When literature aficionados mention Thomas Hardy, they may remark upon his vivid descriptions of pastoral England and complex heroines who were ahead of their time. However, many quotes from Far from the Madding Crowd, Tess of the d’Urbervilles and other works of his stand on their own and offer powerful reflections on life, love and society that are still relevant today.
Thomas Hardy (1840-1928) was the son of a stonemason and grew up in Dorset, England, where many of his novels are set. He rose to prominence in 1874 with Far from the Madding Crowd and went on to write many other classic novels including Tess of the d’Urbervilles, The Mayor of Casterbridge and Jude the Obscure.
His novels are celebrated for their realistic, critical look at Victorian society and morality as well as the decline of the rural countryside in favor of larger, industrial cities. He was nominated for the Nobel Prize in Literature twice and was made a member of the Order of Merit in 1910. Hardy was also a famed poet who influenced the works of Ezra Pound, W. H. Auden and D. H. Lawrence.
Tess of the d’Urbervilles deals with the tragic downfall of a young woman named Tess Durbeyfield after she learns that her family is descended from a noble family called the d’Urbervilles. The novel was controversial at the time of its publication because it challenged Victorian morality and hypocrisy, particularly in regard to the treatment of women. Many of the novel’s most iconic lines reflect these themes.
“Beauty lay not in the thing, but in what the thing symbolized.”
“Did it never strike your mind that what every woman says, some women may feel?”
“The beauty or ugliness of a character lay not only in its achievements, but in its aims and impulses; its true history lay, not among things done, but among things willed.”
“Ladies know what to guard against, because they read novels that tell them of these tricks…”
“If an offense come out of the truth, better is it that the offense come than that the truth be concealed.”
“So each had a private little sun for her soul to bask in; some dream, some affection, some hobby, or at least some remote and distant hope....”
Many of Hardy’s novels are characterized by tragedy, but Far from the Madding Crowd is a sweeping romance that tells the tale of Bathsheba Everdene and her three suitors as well as her quest for independence. Hardy’s stunning language and imagery make for some truly memorable love quotes.
“They spoke very little of their mutual feeling; pretty phrases and warm expressions being probably unnecessary between such tried friends.”
“It is difficult for a woman to define her feelings in language which is chiefly made by men to express theirs.”
“Love is a possible strength in an actual weakness.”
“I shall do one thing in this life — one thing certain — that is, love you, and long for you, and keep wanting you till I die.”
“It is rarely that the pleasures of the imagination will compensate for the pain of sleeplessness.”
“And at home by the fire, whenever you look up, there I shall be — and whenever I look up, there will be you.“
“Sometimes I shrink from your knowing what I have felt for you, and sometimes I am distressed that all of it you will never know.”
Thomas Hardy wrote many other novels that are full of beautiful and contemplative prose.
“See what deceits love sows in honest minds!“ - Two on a Tower
“She was at that modulating point between indifference and love, at the stage called having a fancy for. It occurs once in the history of the most gigantic passions, and it is a period when they are in the hands of the weakest will.“ - The Return of the Native
“A lover without indiscretion is no lover at all. Circumspection and devotion are a contradiction in terms.“ - The Hand of Ethelberta
Happiness was but the occasional episode in a general drama of pain.“ - The Mayor of Casterbridge
Hardy carried the key themes of nature and justice into his poetry to stunning results.
“Let me enjoy the earth no less/ Because the all-enacting Might/ That fashioned forth its loveliness/ Had other aims than my delight.” - “Let Me Enjoy”
“When false things are brought low,/ And swift things have grown slow,/ Feigning like froth shall go,/ Faith be for aye.” - "Between Us Now"
“War's annals will cloud into night/ Ere their story die.” - “In the Time of ‘The Breaking Nations’”
“We two kept house, the Past and I,/ The Past and I;/ I tended while it hovered nigh,/ Leaving me never alone.” - “The Ghost of the Past”
In addition to his prose and poetry, Thomas Hardy wrote many inspiring lines in his personal notebooks and letters.
“Though a good deal is too strange to be believed, nothing is too strange to have happened.“ - The Personal Notebooks of Thomas Hardy
”The value of old age depends upon the person who reaches it. To some men of early performance it is useless. To others, who are late to develop, it just enables them to finish the job.” - diary entry quoted in The Later Years of Thomas Hardy
“If all hearts were open and all desires known — as they would be if people showed their souls — how many gapings, sighings, clenched fists, knotted brows, broad grins, and red eyes should we see in the market-place!” - diary entry quoted in The Later Years of Thomas Hardy
“To find beauty in ugliness is the province of the poet.” - quoted in The Life of Thomas Hardy
Explore quotes from other great English language authors and orators.