(Author: Thomas Hardy) + (Year: 1874) + (Goodreads)
I borrowed this book from a friend who is a great admirer of Victorian literature. As we shared a liking for similar books from the period, I assumed that I will also like Far From the Madding Crowd.
Unlike the books from the Victorian era that I do like, however, Far From the Madding Crowd sorely lacked in the field of characters. Generally, for me, at least, in this particular time period, books rely most of all on their characters. The stories are rather similar, with poor and rich falling in and out of love with each other and fighting against their judgmental society for their love, gullible girls getting tricked by wicked men, stubborn, beautiful women refusing to obey to the rules that their family and society enforce on them, young, brave heroes fighting for the love of fair maidens, etc. etc. So, in short, it’s all about love and romance and the tragedy of forbidden or unrequited love.
Right! Therefore, what would differentiate a good book from a bad one? Why, the characters, of course. Everyone has rooted for Lizzie and Mr. Darcy or felt conflicted about Cathy and Heathcliff. And then there were Bathsheba, Gabriel, Mr. Boldwood and Sgt. Troy. Count those again if you want.
To say that I disliked Bathsheba would be a great understatement. I felt that she was quite probably the most overrated female character in Victorian literature ever. She was described as unbelievably beautiful, but also very smart, stubborn, brave and strong. Out of those last four adjectives, only stubborn would apply to her, and I would use it in a negative, rather than positive way (as it is in the book). Bathsheba has next to no reason to do almost anything she does. Every single time she does something and the author offers us a glimpse into her thought-process, she just sits around wondering how to make people like her more, deciding not to be a bitch and then being one anyway. And I would also remark that her mood swings, which Hardy thinks are a way to show us her personality, are really not that. She is extremely inconsistent, selfish and at times, for the lack of a more gentle way to put it, plain dumb. There are about 20 moments that I can think of on the top of my mind in which she makes the most stupid decisions and Hardy somehow makes it seem to the reader and all of the other characters like her decision is actually reasonable. For example: Bathsheba rejects every man who proposes to her and is a normal guy, because… uh, one of them is poor, and the other one is rich, and something something… And then comes along a handsome jerk that everyone tells her to stay away from and boom, she’s ready. In all honesty, it is a thing which happens in real life, however usually the bad guy is really not that open about his promiscuity or his wickedness. Then she decides to break up with him, makes a rash decision to go in the middle of the night to another city altogether, as she is in a hurry to break things off, and comes back married to him. It might seem like there would be a reason for that marriage which would later be revealed, right? Well, there is – because she is a silly little girl and he tells her he already likes other women, so she decides that that is not a reason to dump him, but rather, one to marry him.
Many make it seem like Bathsheba is a victim in everything that follows in the book, but I would strongly disagree. Her choices put her in a horrible situation and there’s literally no one else to blame, because in this particular case the actions of everyone around her which cause her pain could have been prevented by her.
Both Sgt. Troy and Mr. Boldwood were terrible people, as well. Troy was vile and greedy and Boldwood was quite possibly a rapist-to-be. In one particular scene at the end of the book I personally felt suffocated by the forcefulness of his desire for Bathsheba.
Gabriel Oak was the one character that I did felt sympathy for, as he was the only person in the entire book who actually possessed common sense. His loyalty, however, was greatly misplaced in the hands of Bathsheba and for that I felt a tad annoyed as well.