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
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 Books, E-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.