Book Review: Far from the Madding Crowd by Thomas Hardy

After I saw the trailer for the film based on this novel, I knew I had to read it. I had neither read nor studied anything by Thomas Hardy when I started, so I didn’t know what to expect. What I found was a book written in a style somewhere between Henry Fielding, with its third person omniscient (and sometimes blatant) narration, and Charles Dickens, with a provocative plot that moves you from chapter to chapter. The novel was originally published serially a la Dickens. The best part of Hardy’s writing in this novel was his poetic, rich descriptions of pastoral life in England. There were a few excerpts I read aloud to my dad, knowing that they describe perfectly certain aspects of farming life. This picture of harvest is the closest to real life I’ve ever read:

“Another week passed. The oat harvest began, and all the men were a-field under a monochromatic Lammas sky, amid the trembling air and short shadows of noon. Indoors nothing was to be heard save the droning of blue-bottle flies; out-of-doors the whetting of scythes and the hiss of tressy oat-ears rubbing together as their perpendicular stalks of amber-yellow fell heavily to each swath. Every drop of moisture not in the men’s bottles and flagons in the form of cider was raining as perspiration from their foreheads and cheeks. Drought was everywhere else” (206).

Maybe what I love about that description is the way it still, well over 100 years later, describes the conditions for harvest. Of course, one might have to be driving a very old combine to get the full effect. I did run the C2 Gleaner (made in 1967) when I was in high school, and the cooler on the top of the cap didn’t work, so I would open the little windows on the right side or the door on the left side each time I turned, depending on the breeze!

Anyway, this story revolves around a Miss Bathsheba Everdene, who becomes the heiress of her Uncle’s farm and soon becomes a woman farmer, gracing the local marketplace with her “feminine figure” and grain to sell, something unheard of in mid-1800s England. She has three very different suitors over the course of the novel: one she unintentionally seeks out; one who aggressively seeks her out; and another who seeks her with a beautiful steadfastness. I’ll let you guess who, if any, she ends up with, and end this review with a note about how Gabriel Oak, from whose viewpoint the novel is often told, has become one of my favorite characters in all of literature. He’s right up there with Captain Wentworth and Mr. Darcy! Far from the Madding Crowd is a great love story, and I eagerly await watching this film!

You would like this book if you fit into any of these categories:

  • You are looking for a challenging read. Here is short list of a few of Hardy’s not-so-short words: thesmothete, peregrinations, supererogatory. Not a bit pretentious, even for 1874? Really?
  • You like stories about strong women. Despite a few annoying traits that Bathsheba displays, there are moments in this novel where she shows a strength and level of dignity that I can only dream of.
  • You like stories that have a redemptive quality to them. It all works out in the end.
  • You like nature. The descriptions are gorgeous and edifying.
  • You enjoy plot twists and are willing to suspend your disbelief at times. A few of the plot events are maybe a bit unrealistic, but Hardy was writing in a ROmantic style even if his novel classifies as Victorian realism.

Rural Living

This March, I was back home for the entirety of Spring Break for the first time in a few years. Although my parents live inside our city village limits in a house I’ve never called home, I still feel like I’m home when I pull into town. The other night, the lights in the grain elevator were on for some reason, and it looked faintly like a sliver of skyline in a city. Grain elevators are the skyscrapers of small towns like ours.

One day, as I walked to the post office with my 2 1/2-year-old nephew, I kept telling him to come to the side of the street in case a car came along. No car came, and he stayed in the middle of the street, carefree.

Every time I go home, I will get into conversations with my parents about the latest news around town, and someone’s name will come up, and I’ll ask for a reminder of who they are and who belongs to them (and probably where they lived and/or live as well as the names of their grandchildren.)

My Aunt hosted a Mary Kay party out at her house about six miles southeast of town. Several ladies her age came, and everybody bought something (which really surprised me because Mary Kay is not cheap and these ladies are not all that interested in the produce), but what I enjoyed the most about this particular party was the time afterwards, as the ladies sat around the table with their coffee and snacks, enjoying conversation about times gone by. How pleasant are their lives out here in the country.



On Speeding and Waving–Old Habits Die Hard?

It is amazing to me that when I go home, to a place I’ve not lived for 12 years, how quickly I return to my old ways.

For example, within seconds of turning onto a familiar dirt, sand or rock road, I find myself going 65 mph. Don’t tell mom, but this was sometimes considered slow in high school, depending, of course, on the time of day, the newness of the surfacing of the road, the recent weather conditions, and the number of minutes by which I was running late.  This is certainly an old habit I wish would just die permanently. It is extraordinarily unsafe to drive at such speeds on such roads. I didn’t realize that until my last few years of high school, when I heard about a few horrible one-car accidents, had my own little run-ins with the sand piles at the edge of the roads, and saw a roll over demonstration at school. Oh well, at least I wear my seat belt now (because I didn’t before!).

One thing that I don’t seem to get back into as easily, however, is waving at people from my vehicle as I meet them on the road. For me to snap back into this old habit on drives home, it takes a few waves from others, which generally don’t start until I’m about five miles east of Clay and then continue with varying degrees of frequency as I move into more urban (if you can call it that) or rural areas. Waving is particularly important in the stretch of land south of Miltonvale to north of Bennington as I drive through Wells (talk about a metropolis!) on the old “Wells road” (I’m sure that road has been given an official name, but I really don’t care–it’s the Wells road). It is my favorite stretch of highway paved road. It winds and curves through rolling hills of pasture land, that is relatively treeless and absolutely gorgeous in the spring and summer. (Driving down that road brought me to tears during my freshman year of college when I was returning after being away from home for the longest period of time yet.) The population is very sparse through that area, and when you travel that road, you really do feel a need to wave at the fellow travelers headed your way.

It seems that once we who live in these small, out of the way places tend to get lonely when on the road all alone, meeting someone on the road means meeting a companion of sorts. At least a way to feel part of a community (even if it’s just a community of travelers).

So, on my trips home–as I am listening to country stations on the radio again–a few people will wave at me, I’ll begin to regret not having waved at them as well, and then I will stick my right hand at the top of the steering wheel, waiting with anticipation to meet the next person.

I’m a little sad that this old habit of mine has died so easily.