What are the distinctive features of the language used in Far From the Madding Crowd?

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Probably the first thing a modern reader would notice about Hardy's language in Far from the Madding Crowd is what appears to be its heavily florid style. In this, he's no different from most writers of the Victorian period. He seems to use far more words and more "elevated" turns of phrase, than a writer of our time (or even of about fifty years after this novel) would.

His descriptions of the countryside in Wessex (the usual fictional setting of his novels in southwest England)—the clothing worn, the farm animals, and so on—are detailed and leave little to the imagination. At the same time, there is a precision and clarity to the language. In Hardy we don't find the intricate, overextended sentences that characterize some of his contemporaries, like Henry James. Unlike in James's and (a few decades later) Joseph Conrad's work, there is never any obscurity or seemingly deliberate evasiveness in the meanings expressed by Hardy's prose.

Much of his language is evidently calculated to convey the features of rural life to his readers (mostly the urban and small-town middle class of his time) who would probably be basically unfamiliar with it. At the same time, there is a reticence in his style when dealing with sexual matters that contrasts with Continental European writers of the era, such as Zola and Tolstoy. In this, Hardy is no different from other English and American writers of the period.

It's interesting to point out the differences between the writing in Far from the Madding Crowd and other famous novels by Hardy. In my view, the style of The Mayor of Casterbridge, for instance (perhaps because it's a later work) is slightly more streamlined and establishes the settings more directly and quickly than in Far from the Madding Crowd.

Yet the thematic goals of the language in all his novels are the same. Hardy writes with a gravity that accords with the somber messages he puts forth. There is little humor in his work, and the florid style is (perhaps paradoxically) suited to establishing his typically melancholy atmosphere.

We also need to keep in mind that, stylistically, English prose (and that of the other European languages) was going through changes during this period, and within a few decades would begin to approach the more concise, scaled-down qualities that typify modern fiction. Even a novel such as Oscar Wilde's The Picture of Dorian Gray, written only fifteen years later than Far from the Madding Crowd, has a more concise and modern feel to it, despite dealing with themes as that are as dark as those that are in Hardy's rural tales.

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