Publication and Critical Reception
Hardy was one of the Victorian authors who wrote serial fiction, or novel-length stories that were published in short installments. In November 1872 Hardy was invited by the editor of London's recognized literary publication Cornhill Magazine to submit a serial story. In September 1873 Hardy sent in the first 10 chapters of Far from the Madding Crowd with a scheduled plan that the magazine would begin serial publication in January. He finished the book in July, and it was published as a complete novel in late November 1874, just before the last section was published in the magazine.
Initial reviews of Far from the Madding Crowd were not as negative as the reception Hardy received for some of his later books, most notably Tess of the d'Urbervilles (1891) and Jude theObscure (1895). Hardy garnered positive reviews regarding his ability to create an interesting and engaging setting. The December 1874 review by American-British novelist Henry James allows that Hardy has strength in his representation of the rural. The January 1875 response by Andrew Lang in The Academy notes the pastoral aspects as particular strengths of the novel. However, there were prejudices against the character of Bathsheba. In his review, James notes that "we cannot say that we understand or like Bathsheba." This critical negativity toward Bathsheba in particular appears again in the Westminster Review (January 1875). The reviewer charges that Bathsheba is "a character not to be admired, as [Hardy] would seem to intimate."
Pastoralism and Realism
Despite living in the Victorian era (1837–1901), Hardy's novels have traits that linger from the British Romantic era. The British Romantics (loosely the first half of the 1800s) had a keen awareness of nature, while the Victorians were more concerned with the city and industrialization. Hardy, however, demonstrates a pastoralism that is atypical in the Victorian era.
Pastoral literature is premised on the notion that the country is purer, more honest, and generally superior to the city. Far from the Madding Crowd takes its title from a poetic quotation about being away from the city, where one finds the so-called "madding" (frenzied) crowds. The primary hero of the novel, Gabriel Oak, is a shepherd. Every character within the novel, other than Sergeant Francis Troy, works on a farm. Three characters—Bathsheba Everdene, Gabriel Oak, and William Boldwood—are farm owners, and the primary threats that the characters face are those having to do with their farms. Gabriel's close connection to and skill with nature precedes him: Matthew Moon tells him that "We hear that ye can tell the time as well by the stars as we can by the sun and moon, shepherd."
Moreover, pastoral literature often argues that truths can be found within nature. The narrator in Far from the Madding Crowd expresses similar ideas: "The instinctive act of humankind was to stand and listen, and learn how the trees to each other in the regular antiphonies of a cathedral choir." This pastoral argument proposes that wisdom and clarity appear in nature—and within those who are a part of nature. The narrator provides one idea regarding the discovery of pastoral wisdom: "it is necessary to stand on a hill at a small hour of the night ... disregardful of all such proceedings at this time, long and quietly watch your stately progress through the stars."
Despite the traits that mark the novel as pastoral, Hardy's pastoralism is not as simple as some of the earlier texts in this tradition. In Far from the Madding Crowd, he ties realism to the pastoral. Traditionally in the pastoral world, the simple farmer tending his flocks is upheld as happier than any of the three farmers in Far from the Madding Crowd. Gabriel negates this idea. He pointedly tells Bathsheba, "don't suppose I'm content to be a nobody. I was made for better things." Literary realism (an attempt to show subject matter truthfully without artifice) enters the text not only by way of the realistic details of everyday life but through a social realism in the way that Hardy presents questions of gender and marriage.
Hardy's pastoralism is a response to the industrialism of the age. The advent of steam-powered technology led to the development of massive factories, which employed people who worked long hours for low pay. The creation of these factories meant that there was a surge in population in the cities as people moved there in pursuit of work. England in the 1800s saw a move from rural to urban along with massive population growth. The population of England swelled from 9 million people at the start of the 1800s to 36 million by 1911. In addition to population surges, the consequences of industrialization included pollution and the extreme misuse of some classes of workers. Many Victorian novels capture the harsh realities of industrialization. Hardy, instead, addresses the life in his beloved rural settings.
The age of industrialization made life in the city seem appealing. However, a contemporary of Hardy's, English novelist Charles Dickens, highlighted the poverty and filth of the city in his novels, especially in Hard Times (1854). Nonetheless, life in the country was not ideal either. The Corn Laws of 1815 ("corn" being all grain in this context) were enacted to fix the prices of grain. This law was advantageous to the landowners in the country as it controlled the importation of grains, but it also resulted in financial difficulty for those in the cities who could not afford necessary food. To the regret of farmers and the relief of industrialists, the laws (which were a source of political controversy) were repealed in 1846. Far from the Madding Crowd is set after the repeal of these laws, when the focus and interest of much of society had shifted to the city. The rural world of the novel does not address this political issue or its consequences for those who lived in the rural world. Hardy's fictional world of Wessex exists somewhat outside the time and space of the real issues facing the rural world.
Hardy's Wessex was first named in Chapter 50 of Far from the Madding Crowd. However, it was not called Wessex in the original version of this novel (the serial or the initial printing). In later revisions, the reference was added. Thomas Hardy's Wessex is a fictional region of England with fictional towns that corresponds to real-world maps to a degree. In an 1895 edition of Far from the Madding Crowd, Hardy notes in the preface that Wessex is "merely a realistic dream-country." As such, he used this setting in all of his novels.
The boundaries of Hardy's Wessex stretch along the coast north to Oxford (which he calls Christminster) and from Windsor (which he calls Castle Royal) to Taunton (which he calls Toneborough) in the west. He kept some place-names of actual English locations—referencing Bath, England, in Somerset County, in Far from the Madding Crowd, for example—but he changed others. The Isle of Wight (which is a British island in the English Channel) was renamed as "The Island"; Slepe Heath is believed to be the source of Egdon Heath in Hardy's 1878 novel, The Return of the Native.
19th-Century Gender Roles and the Law
Hardy wrote in an era where the issue of divorce was one of social controversy. The Matrimonial Causes Act of 1857 was the first significant revision to the laws involving divorce. Prior to this, the ability to get a divorce was all but nonexistent. Moreover, a woman would lose her children if she got divorced. The 1857 Act required a man to prove his wife committed adultery. That was all. A woman, however, had to prove adultery, as well as cruelty, bigamy, incest, or desertion.
The issue is a significant one for Hardy as he tackles issues of marriage and divorce again in both Tess of the d'Urbervilles (1891) and Jude theObscure (1895). In Far from the Madding Crowd (1874), however, he sets forth characters who are conscious of the risks of marriage without addressing the questions of the dissolution of marriage that he addresses two decades later in Jude the Obscure. In Far from the Madding Crowd, Hardy's criticism of marriage reveals itself in the ways in which characters—including Bathsheba—resist it.
For women the right to own property in England ended at the altar. This rule started to change in 1870 with the Married Woman's Property Act. At that point, money earned by the wife was her own. However, it was not until 1882 that married women had the legal right to completely control all their property. Because Far from the Madding Crowd was published only four years after the Married Woman's Property Act was enacted, Bathsheba Everdene's aversion to marriage is contextually understandable. It is not that either Gabriel Oak, who first proposes, or William Boldwood, who proposes next, is unappealing. In fact, Hardy's narrator explains Bathsheba's thoughts when considering the proposals are logical instead.
As a woman, Bathsheba is able to function as a business owner only because she is single. Marriage would necessitate a loss of control over her life, her finances, and her property—and divorce is rare. The stakes are even higher than that, keeping in mind that at this point in history, marriage still entitled a man to keep custody of any children in the event of a divorce if the grounds were that a woman had committed adultery. Children were an almost certain reality with marriage, as birth control was not a reliable or common practice yet. Entering into a marriage was not a decision without risks for a woman, especially one as independent as Bathsheba Everdene. It is no surprise that upon learning that her husband, Francis Troy, still has his former beloved's hair in his watch, her statement to Liddy Smallbury sounds jaded: "Liddy, if ever you marry—God forbid that you ever should!—you'll find yourself in a fearful situation; but mind this, don't you flinch. Stand your ground, and be cut to pieces."
For other uses, see Far from the Madding Crowd (disambiguation).
Far from the Madding Crowd (1874) is Thomas Hardy's fourth novel and his first major literary success. It originally appeared anonymously as a monthly serial in Cornhill Magazine, where it gained a wide readership.
The novel is the first to be set in Hardy's fictional region of Wessex in rural south west England. It deals in themes of love, honour and betrayal, against a backdrop of the seemingly idyllic, but often harsh, realities of a farming community in Victorian England. It describes the farmer Bathsheba Everdene, her life and relationships – especially with her lonely neighbour William Boldwood, the faithful shepherd Gabriel Oak, and the thriftless soldier Sergeant Troy.
On publication, critical notices were plentiful and mostly positive. Hardy revised the text extensively for the 1895 edition and made further changes for the 1901 edition.
The novel was listed at number 48 on the BBC's survey The Big Read in 2003. The book finished 10th on The Guardian's list of greatest love stories of all time in 2007.
The novel has been dramatised several times, notably in the Oscar-nominated 1967 film directed by John Schlesinger.
Gabriel Oak is a young shepherd. With the savings of a frugal life, and a loan, he has leased and stocked a sheep farm. He falls in love with a newcomer eight years his junior, Bathsheba Everdene, a proud beauty who arrives to live with her aunt, Mrs. Hurst. Over time, Bathsheba and Gabriel grow to like each other well enough, and Bathsheba even saves his life once. However, when he makes her an unadorned offer of marriage, she refuses; she values her independence too much, and him too little. Feeling betrayed and embarrassed, Gabriel offers blunt protestations that only foster her haughtiness. After a few days, she moves to Weatherbury, a village some miles off.
When next they meet, their circumstances have changed drastically. An inexperienced new sheepdog drives Gabriel's flock over a cliff, ruining him. After selling off everything of value, he manages to settle all his debts but emerges penniless. He seeks employment at a hiring fair in the town of Casterbridge. When he finds none, he heads to another such fair in Shottsford, a town about ten miles from Weatherbury. On the way, he happens upon a dangerous fire on a farm and leads the bystanders in putting it out. When the veiled owner comes to thank him, he asks if she needs a shepherd. She uncovers her face and reveals herself to be none other than Bathsheba. She has recently inherited her uncle's estate and is now wealthy. Though somewhat uncomfortable, she employs him.
Bathsheba's valentine to Boldwood
Meanwhile, Bathsheba has a new admirer: the lonely and repressed William Boldwood. Boldwood is a prosperous farmer of about forty, whose ardour Bathsheba unwittingly awakens when – her curiosity piqued because he has never bestowed on her the customary admiring glance – she playfully sends him a valentine sealed with red wax on which she has embossed the words, "Marry me". Boldwood, not realising the valentine was a jest, becomes obsessed with Bathsheba and soon proposes marriage. Although she does not love him, she toys with the idea of accepting his offer; he is, after all, the most eligible bachelor in the district. However, she postpones giving him a definite answer. When Gabriel rebukes her for her thoughtlessness regarding Boldwood, she dismisses him.
When Bathsheba's sheep begin dying from bloat, she discovers to her chagrin that Gabriel is the only man who knows how to cure them. Her pride delays the inevitable, but finally she is forced to beg him for help. Afterwards, she offers him back his job and their friendship is restored.
Sergeant Troy returns
At this point, the dashing Sergeant Francis "Frank" Troy returns to his native Weatherbury and by chance encounters Bathsheba one night. Her initial dislike turns to infatuation after he excites her with a private display of swordsmanship. Gabriel observes Bathsheba's interest in the young soldier and tries to discourage it, telling her she would be better off marrying Boldwood. Boldwood becomes aggressive towards Troy, and Bathsheba goes to Bath to prevent Troy returning to Weatherbury, as she fears Troy may be harmed on meeting Boldwood. On their return, Boldwood offers his rival a large bribe to give up Bathsheba. Troy pretends to consider the offer, then scornfully announces they are already married. Boldwood withdraws, humiliated, and vows revenge.
Bathsheba soon discovers that her new husband is an improvident gambler with little interest in farming. Worse, she begins to suspect he does not love her. In fact, Troy's heart belongs to her former servant, Fanny Robin. Before meeting Bathsheba, Troy had promised to marry Fanny; on the wedding day, however, the luckless girl went to the wrong church. She explained her mistake, but Troy, humiliated at being left at the altar, angrily called off the wedding. When they parted, unbeknownst to Troy, Fanny was pregnant with his child.
Some months later, Troy and Bathsheba encounter Fanny on the road, destitute, as she painfully makes her way toward the Casterbridge workhouse. Troy sends his wife onward with the horse and gig before she can recognise the girl, then gives Fanny all the money in his pocket, telling her he will give her more in a few days. Fanny uses up the last of her strength to reach her destination. A few hours later, she dies in childbirth, along with the baby. Mother and child are then placed in a coffin and sent home to Weatherbury for interment. Gabriel, who has long known of Troy's relationship with Fanny, tries to conceal the child's existence – but Bathsheba agrees that the coffin can be left in her house overnight, from her sense of duty towards a former servant of the household. Her new servant, Liddy, repeats the rumour that Fanny had a child; when all the servants are in bed, Bathsheba unscrews the lid and sees the two bodies inside.
Troy then comes home from Casterbridge, where he had gone to keep his appointment with Fanny. Seeing the reason for her failure to meet him, he gently kisses the corpse and tells the anguished Bathsheba, "This woman is more to me, dead as she is, than ever you were, or are, or can be". The next day he spends all his money on a marble tombstone with the inscription: "Erected by Francis Troy in beloved memory of Fanny Robin ..." Then, loathing himself and unable to bear Bathsheba's company, he leaves. After a long walk he bathes in the sea, leaving his clothes on the beach. A strong current carries him away, but he is rescued by a rowing boat.
A year later, with Troy presumed drowned, Boldwood renews his suit. Burdened with guilt over the pain she has caused him, Bathsheba reluctantly consents to marry him in six years, long enough to have Troy declared dead.
Troy, however, is not dead. When he learns that Boldwood is again courting Bathsheba, he returns to Weatherbury on Christmas Eve to claim his wife. He goes to Boldwood's house, where a party is under way, and orders Bathsheba to come with him; when she shrinks back in surprise, he seizes her arm, and she screams. At this, Boldwood shoots Troy dead and tries unsuccessfully to turn the gun on himself. Although Boldwood is condemned to hang for murder, his friends petition the Home Secretary for mercy, citing insanity. This is granted, and Boldwood's sentence is changed to "confinement during Her Majesty's pleasure". Bathsheba, profoundly chastened by guilt and grief, buries her husband in the same grave as Fanny and the child, and adds a suitable inscription.
Throughout her tribulations, Bathsheba comes to rely increasingly on her oldest and, as she admits to herself, only real friend, Gabriel. When he gives notice that he is leaving her employ, she realises how important he has become to her well-being. That night, she goes alone to visit him in his cottage, to find out why he is deserting her. Pressed, he reluctantly reveals that it is because people have been injuring her good name by gossiping that he wants to marry her. She exclaims that it is "... too absurd – too soon – to think of, by far!" He bitterly agrees that it is absurd, but when she corrects him, saying that it is only "too soon", he is emboldened to ask once again for her hand in marriage. She accepts, and the two are quietly wed.
Hardy took the title from Thomas Gray's poem Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard (1751).
Far from the madding crowd's ignoble strife
Their sober wishes never learn'd to stray;
Along the cool sequester'd vale of life
They kept the noiseless tenor of their way.
"Madding" here means "frenzied".
Lucasta Miller points out that the title is an ironic literary joke as Gray is idealising the noiselessness and sequestered calm whereas Hardy "disrupts the idyll, and not just by introducing the sound and fury of an extreme plot ... he is out to subvert his readers' complacency".
Far from the Madding Crowd offers in ample measure the details of English rural life that Hardy so relished.
Hardy first employed the term "Wessex" in Far from the Madding Crowd to describe the "partly real, partly dream-country" that unifies his novels of South West England. He found the word in the pages of early English history as a designation for an extinct, pre-Norman conquest kingdom, the Wessex from which Alfred the Great established England. In the first edition, the word "Wessex" is used only once, in chapter 50; Hardy extended the reference for the 1895 edition. The village of Puddletown, near Dorchester, is the inspiration for the novel's Weatherbury. Dorchester, in turn, inspired Hardy's Casterbridge.
In The Mayor of Casterbridge, Hardy briefly mentions two characters from Far from the Madding Crowd – Farmer Everdene and Farmer Boldwood, both in happier days.
In 2003, the novel was listed at number 48 on the BBC's survey The Big Read. In 2007, the book finished 10th on the Guardian's list of greatest love stories of all time.
The novel was adapted by Graham White in 2012 into a three-part series on BBC Radio 4's Classic Serial. The production was directed by Jessica Dromgoole and featured Alex Tregear as Bathsheba, Shaun Dooley as Gabriel, Toby Jones as Boldwood and Patrick Kennedy as Troy.
Tamara Drewe is a comic strip serial based upon a modern reworking of the novel by Posy Simmonds. It was itself adapted into a film, Tamara Drewe (2010), directed by Stephen Frears.
- Far from the Madding Crowd (1915) directed by Laurence Trimble, starring Florence Turner and Henry Edwards.
- Far from the Madding Crowd (1967) directed by John Schlesinger, starring Julie Christie as Bathsheba Everdene, Terence Stamp as Sergeant Troy, Peter Finch as Mr Boldwood, and Alan Bates as Farmer Oak.
- Far from the Madding Crowd (1998) directed by Nicholas Renton, starring Paloma Baeza, Nathaniel Parker, Jonathan Firth and Nigel Terry.
- Far from the Madding Crowd (2015) directed by Thomas Vinterberg, screenplay by David Nicholls, with Carey Mulligan as Bathsheba Everdene, Matthias Schoenaerts as Farmer Oak, Michael Sheen as Mr Boldwood, Tom Sturridge as Sergeant Troy and Juno Temple as Fanny Robin.
- Far from the Madding Crowd (2000), a musical with music by Gary Schocker, based on the novel
- Hardy wrote an 1882 stage adaptation with J. Comyns Carr, which starred Marion Terry
- In autumn 2008, English Touring Theatre (ETT) toured Britain with a new stage adaptation of Far from the Madding Crowd directed by Kate Saxon
- In March 2013 Myriad Theatre & Film toured South-East England with their original stage adaptation of Far from the Madding Crowd for five actors. The show also incorporated some of Hardy's poetry.
- In October 2016, the first episode of a web series transmedia modernisation of the novel, Away from it All, was released. Based around the antics and video blogs of a group of twenty-somethings working at a village pub, the series was created by Hazel Jeffs.
References in popular culture
- British musician Nick Bracegirdle, better known as Chicane, released Far from the Maddening Crowds, a studio album, in 1997.
- In 2000, the New York rock band Nine Days titled their debut The Madding Crowd to express their allegiance to modernity in opposition to Hardy.
- The Danish metal band Wuthering Heights released a studio album, Far From the Madding Crowd in 2004.
- Nanci Griffith included the lyric "You're a Saturday night, Far from the madding crowd" in the song On Grafton Street on her 1994 release Flyer.
- ^Page, Norman, ed. (2000). Oxford Reader's Companion to Hardy. Oxford: Oxford University Press. pp. 130–132.
- ^Higonnet, Margaret R., ed. (1992). Feminist essays on Hardy : the Janus face of gender. Urbana: University of Illinois Press. p. 59. ISBN 0252019407.
- ^"Madding". The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language (4th ed.).
- ^Miller, Lucasta (25 April 2015). "Far from the Madding Crowd, Does the film live up to Hardy's novel". Guardian Review Section. Retrieved 3 May 2015.
- ^Drabble, Margaret (1979). A Writer's Britain: Landscape in Literature. Thames and Hudson. pp. 91–8.
- ^Hardy, Thomas. Far From the Madding Crowd: Preface, 1895–1902.
- ^Oxford Reader's Companion to Hardy, ibid., p. 131.
- ^Anonymous. Far from the Madding Crowd (caption to frontispiece). New York and London: Harper and Brothers Publications, 1912.
- ^"BBC – The Big Read". BBC. April 2003, Retrieved 31 October 2012
- ^Wainwright, Martin (10 August 2007). "Emily Brontë hits the heights in poll to find greatest love story". The Guardian. Retrieved 29 August 2009.
- ^Kemp, Stuart (18 May 2008). "BBC Films has diverse slate". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved 18 May 2008.
- ^Fleming, Mike (16 September 2013). "Searchlight Rounds Out 'Madding' Cast With Michael Sheen, Juno Temple". Deadline.com. PMC. Retrieved 23 December 2013.
- ^Mahoney, Elisabeth (2008-09-17). "Far from the Madding Crowd". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077.
- ^Muddled Thoughts & a Sunset. YouTube. 20 October 2016. Retrieved 1 October 2016.
- ^"The Madding Crowd". Allmusic.com.