Far From the Madding Crowd is a novel by Thomas Hardy and was just adapted into a movie with a limited theater release. This isn’t it’s first screen adaptation with movies in 1915, 1967, 1998 as well as multiple stage adaptations. Although the original story was created in a time period I read in a lot this is my first Hardy. The movie trailer on the front page of imdb last week alerted me to it’s existence. I watched every clip, trailer, and featurette they had to offer and then looked up the book for download. The great thing about this is it was written in 1874, putting it in the public domain. The audiobook is available through Librivox for free which is nice. It’s also free for kindle download.
This book has a lot of major players but they all focus around the story of Bathsheba Everdeen an independent and spirited woman living in rural England. I’m going to call her Ms. Everdeen throughout this review because the character dislikes her first name and doesn’t want it to be used. Ms. Everdeen is an orphan working on her aunt’s farm. While she is well educated she does not have money of her own and is described as too wild to work as a governess. The farm next to hers is leased by Gabriel Oak, a young and talented farmer who needs only to pay off his loan to establish himself. Shortly, after they meet, Gabriel proposes to Ms. Everdeen who declines him. She notes that his station in the world is higher than hers so he should not be disappointed in her refusal.
In the most effective destroying of a character’s hopes I’ve read in a long time, an overzealous sheep dog destroys Gabriel’s flock. He has just enough money left over to pay off his debt and turns to looking for work. Simultaneously, Ms. Everdeen learns that she has inherited a wealthy farm from her uncle. Both go on their separate path, but come together soon after when Gabriel steps in to fight a barn fire that he thinks is at a stranger’s farm. He later learns it is the farm that Ms. Everdeen inherited, and she hires him on as a shepherd. She takes on the day to day running of the farm herself after dismissing her Bailaff (Farm manager) for theft.
Ms. Everdeen’s neighbor, Farmer Boldwood is a middle aged man of wealth who has never been married. He’s seen in the village as an eternal bachelor. On a lark, Ms. Everdeen sends him a valentine that leads him to her door in the thought that she is expressing sincere emotion. He offers to her security and stability which is attractive to her but she’s unsure she’s capable of feeling about him the way a person should feel about a lover.
Their courtship progresses slowly until Sergeant Troy enters the picture. He is a good looking smoothing talking, red coated man, and our heroine reacts predictably. She is forced to navigate her way through these three suitors along with running a farm and holding on to her independence.
“It is a difficult for a woman to define her feelings in a language which is chiefly made by men to express theirs.”
The Nitty Gritty
Let’s start with the book, all in all it was a quick and fun read. Hardy was considered very risque for his time, to the point that polite society may not discuss reading his books. From today’s perspective there isn’t anything to shield the children’s eyes over. One of the interesting things about the book is the perspective changes many times. While the story focuses on Ms. Everdeen we spend less time in her head than those of her suitors. I think it was a choice made to soften the character. Especially for the time, she would have been seen as headstrong and haughty in many of the scenes but through the lens of someone that cares about her the harshness is softened. Because of this her motivations are often left vague and mysterious.
The twists and turns in the story are very surprising and it is more action packed than I expected. I think the reason for this is that the story was originally serialized and printed in sections as a story in a magazine. So in each issue there needed to be something to draw the reader to the next installment. Sometimes this is done through side stories of minor characters and on more than one occasion it was a will they or won’t they between Ms. Everdeen and one of her suitors.
The movie was a good representation of the book. It trimmed back the stories of the minor characters. Carey Mulligan as Ms. Everdeen brings a charisma and charm to the character that I thought lacked a bit in the descriptions in the book. Matthias Schoenaerts as Gabriel Oak really nails the brooding good looking thoughtful guy role. In a way that I want to watch him do it in at least ten more movies, and possibly a well produced BBC miniseries. Tom Sturridge as Sergeant Troy makes (almost) likable a character who otherwise would not be. Michael Sheen as Farmer Boldwood is a reserved performance that I didn’t think did justice to the character as written in the book.
All in all if you are a fan of Romanticism and enjoy reading authors like George Eliot, Jane Austen, or the Bronte’s then this will be up your alley. If you do give a chance let me know what you think in the comments!
Love is a possible strength, in an actual weakness. Marriage transforms a distraction into a support, the power of which should be, and happily often is, in direct proportion to the degree of imbecility it supplants.