Tuesday, 24 January 2017

Classic Literature: Far from the Madding Crowd by Thomas Hardy

Book Review

Far from the Madding Crowd by Thomas Hardy

"And at home by the fire, whenever you look up there shall I be - and whenever I look up, there will be you."

I thought I'd break up the new release reviews with a classic; Thomas Hardy's tale of beautiful and willful Bathsheba Everdene, Far from the Madding Crowd.

Firstly, I must apologise for the edition I have, which features a very sixties Julie Christie on the cover. If you follow me on Instagram you'll have probably seen this book before as I was reading it last summer. I admitted then that I generally hate books with film adaptation covers, but I kind of like this one, I just love her totally un-authentic hair!

I'll stop rambling about Julie Christie and her fringe and focus on the story.
Far from the Madding Crowd is one of those classic books that, even though I'd never read it before, I knew the plot. Somehow it had got lodged in my head, through general common-knowledge osmosis.

For those of you who don't know the story, here's the blurb from the back of my old Pan Books edition.


For Thomas Hardy, the love of man and woman was always the major passion in life. The proud and beautiful Bathsheba Everdene is the greatest and most poignant of his heroines, the love she arouses in three very different men - the patient Gabriel Oak, the possessed Farmer Boldwood and the shameless Sergeant Troy - is of varying kinds. Yet all of them are fiercely lit and greatly changed in its furnace, Bathsheba not least.

Even though it deals with love, obsession and madness, there is something intensely relaxing about this book. Perhaps it is Hardy's beautiful descriptions of the landscape, or the persistent presence of sheep throughout the book, who always have such a docile feeling.

Though the landscape is important, creating opportunities and hindrances for the characters and plot, it is the characters that really bring the book alive. Bathseheba Everdene (brilliant name) is an excellent heroine and quite a modern one for the time of writing. You first meet her admiring herself in a mirror, so think she is nothing but a vain beauty. But, though she is these things, she's also proud, brave, independent, careless and careful at the same time.
I much preferred her to Hardy's other famous heroine Tess from Tess of the d'Urbervilles who I feel is far to wet for her own good.

I do find it a little irritating that Bathsheba has to be humbled before she can find a happy ending, seemingly showing that she can be weak like the rest of her sex.

But maybe I am reading too much into it, maybe Hardy is just trying to show that she is human

The characters of Bathsheba's three suitors are typical love interests, a gallant captain, a hard-working farmer and a haughty gentleman, but Hardy breathes life into them.

Gabriel Oak is the most well-defined. Sometimes a little too good to be true, he is both calming and passionate at the same time.

"I shall do one thing in this life - one thing certain - that is, love you, and long for you, and keep wanting you till I die."

Though Far from the Madding Crowd is about a relatively small group of characters, in a quiet part of the English countryside, Hardy is encapsulates larger human feeling.

"The poetry of motion  is a phrase much in use, and to enjoy the epic form of that gratification it is necessary to stand on a hill at a small hour of the night, and, having first expanded with a sense of difference from the mass of civilised mankind, who are dreamwrapt and disregardful of all such proceedings at this time, long and quietly watch your stately progress through the stars. After such a nocturnal reconnoitre it is hard to get back to earth, and to believe that the consciousness of such majestic speeding is derived from a tiny human frame."

The plot of the book sucks you in and keeps you invested in Bathsheba's story. At times though, there are a few convenient coincidences and some that need the stretch of the imagination (would a Valentine's card really cause that much upset?).

Above everything else, Far from the Madding Crowd is a love story, and combined with Hardy's perfectly worded prose, this makes it a classic that still shines after all this time.

My rating 3.5/5 (rounded up to 4 stars for Goodreads)

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