Far from the Madding Crowd: Novel Summary: Chapter 11 – Chapter 15

Ch. 11: Outside the Barracks—Snow—A MeetingOn the same evening, about ten o’clock, in a garrison town north of Weatherbury, a slight, solitary figure walks down a path by the river. The weather is depressingly gray, and snow is falling. The walker, a woman, is counting windows on a barracks building and stops when she reaches the fifth window. She throws snowballs at the window (not well, though) till a man opens it, calling out “Who’s there?” This man is Sergeant Frank Troy, and the reply is that his wife has come. He’s surprised; he was not expecting her, and the barracks are locked for the evening. She cannot come in since they are not in fact married. When, then, she asks, will we be? Troy hems and haws about the time involved in posting banns, the required notices of an impending marriage, in their respective parishes; he admits that he forgot to ask his officers’ permission, too, to marry. Dejected, the woman leaves to find lodgings, where, Troy promises, he’ll find her tomorrow. The window closes, and the laughter of men is heard inside. Whether the woman, too, heard it is not clear.

Analysis        The bleak setting of this exchange and the laughter of the soldiers following the encounter seem to bode ill for the woman who has come to town. Readers will likely recognize what Hardy must merely imply, to avoid offending the Victorian reading public: The woman is pregnant, Troy is the father, and he made certain promises, perhaps to get the woman to comply with his desires. In much Victorian literature, a woman in this situation is fallen and will be, in some way, punished for not guarding her virginity more closely.

Ch. 12: Farmers—A Rule—An ExceptionBathsheba Everdeen goes to the Corn Exchange at Casterbridge for the market day. (Corn, in this context, refers to food grains and cereals in general, not merely to corn as most American readers think of it.) Many men have come to trade; she is the only woman among them, and although at first they are put off by her presence, they come to be rather proud of it instead. Bathsheba becomes aware of a “black sheep among the flock”—a man whose richly dark dress, Roman features, “bronze-like” skin, and quiet dignity set him apart from the other farmers. Later, Bathsheba asks Liddy who this man is, but Liddy is not sure till they pass him on the road back to Weatherbury and realize that he is Farmer Boldwood. Unlike the other men at the market, who pay much attention to Bathsheba’s beauty, Boldwood seems utterly uninterested in her. Liddy reports rumors that he was once jilted by a woman and has since disdained all women, but Bathsheba doubts these stories. Men, she says, are the ones who do the jilting, not women.

Analysis        This chapter functions to heighten the suspense of the preceding chapter. If men are, as Bathsheba claims, the ones who jilt, the woman who spoke with Troy may be in great trouble soon. The chapter also builds readers’ confidence in Bathsheba’s ability to run her own farm, since she moves confidently among the traders and is, for the most part, accepted among them. Readers should pay close attention, too, to the description of the aloof bachelor, Boldwood, who stands out from the crowd by virtue of his elegance and dignity.

Ch. 13: Sortes Sanctarum—The ValentineFebruary 13th falls on a Sunday afternoon, and Bathsheba and Liddy are conversing—for want of better company, in Bathsheba’s mind. An old Bible is on the table, and Liddy asks Bathsheba, on this day before Valentine’s Day, whether she’s played the game “by means of the Bible and key” to find out whom she will marry. Bathsheba calls this game nonsense but agrees to play anyway. They open to a verse in the book of Ruth and see rust, from an old key, on the page—evidence that someone else once played this game with this Bible. They then argue about whether Boldwood had noticed or pointedly ignored Bathsheba that morning at church. Bathsheba recalls that she has a valentine for Teddy Coggan, child of a laborer, to give him as a treat. Liddy suggests how funny it would be to send this valentine, anonymously, to the aloof Boldwood, as a prank. At first Bathsheba dismisses the idea, yet she does feel slighted that he, among all the men, does not seemed impressed by her beauty. Liddy suggests tossing a coin to decide whether the valentine should go to the child or the man, but Bathsheba says that tossing a coin on Sunday is “tempting the devil,” so they toss the Bible instead. It lands closed, so Bathsheba addresses the valentine to Boldwood and seals it with a seal that reads “Marry Me.” The narrator comments, “So very idly and unreflectingly was this deed done. Of love as a spectacle Bathsheba had a fair knowledge; but of love subjectively she knew nothing.”

Analysis        The narrator’s comments at the end of the chapter make quite clear that Liddy’s little prank will have far-reaching consequences. The chapter is full of little ironies, not the least of which is that, while Bathsheba fears the sin of tossing a coin to make a decision, she will throw the old family Bible to the floor. She may be handling the farm well so far, but her immaturity—her lack of the wisdom that experience brings—is on display in this chapter.

Ch. 14: Effect of the Letter—SunriseThe valentine reaches Boldwood on Valentine’s Day. He props it on the mantel and puzzles about it. In the “Puritan Sunday” atmosphere of his study, the seal, with its odd command, takes on “a deep solemnity.” In the evening, Boldwood moves the valentine to the mirror in his bedroom and continues to muse on it. Who sent it? How did she look as she wrote it out?In the morning, Boldwood is in the farm fields when a driver brings a letter addressed to “The New Shepherd.” Boldwood sees Oak walking toward the malthouse and decides to carry the letter to him.Analysis        Without delay, Hardy establishes a stark contrast between Bathsheba’s mood and motivation in sending the valentine and Boldwood’s manner of receiving it. For her, the silly prank is easily forgotten; but the valentine shifts the center of gravity in Boldwood’s world. Never has such a thing happened to him. To him, the event is full of import.

Ch. 15: A Morning Meeting—The Letter AgainAt the malthouse, the ancient maltster eats his breakfast as Henery Fray and other villagers come in. They discuss the cold weather and then evaluate how well their mistress is doing as her own bailiff. Henery, dour as ever, expects that she’ll regret her decision to manage the farm, and Mark Clark agrees that her stubbornness will ruin them all. Billy Smallbury, on the other hand, defends Bathsheba as remarkably intelligent. They all lament that she is gradually replacing her uncle’s decrepit but traditional furniture with more modern fixings—and a piano, which they can’t understand the need for.It’s lambing season, and Oak enters, holding two newborn lambs that need to be warmed by the fire. When he overhears their conversation, he speaks “sharply” to defend Bathsheba and threatens to strike “the first man in the parish that I hear prophesying bad of our mistress.” The villagers object that the clever Oak should be bailiff. Oak doesn’t deny that he wanted that position, but Bathsheba has the right of choice, and she made him a “common shepherd only.” Boldwood enters and gives Oak the letter. Surprised, Oak sees that the letter is addressed “Dear Friend” and is from Fanny, thanking him for his assistance and returning the shilling that he “lent” her. She says that she will soon be married and that her husband would not want her to take money from anyone. She then asks him to keep her marriage secret for now. Oak shares the letter with Boldwood, who pities Fanny for trusting Troy to marry her. He gives Troy’s history: The son of a medical man and a French governess, he has the advantages of some education and might have worked himself up the legal ladder, but he chose to enlist instead. He is, Boldwood says, “a clever fellow, and up to everything”—in other words, an untrustworthy wheeler-dealer always looking for an easier situation.Cainy Ball bursts in to tell Oak that more ewes have lambed, so Oak leaves to tend them. Boldwood follows him out to ask whether Oak recognizes the handwriting on the valentine, which Boldwood is carrying with him. Oak blushes to say that it is Bathsheba’s writing. They part, both embarrassed. At home, Boldwood places the valentine back on the mantel.
Analysis        This chapter develops the relationship between Bathsheba and her laborers, who doubt her abilities and who sense already that Oak has the very abilities that would prosper a farm. It also brings together, for the first time, the two men whom Bathsheba might, if she chose, marry. Oak’s blush reveals his affection for Bathsheba to Boldwood, and Boldwood’s embarrassment reveals that he, too, now thinks of her as the woman who might be his wife. A conflict seems likely.