Far from the Madding Crowd by Thomas Hardy

Far from the Madding Crowd Far from the Madding Crowd is set in Thomas Hardy’s fictional Wessex and tells the story of Bathsheba Everdene and her relationships with three very different men. Near the beginning of the book, Bathsheba inherits her uncle’s farm and, being confident in her ability to make a success of the business, decides to run it herself. This is not a conventional thing for a woman to do in Victorian England and it’s not suprising that Bathsheba attracts a lot of attention.

Soon she has two men in love with her: the first is the shepherd, Gabriel Oak, who had already proposed to Bathsheba before she inherited the farm and had been turned down. Despite being rejected, Gabriel remains quietly devoted to Bathsheba and as time goes by she comes to rely on him more than she realises. Her second suitor, Mr Boldwood, is a well-respected neighbouring farmer. When Bathsheba sends him a valentine saying “Marry me”, Farmer Boldwood becomes determined to make her his wife, unaware that the valentine was intended as a joke. But neither Gabriel nor Boldwood can hope to compete with the handsome but untrustworthy Sergeant Troy who seems set to succeed where they have both failed.

I loved Far from the Madding Crowd. Thomas Hardy is one of my favourite Victorian authors and having read five of his books now, none of them have disappointed me. I read the beautiful Penguin English Library edition of this book which I won in a giveaway from Heavenali last year, and I would like to say how much I appreciated the fact that the ‘introduction’ is at the back of the book instead of the front! I wish all publishers would do that, as it would reduce the risk of an unsuspecting reader having the story spoiled for them (I have never understood why it’s apparently considered acceptable to give away the entire plot of a novel in the introduction or on the back cover just because the book is a classic).

Hardy is often criticised for being too depressing, but this one isn’t really a tragic, heartbreaking book like Tess of the d’Urbervilles or Jude the Obscure – although it does still have its moments of sadness. Things do go wrong, bad things happen and not every character gets a happy ending. However, it also has some humour, which is maybe not something usually associated with Hardy. Most of this is provided by the wonderful collection of secondary characters – the eccentric villagers and rustic farm workers who gather at the Buck’s Head Inn in the evenings to discuss the day’s news. Their conversations are so funny and give some relief from the darker parts of the central storyline.

I found Bathsheba very frustrating, although it’s her flaws – her vanity and her impulsive nature – that make her such a fascinating character. There’s a lot to admire about her, such as her desire to run the farm and be successful at it, despite farm management still being very much a man’s world, but after seeming to be such a strong, independent person at the start of the book, she begins to make one mistake after another. Gabriel Oak, though, I loved. I loved him for his patience and devotion, for the way he coped with rejection, and the fact that he didn’t judge too harshly. Like the oak tree his name suggests, he is a constant, reassuring presence throughout the story and certainly my favourite character in any of the Hardy novels I’ve read so far.

Of all the Hardy novels that I’ve read, with the possible exception of Under the Greenwood Tree, this is the most pastoral, with lots of beautiful descriptions of the countryside and lots of information on farming and agriculture. I should now be able to shear sheep, hive bees, forecast the weather by watching the movements of slugs and toads, and deal with a fire in a hayrick! (Well, maybe not.)

I need to choose my next Thomas Hardy book now so any recommendations are welcome. I’ve already read Tess of the d’Urbervilles, Jude the Obscure, Under the Greenwood Tree and A Pair of Blue Eyes.

31 thoughts on “Far from the Madding Crowd by Thomas Hardy

  1. Jude says:

    This is my favourite Hardy novel and the line “When I look up from the fire there you be” from Gabriel Oak, with its quiet loving comfort and acceptance of the other person faults and all has to be one of my favourite lines in literature.

  2. Lisa says:

    Now that I’ve managed to read Henry James, I feel more confident about tackling Hardy. It sounds like this one might be a good introduction – I already want to read more about Gabriel!

    • Helen says:

      Yes, this could be a good one to start with. I found it quite easy to read and not too dark or tragic. It’s funny because I’ve never been hesitant to read Hardy but am completely intimidated by Henry James!

  3. Cat says:

    My favourite Hardy too. Love Gabriel Oak! I read The Mayor of Casterbridge recently and liked that one too . My next Hardy will be The Return of the Native.

    • Helen says:

      I’m glad you loved this one too (and Gabriel Oak). The Mayor of Casterbridge and The Return of the Native will probably be the next two I read, but I’m still open to other suggestions.

  4. Fleur in her World says:

    This was the first Hardy I read, I loved it then and it’s still one of my favourite. I love the pastoral scenes, the romance everything.

    I’ve not found a Hardy book that I haven’t read, but I’d particularly recommend The Mayor of Casterbridge. I haven’t read it for a a while, but a recent and very good, BBC adapation reminded me and made me want to read it again.

    • Helen says:

      Thanks – I was trying to decide between The Mayor of Casterbridge and The Return of the Native, so you’ve helped me make my mind up.

  5. jessicabookworm says:

    This is the only Hardy novel I’ve read. I thought it was a heart-breaking but beautiful story. I was completely in love with Gabriel. Since reading this though I have not gone on to read more of Hardy’s work. I think watching a TV adaptation of Tess of the D’Urbervilles which I thought was so tragic put me off. After watching it I’ve not been sure what to read next fearing they’d be just as tragic! Any recommendations?

    • Helen says:

      I didn’t see the adaptation of Tess, but loved the book despite it being so tragic. Jude the Obscure is possibly even more tragic, so you probably shouldn’t read that one next! Under the Greenwood Tree might be a good one for you to read as it’s quite a happy, lighthearted story compared to the others.

  6. TipiTopi says:

    A long time ago I saw the TV adaptation of Tess of the D’Urbervilles. For me it was so sad and tragic that I didn’t want to read any of his novels. Then finally I gave him a chance and I’ve read Under the Greenwood Tree, and The Mayor of Casterbridge. Loved it both, but especially the latter, so I highly recommend it. I think my next would be Far from the Madding Crowd.

  7. Miss Bibliophile says:

    Far From the Madding Crowd was the first Hardy novel I read and your post has reminded me how much I enjoyed it. Another one of his that I would recommend is Two on a Tower, which I recently finished (also in a lovely Penguin English Library edition–I completely agree with your comments about the Introductions placed at the end of the book!).

    • Helen says:

      I love the Penguin English Library books. Sometimes reading a pretty edition of a book can really enhance the experience! I haven’t heard much about Two on a Tower but I’m pleased you enjoyed it and will make a note of that one.

  8. classicsjournal says:

    Gabriel Oak is such a wonderful character– I really want to read the book. I’ve seen the BBC adaptation with Nathaniel Parker as Gabriel and the older adaptation with Julie Christie. Have you seen any of the adaptations?
    When I was at the bookstore I debated between buying this one and Return of the Native, I went for the latter only because I don’t know the storyline, which is always nice and refreshing. Yes, it is frustrating how as you mentioned because it’s a Classic the plot is often given away. I’ve taken to skipping the introductions and go back to read them when I’m finished.
    Far From the Madding Crowd or Under the Greenwood Tree will probably be my next Hardy purchase. Must finish Collins’ The Moonstone first though. 🙂

    • Helen says:

      No, I haven’t seen any of the adaptations but I would like to now that I’ve read the book! I usually skip introductions too; they almost always give the entire plot away and I prefer to go into a book knowing as little about it as possible, whether it’s a classic or not.
      I hope you’re enjoying The Moonstone, by the way.

      • deedee says:

        I just watched both adaptations and based on your comment above about the “by the fire” line, do *not* watch the Julie Christie version! (if you didn’t get around to it in the past year +). It is not very faithful and they completely butcher that wonderful line by repeating it in the cheesy contrived ending. The 1998 version is wonderful and very faithful to the book.

        • Helen says:

          No, I haven’t watched the Julie Christie adaptation yet. I do prefer adaptations to be faithful to the book, so I’ll take your advice and watch the 1998 version instead. Thanks!

  9. The Little Reader Library says:

    I love this book and am hoping to read it again soon. I first read it when I was a teenager. I like all the Hardy I’ve read. I think my favourite is The Mayor of Casterbridge and I’d recommend The Return of the Native too.

    • Helen says:

      That’s good to know because those are the two books I was thinking about reading next, probably starting with The Mayor of Casterbridge.

  10. Elena says:

    I want this to be the first Hardy I read! If you loved it, there is a graphic novel adaptation and a film directed by Stephen Frears both called “Tamara Drewe”. I love them both, especially the film, and I can’t recommend them enough! I hope to read Far From the Madding Crowd soon.

    • Helen says:

      This would probably be a good choice for a first Hardy! I haven’t seen that film or the graphic novel, so thanks for telling me about them.

  11. Freaky Folk Tales says:

    A great review. Thanks for sharing.

    In his early days, Hardy experienced quite a lot of reviews dismissing his work as improbable or lacklustre (a stark contrast to those a few decades later).

    You may be interested in this newspaper article on my website, taken from 1876, which asks the reader to consider “the literary style of the writer”:

    Click to access hardy-review.pdf

    As for me, it will always be Tess!
    Regards, Paul

  12. Deloris S. Crosby says:

    The book might also be described as an early piece of feminist literature, since it features an independent woman with the courage to defy convention by running a farm herself. Although Bathsheba’s passionate nature leads her into serious errors of judgment, Hardy endows her with sufficient resilience, intelligence, and good luck to overcome her youthful folly.

  13. Elena Wiggins says:

    Great review! I was both frustrated and fascinated by Bathsheba. I loved Oak and was rooting for him the whole time. This is my second Hardy (I read but wasn’t a fan of The Mayor of Casterbridge and have only watched a BBC adaptation of Tess). I think Under the Greenwood Tree will be my next Hardy!

    I’ll link my recent review of this classic In my name, if interested!

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