Much of the plot of Far from the Madding Crowd depends on unrequited love—love by one person for another that is not mutual in that the other person does not feel love in return. The novel is driven, from the first few chapters, by Gabriel Oak’s love for Bathsheba. Once he has lost his farm, he is free to wander anywhere in search of work, but he heads to Weatherbury because it is in the direction that Bathsheba has gone. This move leads to Oak’s employment at Bathsheba’s farm, where he patiently consoles her in her troubles and supports her in tending the farm, with no sign he will ever have his love returned.
Oak’s feelings for Bathsheba parallel Boldwood’s feelings for Bathsheba. Given the fact that Bathsheba sends Boldwood a provocative valentine, sealed with the strong message “Marry Me,” Boldwood has good reason to believe she might love him. On the other hand, she tries to extinguish any such belief, telling Boldwood repeatedly she will not marry him. Unlike Oak, who is willing to take Bathsheba at her word, Boldwood looks for the slightest sign in what she says that there may be a chance she may change her mind. Since she is not strong or direct in her refusal of him, there is always room for him to believe that she is softening.
Bathsheba herself suffers a similar unrequited love for Sergeant Troy. She feels he is mistreating her once they are married, but she cannot help herself because she loves him so much. He, on the other hand, is not capable of a stable love relationship. When they argue over the fact that he is lying about the trip he plans to take to see Fanny, and Bathsheba regrets how much she used to love him, Troy can only mutter, “I can’t help how things fall out . . . upon my heart, women will be the death of me.” When he is thought to have drowned, though, Bathsheba still thinks enough of him to go on waiting, to see if he will come back.
This novel focuses on the way that catastrophe can occur at any time, threatening to change lives. The most obvious example occurs when Oak’s flock of sheep is destroyed by an...
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