At the age of eight, Hardy began to attend Julia Martin's school in Bockhampton. However, most of his education came from the books he found in Dorchester, the nearby town. He learned French, German, and Latin by teaching himself through these books. At sixteen, Hardy's father apprenticed his son to a local architect, John Hicks. Under Hicks' tutelage, Hardy learned much about architectural drawing and restoring old houses and churches. Hardy loved the apprenticeship because it allowed him to learn the histories of the houses and the families that lived there. Despite his work, Hardy did not forget his academics: in the evenings, Hardy would study with the Greek scholar Horace Moule.
In 1862, Hardy was sent to London to work with the architect Arthur Blomfield. During his five years in London, Hardy immersed himself in the cultural scene by visiting the museums and theaters and studying classic literature. He even began to write his own poetry. Although he did not stay in London, choosing to return to Dorchester as a church restorer, he took his newfound talent for writing to Dorchester as well.
From 1867, Hardy wrote poetry and novels, though the first part of his career was devoted to the novel. At first he published anonymously, but when people became interested in his works, he began to use his own name. Like Dickens, Hardy's novels were published in serial forms in magazines that were popular in both England and America. His first popular novel was Under the Greenwood Tree, published in 1872. The next great novel, Far from the Madding Crowd (1874) was so popular that with the profits, Hardy was able to give up architecture and marry Emma Gifford.
Other popular novels followed in quick succession: The Return of the Native (1878), The Mayor of Casterbridge (1886), The Woodlanders (1887), Tess of the D'Urbervilles (1891), and Jude the Obscure (1895). In addition to these larger works, Hardy published three collections of short stories and five smaller novels, all moderately successful. However, despite the praise Hardy's fiction received, many critics also found his works to be too shocking, especially Tess of the D'Urbervilles and Jude the Obscure. The outcry against Jude was so great that Hardy decided to stop writing novels and return to his first great love, poetry.
Over the years, Hardy had divided his time between his home, Max Gate, in Dorchester and his lodgings in London. In his later years, he remained in Dorchester to focus completely on his poetry. In 1898, he saw his dream of becoming a poet realized with the publication of Wessex Poems. He then turned his attentions to an epic drama in verse, The Dynasts; it was finally completed in 1908. Before his death, he had written over 800 poems, many of them published while he was in his eighties.
By the last two decades of Hardy's life, he had achieved fame as great as Dickens' fame. In 1910, he was awarded the Order of Merit. New readers had also discovered his novels by the publication of the Wessex Editions, the definitive versions of all Hardy's early works. As a result, Max Gate became a literary shrine.
Hardy also found happiness in his personal life. His first wife, Emma, died in 1912. Although their marriage had not been happy, Hardy grieved at her sudden death. In 1914, he married Florence Dugale, and she was extremely devoted to him. After his death, Florence published Hardy's autobiography in two parts under her own name.
After a long and highly successful life, Thomas Hardy died on January 11, 1928, at the age of 87. His ashes were buried in Poets' Corner at Westminster Abbey.