Saturday, May 8, 2010

Far From the Madding Crowd by Thomas Hardy

476 pages
Published by The Great Writers Library
1986, a reprint of the 1908 edition by Macmillan and Company Ltd.
St. Martin's Street, London

Two years ago I became acquainted with Thomas Hardy. My introduction was in the form of the BBC adaptation to Under the Greenwood Tree, which after watching the film I then read. The film was fairly well made and I believe it helped me grasp and understand all the details of the novel. At any rate, I finished reading Under the Greenwood Tree (reviewed '08) with a favorable opinion of Hardy's writing and with the thought that I'd like to read more of his works at some point in the future.

So when the suggestion to read Far From the Madding Crowd was made at the April meeting of my book club I was definitely interested. I expected another book just as "happily ever after" as Under the Greenwood Tree. And while I was close in this expectation I have since learned how ignorant I was of Hardy's writing career. Although his books are popular reads in the 21st century and several have made the "1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die" list, not all of them end as happily-ever-after as Under the Greenwood Tree or Far From the Madding Crowd. One particular dark and depressing story is Jude the Obscure, which has been satirically renamed Jude the Obscene by literary critics for its scandalous scenes and language.

But thankfully, as I said, Far From the Madding Crowd has a happy ending. It is a beautifully rich story, a true masterpiece.

The Plot:
The story revolves around "Bathsheba Everdene, a farm owner, and her three suitors, Gabriel Oak (a generous shepherd), Sergeant Troy (a young, handsome, and inconsiderate soldier), and William Boldwood (the owner of the neighboring farm). The contrasting relationships between Bathsheba and her suitors are a study of the many faces of love, including honest, heartfelt love and unscrupulous and manipulative adoration." (Summary courtesy of The Merriam-Webster Encyclopedia of Literature)

My Thoughts:
There was so much that I liked about this book. The story plot was interesting; set in the farm lands of the fictional Wessex County in southern England during the mid 19th century. Most of the story centers around farm life, but at various points the reader has the opportunity to observe town and city life, as well as the recreational aspects of Bath and even a traveling circus. The characters are vast and yet each uniquely cast in their role and personality so that I there was no confusion as to who was whom and little to no chance that various members of the story would be forgotten along the way. The dialogue was at times witty and clever, but in general an easy and interesting read with periods of breathtaking description that makes literature art.

"At eight-o'clock this mid summer evening, whilst the bristling ball of gold in the west still swept the tips of the ferns with its long, luxuriant rays, a soft brushing by of garments might have been heard among them, and Bathsheba appeared in their midst, their soft, feathery arms caressing her up to her shoulders." (Chapter 28, page 212)
Another aspect of the story that I liked so much was the lessons that can be drawn from the characters. The novel explains so well the interaction and development of male/female relationships. It is a story of love and of friendship; of loyalty and of disloyalty; of true faithfulness and of deception; of passion and of weakness.

If you have not yet read anything by Thomas Hardy this is a novel you should read. I obtained my hardcover copy for free thanks to Paperback Swap, but copies are widely available online and in bookstores and libraries.

On the Big Screen:
For those curious, I did watch a movie adaptation of the book once I finished reading. There have been three adaptations to film: 1967 (starring Julie Christie as Bathsheba), 1998 (starring Jonathan Firth as Sergeant Troy and Nathaniel Parker as Gabriel Oak and adapted for British television) and most recently 2009 (filmed by a private British school and directed by Rose Clark). I was only able to find the 1967 version as the other two do not appear available on DVD in the United States. While there were aspects of the 1967 movie version that clearly dated the film it was overall a good adaptation and true to the novel. However, it seems a shame that BBC, A&E, or PBS Masterpiece has not taken the time to bring this wonderful story into a more recent adaptation. Perhaps they'll consider it in the future... One can only hope.

Related Resources:
- Project Gutenberg Online Text: Far From the Madding Crowd (E-Book)
- Free Kindle Edition: Far From The Madding Crowd (accessible with Kindle, Blackberry, iPhone, PC)
- Book Rags Study Notes: Far From the Madding Crowd
- Spark Notes: Far From the Madding Crowd
- LitQuotes: Far From the Madding Crowd (To give you a sample of Hardy's writing)


Sherry said...

I added a link to your review at the Saturday Review of Books at Semicolon, where you are missed, by the way.

I like Hardy, even his books are rather dark sometimes.

Sherry said...

Oh, my, I added the link, and then I had yours pop up. Oh, well, we're on the same page anyway.

Ruth said...

One of my favorite books!

S. Mehrens said...

Thanks for thinking of me Sherry. I've missed being active in the blogging book world, but just can't keep up with everything else that is demanding my time. Some day! :) In the mean time I blog as I can.

Page Turner said...

I have only read Tess of the D'Urbervilles, and even though it didn't have a happy ending I liked it. I think I can get beyond Hardy's fatalism because his characters are so rich and his descriptions so beautiful, like you said. I definitely hope to read Far from the Madding Crowd in the near future. Thanks so much for your review!

Arukiyomi - the spreadsheet guy said...

I really like Madding Crowd and reviewed it here if you want to read my thoughts.

I was wondering whether you had the new v4 spreadsheet to track your progress with the 1001 books yet? If not, you're in for a treat!