I read Far From the Madding Crowd for a book club of mine. I had the pleasure of selecting the book for our club’s first ever meeting, which was an honor. Personally, I greatly enjoyed the book, and feel the need to share my recommendation of this book. Perhaps I am trying to drag out the goodness of this book, for I am a reader not yet ready to leave its pages? Regardless, I highly recommend this book, and here’s why.
Far From the Madding Crowd centers around the love affairs of Bathsheba Everdene. Three suitors vie for her attention, as her unnatural beauty, comparable to the Helen of Troy, draws the eyes of all men. Of the three she attracts, each represents a different reason for a woman falling into the entrapment of marriage. Hardy’s book does not intend to stand as a romantic novel, but rather as a discussion on what makes a happy marriage.
Our story opens in the rural countryside, where Bathsheba Everdene comes to reside with her aunt. Here she meets her first suitor, Gabriel Oak. He’s average, stable, and kind with a small sheep farm of his own. He admires Bathsheba from afar, but slowly comes to establish a friendship with her. Although he states within the first five pages of the book her one flaw is vanity, he proposes marriage to her. Bathsheba rejects him, stating she values her freedom too much and him too little. She sees him as a brother, nothing more. Gabriel swears to never propose again, although he knows he’ll continue to love her. Bathsheba soon leaves for Weatherbury, though Gabriel isn’t clear why.
Gabriel soon endures another tragedy when his herd of sheep are driven off a cliff by a sheepdog not yet fully trained. Having spent his life’s fortunes on his sheep farm, as well as placing himself into debt, Gabriel loses his home and possessions. He seeks employment and finds it in the most unlikely of places. After spotting a fire on a farm, Gabriel rushes to extinguish the flames. He leads villagers in putting out the flames, and the farm’s veiled owner comes out to thank him. He asks if the farm owner needs a shepherd. A shepherd is, indeed, in demand at the farm. Once the owner lifts her veil, Bathsheba reveals herself as his new employer.
Gabriel asks Bathsheba for employment.
Here, we see Bathsheba differentiated from other women of her time. She’s inherited her uncle’s farm and intends to run it on her own. She now possesses the economic independence to match her emotional independence. With her standing in Weatherbury, Bathsheba doesn’t mean to marry any man. Considering the laws of England at the time, marriage would’ve meant handing control of her property–and her freedom–to her husband. This, however, changes when life gives Bathsheba two additional suitors.
Bathsheba’s vanity receives a blow when Weatherbury’s most eligible and wealthy bachelor, Boldwood, never looks to her. She sends the middle-aged Boldwood an anonymous valentine stamped with the words, “Marry Me.” Boldwood begins to look on Bathsheba with love. He proposes marriage to her, but she staves off giving an answer. Upon Gabriel’s advice for having misled Boldwood, Bathsheba considers Boldwood from a sense of obligation, as well as the material comfort he offers.
Boldwood proposes to Bathsheba.
However, when Bathsheba meets Sergeant Francis Troy, she begins to experience the freshness of first love. He flatters her with his compliments and praises, which come too easily. Considering his name, Sergeant Troy acts as the Trojan Horse to Boldwood’s prospective happiness(meaning Bathseba). He snatches the Helen of Troy from Boldwood’s grasps.
Yet, Sergeant Troy has a love of his own. Fanny Robin, to whom he was engaged and Bathsheba’s former maid, went to the wrong church on their wedding day. It was an innocent mistake on Fanny’s part, but Troy believed himself jilted and broke his engagement to her.
Bathsheba and Troy marry, much to the chagrin of Boldwood. Troy becomes a wastrel and a spendthrift. Bathsheba soon comes to regret the man to whom she gave her economic and emotional independence to. Their marriage truly breaks when Fanny Robin dies from childbirth. Out of a sense of duty for her former servant, Bathsheba lays out the bodies of Fanny and her child in a coffin in her home. Troy, seeing their bodies, begins to weep. He says to Bathsheba, “This woman is more to me, dead as she is, than ever you were, or are, or can be.”
Troy weeping over Fanny’s corpse.
After Fanny’s death, Troy soon disappears from Weatherbury. Clothing belonging to him are discovered on the shores. The people of Weatherbury declare Sergeant Troy as dead, leaving Bathsheba as a widow. Bathsheba promises to marry Boldwood after the passing of six years, when the law may legally declare her a widow for the drowning of Troy. However, as tragedies go, Troy returns after a year when he interrupts the Christmas party hosted by Boldwood. He attempts to drag Bathsheba back to their home, but Boldwood shoots Troy dead in a fit of rage.
Troy is buried beside Fanny and their child. Poetic justice, as he joins the woman he loved in the afterlife. Two spirits reunited. Boldwood is imprisoned for committing murder. He avoids hanging on a plea of insanity, as the Crown gives him a pardon.
Bathsheba has lost much of her innocence at this point in the novel. Through the events that have happened, because of her folly and decisions, she feels responsible for her part in the ruination of so many lives. Her vanity is lessened, her mirth not so easily stirred.
Her last ray of happiness soon threatens to leave when Gabriel gives her his notice for leaving her employ. Bathsheba realizes through all the tragedy Gabriel was the stable friend she went to through all. He listened to her, gave her advice. He guided her the best he could, when she would accept it. Bathsheba doesn’t want him to go. She risked losing her last, and only, friend if Gabriel left.
She goes to Gabriel’s cottage, asking him why he means to leave her. Gabriel says the villagers of Weatherbury are gossiping about them, saying he wishes to marry her. Gabriel wishes to protect her name and reputation by leaving, another sign of his goodness and dependability. Bathsheba says its too soon for a marriage, but she wants to marry Gabriel. The soon two wed, but their wedding day is overshadowed by tragedy. One man is dead, and another locked away in prison for the remainder of his life, for their match to be possible. Bathsheba’s laughter comes less easily, and Hardy reminds us of one thing. Bathsheba likes, rather than loves, Gabriel. The two are friends, grown in a mature love. Which wraps up Hardy’s main theme. A happy marriage comprises of friendship and love, not passion or obligation.