Thomas Hardy was born on June 2, 1840, in Higher Bockhampton in Dorset, a rural region of southwestern England that was to become the focus of his fiction. The child of a builder, Hardy was apprenticed at the age of sixteen to John Hicks, an architect who lived in the city of Dorchester. The location would later serve as the model for Hardy’s fictional Casterbridge. Although Hardy gave serious thought to attending university and entering the church, a struggle he would dramatize in his 1895 novel Jude the Obscure, his declining religious faith and lack of money encouraged him to pursue a career in writing instead. Hardy spent nearly a dozen years toiling in obscurity and producing unsuccessful novels and poetry. Far from the Madding Crowd, published in 1874, was his first critical and financial success. Finally able to support himself as a writer, Hardy married Emma Lavinia Gifford later that year.