Saturday, January 17, 2009

Far From the Madding Crowd by Thomas Hardy

Book Description:
An independent woman farmer unsettles Victorian Wessex; the village gossips agree, Bathsheba Everdene must either appoint a bailiff or marry suitably. Bathsheba, on the other hand, is dazzled by pleasure-seeking Sergeant Troy-a folly that threatens the whole community. Hardy's most comic novel, Far From the Madding Crowd (1874) reveals a tender understanding of Nature and a profound love for humankind.

"Marry Me."

And so are the fateful two words on an idly sent Valentine that sets in motion a series of events that lead to misunderstandings, obsession, heartbreak, death, and then ultimately - a marriage! I wouldn't exactly call this novel comic, but compared to Hardy's others, it is probably the most lighthearted novel he wrote. Filled with irony and pastoral settings and a very satisfying ending, this is a classic I highly recommend.

This is the story of the effect Bathsheba Everdene has on three different men and the entire community for that matter. The first is Farmer Gabriel Oak, a fine, honest and hardworking man who asks her to marry him, but she turns him down, not finding him quite up to her standards. Next is Farmer Boldwood, a middle-aged, substantial man of the neighborhood, a bachelor who is the receiver of the aforesaid Valentine. And then there is Sgt. Frank Troy, who beguiles her with his uniform and prowess with a sword. He compliments as Farmer Boldwood didn't even think of doing. He told her she was beautiful. What woman can resist that - even if deep down she already knows it? Who do you think she marries? Will Bathsheba ever find happiness when it's right beneath her nose?

I must admit, Bathsheba is not someone I really liked a lot. At times she is thoughtless, proud and vain. Young and beautiful, she is somewhat reckless and proud. She has a tendency of being rash, as in sending the Valentine to Farmer Boldwood. But, as the story continues, she learns to grow up and by the end of the book she has redeemed herself in the eyes of the reader, but not entirely. She must go through a lot to get there. Still, we are left with the impression that she will have help in getting there, and her future is in good hands.

Farmer Oak is a good man. After being previously turned down by Bathsheba, Gabriel faces disaster and loses his entire flock of sheep and cannot keep his own farm any longer. Bathsheba has since inherited her uncle's substantial sheep farm and is now prosperous in Hardy's fictional region of Wessex. Oak comes across her there and she is in need of a shepherd and hires him. Oak knows the difference in their stations now and keeps his place, but sometimes he will lecture her or give her some advice which she does not appreciate and it often makes her put on her 'lady of the manor' attitude with him. He still loves her, but knows this is not what she wants to hear, though she knows it and comes to take it for granted. He knows he has no chance with her, their stations are too different now. She is the proud Miss Everdene, mistress of the farm with many under her. He merely works for her as her shepherd. Still, she respects him and knows he's an honest and reliable friend. I really love Gabriel. Often in the book I just wanted to hug him. He took her refusals so well and he's such a good man, admired by all in the neighborhood. He is modest, but it's obvious he's educated and loyal to Bathsheba no matter what she says or does to him. He is forever faithful to her and her interests.

Boldwood after receiving Bathsheba's anonymous Valentine has the most to lose in this story. He becomes obsessed with finding out who sent him the infamous Valentine that is sealed with the words "Marry Me." Once he finds out it was Bathsheba he becomes obessesed with her and asks her to marry him. He's the catch of the neighborhood that no one has been able to land. The irony is he ignored her at first when she first took over her uncle's farm, and then, feeling a bit put out by it, she sent him the Valentine on an impulse. Little did she know it would lead to his obsession and eventual ruin. Poor Boldwood, I felt so sorry for him. Here he was living a good life and in enters Bathsheba and turns his good life upside down. He's never the same again! She keeps refusing him and he's heartsick over her yet won't give up hope that she'll come around. He goes from being the most admired and respected man in the neighborhood to a lovelorn laughingstock (or so he assumes that's what everyone thinks). He forgets to mind his farm and walks around as a tragic figure mourning the loss of Bathsheba (who he never really had in the first place.)

Frank Troy's story is a bit different. I felt like Frank had some goodness in him, but overall he was a rake. He could have done the right thing and didn't. By the time, he realized it, it was too late. Frank was originally supposed to marry a young maid, Fanny Robin, but when Fanny shows up to their wedding late, he turns his back on her and won't marry her. Months go by and he meets Bathsheba and is quickly enamoured of her. They have a short courtship and marry in secret. He does not turn out to be a good husband, and they are not very happy. We realize that he had truly loved Fanny all along. His one good quality is that he did really love Fanny, but his pride made him turn against her, which resulted in a terrible and ironic outcome.

By the end of the story, everything goes around that comes around and all is settled. But Hardy's characters are human and full of foibles and disappointments that keep your attention. You sigh when they sigh and get caught up in the world of farmers and haying and harvests and country fairs. A great story and a worthwhile read, I loved it!



Michele at Reader's Respite said...

Well I was going to post this great and witty comment about how much I love it when someone reviews a classic and then I caught a glance at your sidebar and the Blabberwocky Award ... unfortunately I was taking a swig of coffee at the same time and it came out my nose.

Now I have to go clean my keyboard.


Julie said...

Michele, yumm, coffee up your nose, the perfect way to start your morning for that much needed aromatic jolt to get you going in the morning ! ;) Now, you make me wonder what your witty comment was going to be...

Jonathan R said...

Julie, Great writeup, thanks! I am reading through Far From the Madding Crowd as we speak and posting quotes and commentary on my blog: check them out at

Julie at Outlandish Dreaming said...

Jonathan, thanks for speaking up, I took a peek at your blog and enjoyed your observations. It's a great book, and as you made note of, there are just tons and tons of little gems and observations from Hardy. Over and over I marveled at how in one sentence he summed a feeling or situation so eloquently.

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