Let's get the obvious question out of the way: do we need another biography of Thomas Hardy? Yes, we do. First of all, because Hardy is one of the most mysterious writers in English literature; and second of all, because this one is by Claire Tomalin, who always brings an acute and original intelligence to bear. Here she ranges herself with the calmer Hardy scholars, Michael Millgate in particular: no evidence for an affair with his cousin Tryphena, for example, or for a family model for Tess. She mops our brows, too, about Hardy's famous response to seeing a woman hanged. Did he find her still an attractive woman at the point of death? 'Only too likely, surely, but hardly culpable'; merely expressing the painful truth that she was young and beautiful, and at the same time dead.
Tomalin is above all sympathetic. She defends Hardy, here and elsewhere – as a great if uneven writer, and as a husband who, long into their unhappy marriage, still wrote affectionately to poor silly Emma, his first wife. And more than any other writer on Hardy, she defends Emma herself,