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In addition to his great "Wessex Novels," Thomas Hardy wrote Wessex Tales (1896), a collection of six stories written in the 1880s and 1890s that, for the most part, are as bleakly ironic and unforgiving as the darkest of his great novels -- Jude the Obscure. But this great novelist began and ended his writing career as a poet. In-between, he wrote a number of books that many readers find emotionally-wrenching, but which are considered among the classics of 19th Century British literature, including Far from the Madding Crowd, and Tess of the D'Urbervilles. Readers will experience Hardy's uncompromising, unsentimental realism in Wessex Tales, and for those seeking a taste of the Dorset poet and novelist, they represent an ideal start.
Thomas Hardy (1840 - 1928) was an English novelist and poet. A Victorian realist in the tradition of George Eliot, he was influenced both in his novels and in his poetry by Romanticism, especially William Wordsworth. He was highly critical of much in Victorian society, though Hardy focused more on a declining rural society. While Hardy wrote poetry throughout his life and regarded himself primarily as a poet, his first collection was not published until 1898. Initially, therefore, he gained fame as the author of such novels as Far from the Madding Crowd (1874), The Mayor of Casterbridge (1886), Tess of the d'Urbervilles (1891), and Jude the Obscure (1895). During his lifetime, Hardy's poetry was acclaimed by younger poets (particularly the Georgians) who viewed him as a mentor. After his death his poems were lauded by Ezra Pound, W. H. Auden and Philip Larkin. Many of his novels concern tragic characters struggling against their passions and social circumstances and they are often set in the semi-fictional region of Wessex; initially based on the medieval Anglo-Saxon kingdom, Hardy's Wessex eventually came to include the counties of Dorset, Wiltshire, Somerset, Devon, Hampshire and much of Berkshire, in southwest and south central England. He destroyed the manuscript of his first, unplaced novel, but -- encouraged by mentor and friend George Meredith -- tried again. His important work took place in an area of southern England he called Wessex, named after the English kingdom that existed before the Norman Conquest.