“A lover without indiscretion is no lover at all. Circumspection and devotion are a contradiction in terms.”
Many of you literature geeks out there will be familiar with Thomas Hardy’s works both as a poet and an author. Far from the Madding Crowd was Hardy’s fourth novel and his first literary success published in 1874 in the Corn Hill magazine. The novel is set in the bucolic surroundings of south west England that Hardy esteemed so highly and lived in during most of his life. His novels reflect his desire to preserve the agricultural lifestyle that was vanishing due to industrialisation in the late 1800s with detailed descriptions of farming practices, and the changing seasons influencing nature, people and livestock. This novel feels like Hardy’s personal reflection on how life was, and would never be again (hence the book’s name).
But don’t think this novel serves just as a nostalgic look at rural life- it is far more than that. Like many of Hardy’s works this novel deals with complicated characters and tragedy. The story follows Bathsheba Everdene, a beautiful young woman that inherits her Uncle’s farm in Weatherbury and defies the neighbours by taking it over single-handedly. During the novel Bathsheba encounters three suitors: trustworthy Gabriel Oak, obsessive Boldwood, and arrogant Sergeant Troy. Gabriel Oak is a young farmer whom Bathsheba meets before her Uncle’s death. He loses his farm in an accident and ends up her shepherd at Weatherbury. Boldwood is a neighbouring middle-aged farmer misled by her flirtatious actions into forming a firm attachment. And Troy is an unconventional and vain Sergeant that charms Bathsheba with his wit and good looks.
Unlike many female characters of the period Bathsheba is neither a saint nor a sinner. Hardy was often accused of being a misogynist for portraying his female characters with negative characteristics, however I found it quite refreshing to read a female character unrestricted by gendered binaries. Bathsheba is vain and superficial, with more interest in her good looks and suitors than her farm and farm workers. YET she is intelligent and able to deal well with the many crises that affect her.
Hardy also shows the inequality women face in courtship and marriage through her difficulty keeping her identity and independence in a male dominated society.
“It is difficult for a woman to define her feelings in language which is chiefly made by men to express theirs.” Bathesda Evergreen. (390)
This book won’t be to everyone’s tastes but is food for thought. It depicts the destructive force of romantic love and the facets of men’s love of women. Far from the Madding Crowd is not a happy novel, but it shows the power of romantic attachment and the importance of reciprocated love in marriage.
“And at home by the fire, whenever you look up there I shall be— and whenever I look up, there will be you… ‘(38)
I’ll let you guess who says this…..