Far From the Madding Crowd Study Day
Saturday 13th April 2019
The Corn Exchange, High Street East,
Dorchester, Dorset, DT1 1HF
In Conjunction with the University of Exeter
and the British Association for Victorian Studies
Today we celebrated the 145th anniversary of the publication Far From the Madding Crowd, the novel whose success allowed Hardy to give up architecture and devote himself full time to writing. It also provided the income for him to finally be able to marry Emma Gifford after a long-distance courtship of four years. In December 1874 The Spectator surmised that 'either George Eliot had written it, or she had found her match'. Hardy's delineation of character was divisive from the start, R.H. Hutton declared Sargent Troy and Farmer Boldwood to be 'conceived and executed with very great power'; while Henry James memorably stated that 'the only things we believe in are the sheep and the dogs'. In his 1914 'Study of Thomas Hardy' D.H. Lawrence summed up the novel thus: The unruly Bathsheba, almost pledged to Farmer Boldwood, a ravingly passionate, middle- aged bachelor pretendant, who has suddenly started in mad pursuit of some unreal conception of woman, personified in Bathsheba, lightly runs off and marries Sergeant Troy, an illegitimate aristocrat, unscrupulous and yet sensitive in taking his pleasures. She loves Troy, he does not love her. All the time she is loved faithfully and persistently by the good Gabriel, who is like a dog that watches the bone and bides the time. Sergeant Troy treats Bathsheba badly, never loves her, though he is the only man in the book who knows anything about her. Her pride helps her to recover. Troy is killed by Boldwood; exit the unscrupulous, but discriminative, almost cynical young soldier, and the middle-aged pursuer of the Fata Morgana; enter the good, steady Gabriel, who marries Bathsheba because he will make her a good husband.
A tale of sexual hypocrisy, female emancipation and male insanity, it also contains passages of sparkling wit and humour, the rustics and the rural countryside being 'painted with the pen of a considerable artist' according to one contemporary critic. The Study Day provided us with the opportunity to hear about movie adaptations of the novel, architecture, agricultural labourer strikes, gurgoyles and a sympathetic response to the little written about Fanny Robin, among many other things. And we also had the pleasure of seeing a sneak preview by the New Hardy Players of their dramatization of the story, a taster of what to look forward to when they perform in the summer.
KEYNOTE – Dr Trish Ferguson, 'The Gurgoyle: Its Doings'
According to an article in the Guardian in 2007 Far From the Madding Crowd is the tenth greatest love story of all time, though it is a modified pastoral mixed with elegy. Supernatural machinery comes into conflict with fate and character in a tale that still resonates with modern readers. The many instances of abjection and borders are constant reminders of life and death, though Nature's beauty quite often masks the abjection in many scenes. The novel was written after the death by suicide of Hardy's close friend and mentor Horace Moule, images of which reverberate throughout most of Hardy's works. No matter how abject the scene Hardy is describing, it is always clothed in the pastoral. Indeed the coffin scene in the chapter 'Fanny's Revenge' is actually a work of art, a portrait in words. Sergeant Troy is portrayed as a 'continental grotesque' in the novel, much like the church gargoyles under which he plants a plethora of bulbs on Fanny's grave in a futile attempt at showing remorse for his previous actions. This is a consciously intertextual novel, a negotiation of poetic genres containing many contrasting views on death in which Hardy is developing his response to the death drive. When serialized in the Cornhill by Leslie Stephen it was experienced by readers in real-time, the months in the novel corresponding with the months of the year that each number of the journal was released.
PLENARY – Professor Paul Niemeyer, 'What we see him: Projections of Manliness in two Film Adaptations of Far From the Madding Crowd'
The novel appeared at a time (1874) when shifts in gender roles were apparent; likewise, the film adaptations from 1967 (directed by John Schlesinger) and 2015 (directed by Thomas Vinterberg) reflect the gender issues of the times in which they were made. The two films both show the 'young' lovers – Bathsheba, Gabriel, and Troy – as embodying the strengths and concerns of contemporary males and females, but the film-makers have had a harder time with Farmer Boldwood. Boldwood is a difficult, protean character in the novel who both undercuts the traditional progress of the romantic plot and exposes the ideology behind the romantic enterprises of Troy and Gabriel. In adapting Boldwood, film-makers have chosen to not show him in his entirety (if they can): instead, in Schlesinger's film he becomes the embodiment of 1960s fears of ageing and obsolescence; in Vinterberg's film he represents the contemporary male's fear of being relegated to secondary or 'beta' status to stronger examples of manhood.
In addition Jasmine Metcalfe, a delegate at the conference, notes that Paul's talk reminded her of how faithful Peter Finch's Boldwood was to the novel, down to his fine Roman profile. Not long ago Jasmine inspected the Roman mosaics which have recently been discovered at Druce Farm – used by Hardy as Little Weatherbury, Boldwood's holding – and also met a local builder, Gilbert Griffin, who supplied some of the props for the film, including Fanny's grave stone which he had made from polystyrene. One farming member of the William Barnes Society in Dorchester had taught Peter Finch how to scythe, and appears briefly in the Weatherbury background.
PANEL SPEAKER 1 – Rachel Lehmann, 'The Wessex Cosmos: A Humboldtian Conception of Nature in Hardy's Far From the Madding Crowd'
Hardy painted Wessex as a cosmos reminiscent of the paintings of Caspar David Friedrich. German philosophy of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries fed into artistic representations, and can clearly be discerned throughout this novel, as can the many links between Hardy's perception of Nature and that of Alexander von Humboldt. Humboldt closely studied the intricate relationship between plants, nature and geography, viewing them as a single mass organism, and as early as the 1840s was the first to speak out about the dangers of climate change. His deployment of the term 'physiognomy' clearly indicated the link between nature and the body, and the aesthetic relationship between plants and the human anatomy. Hardy, too, viewed Nature as a unified organism, creating a cosmos of plants, animals and humans, all sharing equal status. Hardy wrote as a painter using Humboldt's theories of unification, giving life to Nature through his precision in reproducing sights and sounds. Both men provide us with a new ecological understanding of Nature.
PANEL SPEAKER 2 – Carolina Elices, 'The Preservation of Memories, Histories, Fellowships, Fraternities: Human Association in Architecture in Far From the Madding Crowd'
The Ecclesiological Society was formed in 1845 in order to update and restore churches to perform a particular function. Hardy and John Ruskin were preservationists, they believed that churches shouldn't be restored but should in fact continue in their original state. In the 1890s William Morris founded the Preservation Society promoting the preservation of the memory of the space of architecture. Hardy deeply regretted the restoration (or destruction as he came to see it) of St. Juliot Church in Cornwall where he first met his wife to be Emma Gifford, which led to the emotional ramifications behind his decision to change from 'restoration' to 'preservation'. In the novel the Great Barn is the ideal of preservation in action; the Bucks Head Inn no longer fulfils its original function and so is altered, but only on the outside, the emotional inner space remains; and Weatherbury Church preserves the memories of Fanny Robin. This novel demonstrates a clear relationship between architecture and memory, a connection between function and emotion.
PANEL SPEAKER 3 – Professor Bill Bell, 'Far From the Madding Crowd and the Agricultural Labourers Strike of 1874'
2019 marks the hundredth anniversary of the death of Joseph Arch, the founder and charismatic leader of the National Agricultural Labourers Union. In the very year that Far from the Madding Crowd was appearing in The Cornhill Magazine, Arch and his fellow union members were organising a series of protests against the pay and conditions of farm labourers across the southern counties. Conditions among the labouring poor in Dorset were among the worst in the nation, and throughout the year there were many evictions of Union members in towns and villages that Hardy knew well. At one stage Hardy himself witnessed one of Arch's public meetings. This paper will explore the novel as it was unfolding in The Cornhill Magazine in 1874 at the height of this national crisis. It will show how there are several episodes in the novel that have important implications for labour relations, and which would have had particular resonance against the crisis of 1874. R.H. Hutton alluded to the crisis in his review of the novel, referring to the skepticism of readers who had any knowledge of the average wages and mentality of the Dorsetshire labourer. Another reviewer remarked that 'the country folk have not heard of strikes, or Mr. Arch; they have, by all appearances plenty to eat and warm clothes to wear'. I will argue, on the other hand, that Hardy's treatment of contemporary political unrest is not altogether absent but remains highly coded in the novel.
PLENARY – Dr Tony Fincham, 'A Witch's Ride: The Topography of Far From the Madding Crowd'
An illustrated talk containing many images, both contemporary and modern, of the 'partly real, partly dream' country of Hardy's novel. Denys Kay-Robinson had previously marked out the locations contained within Hardy's oeuvre, and Tony asked how it was that Hardy came to know the area described in FFMC and its landmarks. Hardy had of course worked on Rampisham Church for the architect Hicks, and Hardy's mother Jemima grew up not far from Melbury Osmund. Following the timeline of the novel Tony identified for the audience each site described beginning at Chelborough, or the 'Delborough' of One Chimney Hut, followed by Norcombe Wood, the plantation on the further side of which housed the shed containing the two women and two cows espied by Oak at the beginning of the tale. We were shown the view towards the Chalk pit over which young George the sheep dog had chased Gabriel's flock, in both Schlesinger's and Vinterberg's movie adaptations a beach was substituted. An early nineteenth-century map was used to illustrate Oak's travels pointing out the Corn Exchange and The Bow – the scene of the Hiring Fair in which Oak advertises himself as a shepherd seeking work. Tony questioned the dating of the action in the story, as the renowned academic Frank Pinion authoritatively claimed it as being set between 1869-73 on the basis of the Valentine that Bathsheba sends to Boldwood. However Tony prefers a more fluid approach as there is a mention of the railway in the book, and the railways did in fact reach Dorset in 1847; yet the judge arrives for Boldwood's trial for the murder of Troy by horse and carriage. Another factor is that both a young Boldwood and Farmer James Everdene (Bathsheba's uncle) appear at Henchard's bankruptcy in The Mayor of Casterbridge, a novel set early in the century. Yell'ham Wood, Yalbury Hill, the Bucks head, Troy-Town Farm and Piddletown were all identified, along with the remains of Warren's Malthouse. We also saw Waterston Manor, the sheep-washing pool, the Great Barn at Abbotsbury and the Barracks where Troy was stationed. In the Cornhill version and the first edition of the novel the barracks are situated at Melchester, or Salisbury, where there is a river and two churches by the names of All Saints and All Souls, scene of the chapter in which the marriage between Troy and Fanny Robin is aborted. There have been many arguments over the actual location, Barrie Bullen has previously suggested Devizes, but those barracks weren't built until 1878, after the time the novel was written. Tony believes that Quartershot, which appears on Hardy's map of Wessex but not in his fiction or poetry, is a more likely site, based on Aldershot, a large garrison which also boasts two churches – All Saints and All Souls, and it is known that Dragoons and cavalry were stationed there. Tony also identified the four milestones that the heavily pregnant Fanny leans upon on her way to Casterbridge workhouse, only two of which can still be seen. We were even shown the bench in the porch where Troy slept after planting bulbs and flower roots on Fanny's grave, the diverted gargoyle which destroyed his efforts (which is actually at Stinsford Church), and back to Casterbridge and the gaol where Boldwood was incarcerated.
PANEL SPEAKER 4 – Sophie Welsh, 'Constructing “A Modern Wessex”: A Paradox of Progress and Preservation'
Chapter 50 of FFMC first resurrects the term 'Wessex' in fiction. In 1895 the first authorized map of Wessex was published in Hardy's preface to the novel, and the 1912 Wessex Edition can be seen as Hardy preserving a way of life now lost. Hardy continually revised his notion of 'Wessex' right up until his death, and it applied to an entire region, not just Dorset. It engages with historic maps, but also looks forward to topographical mapping, and Wessex allowed Hardy to preserve an entire landscape.
PANEL SPEAKER 5 – Yurie Watanabe, 'Sympathy in Distance: Fanny in Far From the Madding Crowd'
Fanny Robin is a marginal character, she is neither heroine nor villain, she is kept at a distance and is almost never mentioned by name. The reader thus has sympathy for Fanny while, and by, keeping her distanced. Seeing is intimately linked to feeling, but seeing clearly is difficult, for many are blinded by numerous factors. Many crucial scenes in the book take place in the dark or half-light. Rather than be prejudiced against a fallen woman, readers can't help but empathize with Fanny's plight. The character of Fanny Robin has constantly been compared with that of George Eliot's Hetty Sorrell in Adam Bede, with their corresponding scenes of despair in which two heavily pregnant women travel vast distances out of necessity. In Fanny's instance, during this scene she is never named at all, simply referred to as 'the woman'. The critic Ian Watt declared the scene to be the verbal equivalent of a painting. Once dead, however, Fanny is named, and is no longer referred to as 'the woman'. Is this because she is no longer alone but being gazed upon by others? And how does sympathizing with Fanny ultimately affect how we read the novel?
PANEL SPEAKER 6 – Shelley Anne Galpin, 'Teenage Responses to Far From the Madding Crowd (2015)'
This paper presented data from a project exploring the responses of modern teenagers to period drama. The project recruited 16-19 year-olds from schools and colleges across England, and screened five examples of the period drama genre for them, before collecting their responses through online surveys and focus group discussions. The 2015 movie adaptation of FFMC was the final drama to be shown in the study. As many participants dropped out of the study part-way through, this unfortunately meant that less responses were collected for this film, compared to some of the other texts in the study. However, those responses that were collected indicated that the film was quite divisive among participants. When asked to state their favourite drama from the study, 32% of the 19 participants who filled in the final survey selected FFMC, the biggest proportion out of the five. Whilst this might suggest that this film was therefore very popular, a look at the texts that were indicated as being the 'least favourite' shows that his was an equally common response to FFMC, with 32% also naming the film for this category. Whilst those who enjoyed the film described it as very engaging, with lots of plot twists, other participants found it be be predictable, clichéd and boring. Particularly notable were some of the responses to the character of Bathsheba, played in the film by Carey Mulligan. Whilst participants often commented approvingly on strong complex women in other texts in the study, such as Peaky Blinders, Belle and The Imitation Game, Bathsheba was not well received. Participants overwhelmingly identified Gabriel Oak as their favourite character from the film, citing his good moral behaviour. In contrast, Bathsheba was seen as a failed feminist by some participants, attempting to be an independent woman before becoming embroiled in questions over who she should marry. Others found her relationships with men to be morally objectionable, labelling her as promiscuous and suggesting that she was something of a gold-digger.
CLOSING SPEAKERS: Angelique Richardson and Helen Angear Working with archives: Far From the Madding Crowd at GCSE, A level and University
The recent reform of the English language GCSE to include pre-20th-century unseen texts means that many GCSE students are now working with 19th-century non-fiction texts for the first time. While this has placed new pressures on teachers to find practice material, Angelique Richardson and Helen Angear drew on the Hardy and Heritage Project at the University of Exeter to demonstrate ways in which universities and cultural heritage organisations can work with schools to open up archives and special collections. They also examined ways in which students at universities can draw on archives to develop and enrich their understanding of literary texts and historical moments.
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