Far from the Madding Crowd

Far from the Madding Crowd

Far from the Madding Crowd was published as a monthly serial in Cornhill Magazine, in 1874, before coming out in book form in the November of that same year.

The novel conveys a vivid sense of a vanishing tradition of country life and work.  The heroine, Bathsheba Everdene, has at an early age to take charge of a farm inherited from an uncle.  Being forceful and independent she makes a success of her new role, despite her inexperience.  She is soon to be distracted, however, by the attentions of three contrasting suitors.  Gabriel Oak had earlier proposed to her and been refused, when he was a rising sheep-farmer. Having lost his entire flock through accident he has by chance come to work for her as a shepherd.  He proves a steady and devoted admirer.   Boldwood, a wealthy  middle-aged farmer, finds himself obsessed with Bathsheba after she has sent him a valentine card on a mischievous whim.  Last on the scene comes Sergeant Troy, a dashing soldier and a carefree lady-killer.  In broad outline each of the resulting relationships has the simplicity of a folk-ballad; but as in virtually all his fiction Hardy is concerned with minute shifts and surges and idiosyncrasies in the psychology of love.

Fare from the Madding Crowd should be read in the World’s Classics edition, because it restores a number of interesting passages which were deleted from the Cornhill version at the suggestion of Leslie Stephen.

The work marked a turning-point in Hardy’s literary career.  His previous novels, Desperate Remedies, Under the Greenwood Tree and A Pair of Blue Eyes, had attracted some admiring attention, but he was still by no means established as an author.  It was a great step forward for him to be invited to contribute to the distinguished Cornhill Magazine, edited by Leslie Stephen.  Far from the Madding Crowd won him a wider readership, and was well received by the critics.  For the first time he found his work fashionable.  His improving financial situation enabled him to marry Emma Gifford, in the September of 1874, and to give up his architectural career to concentrate on making a living as a writer.  Arguably, however, the novel did him one disservice in that it misleadingly tended to identify him as a naive writer of pastoral stories.  A Pair of Blue Eyes should have shown conclusively that he was in fact already a sophisticated experimentalist.  As he observes in the Life ‘he had not the slightest intention of writing for ever about sheepfarming, as the reading public was apparently expecting him to do…’ 

It was in Far from the Madding Crowd that Hardy first used ‘Wessex’ as a name for the area in which his story was set.  Later he was to develop the idea and adapt all his novels to it, tantalising his readers with an approximate match between fictitious towns, areas and monuments and their real-life counterparts.  The concept, to be expressed in the ambiguous map prefixed to all his novels, was well suited to the creation of what he called ‘a partly real, partly dream-country’.  It accommodated the ‘reality’ of his scrupulously authentic record of topography, old customs and agricultural practices, while allowing him to experiment with melodrama and scenes that were metaphorically expressive.    

Far from the Madding Crowd  has remained one of Hardy’s most popular novels.  A variety of adaptations have helped to keep the work in the public eye.  It has been made into both a play and an opera.  John Schlesinger directed a strongly-cast filmed version, in 1967.  Posy Simmonds borrowed from Hardy’s story when shaping her graphic novel Tamara Drewe, which was then filmed in its own right.  In 1998 there was a notable TV serialisation.  

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