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Far From the Madding Crowd (Review)

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Far From the Madding Crowd
Thomas Hardy, 1874
512 pp.

Book Review by Molly Lundquist
January 2008

Hardy's rep as a writer is one who plumbs the depths—and what he finds beneath the surface is often grim. Not so with Madding Crowd, an earlier novel and joyful celebration of England's pastoral life.

It's a great story, with two enduring...and endearing...heroes: Bathsheba Everdene and Gabriel Oak (you can have fun just sussing out the symbolic allusions of those names).

Bathsheba, a headstrong beauty (and proto feminist), inherits her uncle's farm while Gabe, once her equal, is now her shepherd. He and two other men fall in love with Bathsheba—but she is in love with only one. Therein lies the story's central conflict.

Hardy celebrates the rustic simplicity of country life, its innocence and natural beauty. Though somewhat over-idealized, that innocence provides much of the comic relief in Madding Crowd. But, just as in Hardy's other works, innocence proves fatal: inevitably, cold and indifferent fate brings it to heel. This is true for poor Fanny Robin, Bathsheba's former servant—and it's nearly for Bathsheba herself.

Ultimately, the story is Bathsheba's, a coming of age, wherein life's events temper her arrogance and engender a needed dose of humility. Importantly, Bathsheba comes to understand the value of true goodness and loyalty.

Like Faulkner, Hardy invented his own world—Wessex, the fictional settings of his novels. Tom Stoppard put this to clever use in Shakespeare in Love (1998), whose Colin Firth plays the nasty Lord Wessex (a sly bow to Hardy).

Also, Hardy was a lover of nature and fond of writing out of doors. Years ago Monty Python did a parody of him starting a new novel in the middle of a field. They covered it as a sports event: a hushed voice narrates to a gathering crowd, Hardy puts pen to paper, etches out his first word—"THE"! Great excitement! ...But then...wait!  He crosses it out and tries again—"IN THE"!  The whole thing's hilarious.

Of course, you'll read the book first, right? But there are two film adaptations of Madding Crowd—a 1967 version with Julie Christie and Alan Bates; a 1998 mini-series with Paloma Baeza and Nathaniel Parker (wonferful!).

See our Reading Guide for Far from the Madding Crowd.

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