This unassuming novel was lying on the top shelf of my mom’s guest room for many years. It took moving to California for me to kidnap Hardy’s masterpiece and decide that maybe I would eventually read it. It took another year before I finally read the back cover and WHOA NELLY—it got me immediately.
A rugged farmer, a rich bachelor, and a dashing soldier ALL vying for the attention of one flirtatious Bathsheba Everdeen (mistress of her uncle’s farm)? How dramatic, how fascinating, how FORWARD THINKING of Hardy to write such a piece.
FUN FACT: I definitely called this book “Far from the Maddening Crowd” for a solid three years before I realized just the other day that it is MADDING. Huh. Why is Maddening so much better?
An entertaining one-sentence summary
A flirtatious, vain Bathsheba Everdeen enjoys the attention of three various men (a rugged farmer, a rich bachelor, and a dashing soldier) until one of her flirtations goes wrong and ends in a serious marriage proposal and the other in an ACTUAL marriage and why do women always go for the bad boy and oh no there is also a MURDERRRR!
More entertaining summaries
Men who don’t understand what “no” means
This book was NOT what I expected. It turned out to be a beautiful cautionary tale about the power of flattery and a warning against vanity.
Words matter, whether we’re playing a Valentine’s Day joke and asking an old bachelor to marry us (Bathsheba) or we’re a soldier telling a young woman she’s the prettiest thing we’ve ever seen (Sergeant Troy). Flattery doesn’t have honorable intentions; it instead seeks to paint us in a more favorable light by using cheap, meaningless lies.
The person who hears the flattery believes we think more highly of them than we actually do. Who wants a relationship built on empty compliments?
THEME: THE CONSTANCY OF LOVE
Wow, I loved Gabriel so much. This farmer showed his quiet, steady love over all the pages of the book (and the years that passed as Bathsheba made a fool of herself). Gabriel showed true love by giving her advice that protected her best interest. He also took care of her farm, saving it from both a fire and a storm.
And when Bathsheba acted like a brat, he told her so . . . yet he was a perfect gentleman in how he approached the topic and shared his opinion.
The other two love interests (Troy and Mr. Boldwood) were clearly lusting rather than loving. Troy wanted Bathsheba immediately, inviting her into the woods for a show of swordmanship, then stealing a kiss. Mr. Boldwood, at first glance, may have seemed more constant: he was willing to wait six years to marry her. However, he demanded a promise of engagement from her, ignoring how obviously broken she had become. True love would have come alongside her as a companion in grief, allowing her to heal before proposing marriage again.
If I had one overall complaint about classics, I feel they often start off too slow. This book, though, got to the point immediately! We see an example of Bathsheba’s vanity when she sneaks a long glance at herself in a mirror while passing by Gabriel. She also clearly understands the power she has over men, using her gift instead as a tool for entertainment. I love the character development we see by the end of the book!
THEME: HARD WORK
I feel that this book was very much ahead of its time, although it was written in the late 1800s. Bathsheba is a shepherdess and owns a large farm, and throughout the novel she is very active on the farm, not content to merely watch and reap the profits. Mr. Boldwood also owns a farm, but there is never any description of him working on the farm himself. And Sergeant Troy couldn’t care less about the success of Bathsheba’s farm, or taking care of a wife let alone family.
Conversely, Gabriel is constantly seen in the fields managing everyone. Throughout the book, he saves Bathsheba’s farm more than three times. I admire that he’s hardworking, when the other two love interests seem to be all talk and no action.
Movie vs. Book
I want to make it a new habit to watch the movie adaptation after reading the book. It’s so exciting to see the world come alive and compare the cinematography so how you imagined the story to be!
The 2015 Far from the Madding Crowd was beautiful cinematically. The whole movie had a warm, golden glow that made the farm seem so idyllic . . . it made me want a farm in the English countryside! Bathsheba’s costumes were also beautiful.
I was a little confused with the movie’s transitions; sometimes they seemed so abrupt. Because I had read the book, I understood what took place during the transitions. They just seemed so jarring, which was so sad because the movie was beautiful in aesthetic.
Of course, I’d always recommend the book over the movie. I only noticed a few changes in the movie version (for example, Bathsheba’s note to Boldwood has a silly Valentine’s poem—Roses are red, violets are blue—instead of the bold “Marry me” note in the book, which to me makes more sense why Boldwood then pursued her so aggressively), but it was pretty faithful to the original material. Mostly, side plots were left out since the movie only allows for ninety minutes of storytelling.
I also felt that the book makes Bathsheba out to be more of a flirt and less likeable than the movie portrayed her. Perhaps its because Carey Mulligan is so adorable and innocent-looking, but I feel the movie could’ve highlighted her faults more like the book did.
This is a FABULOUS novel, and I can’t believe I hadn’t heard of it before! Highly recommend to people who love romance, the English countryside, farming, drama, multiple suitors, and even mystery and murder!