Far from the Madding Crowd: Novel Summary: Chapter 26 – Chapter 30

Ch. 26: Scene on the Verge of the Hay-meadTroy explains that he now knows who Bathsheba is (the “Queen of the Cornmarket,” he says), so he must apologize for his earlier disrespectful language. He tells her that he often helped her uncle in the fields. Bathsheba pretends to be angry with Troy, and all, he says, because he called her beautiful. She tells him to leave but he stays, saying he would “rather have curses from you than kisses from any other woman.” They banter about proper behavior, and despite her attempts at disdain, Bathsheba finds herself amused and outfoxed, trapped by her pride in a conversation she tried to avoid.Troy tells Bathsheba that her beauty is evil because many men will love her, but only one can have her, so the others’ lives will be wrecked and wasted. When she says that he should not speak to her again, Troy complains that she’s denying him his only pleasure in life since he loved her the moment he first saw her. To change the subject, Bathsheba asks the time, and Troy draws out a fine, heavy gold watch with a coronet and the motto Cedit amor rebus (“Love yields to circumstances”) engraved inside the casing. The Earl of Severn gave the watch to Troy’s father in thanks for his services, and it is the only belonging of his father’s that Troy has—yet this “erratic child of impulse” offers it to Bathsheba. It takes many words before she persuades him that she cannot and will not take it, all while he professes his love and the laborers watch from a distance. Bathsheba flees, unsure whether to believe Troy’s words.Analysis        Troy’s wit, willingness to lie to women, and desire to be near the beautiful Bathsheba inspire a mock sermon, a flirtatious diatribe, and an insincere gesture. Readers recognize the work of a man who has targeted a woman he finds attractive, but Bathsheba, naïve and vain, is close to being taken in.

Ch. 27: Hiving the BeesIt is late June, and the bees are “unruly” and have not yet settled in hives. They must be encouraged to do so, and since the laborers are busy in the fields, this chancy job falls to Bathsheba. She dons the gear and goes out to hive the bees. Troy shows up, conveniently, ready to assist. Bathsheba laughs at how silly he looks in the protective clothing, and he reports that this task is more challenging than sword-practice. When Bathsheba confesses that she’s never seen sword-practice but would like to, Troy says obligingly that he’d show her how it’s down, but his sword is not with him. He murmurs a plan in her ear. Bathsheba blushes and says, “No—not on any account”—unless, of course, she could bring Liddy, too. Troy replies “coldly” that he sees no reason for Liddy to come. Finally, Bathsheba agrees that she will come—just for five minutes.

Analysis        Readers quickly understand that Troy is asking Bathsheba to come to his lodgings in town—alone. Such an act would immediately destroy her reputation in Weatherbury, yet she agrees to do so. In the same way that Troy drove the uncommitted bees into the hive, he subtly impels Bathsheba to agree to do something disastrous.

Ch. 28: The Hollow amid the FernsAfter Troy’s departure, Bathsheba thinks better about going alone to his lodgings. Instead, they meet—perhaps not quite by chance—in a hollow by the path, a lush, secluded spot. There Troy demonstrates sword play for Bathsheba, involving her by feinting and striking just beyond or beside her. He claims to be testing her courage to stand still and not flinch. One cut takes off a curl; another impales a caterpillar that has landed on the bosom of her dress. Troy had told Bathsheba that the sword was blunt in order to get her to agree to this little show, but now she knows that he lied to her. He justifies his lie; he needed her to stand still. He picks up the lock of her hair, steals a kiss, and leaves her feeling “like one who had sinned a great sin.”

Analysis        The setting for Troy’s sword play can be seen as a little Eden, a lush, green solitude in which Bathsheba will face a temptation. It’s easy as well to see his insistence on stabbing not at an inanimate target but at her person as a metaphor for the sexual control he desires to have over her. Bathsheba obeys him, standing still even when he violates her person by cutting off her hair, an act that for Victorian readers was symbolic of passion. He also spears the caterpillar on her breast—to kiss her, without her consent, is merely the physical manifestation of this symbolic attack. It’s interesting to note, however, that Bathsheba is the one who feels sinful after this encounter. The victim takes the blame on herself.

Ch. 29: Particulars of a Twilight WalkBathsheba is in love “in the way that only self-reliant women love when they abandon their self-reliance.” She’s in over her head and vulnerable to Troy’s wiles. She is as blind to his vices as she is to Oak’s virtues or Boldwood’s advantages. When Oak sees her infatuation, his sorrow over her poor choice eclipses the pain of rejection he experiences. He decides that he must counsel her, catching up with her on the path near the farm. He first brings up Boldwood, who will return soon and want a decision. Bathsheba replies that she will not marry Boldwood. Then Oak brings up Troy, who is not good enough for Bathsheba (the same accusation she made of Oak earlier). Bathsheba hastens to defend Troy, but Oak counters every point. Infuriated that she cannot win this argument, she orders Oak to leave and never to speak of this again. He advises her not to trust Troy: “What is mirth to the neighbors is ruin to the woman.” She should be coolly civil and take care not to encourage him.Bathsheba tries again to defend Troy, claiming that he always goes to church, entering through the back door so no one sees him (as indeed no one has). “This supreme instance of Troy’s goodness fell upon Gabriel’s ear like the thirteenth stroke of a crazy clock”—Bathsheba is beyond reason. Oak tries once again to say that he is concerned only to prevent harm. Bathsheba tries to fire Oak, but he says that unless she hires another manager, he will stay; and she is impressed with his fidelity. Bathsheba then asks, as a woman, for him to leave her, and he does, “gently.” Soon he sees, however, that she is just getting rid of him so that she can meet Troy down the path.On his way home, Oak stops by the church to check the back door. The heavy growth of ivy over the door proves that Troy never uses it to enter the church.
Analysis        To Oak’s credit, not one word of his advice to Bathsheba concerns him and his love for her. He has accepted that he is not a worthy suitor. In fact, he attempts to advance Boldwood’s suit, in the belief that marriage to Boldwood would help, not harm, Bathsheba. Bathsheba, too, sees that his motives are not selfish and admires him for that; but no words of reason can dent her infatuation with the flattering, handsome Troy, a species of man as fascinatingly exotic to Bathsheba as she is to Boldwood.

Ch. 30: Hot Cheeks and Tearful EyesHalf an hour later, Bathsheba arrives home, flushed with thoughts of Troy’s parting words and a second kiss. Their meeting on the path was not pre-arranged, though she had been hoping for it. She writes a letter to Boldwood, declining his proposal; she can no longer wait till his return to let him know. As she goes to find a servant to mail it, she overhears Liddy, Maryann, and Temperance in the kitchen, discussing her and Troy. They think that she will marry him and quit the farm. Bathsheba imperiously cuts off their conversation, states that she “hates” Troy, but then defends him when Maryann calls him “a wild scamp.” One word against Troy, she warns, and she will fire the person who utters is. She throws down the letter and storms away. Liddy follows to comfort her. Bathsheba asks Liddy to tell anyone who asks that Bathsheba does not love Troy, and Liddy agrees to spread this lie. Bathsheba asks Liddy whether Troy is really as bad as people say he is, but she interrupts Liddy’s politic nonanswer, mourning, “O, how I wish I had never seen him! Loving is misery for women always. I shall never forgive God for making me a woman . . . .” The two women argue about this proposition, and Liddy declares that she’ll quit if Bathsheba storms at her. The two kiss and reconcile, and Bathsheba announces that Liddy is not just her servant but her “companion”—her confidante.

Analysis        Bathsheba has heard from Liddy, from the other serving women, and from Oak what kind of man Troy is. Her persistent question—Is Troy really all that bad?—leads readers to wonder whether Bathsheba already knows the answer to the question and is denying it because she loves the man. If so, Bathsheba is no longer an innocent victim of Troy’s wiles; she is complicit in his plans for her. If true, Bathsheba is no less an object of pity, since the phrase “Love is blind” can describe a willful blindness that is just as damaging as naivety.