Gabriel Oak is a small-scale farmer, but his honesty, integrity, and ability win him the respect of all of his neighbors. When he hears that a young woman named Bathsheba Everdene has moved into the neighborhood, he goes out of his way to see her and falls immediately in love. Gabriel is the kind of man who looks only once to know that he has found the right woman. After seeing her only a few times, he goes to her aunt, for whom Bathsheba works, and asks for the girl’s hand in marriage. Although he is refused, he feels that it is the relative, not Bathsheba, who denies him.
A short time later, Gabriel’s sheepdog becomes excited and chases his flock of sheep over a cliff, killing them all. Ruined, Gabriel gives up his farm and goes elsewhere to find work. On his way across the country, he passes a burning barn and runs to aid the men fighting the flames. After the fire is put out, the owner of Weatherbury Farm arrives, and it is suggested that Gabriel be hired as shepherd in return for the fine work he did. To his surprise, the owner of the farm is Bathsheba, who recently inherited the place from her uncle. Gabriel becomes her shepherd. He is struck by the change in their positions in such a short while. Now Bathsheba is the landowner, and Gabriel is the servant.
On his way to his new quarters, Gabriel meets a girl standing in the woods. She speaks to him and asks him not to say that he saw her, and he promises to keep silent. The next morning while working at his new job, he hears that Fanny Robin, one of Bathsheba’s maids, disappeared, and he rightly guesses that Fanny is the girl he met. It is suspected that she went off to meet a soldier who was stationed in the area a short time before. This suspicion is correct. Fanny went to find Sergeant Troy at his new station, for he promised to marry her if she came to him. A date is set for the wedding, but Fanny goes to the wrong church. When she finally finds Troy, he refuses to make arrangements for a marriage a second time.
Bathsheba is a good manager, and Weatherbury Farm prospers; but she has her caprices. One of these is to send an anonymous valentine to William Boldwood, a conservative, serious man who is her neighbor. Boldwood is upset by the valentine, especially after he learns that Gabriel recognized Bathsheba’s handwriting. The more Boldwood sees of Bathsheba, however, the more deeply he falls in love with her. One day during the sheep washing, he asks her to marry him, but she refuses his proposal. Nevertheless, Gabriel and the rest of the workers feel sure that she will eventually marry Boldwood.
About that time, Sergeant Troy returns to the neighborhood. Bathsheba is attracted to him at once. Gabriel knows enough of Troy’s character to know that he is not the man for Bathsheba, and he tells her so. Not knowing the story of Fanny, Bathsheba is furious at Gabriel’s presumption. She and Troy are married soon afterward, and the former Sergeant becomes the master of Weatherbury Farm. With Troy running the farm, things do not go well. Gabriel is forced to do most of the work of overseeing, and often he is compelled to correct the mistakes Troy makes. Troy gambles and drinks and causes Bathsheba much unhappiness. Gabriel and Bathsheba are alternately friendly and unfriendly. One day Troy and Bathsheba, riding in a horse cart, pass a young woman walking down the road. Troy stops the cart and goes to talk to her. The woman is Fanny, who is feeble and ill. Troy tells her to go on to the next town and wait there for him to come and give her money. As soon as they arrive home, Troy asks Bathsheba for some money. She gives it to him after a quarrel.
Fanny goes on to Casterbridge, but she is so weak and ill when she arrives there that she dies shortly afterward. When news of her death reaches Weatherbury Farm, Bathsheba, unaware that Troy was the girl’s lover, sends a cart to bring the body to the farm for burial. When the body arrives, Gabriel sees scrawled on the coffin...
(The entire section is 2,497 words.)