Thomas Hardy


Thomas Hardy is one of the greatest writers in the English language, producing outstanding novels, poems, short stories, and essays. This course explores a selection of Hardy’s major works. It will enable you to analyse his literary techniques, to appreciate the social context of his novels, and to enrich your understanding of the qualities that make his peerless work endure.

This year marks the 150th anniversary of Hardy’s first major publication, Far from the Madding Crowd (1874). We will explore this novel alongside others that Hardy later classified as ‘novels of character and environment’, including The Return of the Native (1878), Tess of the d’Urbervilles (1891), and Jude the Obscure (1895). Hardy’s description emphasises a central theme recurring in these works: the relationship between the individual, their social context, and the natural world. We will consider how Hardy explores this theme across his novels, short stories, and poems. Through class discussions and written assignments, you will be encouraged to examine the formal and thematic qualities of each text to develop your own responses to Hardy’s work. The required reading for each class will be augmented with extracts from Hardy’s essays, prefaces, and letters, to enhance our knowledge and enjoyment of his work and thought.

Programme details

Courses starts: 23 Apr 2024

Week 1:  Introduction / Far from the Madding Crowd 

Week 2:  Far from the Madding Crowd

Week 3:  The Return of the Native

Week 4:  The Return of the Native

Week 5:  Wessex Tales

Week 6:  Tess of the d'Urbervilles

Week 7:  Tess of the d'Urbervilles

Week 8:  Jude the Obscure

Week 9:  Jude the Obscure

Week 10:  Time's Laughingstocks and Other Verses 

To participate in the course, you will need to borrow or buy the six books listed below. Although you are welcome to use any available edition of these texts, classroom discussions and handouts will refer to the page numbers in the Oxford World’s Classics series:

- Thomas Hardy, Far from the Madding Crowd, ed. Linda M Shires and Suzanne B. Falck-Yi (Oxford, 2002).

- Thomas Hardy, Jude the Obscure, ed. Patricia Ingham (Oxford, 2008).

- Thomas Hardy, The Return of the Native, ed. Simon Gatrell et al. (Oxford, 2008).

- Thomas Hardy, Selected Poetry, ed. Samuel Hynes (Oxford, 2009).

- Thomas Hardy, Tess of the d’Urbervilles, ed. Simon Gatrell et al. (Oxford, 2008).

- Thomas Hardy, Wessex Tales, ed. Kathryn King (Oxford, 2009).

Digital Certification

To complete the course and receive a certificate, you will be required to attend at least 80% of the classes on the course and pass your final assignment. Upon successful completion, you will receive a link to download a University of Oxford digital certificate. Information on how to access this digital certificate will be emailed to you after the end of the course. The certificate will show your name, the course title and the dates of the course you attended. You will be able to download your certificate or share it on social media if you choose to do so.


Description Costs
Course Fee £257.00
Take this course for CATS points £10.00


If you are in receipt of a UK state benefit, you are a full-time student in the UK or a student on a low income, you may be eligible for a reduction of 50% of tuition fees. Please see the below link for full details:

Concessionary fees for short courses


Dr Paul Stephens

Dr Paul Stephens is an AHRC postdoctoral research fellow at the Humanities Division, University of Oxford. He has published articles and reviews in several academic journals, taught courses at Oxford and beyond, and is preparing his first monograph, Shelley and the Economic Imagination.

Course aims

This course introduces the life and work of Thomas Hardy to provide a greater understanding and appreciation of his novels, poetry, and short stories. 

Course objectives:

  • To introduce and examine the life and writings of Thomas Hardy. 
  • To demonstrate how Hardy uses different literary genres – novels; short stories; poems; essays – to explore his chosen themes and ideas.
  • To encourage students to produce their own responses to a range of texts that confidently examine and evaluate the formal and thematic qualities of these works.

Teaching methods

The course will be taught in a series of ten seminars. Each seminar will open with a short introduction by the tutor on the week’s text and theme, followed by orchestrated group discussions and short student presentations. Students will be expected to participate in class discussions, which aim to encourage a convivial exploration of the set texts, and to offer a supportive forum to consolidate oral and written skills. Additional handouts will be available for most of the seminars to provide contextual information and to stimulate class discussions.

Learning outcomes

By the end of the course students will be expected to:

  • demonstrate knowledge of, an insight into, a selection of Hardy’s novels, short stories, and poems;
  • produce clear arguments in oral and written work, grounded in close-reading and textual analysis, that examine and evaluate the formal and thematic qualities of individual texts;
  • acquire a broader understanding of Hardy’s work in its historical and social context. 

Assessment methods

Assessment will consist of a summative essay (c.1500 words) to be submitted at the end of the course. The essay will respond to one of a choice of questions provided by the tutor that relate to the texts explored in the syllabus. They should demonstrate an ability to critically examine and evaluate the formal and thematic qualities of these text/s, and (where appropriate) to consider the relationship between different text.

Students will also be encouraged to submit a shorter formative piece (c.500 words) at the end of week 4. Although this is a non-assessed (and non-mandatory) part of the course, it offers students an opportunity to gain written feedback from the tutor on a critical analysis of selected text or passage.

Students must submit a completed Declaration of Authorship form at the end of term when submitting your final piece of work. CATS points cannot be awarded without the aforementioned form - Declaration of Authorship form


To earn credit (CATS points) for your course you will need to register and pay an additional £10 fee per course. You can do this by ticking the relevant box at the bottom of the enrolment form or when enrolling online.

Please use the 'Book' or 'Apply' button on this page. Alternatively, please complete an enrolment form (Word) or enrolment form (Pdf).

Level and demands

Students who register for CATS points will receive a Record of CATS points on successful completion of their course assessment.

To earn credit (CATS points) you will need to register and pay an additional £10 fee per course. You can do this by ticking the relevant box at the bottom of the enrolment form or when enrolling online.

Coursework is an integral part of all weekly classes and everyone enrolled will be expected to do coursework in order to benefit fully from the course. Only those who have registered for credit will be awarded CATS points for completing work at the required standard.

Students who do not register for CATS points during the enrolment process can either register for CATS points prior to the start of their course or retrospectively from the January 1st after the current full academic year has been completed. If you are enrolled on the Certificate of Higher Education you need to indicate this on the enrolment form but there is no additional registration fee.

Most of the Department's weekly classes have 10 or 20 CATS points assigned to them. 10 CATS points at FHEQ Level 4 usually consist of ten 2-hour sessions. 20 CATS points at FHEQ Level 4 usually consist of twenty 2-hour sessions. It is expected that, for every 2 hours of tuition you are given, you will engage in eight hours of private study.

Credit Accumulation and Transfer Scheme (CATS)