Thomas Hardy: The Guarded Life by Ralph Pite - review by Catherine Peters

Catherine Peters

Epitaph on a Pessimist

Thomas Hardy: The Guarded Life


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He had grown up in a house where nothing was said about what really mattered – where history filled the silence and annals of the parish supplanted personal lives. He grew used to secrets; he absorbed habitual strategies of self-control.

Ralph Pite’s new biography explores Hardy through his famous reticence, which Pite sees as his way of resisting definition and entrapment; a strategy learned so early in life that it became an inescapable part of his nature. Writing became Hardy’s substitute for personal relationships. His first wife Emma wrote bitterly, ‘he understands only the women he invents – the others not at all’. By his middle years Hardy was so entrenched behind these self-imposed barriers, that any intimacy threatened him. A passionate man who was subject to recurrent, unconsummated infatuations with much younger women, he would retreat into disillusionment before things could get out of hand. A guarded life indeed. 

Pite fingers the usual suspects, Hardy’s parents. Locked in a shotgun marriage that neither of them wanted (Hardy was born five and a half months after the ceremony), Hardy’s father went his own way, and his fiercely intelligent mother, who had been brought up in deep poverty, concentrated her formidable

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