Far from the Madding Crowd: Novel Summary: Chapter 41 – Chapter 45

Ch. 41: Suspicion—Fanny Is Sent ForOn Sunday, Troy and Bathsheba are hardly speaking. She goes to church twice. In the evening, Troy suddenly asks her for twenty pounds. She assumes that he wants to gamble and asks him to say home and be pleased, as he once was, “by pretty words and pretty looks.” He says that the money isn’t for racing and warns Bathsheba that she’ll regret inquiring further. She gives him the money, and he says he must go out in the morning. As Troy opens his watch to check the time, Bathsheba catches a glimpse of a lock of hair—golden. When she asks whose it is, Troy snaps the watch shut and says, “Why, your, of course.” Yet Bathsheba’s hair is dark. Troy admits that it belonged to the woman he had planned to marry before he met Bathsheba. This woman is still alive and unmarried. Jealous, Bathsheba says that the golden hair is a dreadful color, and Troy replies that all who see it admire it. She wants him to burn the curl, but he will not, saying, “There are considerations even before my consideration for you; reparations to be made—ties you know nothing of.” He repents of marrying her and admits that the lock belonged to the woman they passed on Yalbury Hill. She demands an explanation, but he stalks out, leaving her to face the truth that, out of vanity, she married a flatterer who cared only to please himself for a little while with her beauty. Such typical behavior, such a common failing—Bathsheba is disgusted with herself for having fallen prey to such an old story.In the morning Troy hastens to Casterbridge to meet Fanny. Bathsheba goes about her daily tasks, distracted. She sees Oak and Boldwood speaking in the field and watches as Joseph Poorgrass brings them some bit of news. Joseph then comes to the house to deliver supplies, and Bathsheba asks him what news he’s heard. He tells her that Fanny Robin has died in the union house and that Boldwood plans to send a wagon to bring her body back for burial. Moved with pity, Bathsheba says that this is her task, as Fanny was her servant. She sends Joseph to adorn her prettiest wagon with boughs and flowers and tells him to harness the horse that had been Fanny’s special pet. Bathsheba regrets not knowing that Fanny was in need, and as Joseph tells how she came to Casterbridge, Bathsheba turns pale. She realizes that the woman on the hill and the woman whose lock Troy keeps are the same. She goes into the house, faint and ill. When Joseph appears, dressed in his best and with the wagon ready, she asks: Did Fanny have a sweetheart? Of what did she die? Joseph guesses that the cold night killed her. She wonders why Oak did not tell her this news, but Joseph can only report that Oak and Boldwood were deeply distressed when they heard it. Inside, Bathsheba asks Fanny what color Fanny’s hair was. “Real golden hair,” Liddy says; she also reports that Troy claims to have known the soldier Fanny loved, and “there wasn’t a man in the regiment he liked better.” Troy told Liddy that he and this soldier looked so much alike that people often confused them. Bathsheba snaps at Liddy to be quiet.Analysis        Much occurs, and much is revealed, in this lengthy chapter. The rupture between Troy and Bathsheba is lasting, and her regrets are deep. But they allow her to begin to see the larger situation clearly and honestly. Readers know that Oak and Boldwood have put together the events and realize how deeply Bathsheba would be hurt if she knew of Fanny’s pregnancy. For her part, in her ignorance she feels deep sympathy for Fanny—as another victim of Troy’s pleasure-seeking nature but also, more elementally, as a woman whose love-inspired choices have betrayed her. Readers may notice how delicately Hardy treats the subject of Fanny’s pregnancy, leaving readers to infer everything. To do otherwise would have raised objections to publication. Though Fanny is clearly a victim of Troy’s frivolous approach to life, she still receives the standard treatment for unwed pregnant female characters—she and her baby die.

Ch. 42: Joseph and His Burden—Buck’s HeadIn Casterbridge, Joseph collects the “plain elm coffin” with a few words chalked on it and the death certificate. He follows Bathsheba’s instructions to cover the coffin in greenery  and starts back to Weatherbury. Dense fog rolls in and condensation drips from the trees onto the coffin, making Joseph feel melancholy and isolated with his burden. He’s relieved when he reaches a hamlet that boasts an old inn, the Buck’s Head. Jan Coggan and Mark Clark are there, and they drink together. Joseph prepares to leave, but the men talk him into staying since there’s no longer any reason to hurry on poor Fanny’s account. The three discuss ale as a God-given drink that eases work and life as long as it’s not abused. They talk about churches and the need to behave morally so as to be prepared for death. This reminds Joseph that Parson Thirdly is waiting to do the service for Fanny, so he must go. Coggan says that the parson won’t mind waiting a bit, so Joseph drinks more. By evening, when Oak arrives in search of Joseph, he’s so drunk that he’s seeing double. Oak scolds the men and takes the wagon himself. In Weatherbury folks await the coffin. Oak and Boldwood have kept Fanny’s recent history secret in hopes that the burial can happen before the truth about her and Troy becomes known. Because Joseph didn’t come on home, the funeral must now wait till tomorrow, which worries Oak, who is trying to spare Bathsheba further pain. He goes to console her and finds her perplexed at Troy’s continued absence. She feels that it would be “unkind and unchristian” to leave the coffin on the wagon overnight and asks Oak and the other men to carry it into her sitting room, which they do despite the parson’s misgivings that a woman of Fanny’s sins might not entirely deserve Christian courtesies. As he carries the coffin, Oak reads the chalked words “Fanny Robin and child.” To spare Bathsheba, he rubs out “and child” with his handkerchief.

Analysis        Hardy includes a barbed criticism of the intolerance of strict church positions on “fallen women” like Fanny in Parson Thirdly’s comments. He agrees reluctantly to have the body brought in since “though she may have erred grievously in leaving her home, she is still our sister; and it is to be believed that God’s uncovenanted mercies are extending toward her . . . .” The passive use of “it is to be believed” distances the parson from Fanny’s tragedy and subtly condemns her; otherwise, he would say, “I believe.” He also keeps his distance from the coffin, leaving its transport to the other men.

Ch. 43: Fanny’s RevengeLiddy offers to keep vigil, but at 10:30 Bathsheba sends her to bed. Before Fanny goes, Bathsheba asks what rumors about Fanny Liddy may have heard. Liddy bursts into tears, says that she’s heard nothing, and leaves. But a bit later she returns and whispers “a wicked story” about Fanny that causes Bathsheba to tremble. Fanny leaves, and Bathsheba tries to comfort herself. Only one name is on the coffin, after all. She sits and watches the fire, assembling the facts and pitying Fanny all the more. She wishes she could confide her fears in Oak, the only person she knows who has mastered the ability to look on circumstances calmly even when he is in the midst of them. She walks to his house and sees through the window that he has finished reading and is ready to retire. Losing her resolve, she returns home and does the only thing she can to solve the riddle. She pries open the coffin and sees that, indeed, a baby rests there beside Fanny. “It was best to know the worst, and I know it now!” she says, weeping “tears of a complicated origin.” She sees Fanny’s golden curls and feels a surge of hatred for her rival, but just as quickly repents of that unjust emotion. Bathsheba kneels and prays by the coffin, then rises again, feeling calmer, and lays flowers around Fanny’s head in atonement. At this moment Troy comes in; he does not know yet that Fanny is dead, only that she did not meet him in Casterbridge. Bathsheba tries to leave, but he grips her hard as he sees Fanny and his child. Many truths hit him at once, and in his face “dismay modulated into illimitable sadness.” He sinks to his knees, “remorse and reverence upon his face,” and kisses Fanny gently. When Bathsheba cries out, “in childlike pain and simplicity,” for him to kiss her as well, he pushes her away, calling himself “a bad, black-hearted man.” When Bathsheba claims that she and Fanny are Troy’s victims, he retorts, “This woman is more to me, dead as she is, than you ever were, or are, or can be.” He claims that had Satan not sent Bathsheba as a temptation, he would have married Fanny; “I never had another thought till you came in my way.” Then he turns to Fanny’s body and says, “But never mind, darling; . . . in the sight of Heaven you are my very, very wife!” Bathsheba wails in dismay and demands to know what she is to Troy. Nothing, he says cruelly—“A ceremony before a priest doesn’t make a marriage. I am not morally yours.” She flees.

Analysis        Troy sounds repentant and seems remorseful in this riveting scene, yet his behavior belies his words. Repentance and remorse require recognition and admission of guilt, yet whom does Troy blame for his failure to marry Fanny? Earlier, he blamed her for showing up at the wrong church. Now he blames Bathsheba’s beauty and “cursed coquetries” and Satan for placing temptation in his way. Yet it was Troy who behaved flirtatiously and who used Bathsheba’s weakness to manipulate her into marriage. Nor does he try now to make amends. Rather, his behavior is as self-centered as ever; now he can indulge in grief, in a sense of being wronged, in cruel words to his wife, all while feeling justified at the unfair hand fate has dealt him. Whereas Bathsheba is beginning to realize and own her mistakes, Troy continues to shove blame away, despite calling himself “black-hearted.”

Ch. 44: Under a Tree—ReactionBathsheba flees down the dark road and hides among thick ferns, sleeping fitfully and waking to bird sound. It’s dawn, and farm work has begun; Bathsheba hides from the people passing on the nearby road. She gradually becomes aware of the nature of her hiding place, a “species of swamp, dotted with fungi.” This unhealthy place, “a nursery of pestilences small and great,” contrasts sharply with the health and vigor of the farm and the road, and Bathsheba is dismayed to have spent the night there. Hungry and thirsty, she nevertheless shrinks from human contact till Liddy comes along, searching for her. Full of pity, Liddy says that she came of her own accord, out of pity and concern, and that Troy has left Weatherbury. The coffin will be taken to the church at 9, but till then, Bathsheba feels that she cannot go home. Liddy returns to fetch a shawl and some food for Bathsheba, who can hardly speak above a whisper, and the two walk for a long while as Liddy chats soothingly of nothing. Finally they turn for home. Bathsheba has decided that the thing to do is to “stand your ground, and be cut to pieces,” but she can’t explain the situation to Liddy yet. Together, they fix up an unused attic room with meager fittings, and there Bathsheba hides all day, reading and thinking. Yet Troy does not return. The sun sets, “blood-red,” and she sees from the window young men of village playing games as is their custom. Suddenly, they leave their games, and Liddy explains that they’ve gone to watch men from Casterbridge set up “a grand carved tombstone.” Liddy doesn’t know whose grave might be receiving such a monument.

Analysis        Setting often takes on symbolic value in Hardy’s novels and poetry, and the swampy hollow where Bathsheba hides suggests the state to which her existence has come because of her association with Troy: “From its moist and poisonous coat seemed to be exhaled the essences of evil things in the earth, and in the waters under the earth.” Yet her disgrace is so deep that Liddy must coax her out of this dismal place. Liddy’s ability to walk across the swamp without being fouled by it and in fact dispelling some of its noxious vapors amazes and inspires Bathsheba and perhaps represents Liddy’s as yet unspoiled maidenhood.

Ch. 45: Troy’s RomanticismAfter Bathsheba flees the farmhouse, Troy covers Fanny’s body and throws himself on the bed in misery because “[f]ate had dealt grimly with him. . . . his day had been spent in a way which varied very materially from his intentions regarding it.” In Casterbridge, when Fanny failed to meet him, he recalled how she had done the same at the church and had angrily stormed off to the races. Yet he couldn’t enjoy himself there for thinking of Fanny’s state. As he walked home, Troy began to wonder whether illness prevented Fanny from meeting him, and at home his fears were confirmed.At dawn Troy rises and goes to the open grave in which Fanny’s body will soon be laid. Then he walks to Casterbridge and orders the grandest tombstone that can readily be had for the money he has in hand (most of which is Bathsheba’s money). “He could not bring himself to consider, calculate, or economize,” the narrator comments. “He waywardly wished for something, and he set about obtaining it like a child in a nursery.” After arranging for immediate delivery, he purchases flowers to plant on the grave and, in the dark, walks back to Weatherbury and goes right to the grave to inspect the tombstone. There, with “an impassive face,” he arranges and plants the flowers, so wrapped in his grief that he “had no perception that in the futility of these romantic doings, dictated by a remorseful reaction from previous indifference, there was any element of absurdity.” Rain begins to fall, guttering his lantern, so he finds his way by feel to a bench on the church porch and collapses into sleep.Analysis        Too little and too late—this adage describes Troy’s loving attention to Fanny’s grave. He so flippantly walked away from her when she went to the wrong church; now he tries to make amends through adorning the grave. His grief is real and his state is pitiable; but in Hardy’s novels, the measure of a character is how he responds after a grievous event. Readers must ask whether Troy is truly remorseful and will reform his behavior, and then read on to find out whether they have read his nature correctly.