As the title indicates, Thomas Hardy’s first major novel has an isolated setting: rural, remote from the world, and mainly centered upon Upper Weatherbury Farm in Wessex. Unlike that in Under the Greenwood Tree(1872), however, this secluded environment at times gives way to the town: the busy corn exchange in Casterbridge, the King’s Arms Hotel, the Casterbridge workhouse, the cities of Bath and Budmouth, and the lively Buck’s Head Inn on the Casterbridge Road.
Nevertheless, the setting has a timeless quality, accentuated by the round of seasonal activities and the continuity of agricultural life. Major scenes in the novel focus around the sheep shearing, saving of hayricks in the storm, spring sheep washing, and the autumn sheep fair at Greenhill. Nature here, however, is not merely background or a constant factor informing characters’ actions and proclivities; it is more powerful, a force vast and indifferent to man’s thoughts and actions. This is the nature that in Hardy’s later novels evolves into inexorable fate, before which the individual is helpless and in opposing which he or she comes to destruction. The main characters in this novel who survive are those who succeed in adjusting themselves to nature’s laws and often hostile dominance: Gabriel Oak and Bathsheba Everdene.
Far from the Madding Crowd exhibits confident power throughout in its fully developed characters, the imperceptible movements in the various conflicts involving Bathsheba and her three lovers, and in the way these conflicts evolve from their varied personalities. The combination of the four personalities furnishes the most explosive potential for melodramatic situation: Bathsheba’s capriciousness and attractiveness to men; Oak’s stolid, patient, unswerving loyalty and love for her; Boldwood’s composite character with its “enormous antagonistic forces” and “wild capabilities”; Sergeant Troy’s impulsiveness, his living only for the present moment, dashing but totally irresponsible; and the simple nature of Fanny, unaffected and victimized. Interactions of these intimately associated characters, in an almost closed environment, engender passionate and at times almost unbelievable conflicts.
Further complicating the clashes and intricate relationships among these four are the unforeseen, relentless accidents of nature: the initial loss of Oak’s sheep, the heavy storm with water that ruins Troy’s flowers on Fanny’s grave and...
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