance in the preface she picks up on the last verse of one of Hardy's most poignant poems `At Castle Boterel'; verses guaranteed to touch the heart--- and to inspire recourse to the whole poem.

Tomalin crams Hardy's eighty seven years into three hundred and seventy six pages without leaving much out, as she traces his life from son of a small country builder to worldwide acclaim as a consummate writer, and examines his genius for transporting commonplace scenes and occupations into literary immortality.

There is plenty to occupy her: the discomfort Hardy felt in his humble origins, a complex that haunted him all his life; rejection of his early novels bravely borne; religious ambivalence; censure from scornful critics; the beginnings of recognition; the triumph of unparalleled success; and not least the paradoxical attitude he adopted to his wives and loves. For Hardy has been criticised for disparaging Emma during her later years, and then blatantly mourning her in elegies that make up some of his finest poetry while married to his second wife Florence. Tomalin's evaluation of these and other Hardyesque enigmas is objective and emphasises the fact that writing only succeeds when the author is deeply moved by the subject. Tomalin is. She understands how it must have hurt Florence; but that's Hardy.

The book can't really be faulted; it's a fluent account of an epic life. And this reviewer rejects the censure that Tomalin's unsubstantiated conjectures are detrimental; after all, readers will draw their own conclusions on the food for thought they offer. Finally on a mundane note the book (mine a hardback version)is a handsome thing in itself, with its whimsical cover portrait and dark blue end papers, and there's a brilliant index which makes finding comment on the novels and poems an absolute doddle.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A well-paced introduction to Hardy's life., 23 Aug. 2008
This review is from: Thomas Hardy: The Time-torn Man (Paperback)
It has been almost a year since I read this biography but I enjoyed it. I am not an expert on Hardy by any means and have not read any other accounts of his life although I have enjoyed reading both his novels and poems.
I appreciated the detailed construction of the society Hardy was born into. From the start we are aware of what type of family he was born into, the struggles he faced and his ambition to learn. The helpful map at the start demonstrates the extent to which Hardy's world was centred around a small patch of England. I also found Tomalin's accounts of Hardy's novels to be thoughtful, incisive and interesting. I have not read Desperate Remedies, but I will. Her analysis of his poetry is equally informative and astute. She is not afraid to criticise her subject, but is always aware of what he was aiming to write.
I would recommend this book highly to anyone who wants to enhance their knowledge of Hardy.
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35 of 43 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Highlighting the poetry, 5 Nov. 2006
By 
Lynette Baines (Melbourne, Australia) - See all my reviews
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Claire Tomalin's biographies are always worth reading, she's one of the few biographers I read no matter who their subject is. Thomas Hardy is one of my favourite novellists and poets, so this was a perfect match for me. Tomalin manages to say something fresh about a man who has been endlessly written about. She concentrates on the poetry, which has often been relegated to second place behind the novels. She also shines a light on Hardy's relationship with his first wife, Emma, who emerges from the book as a spirited and exciting young woman. The book opens with a beautifully written chapter on Emma's death and how this inspired Hardy to write some of his most beautiful love poems. Their relationship had deteriorated to the point where they hardly spoke and Emma lived in the attic, but her death released all his happy memories of their courtship and early life together. Tomalin's previous books on Ellen Ternan and Dorothea Jordan have shown her ability to imagine the lives of women on the margins, and with Emma Hardy, she has recalled her to life. The book sent me back to the work, which is what I look for in a literary biography.
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32 of 40 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A good read, but. . ., 4 Nov. 2006
By 
Garth Winter (Southern England) - See all my reviews
For all that it is as well-written and page-turning as we would expect from Claire Tomalin, there is very little that is at all new in this biography, and one is left wondering just why it was written. She steers a path between the cold factuality and often wrong-headed assumptions and condescension of Michael Millgate, and the wonderfully sympathetic, red-blooded and humorous account by the late Martin Seymour-Smith, but never really brings her subject(s) to life. It is, if anything, a bit thin. It is worth having, certainly, but does not compare favourably with the recent biography by Ralph Pite which, though more clunkily written, offers numerous fresh insights.
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7 of 9 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Workmanlike biography of the artisan writer, 10 Jan. 2010
I've never read any of Hardy's novels or his poems, but I've read a lot of biographies including Tomalin's book on Pepys. What distinguishes the most compelling biographies is the fact that they deal with the 'arc of life' - ie you read them knowing that the last pages will be about the death of the subject. So you know what's coming, but in the best such works (Motion's on Larkin for example) you have become so engaged with the subject by the end of the book that the inevitable end can still be incredibly moving and powerful. Not so here. I found the whole book a workmanlike plod through the chapters in Hardy's life. Make no mistake - this should be a fascinating story, but somehow it just feels as dead as Hardy's attitude towards Emma at the end of their time together. The twenty four chapters, all of approximately equal length, feel like the author has systematically ploughed-through all the other existing works on Hardy to produce a new book - so in short, it feels like a labour, rather than a labour of love. Having said all that, it has motivated me to read some Hardy at long last and I have learned an enormous amount about his life story. Somehow that's not enough.
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7 of 9 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Quick and easy read - but annoying, 3 Aug. 2011
This review is from: Thomas Hardy: The Time-torn Man (Paperback)
It is an easy and interesting read, so if you just want a quick overview of Hardy's life, it does the job. I became, however, increasingly annoyed with all the speculation on Tomalin's part - 'he must have thought so-and-so', 'if they did this and that, did they react so-and-so?' When there is no possibility of knowing, I'd have preferred no guesses. Tomalin also inserts her own judgements constantly. Instead of letting e.g. Florence or Emma's words speak for themselves, Tomalin must tell us how pathetic their statements are. She does not let the readers decide for themselves. I'm left with the feeling that Tomalin actively dislikes both Emma and Florence, and that she excuses much of Hardy's behaviour towards them because - what? He's the genius? He's a man? He's her topic? Who knows.
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5 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Warmly written, warmly recommended, 20 Dec. 2007
By 
jfp2006 (PARIS/France) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Thomas Hardy: The Time-torn Man (Paperback)
As a teenager I found Thomas Hardy's major novels totally absorbing, his rural world totally different from the one I was growing up in, his characters totally engaging in their humility and their simplicity. Where Dickens seemed hard going (particularly "Hard Times", the first one we had foisted on us at school) and sometimes recklessly over the top, Hardy's gentle rustic realism always seemed that much more believable.

This flawlessly researched and meticulously written biography has taken me back to Hardy's world, all that stuff about the pathos underlying the grandeur and the grandeur underlying the pathos (I think that's how it was encapsulated somewhere...) The major novels will all have to be shifted on to the re-read pile now... But, as befits a biographical approach, it is Hardy the man who comes astonisinghly to life in these pages, and he comes over as a man racked with contradictions, a man who rose up above, even rebelled against, his humble background, and yet never quite forgave himself for doing so. A God-fearing atheist as well (in rather the same way in which Byron has been decribed as a revolutionary aristocrat). The only one of four children not to heed his mother's advice never to marry, remaining steadfastly loyal to his first wife while often cordially detesting her, and never quite coming to terms with the way he was, basically, manipulated into a second marriage by a woman nearly forty years his junior.

Claire Tomalin has already written critically acclaimed biographies of, among others, Shelley, Katherine Mansfield, Jane Austen and Samuel Pepys. Her style is smooth and polished, with just the odd surprising jagged edge sticking out, as when she gets on to "Jude The Obscure":

"Reading 'Jude' is like being hit in the face over and over again."

I well remember the unbearably depressing effect of reading "Jude", but I would never have expressed that effect with quite such a simile.

Tomalin also strikes me as rather too simplistic in her division of certain of the novels into "masterpieces" and "failures" (with "Two On A Tower", about which she seems unable to make up her mind, classed as an "interesting oddity").

After the scandalised reception of "Jude The Obscure" in 1895, Hardy turned definitively away from the novel and devoted the last thirty years of his life to poetry, new and old (some of it having been written many years prior to publication). Tomalin draws attention to the enormous variety to be found within the poetry, and singles out highly acclaimed poems such as "The Darkling Thrush" and "The Ruined Maid", a highly amusing dialogue between a naïve former acquaintance and a countrygirl-turned-harlot:

- 'Your hands were lke paws then, your face blue and bleak
But now I'm bewitched by your delicate cheek,
And your little gloves fit as on any la-dy!' -
'We never do work when we're ruined,' said she.

The epilogue to the biography concentrates, unexpectedly, on the wrangling over where Hardy should be buried: with his family, as he had stipulated, or in Poets' Corner at Westminster Abbey, as his influential friends thought appropriate (in brazen defiance of Hardy's own will and testament). The way the dispute was resolved is the most shocking revelation in the biography (and I still can't quite believe what I read in those final pages...)

I've always had reservations about biography, thinking that the life of a human being, especially a creative one, is so complex that any attempt to present it will either just scratch the surface or else be too obviously subjective in its approach - or even both. But this one has made me start to think otherwise. Tomalin is indeed, as one reviewer puts it, "the most empathetic of biographers", and I look forward to getting to know Jane Austen, and possibly Katherine Mansfield, in her genial company.
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Thomas Hardy: The Time-torn Man
Thomas Hardy: The Time-torn Man by Claire Tomalin (Paperback - 5 July 2007)
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