FAR FROM THE MADDING CROWD

Far from Madding Crowd

Author: Thomas Hardy (1840–1928)
Publisher: Wordsworth Editions (2000 edition)
Bought from: NoQ Store

Introduction

Thomas Hardy was born in the parish of Stinsford in Dorset, a county in South–west England.

He was fond of reading as a young boy. His working class parents could not afford to send him to university so he apprenticed with an architect in 1856. He found work in London where he also began writing poetry and novels. Unable to get any work published in London, he returned to Dorset in 1867. He supported his writing by working as an architectural assistant. He got married in 1874 and in the same year Far from the Madding Crowd was serialised anonymously in Cornhill Magazine (1874). It was Hardy’s first major success. He made extensive changes for the 1895 and 1901 editions. The novel was ranked number 12 in a poll of the top 100 best-loved novels conducted by the BBC’s The Big Read (2003). A movie adaptation starring Carey Mulligan is in production as of September 2014.

He followed up with The Mayor of Casterbridge (1865), Tess of the d’Ubervilles (1891) and Jude the Obscure (1895). The last 2 novels were so widely condemned as scandalous on publication that Hardy stopped writing novels and turned to poetry.

He died at the ripe old age of 87 in Dorchester, Dorset not far from where he was born. Hardy himself and his family wished to have his remains buried in Stinsford with his first wife Emma but his executor wanted him to be laid to rest in Poets’s Corner of Westminster Abbey. In the end, his heart was buried in Stinsford with his wife while his ashes in Poets’s Corner.

What is the story about?

Bathsheba Everdene was a beautiful young lady wooed by three very different men, namely the poor shepherd and farm hand Gabriel Oak, “a young man of sound judgment, easy motions, proper dress, and general good character” (p 1), the gentleman farmer William Boldwood, “erect in attitude, and quiet in demeanour” (p 72) and the rakish soldier Francis (Frank) Troy, with whom “the past was yesterday; the future, tomorrow; never, the day after” (p 131). An anonymous valentine Bathsheba sent capriciously to Boldwood sets off a tragic chain of events.

Themes

Thomas Hardy was greatly influenced by George Elliot (1819–1880), widely recognised as the leading English proponent of Literary Realism. This movement is contrasted with the preceding Romanticism: Realism, as the term itself suggests, aimed to represent real life as it is, in all its ordinariness, without embellishment or idealisation. The focus is on the ordinary, not the extraordinary. The movement started in France with Honoré de Balzac (1799–1850) and Gustave Flaubert (1821–1880). Other prominent Realist authors include the Russian Fyodor Dostoyevsky.

Hardy blended realism with elements of pastoral literature, a genre that portrays an idealised version of country life often written for urban readers. Thanks to Hardy’s depiction of pastoral life, we get accounts of sheep suffering from bloat (chap 21), bee hiving (chap 27) and a sheep fair (chap 50).

Unlike, say, his contemporary Charles Dickens who set most of his works in Victorian London, Hardy’s major novels take place in the fictional area of Wessex which correspond to the south and southwest of England. In an Author’s Preface which Hardy wrote for a 1895 collection of his works (and included in this Wordsworth Classics edition) Hardy described Wessex as “a partly real, partly dream country”. Wessex represents the rural England that Hardy grew up and lived in and which he must have known was being irrevocably changed by the modernisation emanating from London.

Bathsheba Everdene is an ambiguous proto–feminist role model. She was confident, headstrong, independent and intelligent (if a little vain) when we first met her, much like her literary ancestor Elizabeth Bennet (Pride and Prejudice, 1813). But in time, she became cowed by the increasingly obsessive Boldwood. Even worse, she was all too easily seduced by the roguish Troy (what do Victorian authors have against soldiers – see eg. George Wickham in Pride and Prejudice (1813) and Rawdon Crawley in Vanity Fair (1847–48)? Hardy did give Bathsheba a happy ending that may have pleased Victorian readers but to modern readers may serve only to further undermine her character.

Suzanne Collins, the author of The Hunger Games trilogy (2008–2010), has said that her protagonist Katniss Everdeen owes her last name to Bathsheba Everdene.

How is the book?

This is a complete and unabridged edition from Wordsworth Classics. It comes with an introduction and end notes written by Professor Norman Vance, University of Sussex. The notes are handy because Hardy made numerous allusions to classical and contemporary literature, the Old Testament and ballads of the period. There are 2 illustrations but shame on Wordsworth for omitting to name their source – googling reveals that these were part of the 12 illustrations by Helen Allingham (née Helen Mary Elizabeth Paterson) for the original serialisation of Far From the Madding Crowd in Cornhill Magazine.

Far from the Madding Crowd is in the public domain. This Wordsworth Classics edition costs S$3.54.

Finally …

Not a long novel. Easy to read except the parts where the rustics (farm hands) speak in the local dialect.