How much is fate the main driver of events in Far from the Madding Crowd, rather than character, for instance?

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julierunacres eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Hardy's novels frequently show the influence of a malevolent, or  indifferent, fate, and this is the source of much of their tragic effect. In Far from the Madding Crowd, we see a number of chance events, many giving rise to suffering, but we also see human action that can ameliorate or even avert catastrophe.

The loss of Gabriel Oak's sheep is the result of a coming together of different circumstances: an inexperienced sheepdog, a weakened fence, and a chalk pit close by his land. It is a coincidence that epitomises a cruel fate. However, when Bathsheba sends the 'fateful' Valentine to Boldwood, she 'tempts fate' by her game with Liddy and the Bible. Chance here is given an opening through human folly. Fanny, meanwhile, fails to be a bride through mistakenly turning up at the wrong church. After her death, a remorseful Troy has his efforts to tend her grave destroyed by the cruel accident of a water spout disgorging storm rains on to the newly-planted bulbs.  

Gabriel's actions and his loyalty to Bathsheba present an opposing motif in which catastrophe brought on by fate can be averted. When she has sacked him from the farm, he returns to save her flock of bloated sheep from certain demise. Later, his swift action prevents the loss of the entire harvest in the storm, while her husband sleeps drunkenly in the barn.

So, Hardy does present malign destiny in the novel. But he also recognises the redeeming qualities of human labour.

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Far from the Madding Crowd

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