Far from the Madding Crowd Published
The 23rd of November 1874 AD
Far from the Madding Crowd, his fourth novel, proved a breakthrough for Thomas Hardy , its anonymous serialisation in Cornhill’s Magazine gaining it the admiration that has continued ever since.
Superficially it is a dramatic and tangled love story, Bathsheba Everdene attracting the attentions of honest yeoman Gabriel Oak, gentleman farmer William Boldwood, and the cadish Sergeant Troy whom she foolishly marries. Complete with one happy ending at least – Troy conveniently shot, Boldwood not hanged, and Gabriel at last winning Bathsheba – it is satisfying enough just on that level.
But there is much more to the book than mere romance. The first novel in which Hardy used the term Wessex, it is a beautiful and affectionate evocation of English rural life, Dorchester veiled as Casterbridge, Puddletown as Weatherbury. Hardy seems to delight in some of the details of agriculture; dwelling to the gratification of generations of schoolboys on Oak’s cure for Bathsheba’s bloated sheep, for example.
For some too, in spite of certain contemporary prejudices, a feminist vein is discernible: Bathsheba fiercely independent, determined to work her farm rather than appoint a man to manage it; and Fanny Robin – the description of her painful step-by-step progress towards the grim prospect of the workhouse the most moving passage in the novel – an example of the unjust fate of the ‘ruined’ woman.
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