book review: Far from the Madding Crowd by Thomas Hardy

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FAR FROM THE MADDING CROWD by Thomas Hardy
★★★★☆
William Collins, 2015
originally published in 1874

 

With how long this has been sitting on my currently reading shelf (a little over 4 months, I do believe) I’m sure you all were expecting me to come back with a scathing review. But it’s quite the contrary – I’m happy to report that this was wonderful. It’s just that I was in the mood to read this and then I wasn’t and then I was again, and that’s that mystery solved. This was my first Thomas Hardy, and I chose it because I’d already seen the Carey Mulligan film and fell very much in love with the elaborate soap opera that is Bathsheba Everdene’s life. Sorry if this is slanderous, but the frankly elaborate ways in which she and Oak are pushed together and pulled apart throughout this book are something straight out of EastEnders, and it was delightful.

But even though I already knew the story, I enjoyed watching it all unfold again. I also found Bathsheba to be one of the most complex heroines from any classic novel I’ve read, and her thoroughly compelling journey for peace and love as she came to better understand herself was just a constant source of joy to read. It goes without saying that this male-authored work from 1874 is not a Feminist Novel, but the sheer compassion with which Bathsheba’s character arc is crafted was something of a surprise to me, in a good way. I certainly wasn’t expecting lines like this:

“It is difficult for a woman to define her feelings in language which is chiefly made by men to express theirs.”

Or this:

“‘But a husband–’
‘Well!’
‘Why, he’d always be there, as you say; whenever I looked up, there he’d be.’
‘Of course he would – I, that is.’
‘Well, what I mean is that I shouldn’t mind being a bride at a wedding, if I could be one without having a husband. But since a woman can’t show off in that way by herself, I shan’t marry – at least yet.'”

(That may be the single most iconic exchange I’ve ever read.)

I occasionally found Hardy’s writing a bit overwrought, but the dialogue was lively and the pastoral setting was brought to life spectacularly. Despite the fact that this is a book filled with vibrant characters and dramatic plot twists, it’s ultimately rather slow-paced, so I don’t really regret the (excessively) languid pace at which I read it. I’m looking forward to reading more of Hardy, probably Tess of the D’Urbervilles or Jude the Obscure next.