Tryphena Sparks

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Tryphena Sparks (20 March 1851 – 17 March 1890), born in Puddletown, Dorset, the youngest child of James and Maria Sparks, was Thomas Hardy's cousin and possible lover, when she was 16 and he was 26. [1] [2] Hardy's mother suggested that Tryphena was not actually his cousin but his niece and he was thus prevented from marrying her. [3] There are also suggestions that she had Hardy's child, a son called Randolph. [4] [5] [6] The relationship ended when Hardy became engaged to Emma Gifford. She is considered by John Fowles an "important figure in both his emotional and imaginative life" [7] and author Nicholas Hillyard considers that the affair is important in relation to Hardy's start as a novelist and poet. [8]

Sparks was the inspiration for Hardy's poem Thoughts of Phena at News of Her Death [9] in which Hardy describes her as his "lost prize". [10] She may also have inspired Hardy's story that later became Far from the Madding Crowd . [11] Other Hardy poems have been connected to Sparks, including In A Eweleaze Near Weatherbury, [12] At Rushy Pond, A Spot, The Wind's Prophecy, To an Orphan Child, [13] and To a Motherless Child, which is addressed to Tryphena's daughter whom he had met when visiting Topsham. [14] The character of Sue Bridehead in Hardy's book Jude The Obscure is also thought to have been based on Sparks [15] [16] [17] and in the book's preface Hardy says that the circumstances of the novel had been suggested by the death of a woman in 1890.

Sparks is the subject of ten separate 1960s publications [18] by author Lois Deacon including Tryphena, Thomas Hardy and Hardy's Sweetest Image and Providence and Mr Hardy published in 1966. [19]

Tryphena Gale's grave in Topsham Cemetery Topsham Cemetery 2020-05-19 4.jpg
Tryphena Gale's grave in Topsham Cemetery

Having attended Stockwell Training College from 1870 to 1871, [20] Sparks became headmistress of Plymouth Day School in 1872. In 1873 she met Charles Frederick Gale, a publican from Topsham, Devon and they were married on 15 December 1877 at Plymouth. [21] [22] She was known in Topsham for the charitable work she did for the local fishermen. [22] She had four children: Eleanor, Charles, George and Herbert. She died from a rupture caused by childbirth and is buried in Topsham, Devon. Hardy and his brother Henry visited her grave, leaving a note saying "In loving memory -Tom Hardy". [23]

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