The son of a stonemason, he derived a love of music from his father and a devotion to literature from his mother. Hardy could not afford to pursue a scholarly career as he wished and was apprenticed to John Hicks, a local church architect. He continued, however, to study the Greek and Latin classics. From 1862 to 1867 he served as assistant to Arthur Blomfield, a London architect; ill health forced him to return to Dorset, where he worked for Hicks and his successor until 1874.
Despite his employment, Hardy was writing continually during this period of his life. Such early novels as Desperate Remedies (1871) and A Pair of Blue Eyes (1873) met with small success and may be considered formative works. After the appearance of Far From the Madding Crowd (1874), popular as well as critical acclaim enabled him to devote himself exclusively to writing. His success also made marriage feasible, and in 1874 he married Emma Lavinia Gifford.
Over the next 22 years Hardy wrote many novels, including those he referred to as "romances and fantasies"—most of which were first serialized in popular magazines. His major works are The Return of the Native (1878), The Mayor of Casterbridge (1886), Tess of the D'Urbervilles (1891), and Jude the Obscure (1896), the latter two considered masterpieces.
Hardy's novels are all set against the bleak and forbidding Dorset landscape (referred to as Wessex in the novels), whose physical harshness echoes that of an indifferent, if not malevolent, universe. The author's characters, who are for the most part of the poorer rural classes, are sympathetically and often humorously portrayed. Their lives are ruled not only by nature but also by rigid Victorian social conventions. Hardy's style is accordingly roughhewn, sometimes awkward, but always commanding and intense.
Hardy had always written poetry and regarded the novel as an inferior genre. After Jude the Obscure was attacked on grounds of supposed immorality (it dealt sympathetically with open sexual relations between men and women), he abandoned fiction. However, the compelling reason was probably that his thought had become too abstract to be adequately expressed in novels. Beginning at the age of 58, Hardy published many volumes of poetry, including Wessex Poems (1898), Satires of Circumstance (1914), Moments of Vision (1917), and Winter Words (1928).
His poetry is spare, unadorned, and unromantic, and its pervasive theme is man's futile struggle against cosmic forces. His verse drama The Dynasts (written 1903-8) is a historical epic of the Napoleonic era, expressing the view that history, too, is guided by forces far more powerful than individual will. Hardy's vision reflects a world in which Victorian complacencies were dying but its moralism was not, and in which science had eliminated the comforting certainties of religion.
Hardy's wife died in 1912, and in 1914 he married Florence Emily Dugdale, a children's book writer, some 40 years his junior. He spent the latter half of his life at Max Gate, a house built after his own designs in his native Dorset, and died there. His ashes are interred in Westminster Abbey, but his heart is buried separately, with a certain dark propriety, near the Egdon Heath made famous by his novels.
See E. Hardy and F. B. Pinion, ed., One Rare Fair Woman, his letters to Florence Henniker (1972); M. Millgate, ed., The Collected Letters of Thomas Hardy (1978-1988); biographies by his wife F. E. Hardy (1928 repr. 1971), E. Hardy (1953, repr. 1973), R. Gittings (1975 and 1978), M. Seymour-Smith (1994), M. Millgate (rev. ed. 2004), C. Tomalin (2006), and R. Pite (2007); studies by R. C. Carpenter (1964), C. J. Weber (2d ed. 1965), I. Howe (1967), M. Millgate (1971), J. I. M. Stewart (1971), F. R. Southerington (1971), and M. Williams (1972); studies of his poetry by E. Brennecke (1924, repr. 1973), J. O. Bailey (1971), P. Zietlow (1974), and I. Gregor (1974).
The Spring River, which begins in Mammoth Spring, Arkansas, flows through Hardy. The Spring River flows into the Black River, which flows into the White River, and the White River eventually flows into the Mississippi River.
U.S. Highway 63 is the main highway which runs through the town. In its course through Arkansas, Highway 63 runs from the Missouri State Line at Mammoth Spring to connect with Interstate 55 near Gilmore, Arkansas.
When roads were poor and travel much more difficult than today, Hardy was one of two county seats of Sharp County. The other was Evening Shade. In 1963, Ash Flat was named the county seat, and Hardy and Evening Shade lost that designation.
Hardy is served by the Burlington Northern-Santa Fe Railroad. Formerly, the railroad through Hardy was part of the Frisco (St. Louis-San Francisco Railroad) which had about 5,000 miles of trackage, and served Arkansas, Missouri, Oklahoma, Kansas, Texas, Tennessee, Alabama, Mississippi, and Florida. In 1980, the much larger Burlington Northern bought out the Frisco and integrated it into its own system, and the Frisco ceased to exist.
It has several lakefront communities and subdivisions, including Woodland Hills.
In the early 1950's, the Horrell and Clay families both had grocery stores there. Conway Horn ran a genreal mercantile store. Charles Cone ran the Western Auto Store. Two places to eat were Bonnie's Cafe and Mrs. Rogers' sundries store. Arthur Snow was a pharmacist and owned a drugstore. The agent for the Frisco Railroad was Virgil L. Walker, Jr. Dink Booth was the barber. The Thomsons ran the movie theater, and Ben Dalton published a newspaper. Ottie Cate ran a poultry and ice house, and Bill Shaver had the Standard Oil service station. Tom Walker was in charge of the local bank, and Woodrow Wilson ran a Mobil service station. "Peavine" Clouse was the city marshal. "Guinea" Gray was a local painter, and Clifford Brummet had the contract to carry the mail between the post office and the arriving trains. He also had a farm near Hardy. Arthur Garner sold real estate. Doctor Miller was a local medical doctor. Leonard Johns worked at the Post Office.
According to the United States Census Bureau, the city has a total area of 2.6 square miles (6.7 km²), of which, 2.4 square miles (6.1 km²) of it is land and 0.2 square miles (0.6 km²) of it (8.85%) is water.
There are 298 households which 17.4% have children under the age of 18 living with them, 40.9% were married couples living together, 9.7% had a female householder with no husband present, and 46.6% were non-families. 43.6% of all households were made up of individuals and 23.8% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 1.94 and the average family size was 2.67.
In the city the population was spread out with 16.8% under the age of 18, 6.9% from 18 to 24, 20.4% from 25 to 44, 27.9% from 45 to 64, and 28.0% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 49 years. For every 100 females there were 79.5 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 73.6 males.
The median income for a household in the city was $17,375, and the median income for a family was $25,500. Males had a median income of $20,208 versus $17,857 for females. The per capita income for the city was $12,204. About 12.2% of families and 23.4% of the population were below the poverty line, including 23.6% of those under age 18 and 28.6% of those age 65 or over.