Places Discussed (Cyclopedia of Literary Places)
Wessex. Imaginary English county in which this and other novels by Hardy are set. Wessex corresponds with the real county of Dorset in southwest England. More specifically, the story centers round the village of Weatherbury, events extending to the nearby town of Casterbridge, seven miles away.
Weatherbury. Typical English farming village in Wessex (modeled on Dorset’s Puddletown or Lower Longpuddle). The town’s parish church, in the graveyard of which Fanny and Troy are buried, dates from the fourteenth century. It has a tower in which are fixed the village clock and a number of grotesque gargoyle waterspouts. In front of it, a primitive form of baseball is played by the villagers. Buck’s Head Inn is the main village inn, but the “chorus of yokels” prefer to gather at Warren’s Malt-house, where malt is made for brewing, and which becomes a sort of social club. The village has several small stores. It lies in a valley that stretches eastward toward Shottover.
Weatherbury Upper Farm
Weatherbury Upper Farm. Farm that Bathsheba Everdene inherits from her uncle. It is, as is typical of the area, a mixed farm, raising sheep, cattle, wheat, and barley. Its farmhouse was once the manor of a small estate, so it is spacious, with a stone front, columnar chimneys, and spiral staircases of oak. It has a number of out-buildings, many quite old, such as the Shearing...
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Critics often point out that Hardy created Wessex, the imaginary setting of many of his novels and poems, to resemble Dorset, located along the southern coast of England. His use of the word “Wessex” first appears in Far from the Madding Crowd.
There actually was a historical use of the word “Wessex”: it was a kingdom in southern England, dating back to the invasion of the Saxons in 494 A.D. Though it underwent changes over the course of centuries, its most permanent configuration approximated that of the modern counties of Hampshire, Dorset, Wiltshire, and Somerset. It was in this place that King Arthur held domain over the Knights of the Roundtable, giving the area an important historical distinction. By 927, though, this kingdom had been absorbed into the greater polity of England.
By the nineteenth century the name “Wessex” had receded far into history. The use of this word for the area serves as a reference to the ancient myths and customs still practiced in rural municipalities across southern England in Hardy’s time, but it is also an indicator that Hardy was not writing an exact history of any particular location. Still, the similarities between Dorchester and Wessex are so pronounced that whole books have been written tracing the connections of the fictitious county to specific locations in the Southwest England.
In the late nineteenth century, country life...
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Realism and Romanticism Far from the Madding Crowd is considered by some to be a solid example of realism, a literary style that arose in Europe in the last half of the nineteenth century. The early half of the century was dominated by romanticism, which encouraged writers to emphasize their imaginations. Romantic writers, as a rule, focused on individual expression, and thus produced works that often featured elements of the supernatural and almost always showed the world as a projection of the individual’s emotions. In response to the excesses of romanticism, which some writers felt took literary works too far from the way that most people actually experience the world, realistic fiction began in the 1840s in works by writers such as Gustav Flaubert and George Eliot. Because romantic writers often presented the world as being changeable by sheer willpower and, therefore, were inclined toward happy endings, realistic writers tended to show the harsher aspects of life. In Far from the Madding Crowd, the realistic world view is represented most clearly in the way Oak’s flock of sheep die, suddenly and senselessly. It is also presented in the way that Hardy exposes the social standards of his time by making Fanny Robin not only a jilted woman but also pregnant out of wedlock. On the other hand, there are many romantic elements in the book. The way that the thunderstorm in chapter 37 mirrors the emotional turmoil of Gabriel and Bathsheba is a standard...
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Compare and Contrast
1870s: England begins its shift from a farming economy to an industrial economy, as foreign imported meat and produce drive down farm wages. Over the next few decades, the population shifts from rural to urban settings at an unprecedented rate.
Today: Britain has one of the world’s most sophisticated industrial economies. Only about two-fifths of the land is usable for farming, and the country is only about 4 percent forested.
1870s: A woman carrying a child out of wedlock would be shamed into traveling on her own in poverty rather than returning to her own town and facing disgrace before her friends and neighbors.
Today: The social stigma against unmarried women is greatly diminished as the practice has become more common throughout the past three decades.
1870s: It is considered highly unusual for a lone woman like Bathsheba to run a farm by herself. Most women who have come by farms through inheritance rely on bailiffs to tend to day-to-day operations.
Today: A lone woman running a farm would be notable today primarily because a majority of farms are owned and run by corporations.
1870s: A piano in the house is the mark of affluence for a woman living on a farm. Gabriel Oak promises Bathsheba that, if she marries him, she will have one “in a year or two.”
Today: Full-sized pianos are again a sign of luxury; electric...
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Topics for Further Study
Research modern methods of raising sheep and make a chart comparing them to the practices described in the novel.
Find a recording of pastoral flute music, like the music that Gabriel Oak might have played, and present it to your class with an explanation of its history.
Hardy eventually quit writing novels because of public criticism of the sexuality displayed in his books. Try to imagine how this story would have gone if Fanny Robin had not been carrying Sergeant Troy’s baby when she died. Would Troy have been able to stay with Bathsheba after Fanny’s death, and if so, where would their relationship have gone? Write a short play featuring their dialog after Fanny’s funeral.
Some readers are surprised to find that people sent valentines to each other in the 1870s. Research the history of Valentine’s Day, and present the different customs associated with it throughout the ages.
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An abridged audio edition of Far from the Madding Crowd is available from Blackstone Audiobooks. Released in 1984, it was read by Jill Masters and is available on both cassette and compact disc.
Another audiocassette version, read by Hugh Rose and Kate Young, was released in 1980 by Century Publishing of Houston, Texas.
An unabridged audio version, in cassette and compact disc form, was released in 1998 by The Audio Partners. It is read by Stephen Thorne.
A big-screen blockbuster adaptation of this book was made in 1967, with an all-star cast including Julie Christie, Alan Bates, Terence Stamp, and Peter Finch. It was directed by John Schlesinger. Produced by Warner, it is available on Warner Home Video.
A more recent film version, done for public television’s Masterpiece Theatre series, stars Paloma Baeza as Bathsheba Everdene, Nathaniel Parker as Gabriel Oak, and Jonathan Firth as Frank Troy. Directed by Nicholas Renton, it was released on videocassette by Anchor Bay Entertainment in 1998.
An unusual adaptation of this novel of lust and passion was the one done by London’s SNAP People’s Theatre Trust, adjusting the story of Bathsheba Everdene for a children’s audience. A videotape of this production was released by Globalstage in 1998. It is recommended for audiences aged 12 and up.
Readers can find hundreds of online links to articles about this novel and about Hardy himself at...
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What Do I Read Next?
Far from the Madding Crowd was the first of Hardy’s Wessex novels to draw serious critical attention. While similarities exist throughout all of his novels, readers who like Bathsheba Everdene will probably appreciate Eustacia Vye, the heroine of Hardy’s next novel The Return of the Native (1878).
When Far from the Madding Crowd was first published, it was rumored to be the work of George Eliot (pseudonym for Mary Ann Evans). Eliot’s novel Middlemarch, first published in 1872, is considered by many to be her masterpiece.
Emphasis is often placed on the connection between Hardy’s characters and the setting of his novels. One scholarly work that examines the subject closely is Noorul Hasan’s Thomas Hardy: The Sociological Imagination (1982). Hasan’s work has enough depth to dedicate an entire chapter to Far from the Madding Crowd and point out nuances that a modern reader might not at first appreciate.
One of the best and most detailed biographies of Thomas Hardy is Martin Seymour-Smith’s Hardy (1994), considered by many to be the most authoritative book on the author’s life.
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Bibliography and Further Reading
Carpenter, Richard, “Thomas Hardy Revisited,” in Thomas Hardy, Twayne’s English Author Series, No. 13, Twayne Publishers, 1964, pp. 15–16.
Casagrande, Peter J., “A New View of Bathsheba Everdene,” in Critical Approaches to the Fiction of Thomas Hardy, edited by Dale Kramer, Barnes & Noble Books, 1979, pp. 51–53.
Kramer, Dale, “Thomas Hardy, Then to Now,” in Critical Essays on Thomas Hardy: The Novels, edited by Dale Kramer, G. K. Hall, 1990, pp. 2–3.
Lock, Charles, “Hardy and the Nature of Fiction” in Thomas Hardy, St. Martin’s Press, 1992, pp. 84–138. This chapter of Lock’s study of Hardy focuses on Hardy’s artistic theory, drawn from his fiction and other writings.
Ray, Martin, The Life and Work of Thomas Hardy: Allusions and Annotations, Thomas Hardy Association, 2003, CD-ROM. Hardy’s works in general, and this novel in particular, are packed with references to folk songs and other writers. This work catalogs the exact sources for references to Shelley, Wordsworth, Milton, Tennyson, Swinburne, Byron, and Keats, along with Shakespeare and the Bible.
Stewart, J. I. M., Thomas Hardy: A Critical Biography, Longman, 1971. Stewart gives detailed background information for each of the major novels.
Zabel, Morton Dauwen, “Hardy in Defense of His Art: The Aesthetic of...
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Bibliography (Cyclopedia of Literary Characters, Revised Third Edition)
Buckler, William. The Victorian Imagination: Essays in Aesthetic Exploration. New York: New York University Press, 1980. Explores the politics and society of Victorian England as it affects the formal elements (plot, character construction, imagery) and the political and social aspects (gender, class, rural/urban relations) of Hardy’s work; specifically addresses Far from the Madding Crowd.
Bullen, J. B. The Expressive Eye: Fiction and Perception in the Work of Thomas Hardy. Oxford, England: Clarendon Press, 1987. Distinguishes Hardy from other writers of the period by examining his painterly eye and visual accuracy; discussion of Hardy’s descriptions of landscapes.
Milligate, Michael. Thomas Hardy: His Career as a Novelist. London: Bodley Head, 1971. A full-length study of Hardy’s life and his concerns, attitudes, values and problems as they affected his writing and its reception. Offers a fair perspective on Hardy’s personal and artistic development.
Shires, Linda M. “Narrative, Gender, and Power in Far from the Madding Crowd.” Novel 24, no. 2 (Winter, 1991): 162-178. Examines the character of Bathsheba Everdene and her feminine power over Oak, Boldwood, and Troy. A feminist analysis that points out Hardy’s portrayal of Bathsheba is unusual, in contrast to other...
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