Posts Tagged ‘Tess.’

Quick Outline

Hardy’s fourth novel takes its title from Thomas Gray’s Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard:

‘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.’

Of course, whilst the tale is set in rural Weatherbury, a farming village with a close community spirit, the main protagonists are led by their passions and so ironically, assume the state of ‘madding’ frenzy usually assumed by the buzzing towns and cities.

The tale surrounds beautiful, confident and independent Bathsheba Everdene and the three men who battle for her affections. Although Bathsheba’s tale is set over a hundred years ago, her difficulties are easily recognized, and thus, her mistakes, easily forgiven. If she lived today, Bathsheba would be a heel-wearing millionaire with two businesses she created and controlled herself. Her problems with Oak, Troy and Boldwood would appear on the problem pages of Cosmo, entitled, I imagine, like this:

‘He’s Mr Perfect, kind, handsome and has money. So why can’t I love him?’ (Oak)

‘He’s rich, handsome and completely obsessed with me- should I say yes to marriage?’ (Boldwood)

‘Everyone tells me he’s bad news, but I think I’m in love him.’ (Troy)

And so Bathsheba, in her struggles with three such different men (the kind and sensible Oak; obsessive, insane yet good Boldwood; and exciting, dashing but insincere Troy) personifies all those annoying and overused magazine sayings. Like the one about treating them mean to keep them keen and it being all about ‘the bad boys’… (thanks Alexandra Burke).

The message that we appear to be left with, after Bathsheba has rebuffed two suitors, fallen for Troy and married him, allowing her heart to rule her head is: don’t follow your heart. You will be left with a husband who doesn’t love you, he will slowly gamble away your money and then leave you all alone. A little like Sense and Sensibility, no good can come from wild passions. Despite this, Hardy allows Bathsheba a happy ending. She marries again, this time for sense, and although we are supposed to feel happy for her, we aren’t. The tale ends, she is perfectly content, but doesn’t appear to be leaping in the air with joy. Perhaps Hardy doesn’t believe in this type of happiness, realistically, believing it to be always short-lived. Perhaps, Bathsheba’s story is a realistic message about being happy with a perfectly ‘fine’ life, that to search for anything more can only end in disappointment.

All I know for sure is that these ‘romantic’ musings probably wouldn’t satisfy the readers of Cosmo. Sorry modern Bathsheba, but apparently you can’t have female independence and a husband you love. There’s just no pleasing some people.

A Picture Portrait

Gabrielle Oak the Shepherd: Oak is the voice of reason throughout the tale. Loveable because of his quiet, graceful unassuming ways and annoying in that he seems to be always good and always right. He never gets angry, and the rest of the common labouring folk look up to him as you might a wise father.

His shepherding duties appear to extend into the lives of the humans, as well as the sheep, which surround him. Despite the cruel way Bathsheba treats him, Oak takes on the biblical aspect of Jesus guarding his flock, caring for her despite everything. Guarding her and trying to keep her from harm. Oak loves her for loves sake and never requires anything in return.

Tess: In the tragedy of Fanny Robin, a sub-plot existing within Madding Crowd, Hardy looks forward to Tess of the D’urbervilles. Both Tess and Fanny are working class women with little or no family support. Both are innocent and pure and die because of events caused by the men in their lives. Whilst Bathsheba has the independence provided by money, Tess and Fanny have no way of lifting themselves from the luckless ways life has cast upon them, they can only turn to men, who, in their own turn, prove themselves unworthy. Both women die whilst Bathsheba survives her tale and remains stronger than ever by the end.

The obvious contrast between these three women could also be read as an evolutionary metaphor. Hardy was very interested in Darwin’s work and theories, and in this respect ‘the survival of the fittest’ can provide a frame around which Bathsheba’s success and the perishing of Fanny and Tess neatly fits.

My Favourite Review…

I did search and search and search….but I couldn’t find any I liked. You’ll just have to make do with this one.


The piece opened and the pace was excellent. However, just before half way it slackened and lost momentum. Then, In the closing stages it returned to its former brilliance. This made for sticky reading at times. Despite this, it is one of those books that you must read, especially if you enjoyed Tess or Jude.



3.5 Stars


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