Emma Lavinia Hardy (née Gifford), was born on 24th November 1840 to a Plymouth solicitor and his wife, also called Emma. Her sister went to work as a governess, and then as a companion to a lady, which is where she met her husband, who was a priest. Emma joined them to help in the parish, and it was to this parish that Thomas Hardy came in 1870, while still working as an architect, to look at the church there. He returned there every few months, until they married on 17th September 1874, in front of a small number of people. Both families were against the marriage.
There were a number of conflicts in Emma’s marriage to Hardy. Firstly, while Emma was of a reasonably respectable social standing, Hardy was distinctly working class. Emma it would appear firmly believed that she was superior to her husband in every way, particularly due to her birth. In addition to this, there was a religious divide between them. Emma was always a devout Protestant, and would pay for the printing of and personally distribute religious pamphlets, yet Hardy increasingly lost his religion as he grew older. Their marriage was a very unhappy one, partly due to their lack of children, and there has been speculation as to whether their marriage was ever consummated. Hardy also had a tendency to spend time with other women, something of which Emma Hardy did not approve. She also did not approve of some of his novels, in particular Jude the Obscure.
From 1885 the Hardys lived in Max Gate, a house constructed by Thomas Hardy’s father and brother. While Hardy enjoyed the countryside and planted two thousand trees around the house, Emma much preferred the city and resented his decision to move away from London.
Emma was a staunch supporter of woman’s suffrage. In 1907 she joined George Bernard Shaw and his wife in a march led by the National Union of Suffrage Societies in London.
As she aged she grew increasingly odd and reclusive, and on the 27th November 1912, suddenly died. Soon afterwards Hardy found two large manuscripts entitled ‘The Pleasures of Heaven and the Pains of Hell,’ and ‘What I think of my Husband.’ Having read these, Hardy burnt them in the fire. These writings, along with Emma’s death promp,ted some of Hardy’s most emotive and poignant poetry. Emma also wrote a manuscript called ‘Some Recollections’ about her life before she met Hardy.
By Polina Usenko