Far From the Madding Crowd was my first experience of reading Thomas Hardy. I’m so cross with myself for never reading anything by this author before, but now I know how good his stories are, I’m looking forward to reading his other works.
Far From the Madding Crowd was first published in 1874 but I found this beautifully written, romantic story to be timeless.
The story began with a farmer, Gabriel Oak, falling in love with a milkmaid, Bathsheba Everdene. Bathsheba was beautiful, strong-willed and clever, but unfortunately, not in love with Gabriel. He asked her to marry him and she refused him.
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.”
At the time of his proposal Gabriel was a young farmer with prospects but after an unfortunate accident caused an over-diligent sheepdog, he lost his farm and had to go on the tramp looking for work, feeling thankful that Bathsheba had not married him and so been ruined too.
Around the same time Bathsheba’s fortunes took a turn for the better, when her uncle died and left her a farm. To the surprise of the farm’s employees she decided to run the farm herself and hired the devoted Gabriel to tend her sheep.
In a fit of mischief, Bathsheba wrote a Valentine’s card to a neighbour, Farmer Boldwood, who was a man who had never noticed a woman before in his life. He didn’t see the joke and fell in obsessively in love with Bathsheba.
When a handsome and dashing soldier arrived in the district and flirted with her, Bathsheba married Sergeant Troy in a moment of weakness, disappointing both Gabriel and Boldwood, and setting in train a series of events which affect the whole community.
“All romances end at marriage.”
Hardy’s writing is very descriptive, yet there is no fluff or falling down rabbit holes. The characters are strong, the plot is interesting and entertaining and the humour is wonderful. I constantly found myself laughing as I read this story. Bathsheba’s employees on the farm are a continual source of amusement, from one character’s tendency to suffer from a ‘multiplying eye’ after drinking too much, to the gossipy, rambling conversations between Joseph Poorgrass, Cainy Ball and other delightfully named characters.
The setting is idyllic, even though farm life is portrayed accurately in that sometimes things go wrong and a farmer is ruined financially. Between the weather, sheep doing what they are not supposed to do and plain old bad luck, the life of a farmer is clearly not for everyone.
The story also includes tragedies and lessons to be learned by most of the characters, including Bathsheba.
“Dazzled by brass and scarlet – O, Bathsheba – this is a woman’s folly indeed!”
The saddest story in this book is that of Fanny Robin, who, as a serving girl, followed her heart to a bad end. No doubt her tragedy has served as a warning to this book’s readers over the years.
I was very impressed that Hardy allowed his heroine to be strong and brave and to live her life as she saw fit, particularly when at the time he was writing this would have been most unusual. I also liked that he allowed Bathsheba and the other characters to make mistakes and that there were consequences, sometimes tragic, when they did so.
“When a strong woman recklessly throws her strength away she is worse than a weak woman who has never had any strength to throw away.”
Far From the Madding Crowd was book sixteen in my Classics Club challenge to read 50 classics before my challenge end date of August 26, 2023.