No one could match Tess, to Thomas Hardy’s dismay

In her disillusioned later years Thomas Hardy’s first wife, Emma, bitterly reflected: ‘He understands only the women he invents – the others not at all.’ In Hardy Women, Paula Byrne sets out to recover the stories of the women in his life ‘who did not have a voice and who were often deliberately omitted from Hardy’s self-ghosted autobiography’, in order to reveal that ‘the magnificent fictional women he invented would not have been possible without the hardship and hardiness of the real ones who shaped his passions and his imagination’. She has not come up with anything that radically changes what we already know of Hardy’s background and what he