“Far From the Madding Crowd” is a novel by the English writer Thomas Hardy that was originally published in 1874. First published as a monthly serial in Cornhill Magazine, the novel was credited to anonymous. It was critically adored which lead Hardy to publish it under his own name a year later.
The novel revolves around a farmer named Gabriel Oak who falls in love with a headstrong, independent woman named Bathsheba Everdene. Bathsheba also has other suitors but refuses to marry because she wishes to remain independent. Eventually, however, she meets a soldier named Troy whom she falls in love with. Bathsheba and Troy marry in secret but their marriage is not a happy one.
Eventually, she discovers that he impregnated another woman who died in childbirth. Troy leaves town in shame and is thought to be dead. In his absence, Bathsheba is courted by another man and reluctantly agrees to marry him. Troy returns dramatically and is shot dead by Bathsheba’s other suitor, Mr. Boldwood. In the end, Boldwood is sent to prison and Bathsheba and Gabriel marry. The novel has been adapted several times, most notably into four movies over the course of the 20th century and one in 2015.
The book begins by introducing Gabriel Oak, a twenty-eight-year-old shepherd who has recently bought a small farm where he keeps his two hundred sheep. In the first scene, he witnesses a beautiful young woman drive by in a carriage. The woman takes out a mirror and looks at herself. A short time later, he sees her again arguing with a gatekeeper about the toll. Gabriel offers to pay the toll for her and she drives away. The gatekeeper tells Gabriel that the woman’s only fault is her vanity.
Over the course of the next week, Gabriel sees the woman several more times. He discovers that she lives with her aunt and he meets her again while she is looking for a hat that she has lost and the woman does not seem to like him. However, one night Gabriel falls asleep in his hut with a fire still burning. The smoke fills the hut and nearly suffocates him but the woman breaks in and saves him. When he thanks her and asks for her name, the woman tells him that he should find it out himself.
Gabriel finds out that her name is Bathsheba Everdene. He sees her aunt ask for her niece’s hand in marriage and the aunt tells him that Bathsheba already has other lovers. Bathsheba rushes to Gabriel to tell him that her aunt was lying. She intends to tell him that she does not love him and would not want to marry him, but Gabriel assumes that she rushed after him to let him know that she wanted him to court her. After a brief, humorous misunderstanding between the two, they both make their stances clear. Gabriel asks Bathsheba to marry him, and she turns him down. He tells her that he will always love her but that he is willing to leave her alone. Shortly after this exchange, Bathsheba leaves town and goes to a place called Weatherbury.
Gabriel feels that her absence makes him love her more. Gabriel has an accident on his farm when and overzealous young sheep dog chases most of his sheep into a chalk pit. Gabriel is ruined as he can no longer farm. But his first impulse is to have pity for the dead sheep and to thank God that Bathsheba didn’t agree to marry him as he only wants her to be happy and prosperous. Full of remorse, he shoots the sheep dog and then after paying off his debts, realizes that he is now out of money.
Two months later, we see that Gabriel has gone to a hiring fair for farm workers. After failing to find any work, Gabriel falls asleep in a wagon and wakes to find it traveling toward Weatherbury. He travels most of the way in the wagon and then, intending to go the rest of the way on foot, slips out unnoticed. While walking, Gabriel sees a large fire in the distance. A large crowd has gathered to watch helplessly as a large stack of straw burns. Thinking quickly, Gabriel manages to coordinate the crowd to put the fire out. After the fire is out, the veiled mistress of the farm asks Gabriel if there is anything that she can offer him in appreciation. He asks if she has need of a shepherd.
The woman lifts her veil and reveals herself to be Bathsheba. The two stare at each other in shock. Bathsheba agrees to hire him and sends him to speak to the town bailiff at an inn nearby. As Gabriel walks to the inn through the forest, he comes across a thin, nervous girl whom he gives a shilling too. She asks him not to tell anyone that he has seen her. Gabriel makes it to the inn, called Warren’s Malthouse and joins a group of local laborers as they drink. Gabriel learns that Bathsheba’s young servant girl, Fanny Robin has run away and he assumes that this was the girl that he met in the forest.
Bathsheba has asked the workers for help finding her or the lover that she fled with. The next day, a man named Mr. Boldwood knocks on Bathsheba’s door to ask if there is any news of Fanny Robin. Bathsheba’s servant, Liddy Smallbury is helping her clean at the time and talks about Mr. Boldwood and his status as an eligible bachelor in the neighborhood. Bathsheba has to dismiss her bailiff, Pennyways for stealing. She calls a meeting of the farm workers to tell them that she will be taking on the job of bailiff for the time being.
Meanwhile, Fanny Robin arrives at the barracks a few miles north of Weatherbury. She is there to see a Sergeant Troy to remind him that he has promised to marry her. He agrees to marry her but only replies to her coldly and the other soldiers laugh at her. Bathsheba takes on her new role, dealing with it well although she is the only woman in the group of farmers. That Sunday, Bathsheba, and Liddy are about to send a valentine to a young boy when Liddy suggests that Bathsheba sends it to Mr. Boldwood instead as a joke. Bathsheba agrees, stamping it with a seal that says, “Marry Me” as she assumes that Mr. Boldwood will only laugh at it.
However, as Mr. Boldwood has been secretly harboring romantic feelings for Bathsheba, he takes the letter very seriously. After he receives another letter, he tears it open impulsively, only realizing after that it was intended for Gabriel. It is a letter from Fanny Robin, confessing that she was the woman that Gabriel met in the forest and returning the shilling he gave her. She writes that she is engaged to Sergeant Troy. Before he leaves, Boldwood shows Gabriel that valentine that Bathsheba gave him.
On the day of Fanny Robin and Sargent Troy’s wedding, Fanny Robin accidentally mixes up the church that she is supposed to be in and misses the wedding. She begs him to reschedule but Troy refuses to set a date. Boldwood begins to act doting toward Bathsheba and she regrets sending him the valentine. She realizes that she needs to explain the joke and apologize.During a village sheep washing, Boldwood gets Bathsheba alone and proposes to her. She turns him down but he persists and she finally agrees to let him ask again later. Bathsheba asks Gabriel about his opinion of how she should handle Boldwood and they fight when he tells her that he feels her conduct toward him has been rude. She accuses him of jealousy and he confesses that he hasn’t thought of marrying her in a long while. She orders him to leave the farm and he complies.
However, a day later the sheep on the farm eat clover, which expands their stomachs to a point that can soon become fatal. As only Gabriel knows how to help them, Bathsheba sends for him. He replies by messenger that she has to ask him properly. Bathsheba sends another missive reading “Do not desert me, Gabriel!” Gabriel returns and manages to save the sheep. Bathsheba hires him back. At the annual sheep shearing, Bathsheba speaks to Boldwood and tells him that she is willing to try to love him. She says that she may feel ready to marry by harvest time. After this conversation ends, Bathsheba takes a dim lantern and walks over the farm to check it over. While walking, she bumps into Sergeant Troy whose spur gets caught on her dress. The two have a conversation while untangling and Troy instantly becomes enamored with her. Bathsheba finds herself irritated with the man until she later finds out that he was Sergeant Troy at which point she regrets being short with him. The following day, Bathsheba sees Troy helping the haymakers in the field and speaks to him.
Troy apologizes to her again and offers her his watch as a gift. Bathsheba turns down the gift but lets him continue to work with the haymakers. The next day, the two meet again and Troy talks to her about a sword exercise that soldiers learn. Bathsheba says that she would love to see it and he offers to show her. Bathsheba is unsure whether she should be spending time with Troy but agrees to watch him perform the exercise. However, after the exercise is over, Troy kisses her when she is standing in awe at his swordsmanship. Bathsheba realizes that she is in love. The narrator says that “When a strong woman recklessly throws away her strength, she is worse than a weak woman who has never had a strength to throw away.” Gabriel senses that Bathsheba has fallen for Troy and tries to talk her out of it based off of the way that Troy hurt Fanny Robin. Bathsheba pushes aside his worries and continues seeing Troy.
Bathsheba confesses to Liddy that she is in love with Troy before crying at the loss of her self-possession. She writes to Boldwood to tell him that she is rejecting his proposal and that she does not want to see him again, but when she later bumps into him in town Boldwood becomes furious at her for rejecting him and reminds her of the valentine that she sent. He scolds her for being dazzled by Troy’s military service and not seeing him for who he really is. Boldwood threatens to get into a fight with Troy, which frightens Bathsheba to the point that she returns to the farm and takes out a horse to travel to Bath to see Troy.
Bathsheba is gone for two weeks and when she and Troy return, Boldwood gets Troy alone and attempts to bribe him to marry Fanny Robin and leave Bathsheba. Troy informs him that he and Bathsheba were married in Bath and at this news, Boldwood wanders despondently away. The next day, Gabriel learns about the marriage when Troy shows up on the farm and begins mocking him by throwing money at him. Gabriel predicts that the marriage will be a bad portent and is proven right when on the night of a farm-wide harvest dance, Troy insists that the farm workers all drink brandy with him. As the farm workers are not used to hard liquor, Bathsheba objects but Troy overrules her and sends her away with the women and children. Gabriel leaves and realizes that a storm is coming and the farm has not been properly prepared.
Unfortunately, by this point, the farm hands are all passed out from drinking. Gabriel begins working himself to cover the wheat and hay ricks but he is still working when the storm hits. Bathsheba sees him struggling and rushes to help him. In the midst of the storm, Bathsheba confesses to Gabriel that she didn’t intend to marry Troy when she went to Bath, but that she meant to break off her engagement instead. She only married him because she knew that he would leave her if she did not. The next morning when the storm has passed, Gabriel notices that Boldwood has left his own ricks uncovered and that all of his hay and wheat are now ruined. He is surprised by this negligence. Boldwood tells him that he is to depressed to work. It is at this point that the narrative jumps forward two months. Bathsheba and Troy’s marriage is not going well. They fight about his gambling habits and Troy tells her that he regrets marrying her as she does nothing but cry now.
Troy has left the army and is now a farmer, dressing and acting differently. On the way into town, he passes a woman who asks for directions but when she hears his voice she screams and faints. The woman is Fanny Robin, who did not recognize Troy out of his uniform. Troy tells Fanny that he didn’t know how to reach her and that she never wrote to him. He offers to give her some money in two days time. Weak with hunger, Fanny Robin struggles to make her way to Casterbridge, where Troy told her to meet him. Troy asks his wife for money, but she assumes that he is gambling again and refuses him.
As they argue, Bathsheba notices a lock of blonde hair in his watch and asks him about it. He tells her that it is from an old fiancee and she demands that he burn it. He refuses and she bursts into tears, hating herself for being weak. The next day, Bathsheba hears that Fanny Robin is dead. Bathsheba begins to wonder if Fanny might have died in childbirth and if she is the woman that Troy keeps a reminder of in his watch. She offers to hold a funeral for Fanny Robin and asks for her body to be sent to the farm. A laborer is sent to collect the body, but fails in this duty when he stops for drinks at the pub and is found and chastised by Gabriel. Gabriel brings Fanny’s body back to the farm himself. He notices that the chalk mark on the coffin reads: “Fanny Robin and child” and rubs away the “and child”.
However, Bathsheba soon hears a rumor that Fanny died in childbirth. She goes to Gabriel to ask for advice, but finds him praying and does not want to disturb him. Returning to her house, she sees that Fanny’s coffin is still in the sitting room and pries open the lid to look inside. Inside, Fanny Robin is holding a baby. Bathsheba is shocked and can only wait for her husband to return home. When Troy comes home, he wonders who is in the coffin and when he realizes that it is Fanny he kisses her forehead and tells Bathsheba that he has been a bad, black-hearted man. He says that he and Fanny were married as far as God is concerned and Bathsheba runs out of the house, upset. Bathsheba stays out all night and when she returns, she locks herself and Liddy up in the attic to avoid her husband. In the next chapter, the narrator reveals that Troy did travel to Casterbridge to meet Fanny on the night he said he would, but that he could not find her. He became angry and went to gamble. He returns home later to find Bathsheba standing next to Fanny’s coffin. He buys Fanny a gravestone with his last bit of money and spends the night sleeping in the churchyard next to Fanny’s grave.
In the morning, he leaves town. Bathsheba comes down from the attic when she hears that Troy has left town. She and Gabriel visit Fanny’s grave and plant flowers. Troy wanders through the countryside until he comes to the ocean and, leaving his clothes on the bank, goes for a swim. He is pulled under by the current and almost drowns before a sailor manages to pull him onto a boat. Meanwhile, Bathsheba hears that Troy has drowned but does not believe it until she receives his clothes and watch in the mail.
For the next few months, Bathsheba slowly lets Gabriel control more and more of the farm until he is overseeing it. Boldwood also hires Gabriel as bailiff on his own farm. Boldwood hopes that after Troy is declared legally dead Bathsheba might be willing to marry him and he questions Liddy constantly about whether or not Bathsheba would be willing to remarry. The narrator reveals that Troy has been wandering around England and America for the past few months. He has now returned to town but is waiting to find out what Bathsheba’s financial situation is before he tells her that he is alive, as he doesn’t want to be held liable for her maintenance. He has started traveling with a circus. At a fair in town, Pennyways, the former bailiff spots Troy and recognizes him. Boldwood proposes to Bathsheba again even though he knows that she does not love him. She tells him that she will not marry anyone else, but she will not marry him either. She agrees to revisit the notion of Christmas.
Bathsheba asks Gabriel for advice and he tells her that the real sin would be marrying a man that she doesn’t love. Bathsheba is slightly miffed that Gabriel has not mentioned his love for her in a while. The next chapter is divided into seven sections that consist of Boldwood, Troy, Gabriel and Bathsheba’s actions as they prepare for Boldwood’s Christmas Eve party. Bathsheba is nervous about the party, as she knows that she will have to tell Boldwood whether or not she intends to marry him after Troy is declared dead.
Boldwood asks Gabriel for assistance in tying his tie and asks if he thinks that Bathsheba will keep her promise to him. Gabriel warns him to not get his hopes up. Troy arrives at the party in disguise. He thinks that Bathsheba is going to agree to marry Boldwood. Boldwood tells Gabriel that he knows that the other man loves Bathsheba as well, but that he has won her heart because Gabriel is too good. The villagers coming to the party begin to hear rumors that Troy is still alive and in town. Boldwood pressures Bathsheba into agreeing to marry him and into taking a ring to wear for the night. Bathsheba begins to cry. Troy arrives at the party and tells Bathsheba that he has come for her. He reaches for her, but she pulls away.
Troy is angered at this, and he grabs her violently, making her scream. There is a loud bang, and everyone realizes that Boldwood has shot Troy dead. He raises the gun to shoot himself before someone in the crowd stops him. Boldwood turns himself into the police. Troy dies in Bathsheba’s arms. A few months later, Boldwood’s trial occurs and the crowd learns that Boldwood had already prepared a room and a wardrobe for Bathsheba before the party. He is pardoned from execution but sentenced to life in prison. Troy is buried with Fanny Robin.
Bathsheba slowly begins to turn into herself again. One day she sees Troy while visiting Troy’s grave. Gabriel tells her that he plans to leave Weatherbury. He tells her that rumors have been going around town that they are romantically involved. Bathsheba admits that she has been courting him and the two become engaged. They have a small wedding after which the men of the village sing and play for them at the farm.
Gabriel Oak – A shepherd and bailiff who serves as the novel’s hero. Gabriel begins the story by losing all of his assets because of a mistake and spends the rest of the novel slowly rebuilding his fortune. Throughout the novel, Gabriel is a grounding force and a sounding board for the other characters. He regularly counsels Bathsheba about her relationships with other men and Boldwood about Bathsheba. Gabriel is a humble and honest man, as well as a good friend. He loves Bathsheba, but backs away from her after she insists that she never intends to marry him. Despite his love, he shows patience in giving her advice through her marriage and courtship with Boldwood. Gabriel has a distinct love of the natural world and the animals that he works with. He eventually ends up married to Bathsheba at the end of the novel.
Bathsheba Everdene – The heroine of the novel. Bathsheba is a beautiful, headstrong woman who immediately attracts suitors everywhere she goes. In the beginning of the novel, she is reluctant to marry and wishes to be independent and run her farm on her own, a task that she is more than capable of handling competently. Bathsheba turns down both Gabriel and Boldwood’s offers of marriage in order to stay independent. However, when she falls in love with Troy she seems to lose a lot of herself in the relationship. Hardy insinuates that she loses what made her strong. She begins to be lead around by her husband and feels unable to assert herself to him. Even after Troy leaves, Bathsheba has lost her ability to stand up to the other men in her life, like Boldwood whom she seems to fear. After Troy’s death and Boldwood’s arrest, Bathsheba seems to regain some of her inner strength and hesitantly begins courting Gabriel. In the end, they marry.
Sergeant Troy – Troy is handsome, vain soldier that initially promises Fanny Robin that he will marry her, but backs out and marries Bathsheba instead. Troy is manipulative of the woman in his life and condescending to the men. He does not realize that he impregnated Fanny Robin when they were together, but after he learns that she has died giving birth to his child he is overcome with remorse and leaves Bathsheba and the town that night. He seems to recover his vain personality just as Bathsheba recovers her strength and returns to town with the idea of returning to his wife after he first makes sure that she has not lost all of her money since he left. Troy shows up to Boldwood’s party with the express purpose of causing as much of a dramatic entrance as he can. In the end, he is shot by Boldwood for manhandling Bathsheba.
William Boldwood – Bathsheba’s neighbor and suitor. Boldwood receives a joking valentine from Bathsheba and assumes that it is serious, becoming obsessed with courting and marrying her. He is so obsessed that he does not realize that Bathsheba is not interested in marrying him, and persists despite this. Boldwood is portrayed as a socially awkward, odd man who sees Bathsheba as his only chance for happiness. In the end, his obsession leads him to kill Troy and he is sentenced to life in prison.
Thomas Hardy Biography
Thomas Hardy was born June 2nd, 1840 in Stinsford, Dorset, England. The son of a stonemason, Hardy was first educated by his well-read mother before attending his first school at the age of eight. Hardy’s formal schooling ended at age 16 as his family lacked the means to afford any college education for him.
He then became an apprentice to a local architect. In 1862, he moved to London where he enrolled as a student of architecture at King’s College London. Hardy found some success in the world of architecture but began writing as a pastime. His first novel, “The Poor Man and the Lady”, was finished in 1867 but never published as Hardy was advised against seeking a publisher by his friend the Victorian poet George Meredith.
Hardy began writing again in 1871, publishing both “Desperate Remedies” and “Under the Greenwood Tree” in 1873. In 1870, Hardy met his first wife, Emma Lavinia Gifford whom he married three years later. During this time, Hardy began to see some commercial success as a writer but it was his first hit novel, “Far From the Maddening Crowd” (1874) that gave him leave to give up his work as an architect and start a career as a full-time writer.
He and his wife soon moved to Yeovil, England where he produced more of his most well-known work. “Return of the Native” (1878) and ‘Two on a Tower’ (1882). He and his wife moved into a house that he had designed and built in 1885 and while there Hardy wrote: “The Mayor of Casterbridge” (1886), “The Woodlanders” (1887) and perhaps his most famous work, “Tess of the d’Urbervilles” (1891).
Hardy began receiving backlash from the Victorian public in regards to his racy novel “Tess” and a later, even more, opposed novel, “Jude the Obscure” (1895) which challenged societies views of marriage and religion. Hardy’s relationship with his wife, already strained, became even more so after “Jude” was released as she worried that people would think it was autobiographical. Hardy himself joked about the response to the novel but some historians today believe he may have given up writing novels because of it as ‘Jude’ was the last novel he produced.
Hardy began publishing books of poetry in 1898 with his first collection, “Wessex Poems”. During the twentieth century, Hardy published only poetry.
In 1910, Hardy was awarded the Order of Merit prize for his books and was also nominated for the Nobel Prize in Literature for the first time. He went on to be nominated for the prestigious award eleven more times. In 1912, his estranged wife died and in honor of her death, Hardy traveled to Cornwall, England to revisit some of the places they spent their courtship.
Hardy remarried in 1914, to his secretary Florence Emily Dugdale who was 39 years younger than him. In 1927, Hardy became ill with pleurisy and died in the home he had built for his first wife that same year.
His funeral became somewhat controversial, as Hardy had dictated that he wanted to be buried next to his first wife. But his family and friends insisted that he be buried in Westminster Abbey’s famous Poet’s Corner. They reached a compromise where his heart was buried next to his wife at Stinsford but his ashes were interred at Westminster.