Far from the Madding Crowd

plot, characters, criticism, video, study resources

Far from the Madding Crowd (1874) was the first of Hardy’s novels to apply the name of Wessex to the landscape of south west England, and the first to gain him widespread popularity as a novelist. It originally appeared anonymously as a monthly serial in the Cornhill Magazine, and was revised extensively for its first publication in single volume format.

Heroine and estate-owner Bathsheba Everdene is romantically involved with three very different men. The dashing Sergeant Troy, who is handsome but unreliable; Farmer Boldwood, who is honourable but middle-aged; and man-of-the-soil Gabriel Oak, who is worthy and prepared to bide his time. The conflicts between them and the ensuing drama has lots of plot twists plus a rich picture of rural life.

Thomas Hardy is one of the few writers (D.H. Lawrence was another) who made a significant contribution to English literature in the form of the novel, poetry, and the short story. His writing is full of delightful effects, beautiful images and striking language.

He creates unforgettable characters and orchestrates stories which pull at your heart strings. It has to be said that he also relies on coincidences and improbabilities of plot which (though common in the nineteenth century) some people see as weaknesses. However, his sense of drama, his powerful language, and his wonderful depiction of the English countryside make him an enduring favourite.

Thomas Hardy - portrait

Far from the Madding Crowd – plot summary

At the beginning of the novel, Bathsheba Everdene is a beautiful young woman without a fortune. She meets Gabriel Oak, a young farmer, and saves his life one evening. He asks her to marry him, but she refuses because she does not love him. Upon inheriting her uncle’s prosperous farm she moves away to the town of Weatherbury.

Far from the Madding CrowdA disaster befalls Gabriel’s farm and he loses his sheep; he is forced to give up farming. He goes looking for work, and in his travels finds himself in Weatherbury. After rescuing a local farm from fire he asks the mistress if she needs a shepherd. It is Bathsheba, and she hires him.

As Bathsheba learns to manage her farm she becomes acquainted with her neighbor, Mr. Boldwood, and on a whim sends him a valentine card with the words “Marry me.” Boldwood becomes obsessed with her and becomes her second suitor. Rich and handsome, he has been sought after by many women. Bathsheba refuses him because she does not love him, but she then agrees to review her decision at some future date.

The same night, Bathsheba meets a handsome soldier, Sergeant Troy. She doesn’t know that he has recently made a local girl, Fanny Robin, pregnant and almost married her. Troy falls in love with Bathsheba, enraging Boldwood. Bathsheba travels to Bath to warn Troy of Boldwood’s anger, and while she is there, Troy persuades her to marry him.

Gabriel Oak has remained her friend throughout and does not approve of the marriage. A few weeks after his marriage to Bathsheba, Troy sees Fanny, poor and sick; she later dies giving birth to their child. Bathsheba discovers that Troy is the father. Grief-stricken at Fanny’s death and riddled with shame, Troy runs away and is thought to have drowned.

With Troy supposedly dead, Boldwood becomes more and more emphatic about marrying Bathsheba. Troy sees Bathsheba at a fair and decides to return to her. Boldwood holds a Christmas party, to which he invites Bathsheba and again proposes marriage. Just after she has agreed, Troy arrives to claim her. Bathsheba screams, and Boldwood shoots Troy dead. He is sentenced to life in prison. A few months later, Bathsheba marries Gabriel, who has become a prosperous bailiff.

Study resources

Red button Far from the Madding Crowd – Oxford World Classics – Amazon UK

Red button Far from the Madding Crowd – Oxford World Classics – Amazon US

Red button Far from the Madding Crowd – Wordsworth Classics – Amazon UK

Red button Far from the Madding Crowd – Wordsworth Classics – Amazon US

Red button Far from the Madding Crowd – Penguin Classics – Amazon UK

Red button Far from the Madding Crowd – Penguin Classics – Amazon UK

Red button Far from the Madding Crowd – Kindle eBook version

Red button Far from the Madding Crowd – York Notes – Amazon UK

Red button Far from the Madding Crowd – Brodie’s Notes – Amazon UK

Red button Far from the Madding Crowd – 1967 film version on DVD – Amazon UK

Red button Far from the Madding Crowd – audioBook version – Amazon UK

Red button Far from the Madding Crowd – audioBook version at LibriVox

Red button Far from the Madding Crowd – eBook versions at Gutenberg

Red button Thomas Hardy: A Biography – definitive study – Amazon UK

Red button The Cambridge Companion to Thomas Hardy – Amazon UK

Red button The Complete Critical Guide to Thomas Hardy – Amazon UK

Red button Authors in Context – Thomas Hardy – Amazon UK

Red button Oxford Reader’s Companion to Hardy – Amazon UK

Far from the Madding Crowd Thomas Hardy: The Tragic Novels – Amazon UK

Far from the Madding Crowd Thomas Hardy: The Tragic Novels – Amazon US

Red button A Companion to Thomas Hardy – Amazon UK

Red button Palgrave Advances in Thomas Hardy Studies – Amazon UK

Film version

John Schlesinger’s film adaptation (1967) has an outstanding sound track by Richard Rodney Bennett, and stalwart performances from an all star cast of Julie Christie as Bathsheba, Alan Bates as Gabriel Oak, Terence Stamp as Sergeant Troy, and Peter Finch as Boldwood – plus delicious a country bumpkin role for Freddy Jones. The film was shot by now-director Nicolas Roeg (Don’t Look Now and Bad Timing) and the screenplay was written by novelist Frederic Raphael. This film is a visual treat which has stood the test of time.

In this clip, Bathsheba meets Sargeant Troy on a spectacular iron age hill fort at Maiden Castle in Dorset.

Red button See reviews of the film at the Internet Movie Database

Principal characters
Gabriel Oak a young and loyal farmer
Bathsheba Everdene young woman who inherits a farm
Sargeant Frank Troy handsome and dashing young soldier
William Boldwood well-to-do farm owner
Fanny Robin a poor orphan servant girl
Joseph Poorgrass a timid farm labourer
Pennyways a bailiff on Bathsheba’s farm

Thomas Hardy - manuscript page

Manuscript of The Mayor of Casterbridge

Far from the Madding Crowd – title

Hardy took the title for his novel 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.

The title is often mis-quoted as ‘Far from the Maddening Crowd’ – though interestingly, both words mean the same thing.

Map of Wessex

Hardy’s WESSEX

Further reading

Red button J.O. Bailey, The Poetry of Thomas Hardy: A Handbook and Commentary, Chapel Hill:N.C., 1970.

Red button John Bayley, An Essay on Hardy, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1978.

Red button Penny Boumelha, Thomas Hardy and Women: Sexual Ideology and Narrative Form, Brighton: Harvester, 1982.

Red button Kristin Brady, The Short Stories of Thomas Hardy, London: Macmillan, 1982.

Red button L. St.J. Butler, Alternative Hardy, London: Macmillan, 1989.

Red button Raymond Chapman, The Language of Thomas Hardy, London: Macmillan, 1990.

Red button R.G.Cox, Thomas Hardy: The Critical Heritage, London: Routledge and Keegan Paul, 1970.

Red button Ralph W.V. Elliot, Thomas Hardy’s English, Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1984.

Red button Simon Gattrel, Hardy the Creator: A Textual Biography, Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1988.

Red button James Gibson (ed), The Complete Poems of Thomas Hardy, London, 1976.

Red button I. Gregor, The Great Web: The Form of Hardy’s Major Fiction, London: Faber, 1974.

Red button Florence Emily Hardy, The Life of Thomas Hardy, London: Macmillan, 1962. (This is more or less Hardy’ s autobiography, since he told his wife what to write.)

Red button P. Ingham, Thomas Hardy: A Feminist Reading, Brighton: Harvester, 1989.

Red button P.Ingham, The Language of Class and Gender: Transformation in the English Novel, London: Routledge, 1995,

Red button D. Kramer, Thomas Hardy: The Forms of Tragedy, London: Macmillan, 1975.

Red button J. Hillis Miller, Thomas Hardy: Distance and Desire, Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1970.

Red button Michael Millgate, Thomas Hardy: His Career as a Novelist, London: Bodley Head, 1971.

Red button Michael Millgate, Thomas Hardy: A Biography Revisited, Oxford: Clarendon Press, 2006. (This is the definitive biography.)

Red button Michael Millgate and Richard L. Purdy (eds), The Collected Letters of Thomas Hardy, Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1978-

Red button R. Morgan, Women and Sexuality in the Novels of Thomas Hardy, London: Routledge, 1988.

Red button Harold Orel (ed), Thomas Hardy’s Personal Writings, London, 1967.

Red button Norman Page, Thomas Hardy: The Novels, London: Macmillan, 2001.

Red button F.B. Pinion, A Thomas Hardy Companion, London: Macmillan, 1968.

Red button F.B. Pinion, A Thomas Hardy Dictionary, New York: New York University Press, 1989.

Red button Richard L. Purdy, Thomas Hardy: A Bibliographical Study, Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1978.

Red button Marlene Springer, Hardy’s Use of Allusion, London: Macmillan, 1983.

Red button Rosemary Sumner, Thomas Hardy: Psychological Novelist, London: Macmillan, 1981.

Red button Richard H. Taylor, The Neglected Hardy: Thomas Hardy’s Lesser Novels, London: Macmillan, 1982.

Red button Richard H. Taylor, The Personal Notebooks of Thomas Hardy, London, 1978.

Red button Merryn Williams, A Preface to Hardy, London: Longman, 1976.

Hardy’s study

Thomas Hardy's study

reconstructed in Dorchester museum

Other works by Thomas Hardy

The Return of the NativeThe Return of the Native (1878) It’s often said that this is one of the most Hardyesque of all the novels. There are some stand-out characters: Eustacia Vye, a heroine who patrols the moors looking out for her man through a telescope; Clym Yeobright, a hero who can’t escape his mother’s influence; and Diggory Ven, an itinerant trader who wanders in and out of the story covered in red dye. Improbable coincidences and dramatic ironies abound – and over it all presides the brooding presence of Egdon Heath. But underneath the melodrama, there are profound psychological forces at work. You need to be patient. This is one for Hardy enthusiasts – not beginners. This edition, unlike any other currently available, retains the text of the novel’s first edition, without the later changes that substantially altered Hardy’s original intentions.
Thomas Hardy greatest works Buy the book at Amazon UK
Thomas Hardy greatest works Buy the book at Amazon US

Thomas Hardy The Mayor of CasterbridgeThe Mayor of Casterbridge (1886) is probably Hardy’s greatest work – a novel whose aspirations are matched by artistic shaping and control. It is the tragic history of Michael Henchard – a man who rises to civic prominence, but whose past comes back to haunt him. This is not surprising, because he sells his wife in the opening chapter. When she comes back unexpectedly, he is trapped between present and past. He is also locked into a psychological contest with an alter-ego figure with whom he battles both metaphorically and realistically. Henchard falls in the course of the novel from civic honour and commercial greatness into a tragic figure, a man defeated by his own strengths as much as his weaknesses. There are strong echoes of King Lear here, and some of the most dramatic and psychologically revealing scenes in all of Hardy’s work.
Thomas Hardy greatest works Buy the book at Amazon UK
Thomas Hardy greatest works Buy the book at Amazon US

Thomas Hardy – web links

Hardy at Mantex Thomas Hardy at Mantex
Biographical notes, study guides to the major novels, book reviews. bibliographies, critiques of the shorter fiction, and web links.

Thomas Hardy complete works The Thomas Hardy Collection
The complete novels, stories, and poetry – Kindle eBook single file download for £1.29 at Amazon.

Hardy eTexts Thomas Hardy at Project Gutenberg
A major collection of free eTexts in a variety of digital formats.

Hardy at Wikipedia Thomas Hardy at Wikipedia
Biographical notes, social background, the novels and literary themes, poetry, religious beliefs and influence, biographies and criticism.

Thomas Hardy web links The Thomas Hardy Society
Dorset-based site featuring educational activities, a biennial conference, a journal (three times a year) with links to the texts of all the major works.

Thomas Hardy web links The Thomas Hardy Association
American-based site with photos and academic resources. Be prepared to search and drill down to reach the more useful materials.

Hardy at IMDB Thomas Hardy on the Internet Movie Database
Adaptations for the cinema and television – in various languages. Full details of directors, actors, production features, box office, film reviews, and even quizzes.

Thomas Hardy web links Thomas Hardy – online literary criticism
Small collection of academic papers and articles ‘favoring signed articles by recognized scholars and articles published in peer-reviewed sources’.

Red button Thomas Hardy’s Wessex
Evolution of Wessex, contemporary reviews, maps, bibliography, links to other web sites, and history.

© Roy Johnson 2010

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