When I heard that Carole was reading Far From the Madding Crowd for her April classic novel, I asked her if I could join in. I have had the book on my tbr pile since I heard it was being made into a movie, so it was the perfect opportunity.
Like a lot of classics, this book is slow to get going. Not unpleasantly slow, but it takes its time introducing you to the countryside and the characters. But, once all the characters had been introduced, I found myself wrapped up in the story and reluctant to put it down. This is my second Thomas Hardy novel, but it will not be my last.
Five Highlights While Reading Far From the Madding Crowd:
1. The characters (and, they had great names!)
Bathsheba Everdene – the beautiful leading lady with an independent spirit. Bathsheba inherited her Uncle’s farm and insisted on carrying out the duties of the bailiff herself. She had absolutely no intention of being married until…
I hate to be thought men’s property in that way, though possibly I shall be had some day.
Well, what I mean is that I shouldn’t mind being a bride at a wedding, if I could be one without having a husband.
Gabriel Oak – a farmer when he first met and fell in love with Bathsheba. He proposed to her, but she declined, telling him that she did not love him. The next time she saw him, he had lost his farm. She hired him on as a shepherd on her own farm, and he was content to be doing the best he could for her and her farm. Gabriel is honest, hard-working, and constant. He is the one we would choose for her if it were up to us. But, things don’t always go the way they should…
Thoroughly convinced of the impossibility of his own suit, a high resolve constrained him not to injure that of another. This is a lover’s most stoical virtue, as the lack of it is a lover’s most venial sin.
Farmer Boldwood – the farmer next door. Handsome, distant, reserved, never interested in a woman until Bathsheba came along. She thoughtlessly sends him an anonymous Valentine just for fun, and ends up paying a big price for it. It was a little creepy how persistent this guy was in pursuing Bathsheba. He was not above using guilt and didn’t seem to care that she was obviously completely miserable at the thought of marrying him.
Sergeant Francis Troy – the charmer. Troy sweeps in with his good looks, youth, and charm, and Bathsheba finds herself melting into a puddle. We shout at her, ‘No, no!’, but she can’t stay away.
And Troy’s deformities lay deep down from a woman’s vision, whilst his embellishments were upon the very surface; thus contrasting with homely Oak, whose defects were patent to the blindest, and whose virtues were metals in a mine.
2. The story kept me guessing. So, we have one woman and three suitors. I thought I knew what was going to happen, but the story was harder to predict than I thought. I think I was also thrown off by Hardy’s reputation of writing tragic, depressing stories. The only other book I have read by Hardy is Tess of the D’Urbervilles, which was horribly depressing (but I loved it). Far From the Madding Crowd seems like a comedy compared to Tess.
3. Details of an English rural life. I loved reading about life on an English farm in the 1840s; the tasks that needed doing, the meals that were shared, the conversations between the farm workers, the expectations of both men and women, the etiquette of courting and marriage, and the class differences. The farm hands were charming, and gave a sense of the camaraderie that would have existed among them. Their conversations also added a lot of humour to the story. (Many of the secondary characters also had great names, like Joseph Poorgrass, Billy Smallbury, Laban Tall, and Cain Ball.)
4. Men in those days were sure quick to declare their undying love for a woman. I think this is part of what made the novel so comedic; this tendency for everyone to sound so dramatic in their speeches to each other.
Gabriel Oak, after only ‘knowing’ (watching from afar) Bathsheba a few days:
I shall do one thing in this life – one thing certain – that is, love you, and long for you, and keep wanting you till I die.
Farmer Boldwood, after he finds out the Valentine has been sent to him by Bathsheba (even though he showed no interest in her before):
I cannot say how far above every other idea and object on earth you seem to me – nobody knows – God only knows – how much you are to me!
Sergeant Troy, at his second meeting with Bathsheba, describing what it is like to look at her:
Put shortly, it is not being able to think, hear, or look in any direction except one without wretchedness, nor there without torture.
Considered a Victorian realist, Hardy examines the social constraints on the lives of those living in Victorian England, and criticizes those beliefs, especially those relating to marriage, education and religion, that limited people’s lives and caused unhappiness. Such unhappiness, and the suffering it brings, is seen by poet Philip Larkin as central in Hardy’s works.
It may be observed that such a class of mug is called a God-forgive-me in Weatherbury and its vicinity for uncertain reasons; probably because its size makes any given toper feel ashamed of himself when he sees its bottom in drinking it empty.
Men thin away to insignificance and oblivion quite as often by not making the most of good spirits when they have them as by lacking good spirits when they are indispensable.
When a strong woman recklessly throws away her strength she is worse than a weak woman who has never any strength to throw away. One source of her inadequacy is the novelty of the occasion. She has never had practice in making the best of such a condition. Weakness is doubly weak by being new.
(So true.) A resolution to avoid an evil is seldom framed till the evil is so far advanced as to make avoidance impossible.
It appears that ordinary men take wives because possession is not possible without marriage, and that ordinary women accept husbands because marriage is not possible without possession.
(I love this one, and have been wondering about it ever since – does anyone have any thoughts on it?) It is difficult for a woman to define her feelings in language which is chiefly made by men to express theirs.
Don’t forget to have a look at what Carole (at Barda Book Talk) thought of the book!