Best Book of the Week!
I had to laugh at the blurb on my old 1960 paperback copy of Far From the Madding Crowd. It says, “She was a wanton who needed taming.” I think that says a lot more about 1960 than it does about Thomas Hardy’s novel.
Bathsheba Everdene is not a wanton, but she is a spirited, beautiful young woman. We first see her from the eyes of Gabriel Oak, a farmer and sheep breeder, as she moves house to live with her aunt. He observes that she is vain, but she takes his fancy. Soon, he proposes marriage.
Bathsheba is not interested. Still, Gabriel has fallen in love with her and stays in love. Soon, in a horrible mishap, Gabriel loses all his sheep and has to sell his farm for debts. His first thought is relief that she didn’t have to be brought low by his sudden poverty.
By this time, Bathsheba has left the area. When Gabriel is hired as a shepherd, he finds himself working for her, as she has inherited a substantial farm from her uncle. Soon, she has dismissed the thieving bailiff and put Gabriel in his place.
The bulk of the plot of this novel is about Bathsheba’s relationships with three different men—her growing friendship with Gabriel; the obsession Farmer Boldwood has for her, which is provoked by an act of mischief; and her own infatuation with Sergeant Troy, a liar and womanizer.
Far From the Madding Crowd is the first of Hardy’s Wessex novels, and it is much sunnier than any of the others. That is not to say it is light-hearted. It has many dark threads—Farmer Boldwood’s fetishist obsession, Gabriel’s ruin for a freakish reason, the fate of Fanny Robin, a supposed suicide, and a murder. Victorians would have categorized this novel as sensationalist.
With Tess of the D’Urbervilles, this is one of my favorite Hardy novels. I love its depictions of English rural life and customs of the times. I think Bathsheba is an interesting heroine and Gabriel a fine hero. I have been meaning to reread this novel since I saw the new movie last year (good, but not up to the Julie Christie classic), and I’m happy to have finally done it. Also, this is one of the few remaining books left on my current Classics Club list.