This is the first of Hardy’s Wessex novels, set in the timeless world of 19th century rural England. Central to Hardy’s ironic tale of unrequited love are the characters of Bathsheba Everdene and Gabriel Oak. An honest shepherd and farm steward, Oak shows great loyalty and patience in his love for the beautiful and vivacious Bathsheba.
Farmer Oak unexpectedly meets Bathsheba on a country road and immediately falls in love with her. His marriage proposal rejected, he is forced to hire himself out for work after his sheep are killed in a freak accident. After helping to extinguish a fire at a nearby farm, he is offered a position at Weatherby Farm, which he discovers is owned by Bathsheda. Now he has become her hired man. A stubborn and impulsive young woman, she flirts with William Boldwood, a neighboring landowner, who soon falls in love with her. Yet Bathsheba is most attracted to Sergeant Troy, a dashing young soldier who has already seduced a young milkmaid named Fanny Robin. Bathsheba marries Troy against Oak’s advice.
Bathsheba and Troy later separate when she learns of Fanny’s death in childbirth, and Troy disappears and is reported drowned, but he is later murdered by Boldwood when he unexpectedly returns to his wife. All this time the long-suffering Oak has remained loyal to Bathsheba, who fails to appreciate his support.
Hardy dramatizes the capriciousness of a woman’s love and its disastrous consequences for herself and others. His characters are vivid types drawn directly from English rural life, and his use of the natural world deepens this melodramatic tale of persevering love.
In this novel, the reader will find the blend of romance, pathos, irony, coincidence, and regionalism that distinguishes much of Hardy’s fiction. The rivalry among Bathsheba’s three suitors has a timeless and elemental quality about it, especially in the faithfulness of Gabriel Oak, who consistently serves his mistress and remains loyal to her despite her disdain.
Buckler, William. The Victorian Imagination: Essays in Aesthetic Exploration. New York: New York University Press, 1980. Explores the politics and society of Victorian England as it affects the formal elements (plot, character construction, imagery) and the political and social aspects (gender, class, rural/urban relations) of Hardy’s work; specifically addresses Far from the Madding Crowd.
Bullen, J. B. The Expressive Eye: Fiction and Perception in the Work of Thomas Hardy. Oxford, England: Clarendon Press, 1987. Distinguishes Hardy from other writers of the period by examining his painterly eye and visual accuracy; discussion of Hardy’s descriptions of landscapes.
Milligate, Michael. Thomas Hardy: His Career as a Novelist. London: Bodley Head, 1971. A full-length study of Hardy’s life and his concerns, attitudes, values and problems as they affected his writing and its reception. Offers a fair perspective on Hardy’s personal and artistic development.
Shires, Linda M. “Narrative, Gender, and Power in Far from the Madding Crowd.” Novel 24, no. 2 (Winter, 1991): 162-178. Examines the character of Bathsheba Everdene and her feminine power over Oak, Boldwood, and Troy. A feminist analysis that points out Hardy’s portrayal of Bathsheba is unusual, in contrast to other heroines such as Eustacia Vye and Tess Durbeyfield.
Swann, Charles. “Far from the Madding Crowd: How Good a Shepherd Is Gabriel Oak?” Notes and Queries 39, no. 2 (June, 1992): 189-201. Analyzes Gabriel Oak as a character and as a prototype of a Wessex shepherd; addresses Hardy’s interpretation of the rural world.