Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Far From the Madding Crowd by Thomas Hardy

Title: Far From the Madding Crowd
Author: Thomas Hardy

Genre: Fiction (English / Victorian / Rural / Marriage / Relationships)
Publisher/Publication Date: Project Gutenberg (2/1/1994)
Source: Project Gutenberg

Rating: Looooooved!
Did I finish?: Yes -- it took me a while only because my review schedule got a big hectic.
One-sentence summary: Bathsheba Everdene, a young woman who inherits a farm, struggles to make herself happy, successful, and loved in a rural county in England.
Reading Challenges: British BooksE-books, Victorian Literature

Do I like the cover?: N/A -- sadly, unlike many e-book packagers, Project Gutenberg doesn't do covers for their e-books.

First line: When Farmer Oak smiled, the corners of his mouth spread till they were within an unimportant distance of his ears, his eyes were reduced to chinks, and diverging wrinkles appeared round them, extending upon his countenance like the rays in a rudimentary sketch of the rising sun.

Did... I spend about two months confusing 'madding' with 'maddening'?: YES. Embarrassing but true. (If you care, according to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, madding means "acting in a frenzied manner —usually used in the phrase madding crowd to denote especially the crowded world of human activity and strife".)

Did... I develop a hot little crush on Farmer Gabriel Oak?: YES. Double yes, really. He was sort Clive Owen-lite in my mind's eye.

Do... I someday want to visit all the locations in the book?: YES. This great map highlights the locations from the book.

Buy, Borrow, or Avoid?: Buy or borrow -- read this for sure. It's marvelous!

Why did I get this book?: I picked it on a whim for my Victorian Lit challenge -- talk about a happy accident!

Review: I was pretty head-over-heels for this book after the first page but by the time our heroine Bathsheba Everdene appeared, my love was sealed. (How fabulous is that name?!)

Of this book, Virginia Woolf said: "The subject was right; the method was right; the poet and the countryman, the sensual man, the somber reflective man, the man of learning, all enlisted to produce a book which, however fashions may chop and change, must hold its place among the great English novels." Amen, sister. There's a vaguely soap opera feel to the story, with the mix of rural drama (honestly, I had no idea there were so many ways sheep could die!) and a love pentagon (two women, three men) and yet, this isn't some fluffy pastoral farce.

The setting is described with poetic loveliness, but as we see with Farmer Oak's constantly imperiled sheep, rural life is hardly peaceful and bucolic. At times, it is nearly savage, and pretty, clever, fiery, passionate Bathsheba seems to be the personification of the lovely-yet-wild (and fickle!) landscape.  She captivates, frightens, and mystifies the men around her, and despite her sometimes over-the-top emotional fits, she manages her own farm and her own courtships with savvy determination.

Still, the romance in this book is hardly romantic: even the passionate points feel a bit grim, as we and the characters understand the implications of each overture and pass.  Someone will be hurt, someone else buoyed, and one night makes all the difference in a life.  (Same goes for sheep.  Go to sleep, sheep alive; wake up, sheep dead.  It's crazy.)

There's also some comedy in the rustic townfolk and farm hands, but honestly, I sort of tuned them out.  I was more keen on Bathsheba and her relationships with the men in her life.  At times, I felt like Hardy painted her a little garishly, as if to punish her for being so fabulous and feisty, but I also appreciated the cracks in her armor.  She was a woman I could relate to and if I had read her as a teen, I would have been all about channeling my inner Bathsheba Everdene.  As it is, I'm ready for a reread already, so I can sit back and savor Hardy's storytelling. 


  1. I'm always thrilled to see a good review of a Hardy novel, as he's my favorite novelist. I love everything of his that I've read. This one is not my favorite (that would be Tess, followed by Jude, I think), but I still liked it a lot, and it's one I want to reread sooner than later.

  2. I'm glad that you enjoyed this one. I would have confused madding with maddening as well.

  3. I have not read it but I am sure I have seen a BBC adaptation long ago :)

  4. I remember absolutely loving this in high school -- I read every Hardy I could get my hands on one summer. I think it might be time for a reread -- thanks for the reminder!

  5. @Teresa: I completely understand why people love Hardy so much -- this was amazing. I think I'm going to try Tess next!

    @Serena: It was so unexpectedly delicious!

    @Blodeuedd: I'm going to have to find one now -- I'm obsessed!

    @Col: I can only imagine the swoons I would have had if I'd read this as a teen. Gah, so good! It's really so marvelous.

  6. I really liked this book and I also had a crush on Gabriel Oak while reading it. What a great character!

  7. I never read the book but I totally loved the movie with Julie Christie, even though of course now I can't remember it. But now I feel inspired to rent it again!

  8. That map is amazing! I haven't read this one, but next year I'm determined to read more classics (for real this time). I love current trends in publishing, but I want to fill in my classics repertoire more. I think the key to success will be focusing on classics still enjoyable today!

  9. I have only read Tess of the d'Urbervilles and I count it among my favorite books, so I certainly need to read more Hardy. I own this book too!

  10. @Anne: Wasn't he just fabu? The original tall, dark, and quiet, I think! ;)

    @Rhapsody: I can SO see Julie Christie rocking Bathsheba -- I will look for that version!

    @Carrie: I'm with you -- I want to read more classics, too -- if you make a list for next year let me know in case something catches my fancy. I'd recommend this for inclusion -- so.good.!

    @Lola: Everyone tells me to prepare to be miserable when I read Tess (I haven't read it yet) -- but I can't wait!

  11. I thought I had read this one but after reading your review, I clearly haven't! There are so many classics that I feel I must read and this is one of them.

  12. Wonderful, wonderful review! I agree with Teresa, as Hardy is probably one of my most favorite novelists too. I have read all of his novels (14 of 'em), his short stories, and his astoundingly brilliant poetry (nearly 1,000 poems!). "Far from the Madding Crowd" is certainly one of his better novels, but I think my faves are "The Return of the Native," "Tess of the d'Urbervilles," "The Woodlanders," and his magnum opus "Jude the Obscure." I think the thing I really love about Hardy is the extraordinary female characters that each of his novels contain. These aren't your typical women of Victorian literature. Again, superb review, and I'm so glad that you enjoyed your foray into Hardy's novels! Cheers! Chris

  13. Eep - I too always thought this was called Farm From the maddening Crowds. I have yet to read any Hardy, but it's about time I change that. I'll probably start with Tess of the d'Urbervilles or Jude the Obscure, but it's good to hear this is a good one too. The above comment about how his heroines are atypical for Victorian literature makes me want to get to him sooner rather than later.

  14. I loved this review so much that in between reading it and leaving my comment, I went over to Amazon and downloaded the book for myself! It sounds like Hardy really gets it right with this book, and though I have not read anything by him before, I think I will start with this one. I also agree with Nymeth. I have always thought the title was Far From the Maddening Crowds! Great review here today!

  15. I haven't read this one but I remember loving Tess of the d'Urbervilles - your review has made me want to read this very soon.

  16. It's definitely time for me to read more Hardy. Excellent review!

  17. Okay, Audra, I have to read this. I've been all over the English countryside where this takes place and why I haven't read it is a mystery to me, me of the Brit blood and BBC addiction. Bloody good review!

  18. Why have I never read this? I love classic, I love the Victorian era, I love the English countryside... This must be rectified soon! Thanks for a great review!

  19. I feel so ashamed that I have never read anything by Thomas Hardy. I used to consider myself a lover of the Classics, but I hardly read them anymore, which is a shame. I have tried to read this one a few times, but I always stop after a few pages in because I just can't focus! I am sure I would enjoy it if I could just get into it!

  20. I confuse madding and maddening TOO! I've never read anything by Hardy, but I would like to read this one. You make it sound wonderful. So glad you loved it!

  21. I've never read anything by Hardy but it looks like I should!

  22. I think you're going to inspire a Hardy revival, Audra! He's an author I've always meant to read, and now that you've endorsed him so highly, I'm definitely going to get on it!