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Far from the Madding Crowd (Modern Library Classics) Paperback – December 11, 2001
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From Library Journal
Random's Modern Library is reproducing this Hardy standard as a tie-in to a Masterpiece Theater presentation and offering a quality hardcover for a reasonable price.
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.
“Far from the Madding Crowd is the first of Thomas Hardy’s great novels, and the first to sound the tragic note
for which his fiction is best remembered.”
Top customer reviews
Bathsheba Everdene inherits the large estate of Weatherby from his Uncle. Right before that she had been living with her aunt, where she meets a strong and up and coming sheep farming named Gabriel Oak who is utterly enchanted by Bathsheba. As she leaves to accept her inheritance poor Gabriel loses everything, almost his whole flock, and what we see, is how in his honorable way, he sells off the remaining flock to pay off his debts and set off to look for work. He is a wonderfully stalwart, honest and hardworking man. But he still dreams of Bathsheba. It turns out he ends up getting employed by Bathsheba to be the shepherd. And although Gabriel stays forever in love with her, he accepts his fate to never be romantic with her, but looks after her farm as a faithful servant. While Bathsheba, learns about running a farm, clearly something women are not known to do, she boldly takes on this task and becomes the talk of the town, as well the woman he most men in the town are smitten by.
There is a lot of wonderful writing in this story of Bathsheba at times showing her youth as she playfully but insensitively sends a valentine to her neighbor, who is madly in love with her. And I love this part of the story, because when she realizes what she's done, she actually grows up some and tries hard to let him down. Then she herself gets swept off her feet when meets the Sergeant Troy, the handsome, bad boy if you will, who charms ladies off their feet, but he is shallow and reckless. All the while Gabriel stays steadfast and there is a constant sweet tension between them that the author builds. Gabriel himself grows, letting go of her, which actually only begins to fuel Bathsheba's feelings for him, after all, she is used to every man being in love with her.
The book is written in an older English style, which is charming, but at times you may have to read some passages twice to make sure you understand it clearly, but all of that adds a charm that sweeps you away. This is a classic and a really great story.
One of the first things people often cite about Hardy's work is the beautiful pastoral setting of his fictional county of Wessex. Hardy does have a predilection for rural settings populated by farming communities. It is a well-worn cliché, nevertheless true, that the people in these settings are more connected to the land and the seasons than most urban dwellers. Their lives depend on a knowledge of its needs and the fluctuations of the weather. A spreading wildfire and a severe thunderstorm both play a role at key points in the story.
Bathsheba Everdene is as beautiful, vain and proud as one might expect a character possessing that name. Her one constant is Gabriel Oak, a shepherd that oversees her flocks and stays in her employment even after he has proposed marriage and been refused. William Boldwood is a middle-aged prosperous farmer in the area. A thoughtless prank of Bathsheba's, sending him a valentine asking him to marry her, inflames his passion and he becomes as monomaniacal as Ahab in a relentless campaign to make her his wife. She doesn't love Boldwood at all and is not in the least interested but she gives weak lip service to consent to considering a marriage to him. Meanwhile, she meets Sergeant Frank Troy, who has returned to his home village. Troy is a handsome, flirtatious charmer who woos her with somewhat more finesse than Boldwood until she is infatuated with him against her better judgment. Common sense flies out the window and she marries him secretly.
The primary difference between Boldwood and Troy on one hand, and Gabriel Oak on the other, is that she is merely a possession in both of their minds. Boldwood wants to crush her independence, put her on a pedestal and worship her as a prized possession, pampered and without any independent will. Troy woos her as a lark. He claims that he really loves a farm worker named Fanny, even though he has abandoned her and left her pregnant and fending for herself. He grows tired of married life with Bathsheba and merely wants to live off of her and drain her financial reserves to feed his gambling appetite.
Oak, on the other hand, is the only one who cares about Bathsheba but also cares about what she cares about—her farm. While Troy is drinking at his wedding party and forcing the farm hands to join his revels, Oak is frantically trying to protect the harvested crop from an approaching thunderstorm. For Gabriel, love is not expressed through words but by action. His focus and discipline result in advancement to the point where Boldwood wants him to oversee both Bathsheba's and his farms. Gabriel's common sense reliability enables him to prevail while Boldwood and Troy speed toward disaster.
Hardy is not the only 19th century novelist to depict women making bad decisions and learning from them. George Eliot and Henry James are both masters at depicting women making unwise choices and living with the consequences. Where 'Far from the Madding Crowd' falls short slightly is in the depth of characterization of Bathsheba. Granted, she's beautiful and headstrong but we've seen similar characters elsewhere whose depths and motives are explored much more thoroughly. She is ultimately not as interesting as Isabel Archer or Dorothea Brooke and I cared far more about the fate of Gabriel Oak than I did about hers. She is not necessarily shallow but she comes to realize the magnitude of her personal dilemma at a point when there is no graceful exit strategy possible. To her credit she does face up to living with the consequences of her actions and fulfilling her moral obligation.
I do not intend for these quibbles to discourage anyone from reading this very engaging early novel. After a few slow starts, Hardy builds up the momentum of his narrative. Only the fact that I remembered enough of the 1967 film version that I saw quite few years ago tipped me off about certain plot developments. Looking backwards from the conclusion of the novel one can see that, while there may have been certain contrivances of plot, the paths individual characters took were natural and inevitable.
Hardy's depiction of this remote farming life feels utterly authentic. These characters cannot be separated from the landscape they occupy. Hardy's knowledge of this life and his affection for the inhabitants of this world are undeniable. The abandoned young pregnant mother and the man whose talents are not recognized beyond what his class requires are character types he would explore more thoroughly and tragically in his later masterpieces. As an early work promising more fulfilling work to come, 'Far from the Madding Crowd' is certainly worthy and as good a place to start with Hardy as any for those who want to get a lay of the land and soak up the local color first before learning all the deep dark secrets of its residents.
Most recent customer reviews
After a long time, I read an old time classic. The lasting impression this book left on me was the awesome floweriness of language used...Read more