Far From the Madding Crowd by Thomas Hardy

Vintage copy of Far From the Madding Crowd
My copy of Far From the Madding Crowd, which I believe to be over 100 years old. It was a delight to read from–the right size and weight, and the pages always lay nicely flat.

Far From the Madding Crowd
Thomas Hardy
1874, England

Full of this dim and temperate bliss, he went on to fling the ewe over upon her other side, covering her head with his knee, gradually running the shears line after line round her dewlap, thence about her flank and back, and finishing over the tail.

[…]

The clean, sleek creature arose from its fleece—how perfectly like Aphrodite rising from the foam should have been seen to be realized—looking startled and shy at the loss of its garment, which lay on the floor in one soft cloud, united throughout, the portion visible being the inner surface only, which, never before exposed, was white as snow, and without flaw or blemish of the minutest kind. (Ch. 22)

It’s possible that I enjoyed Far From the Madding Crowd as much as I did because of the sheep scenes—the herding, the washing, the shearing, the sheep market. My inner fiber artist was drawn to and enchanted by this great sheep novel.

I joke, of course. At least in part.

After all, I did enjoy the sheep scenes, and in a sense, there would be no story without the sheep and the dramas (and traumas) of raising sheep, but it is primarily a human drama, in pastoral setting.

Far From the Madding Crowd is one of Thomas Hardy’s earliest novels, and was his first real success. It tells the tale of Bathsheba Everdene and the three very different men who woo her—Victorian love-quadrangle, oh, the scandal!—: the solid Gabriel Oak, dashing Sergeant Troy, and passionate Farmer Boldwood, all while set against the rhythms of the changing seasons and farming responsibilities. (Those names…Mr. Hardy, I see what you did there.) The novel is not merely set in the country, but rather the backdrop of farming is integral to the characters, their histories, their responsibilities (or lack thereof). How any one character responds to the demands of pastoral life illuminates the rest of their character and mind-set: thus we see that Gabriel is an honorable man worthy of great responsibility, while Farmer Boldwood’s growing obsession with Bathsheba is nowhere made clearer than in his neglect of his own harvest. And that is to speak nothing of Troy’s relationship to the pastoral setting;  I’m pretty sure he made an earlier appearance in Sense and Sensibility under the name “Mr. Willoughby.”

The citizen’s Then is the rustic’s Now. In London, twenty of thirty years ago are old times; in Paris ten years, or five; in Weatherbury three or four score years were included in the mere present, and nothing less than a century set a mark on its face or tone. (Ch. 22)

Of course, though an early Hardy, this is still Hardy, and as such, though I found it enjoyable, it is rarely lighthearted. Despite the appeal of the ideal of “pastoral,” the reality of farm life is difficult, hard work, and into this mix Hardy throws additional human drama—there is tragedy, both on field and at hearth. (Okay, has anyone else looked up “bloat” or “ruminal tympany” because of Hardy? I told you, I have a sheep thing…) But in the end I have to agree that this is an “accessible” Hardy and would recommend it as a starting place for someone wanting to try his novels out.

I read Far From the Madding Crowd for Classics Spin #22. It also qualifies as my adaption title for Back to the Classics, a classic that takes place in a country that I don’t live in for Reading the Classics, and is one of my Classics Club and Realists and Romantics project titles. Phew! That’s a lot of work for one book.

8 thoughts on “Far From the Madding Crowd by Thomas Hardy”

  1. This is my favorite, more pleasant Hardy novel, and I enjoyed your review of it. I did like his use of names according to personalities. Quite clever. I did not, however, look up sheepish words, and now I think I missed a lot of hidden messages. Next time, I will need to be more diligent about taking clues bc Hardy doesn’t waste a detail.

    1. I didn’t think of it as “hidden messages” in the sheepish parts, as much as the use of the responsibilities of farm-life to illustrate character. But I do think is is a novel that would reward rereads. It is probably my favorite Hardy to date as well, but as I haven’t read too many others (just Tess of the D’Urbervilles and The Mayor of Casterbridge, which I barely remember), that’s not saying too much!

  2. This is one that was rather spoiled for me by being a school text, but I’m planning to re-read it sometime now that the emotional scars of over-analysis have faded! I shall look out for the sheepish stuff – he does do rural so well. 🙂

    1. How many of us could say “spoiled by school” over some book or other! Fortunately, this book was not one of those for me. (Macbeth, on the other hand…) I hope you enjoy the reread!

  3. This is a book that most of my friends have read and recommend. It’ll be an obligatory stop for me at one point. I’m both attracted and repulsed by Hardy in equal amounts, ha ha ha. I know I read Tess ages ago in Spanish, so I yet have to meet this tour the force author in English.

    1. I’d say Far From the Madding Crowd is easier to read than Tess, so if you decide to try a Hardy in English, it’s probably a good place to start. Hardy can be hard to read just because his books seem so often bleak or depressing, so it’s probably best to try him when you’re in the right mood!

  4. I also enjoy the book, although no my favourite by Hardy. But his way of making a story about the countryside and its people is there. I loved the movie, although I have not seen the new one. I saw the one with Julie Christie and Terence Stamp, many years ago.
    I visited Hardy’s house in Dorset. At the museum they had an exhibition with the clothes worn in the last movie. They looked gorgeous.

    1. Yes, Hardy seems very in tune with the countryside and it’s people. It really helps bring the story to life. I’m not sure I’ve read enough Hardy yet to have a favorite – what is is yours?

      That’s so neat that you got to see Hardy’s house! I’ve always found author’s house museums interesting.

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