Ralph Pite's new biography of Hardy is the first for a long time and will reveal a great deal about the man, his writing and his life and loves. Few writers are as strongly associated with a sense of place as Thomas Hardy. His role as unofficial historian of Wessex has come to be a significant part of what defines his reputation, yet it can only begin to accommodate the complexities of a man who overcame his humble origins and went on to write some of the most popular, but also most vilified, novels of the late Victorian period. In The Guarded Life Ralph Pite excavates the biographical remains of a famously secretive man, and from them constructs a fascinating, multi-faceted portrait. This is a life that begins in obscurity and ends with international fame. Yet it's the interim period of Hardy's life that proves to be the most intriguing of all, characterised by professional and personal suffering at the hands of harshly critical reviews and subsequent social notoriety. While a novel like Jude the Obscure may have fuelled fierce debate, dragging a reluctant Hardy into the spotlight of public outrage, it's very preoccupations also make a case for reticence and ambiguity.
Pite considers Hardy's retreat into poetry, to escape from the vicissitudes of public life as a novelist, and sets it against a detailed and moving portrait of his domestic life. This elegant biography of Hardy, the first since 1981, views its subject through a minutely revealing lens whilst setting it against a sweeping historical backdrop, with the result that Hardy emerges as a more rounded and significant figure of his times than ever previously appreciated.
Ralph Pite teaches English at Cardiff University. He has published a critical study of Hardy (Hardy's Geography, Palgrave, 2002), a book about Dante's influence on Romantic Poetry (The Circle of Our Vision, Oxford University Press,1994), and a biographical account of Samuel Taylor Coleridge (Lives of the Great Romantics: Coleridge, Pickering & Chatto, 1997).