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on May 24, 2002
This has to be my favorite of all Thomas Hardy's many classic works. "Far from the Madding Crowd" was published in 1874 when the novelist was 34 years old. It is one of the earliest works of English literature I can think of which has a fully rounded, fully independent, fully human female protagonist. Bathsheba Everdene runs a farm, is only semi-aware of her own extraordinary beauty, and is pursued by three very different men throughout the course of the book.
"Far from the Madding Crowd" may, in some sense, be the model for every cheapo drugstore romance novel ever written, but it is a classic for the very simple and very good reason that it transcends the genre it may have helped to start. Bathsheba's trials, in love and elsewhere, are completely realized, with terrific detail. Hardy has a powerful understanding of human nature and makes each of the characters both deep and broad, both simple and complex, both good and filled with fault. The result is a story with many characters, each of whom is as full-blooded and human as a reader could hope. It's a book which bears reading again and again, as each new reading shows the reader new detail and new depth not previously seen. A more three-dimensional character study may not exist in novel form--and the beauty of it is that all this terrific character examination is done against the backdrop of a wonderful plot as well. You really couldn't ask for a more richly satisfying novel.
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on October 30, 2003
Few literary settings are more distinctive than Thomas Hardy's Wessex, a hilly, chalky, bucolic quilt of pastures and villages occupying the southwest of England, its residents sworn to the immutable cultural traditions of centuries long past. But it is not the goal of "Far from the Madding Crowd" to be merely a sentimental portrait of a region for which Hardy has a great affection, but a grandiose drama about the eventual union of a man and the woman he loves. In summary, Hardy does accede to a Happily Ever After ending, but how he gets to this point is why his novel deserves to be read.
It's not surprising that the novel was originally attributed to George Eliot because the protagonist, Gabriel Oak, as the novel's moral anchor, is very similar in character to Eliot's Adam Bede. Oak is trying to make a living on his own as a farmer, but a stroke of bad luck compels him to take a job as a shepherd for a beautiful young woman named Bathsheba Everdene who has recently inherited her uncle's farm and commands a large number of workers and servants. Oak iconically personifies the rustic setting, not only because of his surname but because of the intimacy with which he communes with nature, and his fondness for playing the flute seems designed to evoke an image of Pan.
Oak has an awkward history with Bathsheba -- he had known her before her windfall, but in her independent spirit she spurned his love. As the head of Weatherbury farm, however, she can't get by on her independence alone, and she needs Oak's expertise in ensuring her sheep are healthy and fit for wool production. Her romantic attention turns toward a profligate soldier named Francis Troy who, through an unlikely error, has just barely avoided wedding Fanny Robin, one of the Weatherbury servants. Bathsheba's eventual marriage to Troy breaks the hearts of Oak and another rival, a neighboring farmer named Boldwood whose affections she had once teased and whose obsessive nature erupts at a most climactic moment in the novel.
The plot developments are a flamboyant display of contrivance, but Hardy masters his devices so well it's impossible not to go along with him for the ride. As an example, consider the jilted Fanny who is so weary from sickness that she has to use a dog as a crutch to get to her destination where she finally dies; not until Hardy reveals what's written on the lid of her coffin do we (and Oak) realize the role Troy played in her death. Likewise, Troy's impulsive reaction to this incident seems like a purposely destructive measure that intends to stir even more turbulence into the story.
A large part of Hardy's appeal is his prose, which maximizes the value of a mastery of language; his sentences are like finely cut gems that demand to be held up to a light and studied for their craftsmanship. I believe that Hardy is the consummate novelist; he approaches the art of the novel as a painter looks upon a canvas, a weaver upon a tapestry, a composer upon an opera -- as the supreme representation of man in harmony with nature and in conflict with fate.
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on September 13, 2003
Forget the infamous "love triangle". In Far from the Madding Crowd, Thomas Hardy introduces us to the precarious "love square".
At the core of all the turmoil is beautiful farm girl, Bathsheba Everdene - spirited, vain, intelligent and adept at toying with the hearts of men. Inevitably beguiled by her charms a humble and kind farmer, Gabriel Oak, fervently attempts to win Bathsheba's affections. Enter the competition....
(suitor#2) Farmer Boldwood - a wealthy and temperate middle-aged man respected in the community, eventually plunges into maniacal obsession at the mere possibility of making the beloved Miss Everdene his wife; and (suitor#3) Sergeant Francis Troy - a dashing young philandering soldier, with his share of inner demons, ruthlessness and vanity, vies for Bathsheba's hand in marriage.
Bathsheba's ultimate decision, and the cataclysm it evokes, lies at the epicenter of Hardy's unforgettable ambivalent story.

"Far from the Madding Crowd", Thomas Hardy's fourth novel, saw publication in 1874 and earned him widespread popularity as a writer. A delicately woven tale of unrequited love and regret, set in the mid-19th century, "Far From the Madding Crowd" is a masterpiece of pure story-telling.
Hardy's classic style is a pleasure to read as he masterfully brings his characters and their dealings to life. I would not hesitate to say it definitely captured my heart as another favourite.
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on December 2, 1999
Far From the Madding Crowd is a wonderful story about an honest and good man. This man is Gabriel Oak, a small time shepherd trying to gain his independance as a farmer. In his quest for independance he meets Bathsheba Everdene, a very pretty young woman, and falls instantly in love. On a whim he goes and askes Miss Everdene for her hand in marriage, eventhough he has barely known her for a week. She rejects farmer Oak's proposal. The next week Batsheba moves away to a far away town. Eventhough he is rejected by Miss Everdene he vows that he will always love her, and being the honest man that he is Oak did exactly that. Not long after Miss Everdene's rejection Oak finds himself in financial ruin. A young, inexperienced sheep dog that farmer Oak owns, carelessly chases all two hundred of Oak's sheep off of a cliff killing them. After this devestating blow Oak sells everything that he owns and moves away in search of new work. On the road to finding new work Oak happenes upon a small structure that is on fire. Oak immeaditly jumps into action to help save the surrounding structures from also burning to the ground. After he has accomplished this good deed Oak Finds out that the owner of the buildings he has just saved is no other than Miss Bathsheba Everdene. He also finds out that she is now the mistress of a large estate on which these buildings are located. In his desperate situation he askes Miss Everdene if she would like to hire a shepherd and out of her thankfulness she gives Oak a job. Oak continues to work for Miss Everdene through good times and bad, he is very faithful to her. Even after Miss Everdene marries a man that is less than good Oak's good nature and love for Miss Everdene forces him to stay by her side. Through Oaks good nature and honesty he earns the respect of all his neighbors and Bathsheba's farm prospers with his help. In being honest and good does farmer Oak earn Bathshebas love? Does Honesty really pay off? To learn the answers to these questions you will have to read this wonderful novel.
Thomas Hardy spares no expense in developing the characters in this delightful novel. Reading it made me feel as if I really knew the characters and I identified with most of them. His sense of depth and detail really brought the book to life. Although some things were too detailed and a bit boreing this book is definatly worth the time. A great story.
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on March 3, 2004
In Far from the Madding Crowd, Thomas Hardy introduces us to the precarious "love square". At the core of all the turmoil is beautiful farm girl, Bathsheba Everdene - spirited, vain, intelligent and adept at toying with the hearts of men. Inevitably beguiled by her charms a humble and kind farmer, Gabriel Oak, fervently attempts to win Bathsheba's affections. Enter the competition: (suitor#2) Farmer Boldwood - a wealthy and temperate middle-aged man respected in the community, eventually plunges into maniacal obsession at the mere possibility of making the beloved Miss Everdene his wife; and (suitor#3) Sergeant Francis Troy - a dashing young philandering soldier, with his share of inner demons, ruthlessness and vanity, vies for Bathsheba's hand in marriage. Bathsheba's ultimate decision, and the cataclysm it evokes, lies at the epicenter of Hardy's unforgettable ambivalent story.
Far from the Madding Crowd, Thomas Hardy's fourth novel, saw publication in 1874 and earned him widespread popularity as a writer. A delicately woven tale of unrequited love and regret, set in the mid-19th century, Far From the Madding Crowd is a masterpiece of pure story-telling. Hardy's classic style is a pleasure to read as he masterfully brings his characters and their dealings to life. I would not hesitate to say it definitely captured my heart as another favourite.
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VINE VOICEon July 9, 2006
FAR FROM THE MADDING CROWD, the first of Thomas Hardy's 'Wessex' novels, tells the story of a small troupe of farmers and their workers in a sheep-farming community in the fictitious county of 'Wessex'.

Gabriel Oak has been a shepherd since his teenage years, as his father was before him, but he's moved up and purchased, on credit, his own farm. The work is hard, but he is confident that he will succeed, and takes pride in being his own man. Then one day, a new woman arrives in town. Bathsheeba Everdene is beautiful, headstrong, intelligent, but incurably vain; Farmer Oak falls in love with her immediately. A few months later, he proposes, and is utterly rejected. Bathsheeba moves on to care for her dying uncle, and take over his farm. Gabriel continues farming - until tragedy strikes.

He and Bathsheeba will cross paths again, this time not as lovers, but as mistress and servant. Bathsheeba's beauty, vanity and impetuousness leave a trail of carnage in her wake, and Gabriel can only watch on as lives are destroyed, farms are ruined, and his own heart is crushed repeatedly.

Hardy is famous for his fatalism, and this is displayed no more than in the character of Bathsheba Everdene. She is not an evil person, as the above summary would suggest - but her stunning beauty and fierce intelligence combine with her vanity and impulsivity to create something like a force of nature, and though she means only good she seems to be able to do nothing but wrong by those who care for her. She has no more control over her nature than she does over the weather. One of the most interesting aspects of this character is that her vices - vanity, impulsivity, which Hardy attributes to her being young and beautiful - lead to the downfall of others, but she is continuously saved from downfall by her own intelligence and inner personal strength.

REal tragedy finally does strike Bathsheba, but rather than let it destroy her as retribution for her wicked ways, she grows from it. We may not be able to escape the hardship of life, Hardy seems to be saying, but we can grow and prosper by learning from it.

This was a fantastically entertaining book. The only warning that I could give with it is that it is slow-moving. The action comes in fits and spurts, and Hardy has a penchant for elaborate descriptions of the countryside, for farmhouses, churches and festivals. They are beautifully written, but take time to digest fully. Highly recommended.
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on March 26, 2004
Hardy is not my favorite author by any stretch of the imagination, but this is a work of beauty. Unlike other Victorian works (like those of Jane), "Far From the Madding Crowd" leave the chattering jiberish of scheming aristocrats behind to focus on the drama of the country and the working class. Also, this novel explores the "Woman Question" of the day (place in society) and presents a strong willed lead that breaks many of the molds of the time. Loyalty, love, loss, and understanding are all very beautifully and strongly discussed as well. A novel that should be required reading for all students.
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on July 5, 2002
Not my typical fare, whether in classics or in modern literature. The beautiful heroine of this 19th century novel, Bathsheba Everdene (naming of characters evidently isn't one of Hardy's foremost strengths), is pursued by three men. Their personalities remind me of the movie "The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly". Gabriel Oak is the Good dependable and reticent hero, Francis Troy is the Bad dashing soldier, and you find out towards the end that the handsome Farmer Boldwood is actually quite Ugly inside, though not Bad like Troy. Bathsheba is a somewhat unconventional woman for the time: confident in her ability to deal with men in matters of business, able to endure jarring emotional setbacks, and not afraid of confrontation. Naturally, since this is a romance novel the heroine must also possess some deeply feminine qualities: she's an emotional roller coaster, has a keen yearning to be desired, and feels great empathy for others' sorrows.
The characters' personalities and the numerous coincidences and accidental events that drive the plot all smack of "soap opera." The story may have been a groundbreaking achievement in its heyday, but today it just feels overused because many dramas, whether in novel or film form, recycle this work's themes and plot devices. However, Hardy displays extraordinary skill with the English language and I was delighted with his word choice numerous times throughout the novel. As an example, Hardy's way of describing a pocket watch whose hour hand is broken: "...though the minutes were told with precision, nobody could be quite certain of the hour they belonged to." Now imagine virtually everything in the settings described in witty fashion like that and you'll understand why the prose can be relished on its own merits, quite aside from the generally lackluster plot. The shocking climax did surprise me though.
Due to Hardy's formidable descriptive powers, I got a clear picture of all people and events and my attention never wandered. Also, as an avid amateur astronomer I greatly appreciated Hardy's evident knowledge of the night sky. He makes numerous references to actual constellations and asterisms, by which Oak has incidentally learned to tell time at night.
We can hardly blame Hardy for writing a romance that was unique and original 100 years ago but not today. But it does keep this novel from rating five stars, in my opinion, for a reader *today*. Nevertheless, it's highly enjoyable and I'm still savoring the many brilliant moments of prose contained in this novel.
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VINE VOICEon July 13, 2001
I've always condidered myself to be sort of an optimist; so it is really odd that I've always really loved Thomas Hardy's books. I count Tess of the D'Urbervilles and Jude the Obscure among my very favorites, and whether or not it is my favorite, I think that The Mayor of Casterbridge is marvelously written. Still though, reading all of that fatalism and cynicism can be a little much. It was really nice to pick up this novel and not read so many grim scenes.
Far From the Madding Crowd is a pretty simple love story driven by the characters. First, there is Bathsheba Everdeen. She's vain, naive, and she makes the stupidest decisions possible. Yet, you still like her. Then there are the three guys who all want her: Troy who's like the bad guy straight out of a Raphael Sabatini novel, Boldwood who's an old lunatic farmer, and Gabriel Oak who is a simple farmer and is basically perfect. The reader sees what should happen in the first chapter, and it takes Bathsheeba the whole book to see it. The characters really make the book. The reader really has strong feelings about them, and Hardy puts them in situations where you just don't know what they're going to do. The atmosphere that Hardy creates is (as is in all of Hardy's novel) amazing and totally original. I don't think any other author (except Wallace Stegner in America) has ever evoked a sense of place as well as Hardy does. Overall, Far from the Madding Crowd is a great novel. I probably don't like it quite as well as some of his others, but I still do think it deserved five stars.
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on May 4, 2015
"Far from the Madding Crowd," Thomas Hardy's fourth published novel, was the breakthrough work that established him as one of the great writers of his day. He would go on to write some of the most celebrated works of English literature, including "The Return of the Native," "The Mayor of Casterbridge," "Tess of the d'Urbervilles," and "Jude the Obscure." Those familiar with Hardy's later works, picking up "Madding Crowd" for the first time, will recognize in it a young writer coming into his powers, but not yet at his peak. There are some uncomfortable shifts in tone between tragedy observed with wry distance and broad-striped comedy; I found it jarring the way I imagine I would if the Mechanicals from "A Midsummer Night's Dream" came onstage in place of the Players in a performance of "Hamlet." Character motivations and the chance events that drive the plot occasionally seem a bit contrived, lacking the unique blend of naturalism, randomness, and fatalism that hangs so poignantly over Hardy's more mature works. At the same time, it's possible to see Hardy in these pages already grappling mightily with his great themes: conflicts between ideals, practical demands, and violent passions; and the vagaries of cause and effect. Like many of his works, "Madding Crowd" centers around a love triangle (perhaps I should say "love convergence" in this case, because the heroine has three suitors rather than two) that stirs up every kind of passion - romantic, erotic, pathetic, and vengeful - in the principal characters. Thoughtful and entertaining, "Madding Crowd" is a great novel in its own right, by an author who would go on to achieve something like perfection.

The Oxford World Classics edition is ideal for the casual reader as well as the literature scholar. Thirty-five pages of explanatory notes at the end of the book explain the Biblical, mythological, literary, cultural, and agricultural references that appear throughout the novel. Probably more of interest to the student than to the general reader is the "Note on the Text," which discusses the various editions of "Far from the Madding Crowd" that were printed in Hardy's lifetime, with his editorial involvement. Even readers without a taste for comparative textual criticism, however, will appreciate the work the editor put into comparing the original manuscript and various printings and revisions, because several manuscript passages that were omitted from the published novel (to conserve space, or to avoid offending reader sensibilities) have been restored to their proper place here for the first time. As much as possible, this is "Far from the Madding Crowd" the way Thomas Hardy would have most likely have preferred us to read it. An appendix includes a scene from an early draft that wasn't included in the finished novel, although Hardy recycled some of its language and ideas. It's an entertaining episode in its own right, and in its unpolished state, it allows the reader a glimpse of a great writer's working process.

One note of caution: readers who prefer to go into the novel without knowing what's going to happen should avoid reading the Introduction, which gives away several major plot points, including the ending. Despite my usual aversion to spoilers, I do read introductory essays included in books, because I find what they take away in suspense, they more than make up for in insight, establishing a bit of a framework in which to understand and appreciate the text. The essay here, however, gave away rather more than I would have liked. Some of the explanatory notes at the back of the book also contain spoilers (usually minor); the editors seemed to intend this edition more for scholarship than for pleasure-reading. Still, I do recommend this edition to the general reader, because of the restored manuscript passages and the excellence of the explanatory notes in illuminating some of the more obscure references.
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