In December 1872, having already published several moderately successful novels, Thomas Hardy was approached by the editor of Cornhill, a respected literary magazine, to write a story to run in serial form. The resulting book, Far from the Madding Crowd, was a popular attraction for the magazine and Hardy’s first critical success. It was first published in serial form in Cornhill between January and December 1874, and then published the same year in London in book form. Hardy had already published several novels, but this was the first of the five novels that would assure his place in the annals of literature.
The plot of Far from the Madding Crowd concerns a young woman, Bathsheba Everdene, and the three men in her life: one is a poor sheep farmer who loses his flock in a tragedy and ends up working as an employee on Bathsheba’s farm; one is the respectable, boring owner of a neighboring farm who takes Bathsheba’s flirtations too seriously; and the third is a dashing army sergeant who treats her like just another of his conquests. In chronicling their hopes, plans, and disappointments, Hardy presents to readers a clear example of Victorian romanticism. At the same time, his understanding of the lives of farmers and ranchers in rural England makes him a forerunner to the realistic tradition in literature.
Wessex, the location for Far from the Madding Crowd, is an imaginary English county that Hardy colored with fine details throughout the course of his writing career. It is similar to Dorset, where Hardy lived most of his life, but its fictitious nature gave the author freedom to describe the landscape at will. Hardy wrote Far from the Madding Crowd in the same Dorset cottage in which he was born and which his grandfather had built in 1800. Though fictional, the residents of Wessex—farmers, land owners, laborers, servants, and the like—are considered true representations of people living at the time the novel was published.