Far from the Madding Crowd

by Thomas Hardy

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What is revealed by studying the scene where Bathsheba hives the bees in Far from the Madding Crowd by Thomas Hardy? 

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Chapter 27, “Hiving the Bees,” further establishes the beginnings of a relationship between Bathsheba and Sergeant Frank Troy by hinting at their romantic attraction for one another. This idea is made clear by the behavior of the characters and described similarities between them and the bees. 

The chapter begins by describing why the bees are difficult to capture: though “sometimes throughout a whole season all the swarms would alight on the lowest attainable bough” they sometimes would “make straight off to the upper-most member of some tall, gaunt costard, or quarrenden, and there defy all invaders who did not come armed with ladders and staves to take them. This was the case at present.” Since the bees are staying only at the highest branches of the apple trees, which require more effort from anyone attempting to capture them, they are harder to get. If we compare this behavior to Bathsheba, we can see similarities in her description: when she decides to retrieve the bees, she “made herself impregnable with armour of leather gloves, straw hat, and large gauze veil -- once green but now faded to snuff colour -- and ascended a dozen rungs of the ladder.” Bathsheba dons “armor” and climbs high on the ladder, which makes it difficult for anyone to help her. Just as the bees fight against “invaders,” Bathsheba is also “armored.” The similar descriptions of both the bees and Bathsheba show they are about to battle each other, but such descriptions also imply that anyone interested in capturing either the bees or her will have to put forth a lot of effort, something which Troy is prepared to do as a solider and because of his romantic interest in Bathsheba.  

As Troy begins assisting Bathsheba with capturing the bees, she takes careful precautions regarding her outfit and presentation; however, it is clear that these are for Troy’s benefit and not for protection from the bees. When he first arrives, Bathsheba drops the hive and “pulled the skirt of her dress tightly round her ankles in a tremendous flurry …” Her action mimics that of a bee swarm, behaving in a “tremendous flurry,” not because she is being stung but instead because she is aware that Troy sees her. Later in the passage, Troy is above her knocking bees toward the ground while “she made use of an unobserved minute whilst his attention was absorbed in the operation to arrange her plumes a little.” If she needed to rearrange her clothes because she was being stung, it seems likely that she would do so immediately and not wait for “an unobserved moment.” Thus, it is more likely that she wants to look good for Troy when he finishes with the bees and he focuses his attention on her.

Upon capturing the bees, Troy says that “‘holding up this hive makes one’s arm ache worse than a week of sword-exercise.’” This dialogue continues the battle language from earlier in the chapter to suggest that Troy has been victorious in his conquering of the bees. Since we know from the reading that Bathsheba behaves similar to the bees, Troy’s description suggests that he will also have luck conquering her heart -- especially since this creates the opportunity for the romantic scene in the next chapter.

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