Maddening Bathsheba, Madding Crowd

Far from the Madding Crowd by Thomas Hardy
In Far from the Madding Crowd by Thomas Hardy, a mere teenage girl, Bathsheba Everdene, enthralls and fascinates - really at first sight - the noble and stolid shepherd Gabriel Oak, the older, reclusive landholder, William Boldwood, and the ne'er-do-well, dashing Sergeant Troy. All three wish to have her, all three suffer in the pursuit. Oak labors for years in Everdene’s employ before finally winning the fair maiden. He watches helplessly as she marries the ruinous Troy. When Troy mysteriously disappears and Bathsheba is assumed to be a widow, she is wooed, even hounded, by the besotted, obsessive Boldwood. Then, a few years later, Troy suddenly reappears, as the report of his death was somewhat exaggerated, and Boldwood in a jealous fury shoots and kills him. Off to prison goes Boldwood. This clears the way for Oak. In addition, Bathsheba is an orphan and has inherited a substantial rural property which, even in Victorian England, she farms and manages as an independent, very young woman.

And yet this is NOT a Harlequin novel! Let us investigate, using these library resources.

  1. Just Wives? Stories of Power and Survival in the Old Testament and Today by Katharine Doob Sakenfeld (ISBN 9780664226602)
  2. Oxford Reader's Companion to Hardy by Norman Page (ISBN: 9780198600749)
  3. The Writer's Guide to Everyday Life in Regency and Victorian England from 1811-1901 by Kristine Hughes (ISBN 9780898798128)
  4. Victorian Britain: An Encyclopedia (ISBN: 9780824015138).
  5. The videos: the Julie Christie/Terence Stamp film of 1967 and the 2015 film starring Carey Mulligan, Michael Sheen, and Matthias Schoenaerts
  6. The novel itself!

Just Wives? Stories of Power and Survival in the Old Testament and Today by Katharine Doob Sakenfeld
Bathsheba? What kind of name is that?

Bathsheba of Old Testament times is the wife of a Uriah, a Hittite military man. King David of Israel arranges for Uriah’s death so that he can marry Bathsheba. Bathsheba is thus so alluring and seductive, she unknowingly is the catalyst for her husband’s sad fate. Is this a model for Bathsheba Everdene, our heroine? Bathsheba does flirt with Oak, Boldwood, and Troy but remember, at the start of the story, she is only eighteen and an orphan. She has no guiding older parent or women friends to advise her. I give her a pass – as I do Bathsheba of antiquity.

From the novel:

However, he (Oak) continued to watch through the hedge for her regular coming, and thus his sentiments towards her were deepened without any corresponding effect being produced upon herself. Oak had nothing finished and ready to say as yet, and not being able to frame love phrases which end where they begin; passionate tales —

—Full of sound and fury

—signifying nothing —

he said no word at all.

By making inquiries he found that the girl’s name was Bathsheba Everdene

The Writer's Guide to Everyday Life in Regency and Victorian England from 1811-1901 by Kristine Hughes
How could Frank Troy ruin Bathsheba financially? After all, she had inherited the farm and money before she even meets him.

Not until the passage in England of the Married Women’s Property Act of 1870, 1882 and 1893 did married women have full rights to any properties or monies that they earned or inherited.

The novel takes place in Wessex. Is that a real place?

Strictly speaking there is no Wessex in either Victorian or modern England. Historically, Wessex referred to a Saxon kingdom in southern England that existed before the Norman Invasion of 1066. Thomas Hardy recreated a fictional Wessex as the setting for his major novels: Far From the Madding Crowd, Jude the Obscure, The Mayor of Casterbridge. Like the land of Westeros in the books and TV series Game of Thrones, it became a common, popular designation, real to Hardy's readers.

Oxford Reader's Companion to Hardy by Norman Page.
Women labor in the Wessex fields and help with sheep shearing. Did that happen in Victorian England?

A large number of agricultural workers were women. This was especially common during the Napoleonic Wars, while men were away at war. Women might be hired as temporary workers for a harvest; they often worked full time digging up potatoes, pulling turnips, and picking fruits and vegetables. Bathsheba would have managed both men and women in her fields. Strangely enough, Bathsheba herself is not too proud to take up a hoe and pitch in.

Far from the Madding Crowd starring Stamp and Christie
Why didn’t Troy marry his first love, Fanny Robin?

It has something to do with Troy’s occupation as a soldier. What specific branch of the military does Troy serve? The novel is unclear – but it is some branch of the army and his training involves swords. He is a non-commissioned officer, a sergeant. Army pay for enlisted men and non-commissioned officers was very low up till 1866, after which pay doubled. Army barracks were overcrowded. Army men had to get permission from their superiors in order to marry and it was difficult. Perhaps only 6 men out of 100 desiring to marry would receive permission. I think we should be more understanding about Troy’s reaction when Fanny fails to meet him at the altar.

Far from the Madding Crowd unabridged audio
Fanny Robin, seduced and abandoned, dies in the Casterbridge workhouse? What is a workhouse?

Under the New Poor Law of 1834, Britain established a system of workhouses where the able-bodied poor were allowed to live but must labor. However, most inmates of the workhouses were not able-bodied poor, but the aged, the ill, and child paupers. Fanny Robin, pregnant by Troy, malnourished and destitute, sought refuge in the Casterbridge workhouse. The workhouse took her in, but it was too late to save her. The novel calls the poor house the “union house”. When nearby parishes jointly administered and executed the requirements of the Poor Law, “union" became a slang name for a workhouse.

From chapter 41 of the novel:

"You'll never see Fanny Robin no more — use nor principal — ma'am."


"Because she's dead in the Union."

"Fanny dead — never!"

"Yes, ma'am."

Thomas Gray – from Wikipedia and in public domain
Why did Hardy base the title of his novel on an 18th century poem by the melancholic Englishman Thomas Gray?

The specific lines from "An Elegy Written in a Country Church Yard" are:

Far from the madding crowd's ignoble strife,
     Their sober wishes never learn'd to stray;
Along the cool sequester'd vale of life
     They kept the noiseless tenor of their way.

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Hey blog readers, what do you think? There is no wrong answer, only interesting ones!

-Karen S.


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