Reading a book by a new author is a noteworthy experience. Especially when that new author is not really new, but is one of the classics. I got the idea for reading Far from the Madding Crowd through a literary web series adaptation, Away from it All. I’d watched the first few episodes and was enjoying it, so tried to obtain a copy of the book. Thankfully, my public library which is usually fairly under-resourced when it comes to the classics must have a Thomas Hardy fan working there because almost all of his works were available.
I’d heard from others that Thomas Hardy’s writing is heavy and bleak, so I’d prepared myself for that. Yet, that’s not what I found. The writing was certainly heavy on description, it took a little while to get used to that style. But, I found the characters were developed in such a way that added warmth and even some humour to the mix. The strength of this book, I found, was the characters. Bathsheba Everdene, a strong, intelligent, determined woman bearing more than a little resemblance to her namesake Katniss. Gabriel Oak, one of the loveliest, gentlest, most faithful men I have ever come across in literature. Frank Troy, so reprehensible but somehow still endearing – while reading it, I’d often say to my husband, ‘Oh, guess what Mr Troy has done now’. And, of course, the village-folk: Henery Fray, Joseph Poorgrass and Liddy Smallbury.
At its heart, Far from the Madding Crowd seems to be about Bathsheba’s experiences as farm-owner and as a woman. Her struggles in being respected as a farmer because of her gender, and the challenges that came from the agricultural life regardless of gender. Alongside this is the issue of love and marriage, with three very different suitors representing different approaches. Mr Oak represents a faithful love that grows through genuine friendship and shared experiences. Mr Boldwood is the respectable marriage of convenience. And Mr Troy is a lesson in what happens when strong, intelligent women make stupid decisions in regards to men.
From what I’d heard about Hardy’s work, I was preparing myself for a bleak ending. Although the final chapters were certainly full of drama and tragedy, the ending itself was romantic and full of hope. Yes, the elusive happy ending, in this case involving a village orchestra! It was a book that with each chapter drew me deeper into tragedy, intrigue and eventual triumph. The web series that introduced me to this book is still only in its early episodes, but I’m even more excited to watch it now.