Far from the Madding Crowd: Novel Summary: Chapter 6 – Chapter 10

Ch. 6: The Fair—The Journey—The FireTwo months have passed. Oak and a few hundred other laborers attend a February hiring fair where Oak stands out for his athletic frame and youthful appearance. He hopes to find work as a bailiff—the manager of a farm. Oak looks pale and sad but calm and sage; “thus the abasement had been exultation,” the narrator comments, “and the loss gain.” A cavalry regiment was in town “beating up” for recruits in the morning, and Oak half wishes he’d joined up because work is scarce. He sees that farmers are hiring shepherds, so he spends a precious two schillings for a shepherd’s crook and trades for the regulation smock. Thus equipped, he returns to the fair, but news of his own flock’s demise turns farmers against him. As dusk comes, he takes out his flute to earn a few coins by playing. He learns of another fair the next day, near Weatherbury, where Bathsheba had gone two months ago. Oak decides to walk to that fair, despite his belief that she’s no longer in Weatherbury.He walks five or six miles through serene country and comes upon a wagon left by the road. He decides to eat a little and sleep in the wagon to avoid the expense of an inn. A jolt of the wagon wakes him about two hours later. The driver, Billy Smallbury, and a passenger, oblivious to Oak’s presence, discuss a fine, proud, unmarried woman who can play piano. Oak wonders: Can they mean Bathsheba? He slips out of the wagon and into the hedge unseen but leaves his hiding place to investigate a fire a half mile off. A rick (a stack of harvested grains) is on fire and threatening to spread. Oak quickly takes the lead as others come to help, and they prevent the loss of the harvest and barn. A young woman, the wealthy farm owner, watches from a pony and asks whose shepherd Oak is. She sends a laborer, Maryann Money, to inquire. When Oak approaches the woman on horseback, she lifts her veil—it is Bathsheba. When she sees Oak’s reduced condition, he speaks to her “in a sad and abashed voice.”Analysis        In this second meeting of Oak and Bathsheba, their social standings have changed dramatically. She is no longer a girl helping out her aunt; she owns a farm and employs laborers. He is no longer a man working his own flock, and he must find work. The symbolic staging of the meeting, in which she is seated on her horse such that he must look up at her, reinforces this change in status. Yet Oak is nevertheless a figure of ingenuity and authority. He has shown how quickly he can adapt to setbacks, and he leads the fight against the fire to save Bathsheba’s farm. And she knows that.

Ch. 7: Recognition—A Timid GirlBathsheba feels both amused and awkward by Oak’s presence. She pities his misfortune but feels vindicated in refusing his proposal. When her laborers urge her to hire him as a shepherd, she sends him to her bailiff, or baily, to work out terms. She also sends drinks to the local malthouse to thank her laborers for fighting the first, and Oak follows them there to seek lodging. He is amazed by Bathsheba’s transformation from silly girl to “the supervising and cool woman” on horseback; but, the narrator comments, “Some women only require an emergency to make them fit for one.”As Oak looks for the malthouse, he sees a thin girl by a tree and asks her for directions. His quick eyes take in a bundle at her feet and her shyness and poverty. As he gives her a shilling out of pity, his finger touches her wrist and feels her pulse, “beating with a throb of tragic intensity.” He expresses concern for her, but she urges him to pass and insists that nothing is wrong. As Oak walks away, he tries to put the feeling of “very deep sadness” that emanates from her out of his mind. Analysis        The “timid girl” of the title is not the girl Bathsheba was seemed to be but the thin girl shivering by the tree. Readers do not yet know her name, but the narrator’s hints at her tragic story foreshadow pivotal events in the novel’s later development.

Ch. 8: The Malthouse—The Chat—NewsOak arrives at Weatherbury’s malthouse, and the narrator indulges in a long description of this curvy, cozy establishment and its denizens, the rustics of Weatherbury. The aged maltster, patriarch of the Smallbury clan, welcomes Oak. His son Jacob, he says, knew Oak’s father. He and Billy Smallbury offer Oak a drink from a tall, two-handled mug named “God forgive me” (for drinking such an amount). Oak also eats a gritty bread and bacon sandwich, with instructions to chew such that he hardly notices the grit. Oak is gamely grateful for this rather comic welcome. Other laborers are introduced, including Mark Clark, who always wants others to pay for his drinks, and Joseph Poorgrass, who is so shy that he cannot look at his wife’s face without blushing. After introductions, Oak inquires about the village and the conditions on Bathsheba’s farm, and his “bosom thrilled gently” as the villagers speak of her. They don’t know her well; she has just come to take over the farm of her late uncle. Oak asks about her parents and learns that they lived in town and weren’t well known. Her father, Levi Everdeen, married a beauty whom he so adored that he “used to light the candle three times a night to look at her,” reports Jan Coggan, another villager. Yet Levi became “fickle” and was tempted to commit adultery because he was perversely attracted to any woman to whom he was not married. To solve this problem, he compelled his wife to take off her wedding ring and to go by her maiden name so that he could pretend to adultery with her. After that, all was well. Their daughter, the villagers note, was not a pretty child, yet she grew up handsome.After this history of village families is done, Oak plays his flute upon request. The villagers comment that his music is lovely but that his face looks odd as he plays, so he silently resolves never to play in front of Bathsheba. The crowd begins to break up, and Oak prepares to go and lodge with Jan Coggan, but their departure is delayed when Henery comes in with news. Bathsheba’s bailiff, Pennyways, was caught stealing barley from his mistress and confessed to Bathsheba that he has stolen five bags. She has fired him, and what is more, adds Laban Tall, another villager who arrives, Fanny Robin, Bathsheba’s maid, is missing. He reports that Ms. Everdeen is distraught and asks the laborers to come to the farmhouse for interviews, so they go. Bathsheba is worried more about Fanny than about Pennyways, because she left with no cloak or bonnet. She dispatches men to seek her.That night, Oak lies awake wondering if the girl he spoke to might be Fanny and planning how to move his belongings from Norcombe to Weatherbury.
Analysis        This chapter is quite long and detailed because it is tasked with introducing many characters—the inhabitants of Weatherbury—and giving the village’s history and Bathsheba’s backstory. Comic touches mark the descriptions and speeches of the villagers, and these help readers populate (and keep straight) the various minor characters who will play small parts throughout the novel.

Ch. 9: The Homestead—A Visitor—Half-ConfidencesThis chapter begins with a description of the farmhouse—a “hoary building”—that Bathsheba has inherited. It was once a fine manor, but now its floors are uneven and its beams are creaky. Bathsheba and her primary maidservant Liddy Smallbury sit on the floor to sort papers. A visitor arrives—Mr. Boldwood, the gentleman farmer whose land abuts Bathsheba’s farm, has called to ask after Fanny. Bathsheba refuses to see him because she is disheveled. Boldwood is concerned about Fanny because he paid for her schooling and found her the position with Bathsheba. After he leaves, a Coggan child dashes in, excited because Boldwood gave him a penny for opening the gate. The servants discuss why Boldwood has never married, despite the many women who would have him, and Bathsheba remarks that she has received and declined a proposal because the man wasn’t “quite good enough” for her. The conversation is cut off by the arrival of the laborers for payday.

Analysis        This chapter introduces Mr. Boldwood, the reticent gentleman farmer who shares a property line with Bathsheba. The first impression of this man is that he is generous and has a sense of noblesse oblige toward the village. Readers also get another glimpse of Bathsheba’s vanity when she refuses to greet Boldwood because she is not properly dressed. She attaches value to the niceties of social standing.

Ch. 10: Mistress and MenBathsheba straightens her dress, takes coins, and goes down to pay her laborers. To their surprise, she announces that she does not intend to hire another bailiff; she will manage her own affairs. She asks after Fanny, but the searchers have nothing to report (beyond that they dragged the pond).Bathsheba takes this payday to meet each laborer and hear that person’s tasks. She gives each a little extra pay on this first meeting of mistress and servants. As she conducts business, Cainy Ball, Oak’s young shepherd-in-training, Oak, and Billy Smallbury come in with news that Fanny has “run away with the soldiers.” Again, Oak wonders if Fanny is the young woman he saw. Bathsheba dispatches a man to carry this news to Boldwood and tells her laborers to expect her to be a good farm-mistress.Analysis        Bathsheba’s show of confidence in this chapter surprises both the men and women who work for her. They may doubt her abilities, but Hardy presents her as authoritative and calm. How much of this is show, and how much is real, will be revealed as the plot develops.