Published in 1874, Far From the Madding Crowd is Hardy’s fourth published novel and underwent many edits and revisions throughout his lifetime. This Penguin edition revives his original manuscript with notes explaining excisions in the serialised version. The book revolves around Bathsheba Everdene and the three men vying for her heart. Patient, loyal Gabriel Oak who brings to mind Diggory Venn in The Return of the Native, Boldwood, swayed into affection by a foolish valentine but then doggedly determined in his attempts to secure her hand in marriage, and Sergeant Troy who is introduced as disingenuous and impulsive. I’ll leave it to you to surmise who she chooses.
Occassionally naïve in her behaviour, Bathsheba is nonetheless headstrong and ambitious – she refuses to marry one she does not love, but further, she is reluctant to give up her position as head of house and farm as she would be obliged to should she marry. Keenly aware of the societal expectations of women, she pushes against convention and is disappointed when she believes herself to be acting in the weakness of her sex. Her blunt honesty, beliefs about marriage, and confidence in a world designed for men makes her feel quite modern despite circumstances forcing her into more traditional roles.
Hardy’s characteristic affinity for using chance as a narrative device to progress the plot is present at a number of crucial moments as is his favoured fatalistic character arcs. The characters that make up the local community seem inconsequential but succeed in adding context to events. Hardy’s verbose descriptions will frustrate or delight depending on preference, but the climax is sure to grip all who reach it.