The Hand of Ethelberta: A Comedy in Chapters is a novel by English writer Thomas Hardy first published in 1876. It was written, in serial form, for the Cornhill Magazine.
Ethelberta was raised in humble circumstances but became a governess and consequently, at the age of 18, married well. However, her husband died two weeks after the wedding.
Her father-in-law, Lord Petherwin, died shortly afterwards. Ethelberta (now 21) lives with her mother-in-law, Lady Petherwin. In the three years that have elapsed since her marriage, Ethelberta has been treated to foreign travel and further privileges by Lady Petherwin but restricted from seeing her own poor family.
The story follows Ethelberta's career as a famous poetess and storyteller. Meanwhile, she struggles to support her family and conceal the fact that her father is a butler. Ethelberta easily attracts four very persistent suitors but is reluctant to give her much-coveted hand.
Thomas Hardy (1840-1928) was an English novelist and poet. A Victorian realist, in the tradition of George Eliot, he was also influenced both in his novels and poetry by Romanticism, especially by William Wordsworth.
Charles Dickens is another important influence on Thomas Hardy. Like Dickens, he was also highly critical of much in Victorian society, though Hardy focused more on a declining rural society.
Initially he gained fame as the author of such novels as Far from the Madding Crowd (1874), The Mayor of Casterbridge (1886), Tess of the d'Urbervilles (1891), and Jude the Obscure (1895). However, since the 1950s Hardy has been recognized as a major poet, and had a significant influence on The Movement poets of the 1950s and 1960s, including Phillip Larkin.
The bulk of his fictional works, initially published as serials in magazines, were set in the semi-fictional region of Wessex and explored tragic characters struggling against their passions and social circumstances. Hardy's Wessex is based on the medieval Anglo-Saxon kingdom and eventually came to include the counties of Dorset, Wiltshire, Somerset, Devon, Hampshire, and much of Berkshire, in south west England.