Thomas Hardy and Architecture

Alison Patricelli Class of '98
Marguerite Hitchens Class of '98
Franklin & Marshall College

Thomas Hardy grew up with architecture surrounding him. His father was a mason which had a great deal of impact on Hardy's later decision to become an architect. He began schooling at the age of six and after when Hardy was old enough to find a permanent profession, he was inclined to follow in his father's foot steps. At 21, Hardy began his work in Dorchester. He worked for John Hicks, who was a friend of his father's. After spending a short time with Hicks, he moved to London to pursue the "art and science of architecture" (Life 40). A spontaneous move on Hardy's part because he had not looked into a real job or place to live, however within a very short time he found a place and was hired by Arthur Bloomfield. Bloomfield was already a successful architect and was looking for a young gothic draughtsman. Bloomfield wanted someone to help him restore and design churches.

Hardy did this and dedicated himself to it, however he spent much of his time reading and studying. He kept a strict routine between work and study only going out once in a while. Often when he did attend a social event it was a lecture. He also began entering and winning architectural contests. This only shows how truly gifted an architect he was and his ability to successfully continue this occupation. At the same time he was entering and winning writing contests. Soon he became bored with the monotony of his job and realized that he did not like restoring old buildings. He states that he was "feeling that architectural drawing in which the actual designing had no great part was monotonous and mechanical;...Hardy's tastes reverted to the literary pursuits that he had been compelled to abandon in 1861" (Life 48). He felt that restoration efforts were really obliterating old buildings and in fact there was no real restoration involved at all; rather, it was a redefining of the building, turning it into something that the original builder was not intending.

It was 1872 that he decided to study, that he could no longer work as an architect and had to move on. He began writing, and one of the most obvious forms of his use of architecture as a form of symbolism is in his poem, "Domicilium". Architectural expressions can be seen in many of Thomas Hardy's works. This use of architecture as symbols became almost habit for Hardy. His life was filled with architectural skills before he pursued his life as a writer and this knowledge is obvious through his use of words. He often begins describing a scene by using an archit ectural focus and then moves outwards, describing the larger picture. One example is in A Pair of Blue Eyes, where he says, "The heavy arch spanning the junction of tower and nave formed to-night a black frame to a distant misty view, stretching far westward" (378). By using words such as "arch", "junction", "nave" and frame", we can see his background in architecture shining through. "How to reconcile the desire to preserve the old with the need to create a new?" (Casagrande 175) is the one question that remained prominent throughout Hardy's literary career. Every aspect of his writing, including such little things as sentence structure, influenced by his architectural training creates a perception through his writing, an image for the eye. Hardy goes into great detail on shapes and structure and in turn relates them to the limitations true for the human condition itself. For example, in A Pair of Blue Eyes, Stephen Smith, Knight, and Elfride disintegrate like the crumbling church and tower the en tire novel is built around. Hardy makes this analogy between persons and buildings in all of his novels because of his distinct belief that buildings gather human associations around them.

It is interesting to note that most of Hardy's novels contain a building at their centers. It is this unique characteristic around which Hardy constructs his plots and characters. He even builds his sentences and plots in the same way he would build a house, always looking for a "beginning, middle, and end" (Grundy, 178) and insisting on the "well-knit interdependence of parts" (Grundy, 178). This "well-knit interdependence of parts" not only applies to Hardy's novels, but also to his poetry. The connection he sees between architecture and poetry is that "both have to carry a rational content inside their artistic form" (Grundy 178). Architectural characteristics in his poetry can be seen as simply as the poem's appearance on the page. There is a clear uncomplicated design, but with a complicated pattern developin g within it. One of Hardy's first uses of architecture in poetry is in "Domicilium." Using such words as "It faces west and round the back and sides," "adjoining these," and "behind the scene," Thomas Hardy creates a mental blueprint in the reader's mind. Thomas Hardy's use of architecture in his literary works proves his love of building as well as writing.


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Casagrande, Peter J. Unity in Hardy's Novels: Repetitive Symmetries. Lawrence, Kansas: Regents Press of Kansas, 1982.

Grundy, Joan. Hardy and the Sister Arts. Great Britian: Harper and Row Publishers Inc., 1979.

Hardy, Thomas. The Life and Work of Thomas Hardy. Athens : University of Georgia Press, 1985.

Hardy, Thomas. A Pair of Blue Eyes. London: Penguin Books, 1986.

Millgate, Michael. Thomas Hardy, A Biography. Oxford & New York: Oxford University Press, 1982.