The plot of Far From the Madding Crowd is constructed on surprising, sometimes melodramatic plot twists, dramatic irony, and a strong female protagonist.
Surprising plot twists include the dramatic stampede of the up-and-coming Gabriel Oak's flock of sheep over the side of a cliff. This shocking occurrence ruins him financially, and he is forced to work as a humble shepherd for Bathsheba Everdene, the woman he once asked to marry him.
Another surprising plot twist is Bathsheba's idle and impulsive decision to send the serious and older Mr. Boldwood a teasing Valentine that says, "Marry Me." She thinks of it as a joke and regrets her act almost immediately, but it sets in motion Boldwood's dogged pursuit of her hand in marriage. Throughout the novel, these random-seeming plot twists keep the action moving forward in surprising ways, keeping the audience guessing what will happen next.
Dramatic irony is when the reader or audience knows something the characters in the novel don't. For example, most of the characters don't know, as the reader does, that Gabriel is in love with Bathsheba. And while the characters in the novel think Troy has been drowned, the reader knows this is not true. We feel a certain edge-of-the-seat dread that, for example, Bathsheba will remarry while Troy is still alive.
Bathsheba is the strong female character about whom the plot revolves. Unlike the usual retiring Victorian heroine, this woman stands up for herself and runs her own farm with admirable success, and yet, in the realm of love, she makes disastrous decisions, such as marrying Troy. It takes her far too long to realize that Gabriel is the right man for her. We feel for her and also never know what she will do next.
The title of this work is taken from Thomas Gray's "Elegy Written in a Country Courtyard," a poem that celebrates the simple lives of unknown rural people. The dramatic plot of Hardy's novel also celebrates the lives of obscure rural folk and shows there is more drama in these lives than we might suspect.