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60 of 64 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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60 of 64 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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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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11 of 13 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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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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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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This review is from: Thomas Hardy: The Time-torn Man (Hardcover)
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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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
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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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
This review is from: Thomas Hardy: The Time-torn Man (Hardcover)
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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6 of 8 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Quick and easy read - but annoying, 3 Aug 2011
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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6 of 8 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Workmanlike biography of the artisan writer, 10 Jan 2010
This review is from: Thomas Hardy: The Time-torn Man (Hardcover)
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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4.0 out of 5 stars Interesting book about a man less interesting than I thought, 25 Jun 2014
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Interesting book about a man less interesting than I thought. Have to say I think his wives probably deserved a little more depth - but I imagine that's down to history rather than the excellent Claire Tomalin
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3.0 out of 5 stars Tedious, 11 Jun 2014
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jane Moysey (King's Lynn, Norfolk United Kingdom) - See all my reviews
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Reminded me of why I don't like hardy. Has some interesting detail. If you like Hardy,this is probably a great read
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3.0 out of 5 stars Worth a read, but left feeling disillusioned by the end, 30 April 2014
After an initial rocky start to reading I thoroughly enjoyed the first half of the book. Claire Tomlin does a fantastic job of providing an insight to where Thomas Hardy comes from. The important role of his mother, the location they lived and family life. I felt I got a real understanding of his background and what drove him and influenced him as a writer. The retelling of his courtship and marriage to Emma and the role Emma played in his early drive to be a writer is also very revealing and interesting to read. However after that the biography became dull and was just one list after another of what he published, his visits to London, buying and designing his house and death. The second half is also full of tickle tattle about Hardy's character written by visitors to is home in Dorset. Claire Tomalin also treats the women in Hardy's life with contempt - talking about the demise of Hardy's and Emma's marriage I get a sense that Tomalin blames Emma. Likewise after Emma's death when Hardy marries Florence Dugdale she is perceived as a liar and manipulative, whilst Hardy appears to lay blameless in the marriage and is portrayed as suffering, trapped in hellish marriages and longing to be with other women - who Tomalin appears to favour as well as. I finished the book feeling really disillusioned by Tomalin's attack on both of Hardy's wives. especially Emma who had played such a pivotal role in Hardy's success.
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Thomas Hardy: The Time-torn Man
Thomas Hardy: The Time-torn Man by Claire Tomalin (Hardcover - 5 Oct 2006)
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