An eminently just and close reading of Thomas Hardy--perhaps Only the title qualifier ""young"" bemuses (was Hardy ever really young? and this work, while concentrating on the early years, does carry through into his old age). Interestingly enough, Hardy did his best to defeat any future biographer by dictating his own life, presumably the work of his second wife, and much of it was as suspect as its authorship. According to Gittings, there has been very little that's reliable in fact and interpretation written about Hardy (less actually in recent years apart from the 1971 Millgate study of the novels). Here, slowly at first, Gittings traces his Puddletown and Dorchester beginnings which would leave such decisive markings--particularly his mother as dominant as her Roman nose; the poverty, actually pauperism, of her background; the hanging he witnessed; and his later dislocation. A shy, timid boy of ""unfledged appearance,"" Hardy became an architect's apprentice, went up to London in that capacity, broadened his interests, and began to write--the poetry fully appreciated here. More than anyone else except his mother, his friend Horace Moule, depressive by temperament and an ultimate suicide, would influence Hardy. After Moule's death the Hardy hero, ""maimed by fate,"" would be there for good. In between, with no heady passion, he pursued his courtship of two cousins and finally settled for Emma, the impulsive, willful girl who became gross and dull. Gittings with quiet assurance always relates the ""real life observation"" of his work with the real life experience from which it derived, and isolates Hardy's unique gift of associating place and person. A strange man he was--suppressed and somber--Gittings leaves one with the strength of his achievements divorced as they were, as was he, from the pleasure of existence.