Manuscript of Hardy's A Tragedy of Two Ambitions

  • Reference
      GB 133 Eng MS. 124
  • Dates of Creation
  • Name of Creator
  • Language of Material
  • Physical Description
      Extent of unit of description: 260 x 205 mm.  1 volume (36 folios); Binding: full-bound in polished dark red morocco by W. & E. Bramhall.

Scope and Content

Holograph fair-copy manuscript of Thomas Hardy's short story A Tragedy of Two Ambitions, with the author's minor emendations and the typesetters' annotations. Folio 1r has two alternative titles; 'A Tragedy of Two Ambitions' and 'The Shame of the Halboroughs' are bracketed together, with the former struck through. The date December 1888 is written in pencil on f. 36v.

Bound in with the manuscript are two typescript letters from Walter Butterworth of Bowdon, Cheshire, to Sir Alfred Hopkinson, Chairman of the John Rylands Library, dated 19 October and 15 December 1911, offering the manuscript to the Library and then forwarding it; together with a typescript extract of a letter from Thomas Hardy to Sir Sydney Cockerell, 11 October 1911, and a typescript copy of a letter from Cockerell to Butterworth, 14 October 1911. In the latter Cockerell sends Butterworth the manuscript of Life's Little Ironies, to be given to the Public Library in Manchester, 'or as it consists of three stories, it can be divided between the three appropriate Libraries you named.' He recommends Miss [Katherine] Adams to bind the manuscripts, 'who is a very first-class binder and does her work with remarkable taste. She binds all my valuable manuscripts... The binding should, I think, be full morocco without ornament.' In his letter, Hardy asks that it should be recorded that the manuscripts were presented through Cockerell's suggestion, since 'It would, I feel, not be quite becoming for a writer to send his Mss. to a Museum on his own judgement.' Around his time Hardy distributed a number of his manuscripts to libraries and museums through Cockerell, who was to become his literary executor.

Administrative / Biographical History

Thomas Hardy (1840-1928), novelist and poet, is widely regarded as one of the greatest figures in English literature. Born near Dorchester in Dorset, Hardy was the son of a stonemason and originally trained as an architect. Although his first novel was begun in 1867, he continued to practice as an architect until 1871 when he finally took up writing full-time. In the following twenty-four years he published such novels as A Pair of Blue Eyes (1873), Far From the Madding Crowd (1874), A The Return of the Native (1878), The Mayor of Casterbridge (1886), The Woodlanders (1887) and Tess of the D'Urbervilles (1891). The heavy criticism of the apparently anti-marriage stance of Jude the Obscure (1895) convinced Hardy to give up writing prose fiction and from then on he focused on poetry, publishing verse until his death in 1928.

Apart from his novels Hardy also wrote many short stories that were published in various magazines and literary reviews of the time. A Tragedy of Two Ambitions was one such, published in the magazine The Universal Review in 1888. It was later incorporated into Hardy's third volume of short stories, Life's Little Ironies, published in 1894.

Hardy's stories often take place in the partly real and partly fictional county of Wessex, modelled on the real counties of Berkshire, Devon, Dorset, Hampshire, Somerset and Wiltshire. In his stories the fictional place-names are also based on real locations. For example the town of Casterbridge is based on the real town of Dorchester. His distinctive achievement is to have captured the cultural atmosphere of the rural southwest of England in the golden epoch that existed just before the impacts of the railways and the industrial revolution that were to change the English countryside for ever.

Source: Michael Millgate, 'Hardy, Thomas (1840-1928)', Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004. By permission of Oxford University Press -'

Access Information

The manuscript is available for consultation by any accredited reader.

Acquisition Information

Presented to the John Rylands Library by Thomas Hardy in 1911, through the offices of Sir Sydney Cockerell and Walter Butterworth.


Description compiled by Henry Sullivan, project archivist, and John Hodgson, Keeper of Manuscripts and Archives, with reference to:

Other Finding Aids

Catalogued in the Hand-List of the Collection of English Manuscripts in the John Rylands Library, 1928 (English MS 124).

Separated Material

The JRUL also holds English MS 1339, the original manuscript of For Conscience' Sake, another short story within Life's Little Ironies, and the second of the three manuscripts that were distributed to Manchester libraries. This text was donated to the University of Manchester Library. For Conscience' Sake was bound by Katharine Adams herself, as Cockerell had recommended. The third section, On the Western Circuit, was presented to Manchester Public Libraries, but was later sold.