Far from the Madding Crowd Edition: Signet Classic, New American Library, 1960“The sky was clear—remarkably clear—and the twinkling of all the stars seemed to be but throbs of one body, timed by a common pulse. The North Star was directly in the wind’s eye, and since evening the Bear had swung round it outwardly to the east, till he was now at a right angle with the meridian. A difference of colour in the stars—oftener read of than seen in England—was really perceptible here. The sovereign brilliancy of Sirius pierced the eye with a steely glitter, the star called Capella was yellow, Aldebaran and Betelgueux shone with a fiery red.
“To persons standing alone on a hill during the clear midnight such as this, the roll of the world eastward is an almost palpable movement.”p. 19 Hardy’s descriptions of the physical world in which the novel is set are rich in detail and emotionally evocative. Such language captures an English countryside that was already fast disappearing in Hardy’s day. That Oak is in tune with his environment speaks well of him; his skills, such as his ability to tell the time of night by the stars, impress other characters, suggesting that this closeness to the natural world is in jeopardy, in Hardy’s opinion, in 1870s England.
“Boldwood’s had begun to be a troublesome image—a species of Daniel in her kingdom who persisted in kneeling eastward when reason and common sense said that he might just as well follow suit with the rest, and afford her the official glance of admiration which cost nothing at all. She was far from being seriously concerned about his nonconformity. Still, it was faintly depressing that the most dignified and valuable man in the parish should withhold his eyes, and that a girl like Liddy should talk about it.”p. 97 This passage traces Bathsheba’s thoughts as she decides to send the valentine to Boldwood in what, to her, is in essence an anonymous complaint that he does not admire her. Oak, when he first saw Bathsheba, identified her weakness as vanity. That vanity now causes her to begin a series of events that lead to tragedy over the course of the novel.
“Bathsheba was far from dreaming that the dark and silent shape upon which she had so carelessly thrown a seed was a hotbed of tropic intensity. Had she known Boldwood’s moods her blame would have been fearful, and the stain upon her heart ineradicable. Moreover, had she known her present power for good or evil over this man, she would have trembled at her responsibility.”p. 119 These lines foreshadow the obsession that will overtake Boldwood as he falls for Bathsheba and the dramatic irony of her obliviousness to the kind of lover her impetuous prank has awakened. The contrast between the aloof, dignified presence that Boldwood projects in Weatherbury and the “tropic intensity” of his true nature is striking.
“George’s son had done his work so thoroughly that he was considered too good a workman to live, and was, in fact, taken and tragically shot at twelve o’clock that same day—another instance of the untoward fate which so often attends dogs and other philosophers who follow out a train of reasoning to its logical conclusion, and attempt perfectly consistent conduct in a world made up so largely of compromise.”p. 45This sentence follows the “pastoral tragedy” in which the half-trained pup herds Oak’s flock over the edge of a cliff, killing them and ruining Oak financially. The narrator generalizes, drawing a lesson from the dog’s behavior that will resonate through the novel: Survival calls for compromise, and an unyielding stance may lead to disaster.
“Bathsheba’s was an impulsive nature under a deliberative aspect. An Elizabeth in brain and a Mary Stuart in spirit, she often performed actions of the greatest temerity with a manner of extreme discretion. Many of her thoughts were perfect syllogisms; unluckily they always remained thoughts. Only a few were irrational assumptions; but, unfortunately, they were the ones which most frequently grew into deeds.”p. 127 These lines assess Bathsheba’s character. Thoughtful and intelligent, she nevertheless lacks the judgment and wisdom that experience brings. The narrator admires Bathsheba but points out her limitations, which, in the context of these lines, cause her to seize on the idea that because she accidently engendered Boldwood’s passion by sending the valentine, she must accept the consequences of that action and marry him though she does not love him.
“And Troy’s deformities lay deep down from a woman’s vision, whilst his embellishments were upon the very surface; thus contrasting with the homely Oak, whose defects were patent to the blindest, and whose virtues were as metals in a mine.”p. 180This sentence sums up the contrasting natures of two of the three men who love Bathsheba.
“I wish your felling was more like mine, or my feeling more like yours! O, could I but have foreseen the torture that trifling trick was going to lead me into, how I should have cursed you; but only having been able to see it since, I cannot do that, for I love you too well! . . . you are the first woman of any shade or nature that I have ever looked at to love, and it is the having been so near claiming you for my own that makes this denial so hard to bear. How nearly you promised me!”p. 193 Boldwood speaks these words to Bathsheba after reading the letter in which she refuses his second proposal. That his love for her began through a prank, a “trifling trick,” is of no matter to him. The depth of his passion and pain are clear in these lines, as well as the beginning of an obsession that leads Boldwood to deny the facts of the case.
“Until she had met Troy, Bathsheba had been proud of her position as a woman; it had been a glory to her to know that her lips had been touched by no man’s on earth—that her waist had never been encircled by a lover’s arm. She hated herself now. In those earlier days she had always nourished a secret contempt for girls who were the slaves of the first good-looking young fellow who should choose to salute them. . . . she had felt herself sufficient to herself, and had in the independence of her girlish heart fancied there was a certain degradation in renouncing the simplicity of a maiden existence to become the humbler half of an indifferent matrimonial whole . . . facts now bitterly remembered.”pp. 257–258 Bathsheba’s thoughts assail her after Troy refuses to burn the lock of golden hair and leaves, refusing to say why, with the twenty pounds she gives him. She feels the shame of having fallen so easily to his flattering words, even when she was amply warned about his character. Nothing Oak can say or Troy can do comes close to the pain her own thoughts bring her.
“She kept the farm going, raked in her profits without caring keenly about them, and expended money on ventures because she has done so in bygone days, which, though not long gone by, seemed infinitely removed from her present. She looked back upon that past over a great gulf, as if she were now a dead person, having the faculty of meditation still left in her, by means of which . . . she could sit and ponder what a gift life used to be.”p. 308 These lines describe Bathsheba’s state of mind after Fanny’s death and all its import and Troy’s apparent death. Though still quite young, Bathsheba feels aged and lifeless. She goes through the motions but is largely wrapped up in her morbid thoughts. In a sense, Troy’s actions have killed Bathsheba as they killed Fanny.
“Once she began to cry for she hardly knew what, she could not leave off for crowding thoughts she knew too well. She would have given anything in the world to be, as those children were, unconcerned about the meaning of their words, because too innocent to feel the necessity of any such expression. All the impassioned scenes of her brief experience seemed to revive with added emotion at that moment, and those scenes which had been without emotion during enactment had emotion then. Yet grief came to her rather as a luxury than as a scourge.”p. 362 Bathsheba’s recovery from the tragic experiences that have overcome her begins at this point, when she is moved to healing tears by the words of the hymn the children sing at choir practice. Readers can assume that, because the words of the hymn are so meaningful to her, she has laid aside her pride and vanity, the weakness Oak first identified in her, after having seen the damage it has caused. Only now can she see what has been before her for years—Gabriel Oak’s worthiness and true affection, not the selfish desires of Troy or the unreasonable passion of Boldwood, but the love of a friend and partner.