Friday, June 19, 2015

Far From the Madding Crowd by Thomas Hardy

Well, it took a movie adaptation, but I think I am finally converted to liking Thomas Hardy. I had read Tess of the D'Urbervilles several years ago, which I thought dragged on forever, and The Mayor of Casterbridge later, which was better, but I didn't love it. However, with Far From the Madding Crowd I'm beginning to see the appeal of Hardy.

If you don't know the story, here's a brief setup. Independent and beautiful, but poor, Bathsheba Everdene first draws the attentions of sheep farmer Gabriel Oak. She rejects his proposal, and after a reversal of fortunes, she ends up giving him a job as a shepherd at the farm she has just inherited. Bathsheba has also caught the attentions of a wealthy older farmer, Mr. Boldwood, whom she also rejects. Bathsheba doesn't think she can be tamed by any man and wants to run the farm on her own. Both Oak and Boldwood wait patiently, loving her from afar, until the dashing bad-boy Sergeant Troy arrives and turns Bathsheba's head, and surprise! -- things do not end well for some of the characters. 

I was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed this book. It was quite an easy and straightforward read, and I really liked the character of Gabriel Oak. Bathsheba was a little frustrating at times, but I give Hardy credit for creating a strong, complex female character. It's a great story, with great writing and great characters. I can definitely see that Hardy was also a poet:

It was now early spring—the time of going to grass with the sheep, when they have the first feed of the meadows, before these are laid up for mowing. The wind, which had been blowing east for several weeks, had veered to the southward, and the middle of spring had come abruptly—almost without a beginning. It was that period in the vernal quarter when we may suppose the Dryads to be waking for the season. The vegetable world begins to move and swell and the saps to rise, till in the completest silence of lone gardens and trackless plantations, where everything seems helpless and still after the bond and slavery of frost, there are bustlings, strainings, united thrusts, and pulls-all-together, in comparison with which the powerful tugs of cranes and pulleys in a noisy city are but pigmy efforts. (Chapter XVIII). 

Having now read most of Dickens and an awful lot of Trollope, I can see how different both of them are from Hardy. Hardy's books are more pastoral and poetic, Dickens' works have more gritty characters and settings, with social commentary and melodrama, and Trollope's books are usually middle and upper-class characters, with some sly satire. Hardy also makes a lot of insightful observations. Here's what he has to say about Bathsheba:

When a strong woman recklessly throws away her strength she is worse than a weak woman who never had any strength to throw away. One source of her inadequacy is the novelty of the occasion. She has never had practice in making the best of such a condition. Weakness is doubly weak by being new.  (Chapter XXIX)

Cary Mulligan as Bathsheba and Matthias Schoenaerts as Gabriel Oak. 

I confess, I probably would not have attempted this book if I had not seen the movie adaptation first -- I usually prefer to read the book first, but my husband surprised me by taking me to a movie with period costumes so I could hardly refuse. I now have the courage to tackle more Hardy. I have two of his books on my TBR shelves, A Pair of Blue Eyes and Under the Greenwood Tree; also, The Return of the Native is on my Classics Club list. 

Bloggers, how do you like Thomas Hardy? Has anyone else seen the movie? And which book by Hardy should I read next? 


  1. I saw the movie a few weeks ago, with friends. I read the book a year or two ago. I thought the movie was pretty good!* I love Cary Mulligan anyway, and I really liked the casting and the whole thing. Very good movie.

    *Some things frustrated me; I don't think Bathsheba would have worn jodphurs or ridden like a man--she's always a lady--and her dresses, though beautiful, were waaaay off.

    1. Yes, I question the costuming choices myself -- especially the leather jacket, which looks waaaay too modern -- did young Victorian lady farmers own leather jackets? I don't think so.

  2. This one sounds a LOT like Return of the Native and that makes me want to get to it faster! I wasn't a fan of Mayor, either, and Jude was SO slow to start despite being good at the end. Hardy seems to be hit or miss for me. I wish you could find a copy of the Alan Rickman reading of Native.

  3. I read a lot of Hardy when I was young, so I must have liked him, but the books are all fuzzy to me now. I really should re-read and see what I remember.

  4. Of the Hardy's I've read (Tess, Madding Crowd, Return of the Native), Far From the Madding Crowd is my favorite. All have interesting heroines that make you gnash your teeth, but I think the overall story of Madding Crowd is the most appealing. Maybe I'm just a sucker for happy endings. Glad you got to see the movie and read the book. I reread it a few years ago, ,and thought this most current adaptation marvelous! It took a lot for me to get over Julie Christie and Alan Bates, but this adaption was so good. True to the story, and well-acted and well-directed.

  5. Like Susan, my memory of Hardy is all fuzzy. I recently bought Heritage Club editions of Return of the Native and Jude the Obscure because I liked the illustrations, so I need to read those at some point. I would like to see the film although the costuming choices do sound doubtful -- at least I will know what to expect!

  6. I read The Mayor of Casterbridge as a sophomore and super hated it and haven't given Hardy another chance since. But maybe if I see the movie first -- I do love Carey Mulligan, and occasionally seeing a movie adaptation can make a book more palatable. (That is how I made myself love J.R.R. Tolkien!)

  7. I really want to see this movie as I read the book earlier this year and I think Carey Mulligan should be perfect. I fell in love with Hardy when I read Return of the Native, so that's my favorite but Pair of Blue Eyes is also excellent. I think Hardy writes great female characters, even though he puts them in horrible situations.

  8. Love Hardy & FFTMC is my favourite of his novels. I'm seeing the movie on Saturday so I'm glad you enjoyed it. I wonder if it will make me want to reread the book? I'd also recommend A Pair of Blue Eyes.

  9. Nice review! I watched the movie and wrote a review about it here:

    As to the next book, Under the Greenwood Tree is okaish, but very atypical Hardy: light and bright, with not too much substance. I haven't read Pair of Blue Eyes yet, but I think that will be my next Hardy


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