Far from the Madding Crowd: Novel Summary: Chapter 36 – Chapter 40

Ch. 36: Wealth in JeopardyToward the end of August, Oak keeps watch over the harvest ricks, stuffed with grain, under a stormy sky. Inside the barn, Troy is holding a dance to celebrate his marriage and the harvest. Oak looks in to see Troy and Bathsheba leading the dance to a popular tune, “The Soldier’s Joy.” Concerned about the weather, Oak goes in to consult with his new master, but Troy cannot be bothered with farm chores while the music is playing. Besides, his sources say that it’s not going to rain anyway.Troy has brought in strong liquor to which the men, who usually drink cider and ale, are not accustomed; against Bathsheba’s wishes, he calls the men to toast his marriage and sends the women, including his wife, home so that the men may drink more freely. Any man who refuses, he says, may seek other work. Outside, Oak correctly interprets the sheeps’ behavior (they have bunched together, tails toward the storm) and knows that rain will soon threaten the precious harvest. “Every voice in nature was unanimous”—Troy or no Troy, rain is coming. Oak calculates the costs should the harvest be ruined—750 pounds in the “divinest form that money can wear—that of necessary food for man and beast.” He thinks of how the losses could ruin Bathsheba’s farm and goes to the barn to lead the laborers in covering the ricks. But all the men are drunk and snoring. Oak runs to Susan Tall’s house to get the key to the granary and then brings enough covers to shelter two ricks. For the other three, he quickly makes thatched covers.Analysis        This brief chapter contrasts Oak and Troy clearly; there is no doubt who is the real manager of the farm. Troy’s present-oriented, pleasure-seeking nature cannot set aside a drunken evening for anything, not even for the saving of the precious harvest, while Oak acts quickly to cover the ricks, with his eye on the future. The immaturity and error of Bathsheba’s valuation of the men is clear to readers, who may suspect that it will soon become painfully clear to Bathsheba as well.

Ch. 37: The Storm—The Two TogetherOver Oak’s head, “[m]anœvers of a most extraordinary kind” happen; the lightning “was the colour of silver, and gleamed in the heavens like a mailed army. Rumbles became rattles.” With such military language, Oak’s battle against the storm begins. He wonders—are the ricks more valuable than his life?—as a flash of lightning strikes nearby “with the spring of a serpent and the shout of a fiend. It was green as an emerald, and the reverberation was stunning.” But in its light Oak makes out a figure hastening toward him. It is Bathsheba, seeking Troy, who promised, she says, “that the stacks should be seen to, and now they are neglected!” When Oak explains Troy’s state, Bathsheba “resolutely” agrees to do whatever she must to save the ricks. She and Oak together brave the “skeletons” of lightning that dance threateningly around them. One terrific bolt leaves them clinging to each other in terror, but after a while the lightning passes. Bathsheba expresses her gratitude to Oak, the only person who has helped her, and Oak makes clumsy excuses for the other laborers. But Bathsheba knows the truth—Troy coerced them to drink themselves into a stupor. She tells Oak that she did intend to break off her relationship with Troy in Bath, but that Troy told her that he had met a more beautiful woman than she, and that “his constancy could not be counted on unless I at once became his.” So, out of desperate jealousy, she married him. Oak says nothing. Bathsheba tries to defend Troy by saying that he was not lying and asks Oak not to speak of this matter—yet she wants him to understand. She thanks him again and retires, and he watches the sky for the “disastrous rain” he knows is coming.

Analysis        The storm finds Troy sleeping off his drink in the barn and Oak and Bathsheba allied against the threat to the farm. It also finds Bathsheba already regretting her choice to marry Troy and facing truthfully the weakness that Oak, on first seeing her, identified. Vanity—her desire to be loved for her beauty—allowed Troy to manipulate her into a marriage that is all benefit to him and largely a burden to her. It’s to Oak’s credit that, now that the deal is done, he does not scold or even try to advise Bathsheba. He merely hears her confession.

Ch. 38: Rain—One Solitary Meets AnotherA windy rain begins shortly before dawn. Oak thinks back to the rick fire that first drew him to Bathsheba’s farm eight months ago and realizes that he is again fighting “for a futile love of the same woman.” Yet he finds that he cannot criticize her, and he is pleased that his efforts have saved the harvest. A little later, the revelers come stumbling out of the barn, all “abashed” save Troy, who strolls along whistling. None of them seems to perceive the risks to the harvest. Oak, too, heads wearily home but runs across Boldwood on the way and asks how he is holding up. “Nothing hurts me,” Boldwood says. “My constitution is an iron one.” Oak is amazed that Boldwood did not ensure that his own ricks were protected and seems not to care about that only a tenth of his harvest survived. Boldwood admits that he is a changed man; in fact, he has lost his faith in God and feels that it would be better to be dead. Yet he does not blame Bathsheba, who did not wrong him. After a few moments of silence, Boldwood says that he will recover in time and asks Oak not to mention his comments.

Analysis        This chapter reveal Oak’s deeply sympathetic nature. He sets aside the pain his love for Bathsheba causes him when he sees how much greater the damage to Boldwood is: “A few months earlier, Boldwood’s forgetting his husbandry would have been as preposterous an idea as a sailor forgetting he was in a ship.” Compared to the loss of a single harvest, he realizes, “a greater waste had been going on, uncomplained of and unregarded.” Troy flirtatiously said of Bathsheba earlier that men would wreck their lives for love of her beauty; Boldwood is living out his prediction.

Ch. 39: Coming Home—A CryOn a Saturday evening in October, on Yalbury Hill between Casterbridge and Weatherbury, Bathsheba is riding in the trap as Troy walks alongside, leading the horse up the hill. Troy is complaining that rain cost him a hundred pounds—not in the form of damage to the harvest, but because the horse he bet on ran poorly on a muddy track. Bathsheba’s voice is “painfully lowered from the fulness and vivacity of the previous summer” as she calls him cruel and worries that his gambling will cost them the farm. “Turn on the waterworks,” he complains. “That’s just like you.” She fights to hold back tears and begs him not to go to the next race, but he’s already placed a bet. He responds to her dismay by saying that she has lost “all the pluck and sauciness” she once had. If he’d known, he never would have . . . he trails off.They pass a poor, sad woman who asks them what time the Casterbridge Union House closes (a union house or workhouse sheltered the poor and homeless). Troy’s back is to Bathsheba as he starts, then composes himself and answers that he does not know. The woman looks at Troy with “gladness and agony,” cries out, and collapses. Bathsheba wants to go to her aid, but Troy orders her sharply to continue up the hill. After she goes, he speaks to the woman “in a strangely gentle, yet hurried voice.” It is Fanny, whom Troy thought dead or gone. He gives her what little money he has with him and promises to bring more and to find lodging for her. In a surprising moment of self-recrimination, Troy calls himself “a brute.” They agree to meet in Casterbridge. Catching up to Bathsheba, Troy viciously whips the horse into a trot and reports that the woman is “[n]othing to either of us”—he merely recognizes her by face. Yet Bathsheba thinks she knows the woman’s name, to which Troy replies, “Think if you will, and be ——,” lashing at the horse as they drive on.Analysis        So few months have passed since Bathsheba called her husband “dearest Frank” and celebrated her marriage. Her cause to rue their marriage increases as she faces the humiliating possibility that he will gamble away the farm of which she is so proud. He turns cruel when she criticizes him, and readers can tell from his comments that they argue frequently. Yet readers see something new in Troy in the chapter—his own regret at his treatment of Fanny and his desire to make up for abandoning, or at least not actively seeking, her after their botched marriage.

Ch. 40: On Casterbridge HighwayFanny, heavily pregnant and starving, walks weakly toward Casterbridge. She rests in a haystack, then wakes at night to see the lights of town, two miles away. She fashions crutches and struggles on, talking herself from one road post to the next. She calculates how many steps are left in the last mile—600 times 17—and gasps, “O pity me, Lord!” At one point she sinks down into a faint till a large dog, “the ideal embodiment of canine greatness,” rouses her by licking her cheek. Leaning on the dog, she reaches the union house by dawn, rings the bell, and collapses. The workers bring her in, and when she wakes, she asks after the dog. They’ve driven it away.

Analysis        This chapter is suffused with pathos intended to enlist readers’ pity on Fanny’s behalf and to indict Troy. Fanny’s journey from Weatherbury in search of her “husband” has been hard and harder, yet she keeps moving forward, a few steps at a time, toward help—even what little help the natural world can give in the form of a haystack and a dog. She reaches her goal, and she now has Troy’s assurance that he will provide for her.