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Far from the Madding Crowd (Hardy)

Far from the Madding Crowd 
Thomas Hardy, 1874
300-400 pp. (varies by publisher)


Summary 
Far from the Madding Crowd, Hardy's first masterpiece, received wide acclaim upon publication and remains among the author's best-loved works. The tale of a passionate, independent woman and her three suitors, it explores Hardy's trademark themes: thwarted love, the inevitability of fate, and the encroachment of industrial society on rural life. (From AudioFile, Portland, Maine.)

More
Gabriel Oak is only one of three suitors for the hand of the beautiful and spirited Bathsheba Everdene. He must compete with the dashing young soldier Sergeant Troy and the respectable, middle-aged Farmer Boldwood. And while their fates depend upon the choice Bathsheba makes, she discovers the terrible consequences of an inconstant heart.

Far from the Madding Crowd was the first of Hardy's novels to give the name Wessex to the landscape of south-west England, and the first to gain him widespread popularity as a novelist. Set against the backdrop of the unchanging natural cycle of the year, the story both upholds and questions rural values with a startlingly modern sensibility. This new edition retains the critical text that restores previously deleted and revised passages. (From Oxford University Press edition.)



Author Bio
Birth—June 2, 1840
Where—Higher Brockhampon, Dorset, England
Death—January 11, 1928
Where—Max Gate, Dorchester, England
Education—Served as apprentice to architect James Hicks


Thomas Hardy was born on June 2, 1840, in the village of Higher Bockhampton, near Dorchester, a market town in the county of Dorset. Hardy would spend much of his life in his native region, transforming its rural landscapes into his fictional Wesses.

Hardy's mother, Jemima, inspired him with a taste for literature, while his stonemason father, Thomas, shared with him a love of architecture and music (the two would later play the fiddle at local dances). As a boy Hardy read widely in the popular fiction of the day, including the novels of Scott, Dumas, Dickens, W. Harrison Ainsworth, and G.P.R. James, and in the poetry of Scott, Wordsworth, Byron, Shelley, Keats, and others. Strongly influenced in his youth by the Bible and the liturgy of the Anglican Church, Hardy later contemplated a career in the ministry; but his assimilation of the new theories of Darwinian evolutionism eventually made him an agnostic and a severe critic of the limitations of traditional religion.

Although Hardy was a gifted student at the local schools he attended as a boy for eight years, his lower-class social origins limited his further educational opportunities. At sixteen, he was apprenticed to architect James Hicks in Dorchester and began an architectural career primarily focused on the restoration of churches. In Dorchester Hardy was also befriended by Horace Moule, eight years Hardy's senior, who acted as an intellectual mentor and literary adviser throughout his youth and early adulthood. From 1862 to 1867 hardy worked in London for the distinguished architect Arthur Blomfeld, but he continued to study—literature, art, philosophy, science, history, the classics—and to write, first poetry and then fiction.

In the early 1870s Hardy's first two published novels, Desperate Remedies and Under the Greenwood Tree, appeared to little acclaim or sales. With his third novel, A Pair of Blue Eyes, he began the practice of serializing his fiction in magazines prior to book publication, a method that he would utilize throughout his career as a novelist.

In 1874, the year of his marriage to Emma Gifford of St. Juliot, Cornwall, Hardy enjoyed his first significant commercial and critical success with the book publication of Far from the Madding Crowd after its serialization in the Cornhill magazine. Hardy and his wife lived in several locations in London, Dorset, and Somerset before settling in South London for three years in 1878. During the late 1870s and early 1880s, Hardy published The Return of the Native, The Trumpet-Major, A Laodicean, and Two on a Tower while consolidating his pace as a leading contemporary English novelist. He would also eventually produce four volumes of short stories: Wessex Tales, A Group of Noble Dames, Life's Little Ironies, and A Changed Man.

In 1883, Hardy and his wife moved back to Dorchester, where Hardy wrote The Mayor of Casterbridge, set in a fictionalized version of Dorchester, and went on to design and construct a permanent home for himself, named Max Gate, completed in 1885. In the later 1880s and early 1890s Hardy wrote three of his greatest novels, The Woodlanders, Tess of the d'Urbevilles, and Jude the Obscure, all of them notable for their remarkable tragic power. The latter two were initially published as magazine serials in which Hardy removed potentially objectionable moral and religious content, only to restore it when the novels were published in book form; both novels nevertheless aroused public controversy for their criticisms of Victorian sexual and religious mores. In particular, the appearance of Jude the Obscure in 1895 precipitated harsh attacks on Hardy's alleged pessimism and immorality; the attacks contributed to his decision to abandon the writing of fiction after the appearance of his last-published novel, The Well-Beloved.

In the later 1890s Hardy returned to the writing of poetry that he had abandoned for fiction thirty years earlier. Wessex Poems appeared in 1898, followed by several volumes of poetry at regular intervals over the next three decades. Between 1904 and 1908 Hardy published a three-part epic verse drama, The Dynasts, based on the Napoleonic Wars of the early nineteenth century.

Following the death of his first wife in 1912, Hardy married his literary secretary Florence Dugdale in 1914. Hardy received a variety of public honors in the last two decades of his life and continued to publish poems until his death at Max Gate on January 11, 1928. His ashes were interred in the Poets' Corner of Westminster Abbey in London and his heart in Stinsford outside Dorchester. Regarded as one of England's greatest authors of both fiction and poetry, Hardy has inspired such notable twentieth-century writers as Marcel Proust, John Cowper Powys, D. H. Lawrence, Theodore Dreiser, and John Fowles. (From the Barnes & Noble Classics edition.)



Book Reviews
Hardy's rep as a writer is one who plumbs the depths—and what he finds beneath the surface is often pretty grim. Not so with Madding Crowd, an earlier novel and joyful celebration of England's pastoral life....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, as in Hardy's other works, innocence can prove fatal....
A LitLovers LitPick (Jan '08)


Hardy's genius was unceratin in development, uneven in accomplishment, but, when the moment came, magnificent in achievement. The moment came, completely and fully, in Far From the Maddening Crowd. The subject was right; the poet and the countryman, the sensual man, the somber reflective man, the man of learning, all inlisted to produce a book which, however fashions may chop and change, must hold its place among the great English novels.
Virginia Woolf



Discussion Questions
1. According to the scholar Howard Babb, Hardy’s depiction of Wessex “impinges upon the consciousness of the reader in many ways . . . as mere setting, or a symbol, or as a being in its own right.” How does environment serve as an integral part of this novel?

2. The title of Far from the Madding Crowd, borrowed from Thomas Gray’s “Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard, ” celebrates the “cool, sequestered” lives of rural folks. Is the title ironic or appropriate?

3. The rustics who work the land, tend the sheep, and gather at Warren’s malt house have been likened to a Greek chorus. Can you support this analogy? What function do the rustics serve in the novel?

4. Time is a theme that weaves throughout the story. One example may be found in Chapter XVI, when Frank Troy stands rigidly in All Saints Church awaiting Fanny’s delayed arrival while a “grotesque clockwork” agonizingly marks each passing moment. Where else does Hardy employ the theme of time, and what purpose does it serve?

5. In Chapter IV, Bathsheba tells Gabriel, “I want somebody to tame me; I am too independent: and you would never be able to, I know.” How is Bathsheba “tamed” over the course of the novel, and who is responsible for her transformation?

6. How does the subordinate plot concerning Fanny Robin and Sergeant Troy serve as a contract to the main storyline?

7. What do Bathsheba Everdene and Fanny Robin have in common, and how do they differ? And what does Hardy’s portrayal of these two women reveal about Victorian moral standards?

8. In Gabriel Oak, Sergeant Troy, andFarmer Boldwood, Hardy has depicted three very different suitors in pursuit of Bathsheba Everdene. What distinguishes each of these characters, and what values does each of them represent?

9. Two particular episodes in Far from the Madding Crowd are often cited for their profound sensuality: Sergeant Troy’s seduction of Bathsheba through swordplay (Chapter XXVIII), and Gabriel’s sheep-shearing scene (Chapter XXII). What elements does Hardy employ to make these scenes so powerful?

10. At the end of the novel, Hardy describes the remarkable bond between Gabriel and Bathsheba: “Theirs was that substantial affection which arises . . . when the two who are thrown together begin first by knowing the rougher sides of each other’s character, and not the best till further on, the romance growing up in the interstices of a mass of hard, prosaic reality.” How does this relationship serve as a contrast to other examples of love and courtship throughout the novel? Consider Bathsheba and her three suitors, as well as Fanny Robin and Sergeant Troy.
(Questions from the Random House-Modern Classics edition.)

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