Originally publishing in 1874 anonymously as a monthly serial (Hardy revised in for publication in 1895 and again in 1901)
Source: bought for my Nook for the Classics Club challenge
Independent and spirited Bathsheba Everdene has come to Weatherbury to take up her position as a farmer on the largest estate in the area. Her bold presence draws three very different suitors: the gentleman-farmer Boldwood, soldier-seducer Sergeant Troy and the devoted shepherd Gabriel Oak. Each, in contrasting ways, unsettles her decisions and complicates her life, and tragedy ensues, threatening the stability of the whole community. The first of his works set in Wessex, Hardy's novel of swift passion and slow courtship is imbued with his evocative descriptions of rural life and landscapes, and with unflinching honesty about sexual relationships.
Years ago I read Thomas Hardy's Tess of the D'Urbervilles. It was such an overwhelmingly depressing work that I had all but convinced myself to never read another book by Hardy. But when it comes to books, I've learned to "never say never." Some good reviews of Far From The Madding Crowd and a movie adaptation that I'd like to see after I read the book (starring Carey Mulligan) convinced me that I should give Hardy another chance with this book. I'm glad I did.
Hardy sets this novel in a fictional part of England which, on first impression, is the tranquil and peaceful setting one expects in novels set in rural England during this time period. But Hardy quickly makes it clear that things in Weatherbury aren't what they appear. Unpredictable weather that can wipe out a farms profits, violent animal deaths, dangerous terrain all make for the perfect setting for characters who can be unpredictable, violent, and dangerous.
I loved the characters in this book; they were all so well developed and full. Hardy helps readers understand the characters who aren't likable, he makes likable characters do fiendish things. Modern readers will find Bathsheba, on first impression, to be the kind of strong woman all too often missing in books from this time period. But when she finds herself married to a man who doesn't love her, she determines to stand her ground and be cut to pieces rather than leave him.
"A runaway wife is an encumbrance to everybody, a burden to herself and a byword - all of which make up a heap of misery greater than any that comes by staying at home - though this may include the trifling items of insult, beating, and starvation."Readers might be excused for not caring much for Bathsheba up until this point. She has, after all, hurt not one but two men who are in love with her. Now, however, she finds herself in the untenable position of having no good choice. And Bathsheba is a young woman who hoped to live her life on her own terms, who hurt one man by making trying to do that and the other because of youthful thoughtlessness. It was impossible for me not to feel sorry for her and hope that she would not find herself, in the end, in the same sorrowful situation that Tess of the D' Urbervilles did.
It turns out I may be a fan of Thomas Hardy after all because, damn, did I ever love the way Hardy built this story up to an eventful finish.