Thomas Hardy (2nd June 1840 - 11th January 1928), celebrated poet and writer, was born in a modest thatched cottage near Dorchester in the West country, to a builder father. His mother came from a line of intelligent, lively and ambitious women so ensured her son had the best formal education available for their modest means although this ended when he was 16. He became a draughtsman specialising in the building of churches was able to give it up to be a full time writer and poet with the publication of Far From the Madding Crown which became a bestseller and like much of his work was serialised. His writing reflects his passionate beliefs for social reform and exposes the hypocrisy of the rules of the Victorian age which constrained many freedoms with convention and restricted the transcending of class boundaries. His novels are almost entirely set in rural Wessex which although fictional is clearly rooted in the SW counties of England where he was born and lived most of his life. Hardy's writing caused controversy in his lifetime but despite this he was highly praised and showered with honorary doctorates from many universities, a knighthood, which he refused and in 1910 the prestigious Order of the Merit. This book is set on the rugged peninsular Isle of Slingers and follows the lifelong quest of acclaimed sculptor Jocelyn Pierston for his elusive ideal woman, the Well Beloved of the title. Whilst he is able to animate her beauty in stone he is unable to find her in one woman but does eventually fall in love successively with three women at the age of 20, 40 and 60 who are all from the same family, mother, daughter and granddaughter. There are twists and turns through the story of the superficial nature of romantic love, obsession, infatuation and growing old. Hardy depicts the landscape and its people so evocatively that many feel it is the most beautiful prose he has ever written. Hardy noted that Marcel Proust developed "e;the theory exhibited in The Well Beloved"e; claiming that when we fall in love it is essentially with a figment of our own invention.