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Far from the Madding Crowd (Modern Library Classics) Paperback – December 11, 2001
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“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.”
From the Inside Flap
Far from the Madding Crowd, Hardy's passionate tale of the beautiful, headstrong farmer Bathsheba Everdene and her three suitors, firmly established the thirty-four-year-old writer as a popular novelist. According to Virginia Woolf, "The subject was right; the method was right; the poet and the countryman, the sensual man, the sombre reflective man, the man of learning, all enlisted to produce a book which . . . must hold its place among the great English novels." Introducing the fictional name of "Wessex" to describe Hardy's legendary countryside, this early masterpiece draws a vivid picture of rural life in southwest England.
This Modern Library Paperback Classic is set from the 1912 Wessex edition and features Hardy's map of Wessex.
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But Bathsheba is aptly named, and while Gabriel is able to master his emotions for her, she inadvertently draws the attentions of William Boldwood, a very prosperous and dignified neighboring farmer. While Boldwood is highly respected and emotionally closed, the accidental attention of such a beautiful young woman brings a complete change in him. But a third suitor appears - the dashing Sergeant Frank Troy - who excites a far more passionate response from Bathsheba than the more stable and respectable Oak and Boldwood.
Love is such a central theme of this book that many readers flat out consider it a romance (not a genre I typically read). Bathsheba's feelings for Oak and Boldwood border more on friendship and respect, whereas Troy elicits an exciting and passionate feeling. But in falling for him she overlooks his many and deep faults, much to her own later regret. But the feelings of love on the part of the men in the story are worth considering, too. Gabriel's love for Bathsheba is steady and loyal, whereas Boldwood's is almost wild and excessive in line with his complete change of character. Troy's feelings, on the other hand, are fickle and self-serving, and emphasize Bathsheba's foolishness in impulsively following her emotions.
But in spite of her faults, Bathsheba is a strong and independent female character in contrast to the frequent social references in the story to women having lesser judgment and abilities than men. She manages to run her farm successfully in the male-dominated world of business in spite of several beginner's mistakes. Hardy also inserts another character, Fanny Robin, who illustrates the unfortunate state of women in such a society who don't have the support of a husband or at least money to protect them as Bathsheba does.
Even if it is called a 'romance,' I enjoyed the story quite a bit. The overriding theme of love and romance and how it fits into relationships was interesting, and the colorful way it's depicted in the story illustrated well the intenseness of feelings, especially in youth.
I enjoy novels that provide both tragedy and triumph, and a little bit of happy ending make a fine finish.
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.