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Far from the Madding Crowd

Far from the Madding Crowd

Far from the Madding Crowd is a novel by Thomas Hardy about a female farmer whose wealth, beauty and wilful independence attract several suitors. Set in fictitious Wessex, it details her journey towards self-knowledge.

Far from the Madding Crowd: a book by Thomas Hardy

Thomas Hardy was born in Dorset in 1814, where he grew up in an isolated cottage. Despite suffering from ill-health during his childhood, Hardy attended local schools and became an architect's apprentice in London. His countryside childhood influenced his novels, with his fictional Wessex being a representation of the South East England he grew up in.

Hardy left architecture for a career in literature with the serial publication of A Pair of Blue Eyes (1872) in Tinsley’s Magazine. Introducing his fictional Wessex, Far from the Madding Crowd was published in the prestigious Cornhill Magazine in 1873 and as a novel in 1874. It bought Hardy global acclaim.

As well as regularly addressing the class system, Hardy explored the realities of life for women in the Victorian era in poems from 'The Ruined Maid' (1866) to novels like Far from the Madding Crowd (1874) and Tess of the D’urbavilles (1899). Hardy was often asked to publically support the suffragette movement. He always declined, despite his estranged first wife, Emma, being a member until 1909. He also declined to sign an anti suffragette letter, despite a direct request from Lord Curzon.

The suffrage movement began in the UK in August 1832, when Mary Smith petitioned her MP, Henry Hunt for the right for spinsters to vote. By 1866, the first en-masse petition containing over 1500 signatures was presented in the House of Commons by John Stuart Mill.

In July 1928, The Representation of the People Act allowed everyone over 21 to vote for the first time. This movement happened, mostly simultaneously, in many other countries around the world.

Far from the Madding Crowd: summary

The novel begins in a fictional area of England called Wessex. The key character, Gabriel is introduced as a local shepherd. Bathsheba, the novel’s protagonist, is first introduced as the beautiful niece of a local woman. Gabriel keeps bumping into her. Although at first she seems disinterested in him, she later saves him from suffocating when he falls asleep with a fire in his hearth.

Gabriel falls in love with her and asks her aunt if he can court her. The aunt replies, untruthfully, that Bathsheba has other lovers already. After a brief and amusing misunderstanding, Bathsheba tells Gabriel that she will not marry him and he accepts her answer.

In the Victorian era, dating was referred to as courting and had some pretty strict rules and protocols. For instance, at a dance, if a man and woman happened to find themselves dancing without having been formally introduced by the host, they were not allowed to talk to each other.

Often a chaperone was required in the early stages of a courtship to help protect the woman's honour from gossip or speculation.

Bathsheba inherits a farm from her uncle and moves to Weatherbury to manage it. Gabriel’s novice sheepdog herds most of his sheep into a chalk pit and he ends up bankrupt. He leaves to look for work as a farm labourer, ending up in Weatherbury just in time to save Bathsheba’s barn from burning down. After recognising each other, Bathsheba hires Gabriel to work as a shepherd on the farm.

Bathsheba’s servant, Fanny runs away, bumping into Gabriel in the forest, where he lends her a shilling. Fanny tries to convince the father of her unborn child, Sergeant Troy, to marry her. Despite agreeing, he treats her quite coldly in front of other men in his barracks.

A while later, on Valentine's Day, Bathsheba, in collaboration with her maid and confidant, Liddy, jokingly sends a Valentine’s card to her wealthy neighbour, William Boldwood. Bathsheba had decided that William paid her no attention, despite her beauty, and thought he would take the card as a jest. He did not. As he had actually been interested in her, he becomes increasingly insistent that she marry him. She agrees that she may do so perhaps in the future.

The plans for Fanny and Troy’s wedding fall through. Gabriel leaves the farm after an argument with Bathsheba over her callous treatment of Boldwood. He returns a day later at her request to rescue her sheep. Bathsheba meets Troy and becomes involved with him, running away to Bath to marry him in secret. Their marriage is an unhappy one, with Troy being more interested in drinking and gambling than being a husband or farmer. He dominates Bathsheba. She discovers that he is the father of Fanny’s child when Fanny dies in a poorhouse and Bathsheba takes charge of her burial.

She is a flawed heroine as she undervalues the qualities Gabrielle embodies and fails to understand the impact that her careless actions can have on others. An example of this is her Valentine’s card to Boldwood.

Gabriel Oak

The main supporting character, Gabrielle is a loyal and supportive friend to Bathsheba throughout the novel. She doesn’t initially love him but comes to appreciate his quiet expertise and ongoing assistance. Gabrielle starts as a farm owner, then becomes bankrupt and has to take up work as a farm labourer. He ends up as a wealthy bailiff, married to Bathsheba.

Sergeant Frank Troy

The soldier, who gets Fanny pregnant, doesn’t end up marrying her despite his professed love for her and repeatedly lies to Bathsheba. Troy is deceitful and dominates Bathsheba in their brief marriage. He undermines her and is negligent of the farm.

William Boldwood

Boldwood is an eligible bachelor and a wealthy neighbouring farmer. He is a little obsessive and unstable, evident in his shooting of Troy in a crime of passion. Bathsheba thoughtlessly leads him on. She does not realise the extent of his feelings for her, nor the effect of her teasing of him.

Far from the Madding Crowd: quotes

A few key quotes highlight the themes that Hardy addresses in Far from the Madding Crowd.

What a luxury to have a choice. "Kiss my foot, sir, my face is for mouths of consequence."

This amusing one-liner by Liddy sums up Bathsheba’s unusual position of being a beautiful and wealthy farmer which means that she has several suitors to choose from. From this situation stems much of the story line around her journey to an understanding about what kind of love she is looking for and from whom.

Oak was an intensely human man: indeed, his humanity tore in pieces any political intentions of his which bordered on strategy, and carried him on as by gravitation. A shadow in his life had always been that his flock should end in mutton - that a day could find a shepherd an arrant traitor to his gentle sheep.”

This quote is a precise of Hardy’s portrayal of Gabriel as a man in tune with nature.

It was a fatal omission of Boldwood's that he had never once told her she was beautiful.”

Here Hardy illustrates Bathsheba’s starting stage in her journey from a capricious and vain woman, to one who comes to appreciate slightly different things.

And at home by the fire, whenever you look up there I shall be— and whenever I look up, there will be you.

Gabrielle says this to Bathsheba. It is not a particularly passionate or fiery declaration of love, rather it just expresses a fairly mundane dependability and reliability.

Far from the Madding Crowd - Key takeaways

  • Far from the Madding Crowd is a novel written by Thomas Hardy in 1784.
  • The protagonist is a feisty, beautiful woman, Bathsheba, who inherits and manages a farm named Upper Weatherbury Farm.
  • She attracts several suitors from Gabriel, the shepherd to Boldwood, the farmer and Troy, the Sergeant.
  • Themes in the novel include love, class, independence, gender roles, deceit, and man’s relationship with nature.
  • By the end of the novel, Bathsheba comes to appreciate Gabriel’s predictability and they end up marrying each other.

References

  1. Fig. 1 - English countryside at its best - geograph.org.uk (https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:English_countryside_at_its_best_-_geograph.org.uk_-_1394983.jpg) by Derek Voller (https://www.geograph.org.uk/profile/34885) licensed by CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0/)

Frequently Asked Questions about Far from the Madding Crowd

In the Victorian era in the 1860s to 1870s.

Thomas Hardy wrote Far from the Madding Crowd.

In this case 'madding' means 'frenzied' or something that is not peaceful.

Far from the Madding Crowd  about Bathsheba, a farmer, whose wealth, beauty and apparent independence attract numerous suitors. Set in rural Wessex, it follows her journey towards self-knowledge.

The title comes from a line in Thomas Gray's 1751 poem 'Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard'. 


Thomas Hardy ironically subverts the idyllic countryside myth, portraying country life more realistically. 


Consider, for example the fate of Fanny or Troy and Boldwood.

Final Far from the Madding Crowd Quiz

Question

Who wrote Far from the Madding Crowd?

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Answer

Thomas Hardy.

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Where is Far from the Madding Crowd set?

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Answer

Wessex, a fictional place in England's countryside.

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Question

Who is the protagonist in Far from the Madding Crowd?

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Answer

Bathsheba Everdene.

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Question

Which character is portrayed as being the most in harmony with nature?

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Answer

Gabriele Oak, the shepherd and bailiff.

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What are key themes in Far from the Madding Crowd?

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Answer

Love, deceit, nature and gender roles are key themes.

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Question

Who does Bathsheba marry?

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Answer

Troy

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How does Gabriel support Bathsheba?

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Answer

By saving her barn.

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Question

What does Bathsheba send to Boldwood in jest?

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Answer

A Valentine's card saying 'Marry me'.

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What happens between Boldwood and Troy?

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Answer

Boldwood shoots Troy and is imprisoned.

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Question

Does Far from the Madding Crowd have a happy ending?

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Answer

Yes, the ending is partially happy with Gabriel and Bathsheba getting married. 


Boldwood and Troy are less fortunate.

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