I loved Tess of the d’Ubervilles by Thomas Hardy as a teenage girl. So why haven’t I read another of his books until now? Beats me. I enjoyed reading his novel Far From the Madding Crowd for the Reading the Classics Challenge in 2015, especially since my blogging buddy Naomi was reading it along with me! And just in time too, since the new movie adaptation starring Carey Mulligan and Matthias Schoenaerts hits theatres tomorrow.
Five Highlights While Reading Thomas Hardy’s Far From the Madding Crowd
5) A strapping young sheep farmer—Gabriel Oak— helps a dark-haired, vain young milkmaid (sneaking peeks at herself in a mirror) ride a horse carriage past a gatekeeper. At first glance (not at the mirror, but at the first chapter), I was leery. This introduction is reminiscent of Harlequin romance novel, not a book penned the author of heart-rending, tragic Tess of the D’Urbervilles. I already feel like they will end up together, in the end. But, soon enough, I learned that…
4) …although Bathsheba (the blushing milkmaid) is somewhat vain and fickle, she also demonstrates confidence and assertiveness. She teases Oak by letting him hold (but not kiss) her hand and by not telling him her name (Can’t say that I blame her. I guess when your family name is Everdene, you tend to get a tragic first name. Re: Katniss.) Bathsheba even saves his life when he falls asleep in his smoke-filled hut! She’s a bit strange (re: weird horse riding habits) and runs the show.
She started growing on me.
3) Later still, she becomes the mistress of a large farm in nearby Weatherbury. Although prone to making silly jokes (the fake valentine… GASP!) and bad decisions (Troy and his big… sword), I admired her strong will to govern her workers and her fierce desire not to marry her first suitors. One could say she was an early day feminist. Or rather, Hardy was an early day feminist writer.
The following bit of dialogue between Gabriel and Bathsheba may be my favorite in the whole novel:
[Gabriel:] “Do you like me, or do you respect me?”
[Bathsheba] “I don’t know — at least, I cannot tell you. It is difficult for a woman to define her feelings in language which is chiefly made by men to express theirs.”
I think these words, written by a man in 1874, speak volume, don’t you think?
2) In true Hardy fashion, we encounter a tragic heroine: Fanny Robin. She’s a kind servant girl who missed her chance to marry sword-wielding Troy by going to the wrong church on her wedding day. She then becomes an abandoned woman who wastes away quickly in a workhouse. In the end, she’s a love-starved, deserted lover who dies, along with her baby, during childbirth.
Fanny is my favorite character. She is true of heart. Never fickle or vain. Our hearts hurt for her She is the antithesis of Bathsheba (who drove me nuts at times). She is perhaps a truer version of a 19th-century women.
1) The best part of this book is the lyrical language that describes the rural landscape and rustic lifestyle of England during this period. It reflects the moods and hardships of Hardy’s characters. The setting is alive, perhaps even a character, seemingly influencing the fate of others. Check out this passage from Chapter 2, and dare to tell me this doesn’t foreshadow the unfortunate demise of Oak’s flock of sheep:
“The instinctive act of humankind was to stand out and listen, and learn how the trees on the right and the trees on the left wailed or chanted to each other in the regular antiphonies of a cathedral choir; how hedges and other shapes to leeward then caught the note, lowering it to the tenderest sob; and how the hurrying gust then plunged into the south, to be heard no more.”
It’s no surprise that the descriptive language in this novel steals the show. Hardy was a poet, after all.
Check out Naomi’s review of Far From the Madding Crowd on her awesome book blog—Consumed by Ink.
Have you read the novel? If so, what did you like best? Please let me know if you go see the film. Tell me if it’s worth seeing in the cinema or waiting until it pops up on Netflix.