When I was about sixteen or seventeen, I went through a Thomas Hardy phase. I know this isn’t the sort of phase that teenagers of that age generally go through (although I doubt I was alone) but by that stage I was out of Austen, and we had a lot of Hardy in the house. I remember really liking Far from the Madding Crowd, partly, I think, because I read Tess of the d’Urbervilles, a book which I both found excellent and which made me more angry with a character than I have ever been before or since, first. I will definitely write a Tess review soon, just to share my anger at Angel Clare with all of you. In any case, the lack of complete cads masquerading as nice guys in Far from the Madding Crowd made me very fond of it at the time.
Re-reading it, however, I am not sure it’s still for me. This is, you must understand, a purely personal reaction and I think that it’s still an excellent book. I just felt a bit annoyed reading it. The reason for this comes from the plot – Bathsheba Everdene, a young woman, moves into a country village where she finds three courtiers. One of them, an older man called Boldwood, is not at all interested in her at first, until she winds him up by sending him a Valentine’s card. This makes him wild with love for her, and everyone – he, she and the narrator, assume that she must make amends for her previous behaviour by marrying him. However, being but a flighty woman, she chooses another man. I know that morals have changed since that time, but since she was originally going to give the card to one of her servants as a present, and also since he is double her age, the level to which she is held responsible for his response just grates me the wrong way. (Also Hardy’s annoying constant remarks on her behaviour, along the lines of “of course, all women are fickle”).
That said, I think the main attraction of Far from the Madding Crowd is the detail given to rural life and to the natural world. The main part of the book I remembered was when Gabriel Oats, a shepherd and a farmer who has always lived in the Wessex countryside, sees a toad in the middle of his path and knows that this means a storm is coming. There is so much detail in this novel, about the ways that people used to celebrate different events and about the dangers and struggles that Victorian farmers could face. In this respect, it is a truly beautiful and poetic piece of fiction.
So, I still think this is a book worth reading, but possibly not one for the top of your list. It is a reasonably slim book, taking perhaps a week to a fortnight to read – although if you want to avoid Thomas Hardy’s odd views on women, it might be best to wait for the BBC’s new film to come out, and witness the story in an hour or two.