When Hardy died in 1928, at the age of 87, he was on wife #2, a woman named Florence.
It’s not especially unusual for a man to remarry — married men usually aren’t good at being unmarried men because sometimes patriarchy works for people, like male people, and once you’ve gotten used to being cared for, because that’s what women do, right, is care for men, then it’s sort of rough to go back to caring for yourself — and it’s almost guaranteed when the man had been having an affair with the woman who would become his new wife roughly seven years before his first wife’s death.
Oh, Thomas “Hap” Hardy, you old romantic schemer, you.
Hardy and his first wife, Emma, started out the way one wants all new love to start: fresh and exciting and breathless. He was captivated by her hair. And there’s a wonderful drawing Hardy did of Emma, kneeling, that captures the curve of her breast erotically and again, I want to say: most all of our preconceived notions of prudish Victorians are bunk and useless. Are they flashing their panties as they climb into our out of carriages? We often confuse perversity and ill manners with eroticism. Are they writing poems like Christina Rosetti’s “Goblin Market” and buying pornography outside of prisons*? Yes, they were.
[* A Mr Birtle, secretary of the soon-to-be-dissolved Bristol Society for the Prevention of Vice, wrote a final letter to his group: “Sir, – The Bristol Society for the Suppression of Vice being about to dissolve, and the agents before employed having moved very heavily, I took my horse and rode to Stapleton prison to inquire into the facts contained in your letter. Inclosed are some of the drawings which I purchased in what they call their market, without the least privacy on their part or mine. They wished to intrude on me a variety of devices in bone and wood of the most obscene kind, particularly those representing a crime ‘inter Christianos non nominandum,’ which they termed the new fashion. I purchased a few, but they are too bulky for a letter. This market is held before the door of the turnkey every day between the hours of ten and twelve.” — quoted from Henry Mayhew’s London Labour and the London Poor]
Eventually Hardy tired of Emma. His eye began to wander over several ladies, usually younger, and usually those who flattered his talents, because for Hardy the most attractive part of a woman is the part of her that finds him brilliant. In 1904, when he was 64, Hardy met Florence Dugdale, when she was 26. She thought he was brilliant. He thought she was insightful. She quit teaching in 1908 to become a professional Thomas Hardy groupie and to make catty comments about Emma whenever possible. In 1912, she multi-tasks her disdain of Emma with production of a book called — and I’m not kidding — The Book of Baby Birds.
What was Emma writing at the time? Her diaries, which she called “Why I Hate My Husband.” (Hardy had that diary destroyed. As Claire Tomalin so wisely and compassionately put it in her biography of Hardy: “Sensibly enough he decided they were largely the product of a mind subject to delusions.”)
Emma died in 1912, Florence moved in in 1913 and she and Hardy were married in 1914. But something had changed in Hardy after Emma’s death. The woman he had grown to despise had become the woman he only ever really loved. He idealized her entirely and mooned over her constantly and, p.s., don’t forget: he had married Florence. And guess who wasn’t Mr Subtle about his new-found love affair with his dead wife? Thomas Hardy. His poetry is filled with love poems to and about and because of Emma. And Florence had to hear them all and read them all and stew about them in her own kettle of rage.
It took Emma over 20 years to get to the “Why I Hate My Husband” stage. It took Florence a little less than that. And yet, symmetrically, after Hardy’s death in 1928, Florence was so grief-stricken that a doctor was called.
Oh, and we haven’t even got to the “Where do we bury Hardy’s heart?” part of the story. Hardy wanted to be buried with Emma in their plot at Stinsford. Literary people wanted Hardy to be buried in Westminster Abbey’s Poet’s Corner. (Hardy probably actually wanted that, too, because he was obsessed with his own fame and standing; however, his Emma obsession in this case overrode his own fame-whoring and we have this late-blooming romance with a grave site.)
The compromise? Hardy’s heart was buried with Emma (Emma Hardy: “Um, gross you guys.”) and his body was buried in Poet’s Corner. However, we all are rewarded in this compromise, because we get this quote from George Bernard Shaw, one of the ceremonial pallbearers at the funeral:
“As we marched, pretending to carry the ashes of whatever part of Hardy was buried in the Abbey, Kipling, who fidgeted continually and was next in front of me, kept changing his step. Every time he did so I nearly fell over him.”
The moral of this story: George Bernard Shaw is awesome.