Monday, 30 April 2018

Far From the Madding Crowd by Thomas Hardy

*I won't be able to discuss this book with dropping spoilers, so reader beware!

Far from the Madding Crowd was my latest #CCspin book. I thought I had never read it before, but once I got started, I felt less sure. It seemed so very familiar, I knew what was going to happen, yet none of the details sparked any memory. It was only towards the end that I realised what was happening. The love triangle story may have been an unusual theme (outside of Shakespeare) when Hardy first wrote this in 1874 but since then, the love triangle has become such a regular device used by story tellers and movie makers everywhere. For me there were no surprises about who ended up together or the fate of the various failed suitors.


It was so obvious from almost the first page that Bathsheba Everdene was going to end up with the wholesome, trustworthy Farmer Gabriel Oak, that I found her dalliances with the aloof Boldwood, then the flighty Sergeant Troy frustrating to the extreme. I understand that Bathsheba had to experience these unsatisfactory relationships to appreciate Gabriel all the more, but I found myself getting bored.

The only thing that saved me was Hardy's beautiful language and the funny, funny dialogue between the farm hands. As an ode to rural life and customs, it's hard to surpass Hardy, but even I, who love a good descriptive passage found myself sighing when yet another long passage waxing lyrical about the countryside opened up in front of me!

Having read Tess of the D'Urbervilles a couple of times, I know that Hardy can write a book that moves me, even if that emotion is anger. Provoking an emotional response is a good thing in a book, but I'm not sure that boredom is one that most authors would be pleased to claim.

I did love, compared to Tess, that Bathsheba was a strong, independent woman who was capable and sexy and hard working. She may have made some poor choices along the way, but she owned them and maintained control of her destiny in the end. As a women with property and means she was able to ride rough-shod over some of the local customs and expectations in a way that the much poorer Tess could not.

The bee scene, selected by cover designer Coralie Bickford-Smith was a good choice. It highlights Hardy's bucolic interests as well as being the turning point in Bathsheba and Troy's flirtation.
The Weatherbury bees were late in their swarming this year....Bathsheba was standing in her garden, watching a swarm in the air, and guessing their probable settling place. Not only were they late this year, but unruly.... 
Bathsheba resolved to hive the bees herself if possible....She had dressed the hive with herbs and honey, fetched a ladder, brush and crook, made herslef impregnable with an armour of leather gloves, srtraw hat, and large gauze viel -once green but faded to snuff colour - and ascended a dozen rungs of the ladder. At once she heard not ten yards off a voice that was beginning to have a strange power in agitating her.
'Miss Everdene, let me assist you. You should not attempt such a feat alone!


Hardy's title came 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.

Far From the Madding Crowd was not my most successful classic read. Enjoyable and entertaining in large part but also predictable and plodding at times. I wonder how the recent movie will fare?

18 comments:

  1. Anonymous30/4/18

    I read Tess many years ago, in school, but elements of it stay with me. I must find it again on audiobook. If I could, I'd listen and relisten to C19th literature all the time. I have listened recently to, and enjoyed, The Mayor of Casterbridge, so I'd better check out Far From the Madding Crowd and see if I agree with you. In passing, keeping bees seems to have been an acceptable occupation for middle class women who needed the income.

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    1. This was only my third Hardy, so I’m not basing many of my theories on lots of experience! There was lots to admire, but it didn’t grab me or move me like Tess did or Jude.

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  2. I think Carey Mulligan did a wonderful job in the film. I enjoyed both the book and the movie.

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    1. I wonder if the movie will give me a greater appreciation of the book?

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  3. I read this one at school - a set text - and it bored me too, from what I remember, but I've loved the few other books of his I've read. I had been thinking about re-reading this one to see if my tastes had changed, but I think you've saved me - I'll read one of the ones I haven't read before instead. Better luck next spin!

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    1. Which are the Hardy’s you’ve read & loved? I’d be keen to try another. I do love his use of language & setting.

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  4. I've never even been tempted to read this book, but I've never seen a movie of it, either. Thanks for your good review. I read Kindred by Octavia Butler. Kindred Review

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    1. I’ll be checking out everyone else’s Spin books over the next few days as wi-fi & time allows. It’s a nice way to unwind after a hard day’s sightseeing ⛩๐ŸŽ๐Ÿฎ๐ŸŒธ๐ŸŽŽ

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  5. Oh, I love this - even doing it for O level didn't spoil it for me - although I found when I participated in a Hardy readalong a few years ago that I can quote chunks of it from memory from said O level! Each to their own, though. It's not my favourite Hardy; that would be The Trumpet-Major or The Return of the Native.

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    1. After I wrote my review, I checked the other goodread reviews and saw a lot of love for it. Made me wonder if I’d missed something!

      But will definitely continue to read more Hardy. I didn’t dislike this story, I just got tired of it.

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  6. I just added this book to my wishlist before I read it as Penguin Books suggested as a book to "help you get closer to nature". Does it actually do that?

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    1. Yes and no.
      Hardy writes beautifully about the countryside of his time. His places are fictional but based on real places...of 150 yrs ago. You can almost smell the fields & trees and hear the bees buzzing. He describes the herd mentality of sheep in devastating terms early on in the story.

      The nature he writes of is farm life - crops, animal husbandry, the changing seasons, the effect of weather on farming practice. That kind of thing; it’s not so much about rambling through the countryside (although a couple of his characters do this at times).

      Hope this helps.

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  7. Hmm... I loved this book more than Tess. I think it's because the simple rural life depiction; it really soothed and calmed, interrupted here and there with little drama.

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    1. I think I was expecting to be moved to big emotion like I was with Tess. Perhaps that’s where the disappointment lay for me. I was waiting for the the big emotion that never eventuated.

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  8. I've never read this one, but have long wanted to after enjoying The Mayor of Casterbridge in school and seeing a TV film version of this one (years ago). I get what you say about the love-triangle thing, so now I'm wondering if I'd actually like it all that much...?

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  9. I listened to this one on audio and it was well done. I very soon after watched the movie - just beautiful!

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  10. I hadn't read this one until I saw the movie a few years ago, and very much enjoyed both -- I was having a really hard time with Hardy until then. He's still not my favorite but I'm trying to gain an appreciation for his other works. Right now I'm about 1/4 of the way through Under the Greenwood Tree on audio and it doesn't seem to be going anywhere yet. Hardy does love a pastoral scene and writing in dialect, doesn't he?

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    1. The dialect makes it hard to know the tone or mood of the speaker - is he being funny, ironic, mouthing off? It’s hard to tell.

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