Thomas Hardy's first big literary success, Far from the Madding Crowd (1874) is the story of the honest young shepherd Gabriel Oak and the object of his affection Bathsheba Everdene in the quiet fictional English countryside of Wessex. Bathsheba and Gabriel first meet when she is a poor woman staying with her aunt. Astounded by her beauty, Gabriel proposes to her but Bathsheba, not impressed with Gabriel's humble existence and wishing to remain an independent woman, rejects him.
The two do not meet again until Gabriel, by several cruel twists of fate, ends up in her employ. She has recently inherited a very large farm and has become quite wealthy. Gabriel will watch Bathsheba reject countless suitors all while serving her faithfully as a farmer and friend.
The novel deals with the value of independence versus marriage as well as the passage of time. Bathsheba recognizes that marriage is unfair to women and is averse to the very concept of being possessed by another man, especially considering she barely knows the men who can't help but fall in love with her. Gabriel's ancient, oversized pocket watch is one of the first things described. The watch counts the minutes accurately but the hour hand is broken and always displays the wrong hour. Time is said to move slower in the country, where decades and generations past are thought of as the present while a mere five years ago in the city is considered ancient history. Though at least six or seven years pass between when Gabriel first proposed and when Bathsheba accepted his hand, patient, country-born Gabriel is in no great hurry. Her relationships with the feckless Sergeant Troy and eminently respectable landowner Boldwood are merely false strikes of the hour.
Several film adaptations have been made, most notably a 1967 version directed by John Schlesinger and starring Julie Christie, Terence Stamp, Peter Finch and Alan Bates. Granada made a television adaptation in 1998 starring period drama stalwart Paloma Baeza with Nathaniel Parker, Jonathan Firth and Nigel Terry, while another big-screen version was released in 2015, directed by Thomas Vinterberg and starring Carey Mulligan, Matthias Schoenaerts, Michael Sheen and Tom Sturridge.
This Work Contains Examples Of:
- All Love Is Unrequited: And how! Gabriel is in love with Bathsheba, who is also pined after by Boldwood, but Bathsheba wants Troy, who, while taking a superficial interest in Bathsheba, still carries a flame for his old lover Fanny...it's really no surprise that the climax involves all these unrequited feelings coming to a head.
- Bitch in Sheep's Clothing:
- A male example in Boldwood, who is initially reserved and even uninterested in women but then becomes frightfully jealous and possessive of Bathsheba.
- Troy far more so. At least Boldwood has some positive qualities; Troy is pretty much a sociopath — at least until we learn about Fanny, and the serious regrets he holds towards her fate.
- Bittersweet Ending: By Hardy's standards, this novel ends almost cheerfully. A lot of people die — it's still Thomas Hardy we're talking about here — but Bathsheba and Gabriel eventually find some measure of happiness and contentment with each other, although it is noted that Bathsheba "never laughed readily”, which isn't surprising considering the absurd amount of drama that happened around her.
- Break the Haughty: Happens to Troy on two levels: He first starts to crack when he discovers his old lover, Fanny, whom he spurned at the altar because of a simple mixup, destitute and struggling while with child along the road, and later he breaks completely when he finds out they didn't make it.
- Earn Your Happy Ending: Bathsheba and Gabriel both have rather unhappy lives but ultimately end up happy together.
- Entitled to Have You: Almost exactly what Boldwood says to Bathsheba after Troy dies.
- I Want My Beloved to Be Happy: Gabriel. While he initially struggles slightly with this his loyalty to Bathsheba's friendship is proven when he comes across the coffin of Fanny and her child with Troy. While allowing Bathsheba to discover the child could mean the end of her marriage to Gabriel's romantic rival Troy, Gabriel quietly conceals the fact that Fanny's child even exists
- Jerkass: Frank Troy who convinces Bathsheba to stay away from Boldwood and marry him, gambles away huge sums of Bathsheba's money, impregnates his former lover, tells Bathsheba he never loved her, then fakes his own death, only returning when he finds out Boldwood intends to marry Bathsheba.
- Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Despite his jerkassish behavior, Troy really did love Fanny, giving her everything in his pocket and promising more when he sees how his treatment of her left her destitute, and finding out that she and her child died left him distraught enough to send him over the Despair Event Horizon, which led to his faking his own death from the shame of losing Fanny.
- Literary Allusion Title: "Far from the madding crowd's ignoble strife" is a line from Thomas Gray's "Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard".
- Meaningful Name: Lots. The steady, gentle hardworking Gabriel Oak (who is also always there steadfast for Bathsheba whether she wants him to be or not), the unlucky in marriage Bathsheba, the resolute and determined Boldwood. The unfaithful and untrustworthy yet charming and lovelorn Frank Troy also calls to mind Helen of Troy, whose infidelity led to destructive consequences for many besides herself as well.
- My Girl Is Not a Slut: Boldwood freaks out when he hears a rumor that Troy has kissed Bathsheba.
- Never My Fault: Oh, wow! Apparently, Fanny's death isn't the fault of Troy for his cruel and selfish abandoning of her- no, it's Bathsheba's fault for tempting him away. There is a such thing as self-control, Troy... While he may not have truly blamed Bathsheba, his words qualify as this trope.
- Nice Guy: Gabriel Oak has few other noteworthy traits than his goodness, diligence, and honesty.
- Office Romance: Possibly the Ur-Example, focusing on the sexual tension between employee Gabriel and employer Bathsheba, whom he once asked to marry him.
- Only Sane Man: Gabriel and Bathsheba are the only farmers who think to cover the newly harvested grain so it isn't ruined by a thunderstorm.
- Rescue Romance: Early in the novel, Bathsheba saves Gabriel from carbon monoxide poisoning.
- Stalker Shrine: Boldwood has a collection of women's clothes with Bathsheba's name on the labels.
- Unexpected Inheritance: Bathsheba inherits her uncle's wealth and large farm.
- Wrong Guy First: Gabriel Oak proposes to Bathsheba within the first few chapters of the novel. Of course, they marry in the final pages of the book.