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Progressing maturity yields Hardy's first classic

  • Apr 27, 2014
Not with any other author, even the inimitable Dickens, have I ever seen the linear progression in maturity and strength of writing as in Thomas Hardy's from his debut through Madding Crowd.  This is his first What a Classic rating from my reviews as I read through his bookshelf in chronological order, earned by his powerful and appealing characters and his unflinching approach to moral issues and the flaws in those characters and the Wessex world around them.

We meet Gabriel Oak first,the kind of quiet heroic character who might not hold the spotlight but will always be the core of the story.  He doesn't demand respect but earns it, and is recognized as a leader by his peers without seeking leadership.  A poor shepherd  who was attempting to establish his position as an independent farmer but lost his growing capital when his sheep herd was killed, he is left early in the book with just enough money to pay off his creditors and the clothes on his back.

Next we meet Bathsheba Everdene, a strong beautiful woman who catches Oak's eye while tending cattle on her aunt's farm.  She rejects his approach because she is of a slightly higher class in the rigidly stratified world of Wessex, a class difference that is exacerbated when she inherits her own farm in a neighboring community and is reunited with the homeless and jobless Oak.  In my review of Hardy's previous book A Pair of Blue Eyes I said that Hardy did not seem to like or respect women, but here is a female character that even with her flaws (and they will prove fateful and nearly fatal) is appealing and worthy of respect.  Even when she makes mistakes that make you cringe, you still want things to work out for her in the end.

Around this central pair Hardy builds his tale on a small but richly detailed canvas of time and space.  Characters make decisions right or wrong and deal with the consequences large and small.  He neither punishes his characters for their flaws nor allows them to excuse or disguise them.  Just like real life, everyday events make up the most of life but can also have life-changing consequences.  Pay attention to Hardy's chapter headings, which offer clues to these juxtapositions of the simple and the significant.

Through it all to the very end, the faithful Oak and the forceful but sometimes faltering Bathsheba find their paths always crossing and sometimes star crossed.  Says Hardy, "Theirs was that substantial affection which arises (if any arises at all) when the two who are thrown together begin first by knowing the rougher sides of each other's character, and not the best till further on."   This is the romance and adventure that arises from real life and real people and makes Madding Crowd a classic.

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April 27, 2014
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More Far from the Madding Crowd (bo... reviews
Quick Tip by . June 28, 2010
Not everyone may like this book but I dd - it falls in the 'Jane Eyre' mode - classic romance.
review by . June 27, 2009
Far From the Madding Crowd appeared serially in 1874. Its financial success allowed Hardy to give up architecture and devote all of his energy to writing. It is the story of the headstrong Bathsheba Everdene and the men in her life – Sergeant Troy, Farmer Boldwood, and the patient devoted shepherd Gabriel Oak. According to my old (1967) “Oxford Companion to English Literature,” the main theme of Far From the Madding Crowd (and a favorite of Hardy’s) is “the contrast …
review by . July 12, 2008
Pastoral romance is more the stuff of poems than novels. In "Far From The Madding Crowd", the first of his celebrated Wessex novels published in 1874, Thomas Hardy devotes a full-scale narrative to the fancy of a shepherd's devotion to his love, with fitful success.    The shepherd is Gabriel Oak, abandoned by his fickle love object, Bathsheba Everdene, and then by kind Providence when he freakishly loses his flock. His search for work leads him back to Bathsheba, who takes him …
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Todd Stockslager ()
Ranked #36
I love reading and writing about what I have read, making the connections and marking the comparisons and contrasts. God has given man the amazing power to invent language and the means to record it which … more
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About this book


A young man falls victim to his own obsession with an amorous farm girl in this classic novel of fate and unrequited love. Published anonymously and first attributed, erroneously, to George Eliot, this Signet Classic version is set from Hardy's revised final draft-the authoritative Wessex edition of 1912.
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ISBN-10: 0451528565 (pbk.)
ISBN-13: 9780451528568 (pbk.)
Publisher: Signet Classics
Date Published: October 1, 2002

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