Far From the Madding Crowd by Thomas Hardy

Girl meets boys…

😀 😀 😀 😀

This is not a review – it is my personal reaction to the characters in the book and is spoiler-filled from start to end. So if you haven’t read the book and intend to some day, please don’t read this.

The sorry tale of an idiot girl who keeps choosing the wrong man until finally there’s only one left, so she takes him. Given that every other man she’d picked had ended up dead or worse, one can only assume the final man is as stupid as Bathsheba, so they’ll probably live happily ever after.

I have to start by saying that I was forced to read this book in school and analyse it to death and, as I’ve remarked before about other classics, this always had a tendency to make me hate books I would otherwise probably have loved. This time round I didn’t hate it – in fact, despite the following, I enjoyed most of it quite a lot – but I still disliked all the characters and wasn’t too keen on Hardy himself!

Why I disliked Bathsheba…

To be fair, dislike is a bit strong. I didn’t believe in Bathsheba the farmer. One day she’s a humble nobody, next day she’s running a farm which, we only find out towards the end, the landlord could easily have given to an established (male) farmer but chose to give to a teenage girl with next to no experience. Fictional licence is fine, but make it realistic, please. All the people who work for her accept her, which seems unlikely in the extreme, and she turns out to be a wonderful farmer, despite not knowing what to do when the sheep get sick, and not reminding her employees to make the wheat ricks safe from the weather and so on. But she looks good when she goes to market and drives a good bargain, apparently, among all the middle-aged male farmers who apparently accept her too.

And then there’s her taste in men! I must admit I found this aspect much more believable than her farming prowess. Her youth makes sense for this part of the story, although her indecisiveness, especially about Boldwood, seems at odds with the strong, independent character she is otherwise drawn as. Why do the men love her? Well, apparently because she’s beautiful. All three of them “love” her before they’ve exchanged more than half a dozen words.

And lastly but most importantly, there’s her reaction to Fanny’s child. On seeing the tiny body in its mother’s dead arms, does Bathsheba show some womanly sympathy? No, she feels sorry for herself. She’s so narcissistic she could almost be twenty-first century!

The one feat alone—that of dying—by which a mean condition could be resolved into a grand one, Fanny had achieved. And to that had destiny subjoined this rencounter to-night, which had, in Bathsheba’s wild imagining, turned her companion’s failure to success, her humiliation to triumph, her lucklessness to ascendancy; it had thrown over herself a garish light of mockery, and set upon all things about her an ironical smile.

Why I disliked Sergeant Troy…

Well, this one is easy, since we’re supposed to dislike him! I actually think he’s the best-drawn and most believable character in the book. His motivation for loving Bathsheba is straightforward – she’s relatively rich, and that’s an attractive trait in a woman as far as Troy is concerned. Hardy does a great job showing his emotional shallowness – his excessive but short-lived grief for Fanny, his coldness and cruelty to the women who fall for his animal charm, his laziness and drunkenness.

Why I disliked Boldwood…

I couldn’t decide what exactly Hardy wanted us to think about Boldwood. There’s a suggestion that we should feel sorry for him – that he was tricked into loving Bathsheba by her foolish sending of the fatal Valentine card. But I thought he was a stalker and a creep, a man who would use any form of emotional blackmail to force a reluctant girl half his age into a marriage it was obvious she didn’t want. Again his “love” for Bathsheba has nothing to do with her character or personality – she is bold and independent, but he wants her to be pliable and submissive. It is her beauty he loves – he is a middle-aged lecher salivating over a young girl. I kept thinking there should be a #MeToo hashtag at the end of every paragraph he sleazed through.

Book 12 of 80
Classics Club Spin #32

Why I disliked the yokels…

I get very tired of books that have a chorus of yokels behaving humorously for the amusement of us sophisticated educated types. Funnily enough, Hardy often has yokels in his books and this is the first time they’ve annoyed me. I suspect he got better at showing them as real human beings as he aged and gained experience, but here they really are shown like a lower form of life – stupid, easily swayed, drunken at every opportunity. Compare and contrast with the yokels in Silas Marner, who are actual people rather than sideshow entertainment.

Why I disliked Fanny…

OK, I didn’t dislike Fanny – she broke my heart and the chapters in which she dies and is laid in her coffin with her infant are the best writing in the book and made me cry. But did Hardy really have to make her so stupid she turned up at the wrong church on her wedding day? Who would do that? Has any bride in the history of the world not visited the church before the wedding to at least ensure she knows how long the journey will take her? Would Hardy have made any man be quite that profoundly stupid? (Maybe a yokel…)

Why I disliked Gabriel…

Controversial, I know! But hear me out! Firstly, again he fell in “love” without actually getting to know Bathsheba and then decided to hang around her like a whipped puppy regardless of how often she married other men. Do I admire that? No! Why didn’t he simply get over her and move on? But OK, unrequited love I can forgive. What I can’t forgive is what he did to Fanny’s infant. In order to avoid selfish little Bathsheba being hurt, he erased the words “and child” from Fanny’s coffin. That little baby, who had no life, not even a name, erased even from that tiny recognition of its existence. No, I can’t forgive that – it makes me angry every time I think of it. And that puts Gabriel on a par with Boldwood the creep and Troy the cad in my book.

Why I disliked Hardy…

I love Hardy! And despite everything I loved his writing in this book and found it intensely readable and mostly enjoyable. But it was written early in his life and that shows in his attitudes. In later years he’s hailed as a feminist, but here he slips into sexism bordering on misogyny again and again. It’s not just that Bathsheba is pathetic despite being supposed to be strong and independent. It’s the actual language he uses. A few examples – there are many more:

Strange to say of a woman in full bloom and figure, she always allowed her interlocutors to finish their statements before rejoining with hers.

Loving is misery for women always. I shall never forgive God for making me a woman…

Bathsheba, though she had too much understanding to be entirely governed by her womanliness had too much womanliness to use her understanding to the best advantage. Perhaps in no minor point does woman astonish her helpmate more than in the strange power she possesses of believing cajoleries that she knows to be false – except indeed in that of being utterly sceptical on strictures that she knows to be true.

She was of the stuff of which great men’s mothers are made.

Your mother must have been so proud, Mr Hardy, to think that she had fulfilled a woman’s primary function of producing a great man. 😉

So, overall, not my favourite Hardy but still very much worth reading!

Amazon UK Link

21 thoughts on “Far From the Madding Crowd by Thomas Hardy

  1. I don’t like Hardy’s comments about women in this one, either, FictionFan. And you make such a very good point about believable choices, personalities, and so on. As you say, Hardy’s writing is terrific, but with several characters who aren’t really credible or, if they are credible, are unlikeable, it’s hard to get totally drawn in. And by the way, I love your comments about Bathsheba’s choice in men… I’m glad for you, though, that you liked this better the second time round. I think it’s good to re-read books you disliked as a teen, because being required to read something is often a strike against that something. I know that’s happened to me.


  2. Well, I have not read this one but I don’t think I will be rushing to do so, so I decided to read the post anyway! I’ve only read one Hardy, which was Jude the Obscure, and I’ve never quite forgiven him for it. (I read the famously sad scene during a break in a particularly unpleasant night shift, which I know I can’t exactly blame Hardy for, but I do anyway). I’m glad you enjoyed this despite all the unpleasant characters, though you haven’t tempted me to pick it up!


  3. I just read Tess of the D’Urbervilles (was part of my college curriculum, and I hated it then). I loved it now as an adult, and even though there were some misogynistic leanings, I didn’t find them out of place in that era. I will probably hold off reading his other books for a bit though.


  4. I enjoyed reading your thoughts, even though I seem to have had a completely different experience with this book! I did find Bathsheba a frustrating character, but I loved Gabriel Oak and don’t remember being bothered by any of the other things you mention. I’m glad you still found it worth reading anyway – particularly after being made to read it at school, which can often put you off an author for life!


  5. I read your hilarious review, because I don’t want to read the book. Jude the Obscure and The Mayor of Casterbridge were enough for me. Bathsheba sounds like a manic pixie dream girl. I would probably be annoyed by this book.


  6. Fun fact: Suzanne Collins named Katniss Everdeen after Bathsheba Everdene (different spelling), possibly due to her determination and independence. Then again, Katniss had difficulties in sound decision making when it came to men.


  7. Ages since I read this one but I had great fun reading your review. I can’t remember what I felt about Bathsheba when reading this, but I do remember intensely disliking another Hardy character, Eustacia from Return of the Native.


  8. Well, your review made me laugh, but I like Far from the Madding Crowd. Maybe you would like it better if you had first seen, as I did, the wonderful movie with Julie Christie as Bathsheba and Alan Bates as Gabriel. (The newer movie just doesn’t do it.) You aren’t supposed to like either Troy or Farmer Boldwood, I don’t think, and I absolutely bought that the farm would go to the guy’s only relative and that she would be determined to make a go of it despite not knowing much to begin with. Sheep are a specialized area, I think, so you have to have a shepherd. But what do I know? Try watching that movie.


  9. Ha ha, I agree, but I still loved it. I don’t think it pays to think about it too much except that Bathsheba is ridiculous as a farmer. . . actually I preferred the more recent film to the Julie Christie – I thought Michael Sheen made Boldwood almost understandable


  10. Okay, since I haven’t read this book…..I intended only to read the first paragraph of your post….but I found that I couldn’t stop reading sooooo, I don’t think I’ll need to read this book, after all. Thank you for your honest assessment!


  11. I haven’t read this one and probably won’t, but I enjoyed reading your review. I suspect these characters (particularly Gabriel and Boldwood) would drive me up a wall! I realize times have changed — and that these are “classics” for a reason — but ugh. With so many other options to occupy my time, I can’t justify spending it thusly!


  12. Okey dokey. I’m skipping this review since I have it on my CC list. Of course it might be year five before I ever get to it, but I don’t want to take any chances!


  13. So, you’re saying ‘suspend disbelief all ye who enter here’? I haven’t read a ton of Hardy’s work and this is one of those in the haven’t read column, but it does intrigue me perhaps because Bathsheba’s a farmer!


  14. My experience was different to yours! I found many parts of this story to funny, felt sorry for Gabriel but am agreement with you over Bathsheba!
    I appreciated Hardy allowing her to make mistakes, though. Not sure if she learned from them, or as you say, she eventually ran out of other choices in men.


  15. I did this one for O-level and Return of the Native for A-level, so I can quote you chunks of this one but didn’t remember the story when I re-read it, and could do a sophisticated essay about characters and story for RotN! Education, eh! They didn’t manage to put me off Hardy, though, although I avoided Jude for years then of course loved it. I really like The Trumpet Major, though.


  16. Your review made me laugh! I can see how this book would change as you re-read it over the years, and I think so much of our reactions to certain books is dependent on what we’ve been reading before it too. Sometimes I’m in the mood for something silly, but if I’m not, I think a book isn’t serious enough, etc. And even though I just read your review and not the actual book, I’m annoyed that child was scrubbed off the coffin too!


  17. I’d like to think that I will read this book one day but by then I’m confident I will have entirely forgotten this post. Which is not to say that it’s not a brilliant and memorable piece – it certainly is. Just a reflection on the lack of space in my head these days. Or the size of the holes through which far too many thoughts and facts seem to fall, to land in obscurity. So thank you for this one – it raised a smile more than once 😊


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