Far From The Madding Crowd published in 1874 is one of the most compelling of Hardy’s Wessex novels. Since the author grew amidst the last remnants of the Victorian Era and the budding twentieth century, he was a witness to the disappearance of the idyllic Wessex country life and the impact of the new capitalism. His novels portray Hardy’s love for the old, beautiful and traditional English lifestyle usually portrayed by the poor villagers and his contempt for the materialistic, opportunistic and fast-paced city life portrayed by the city people.
In ‘Far from the madding crowd’ the author incorporates many elements of romanticism of which love plays a central role. It brings both joy and sorrow to all the main characters. It is this love that is portrayed by the female protagonist Bathsheba Everdene and the male protagonist Gabriel Oak.
Romantic Love in FMC
Romanticism gave a lot of importance to human emotions and feelings rather than to rationalism and collective social responsibility. The turmoils and excitements of the human heart in FMC and brought out through Gabriel’s absolute, true, pure and affectionate love for Bathsheba, Bathsheba’s infatuation and blind love for Troy, Troy’s selfish and superficial love for Bathsheba, Boldwood’s obsessional love for Bathsheba and Troy’s true love for Fanny Robin.
Romantic love has always been related to sexual desires and an unbridled passion towards one’s partner.
Bathsheba’s relationship with Troy
Bathsheba Everdene is an independent, strong-willed, vain, arrogant and an intelligent woman. She does not want to be controlled by any man in her life. When she meets the handsome Sergeant Troy, she doesn’t fall for him at the outset but gets hooked by his flow of compliments and his present of a gold watch. When Bathsheba and Troy meet out in the forest there is a lot of sexual undercurrent which ends up in Troy kissing Bathsheba. Gradually Bathsheba ends up completely and madly in love with Troy which ends in a physical relationship before their marriage. That the mentally strong Bathsheba melts down completely because of Troy, thereby becoming so possessive and gets pushed into an almost lunatic like state is brought out in her desperate plea to be kissed by her husband when he kisses the corpse of Fanny Robin.
Troy on the other hand doesn’t value and respect independence in women and treats them casually. He continuously lies and flatters them and it is evident that he treats them more as objects than as living creatures. Troy is aware that he needs money for survival and he would better marry someone with good fortunes than someone as poor as Fanny.
That he has no scruples is brought out by the fact that he chose to marry Bathsheba rather than Fanny in spite of fathering her child. With Troy, the past was yesterday; the future tomorrow; never the day after. Troy’s charisma and seducing skills are brought out in the swordplay exercises leaving Bathsheba in agonies of longing. So Troy is truly brilliant in brass and scarlet. He is momentarily made to repent for his unjust actions after the death of Fanny during childbirth. Only at this time Bathsheba understands that she has married a narcissist. Both Fanny and Bathsheba are punished for blindly following their instincts- Fanny by death and Bathsheba even more by loneliness and desolation. Hardy brings about a huge change of character in Bathsheba at the end. He says that ‘I never laughed readily now!’
Gabriel and Bathsheba
Bathsheba is young and inexperienced and she thinks she knows everything. Her inexperience makes her choose the dazzling Troy over the capable, loyal and handsome Gabriel Oak, a successful sheep farmer and an epitome of virtues. Although Bathsheba flirts with him she refuses him saying “If I had a husband, I’d want someone to tame me.” What she fails to understand is that Gabriel is more beautiful from the inside like a geode. Her romantic love for Troy overshadows the silent and pure love of Gabriel for her. Gabriel’s love for Bathsheba makes him protect her, advise her and ready to help her at times of need. Gabriel faces the ebbs and tides of life amongst all the characters. He loses his sheep, his money and the woman he loves in the beginning. Later, there is a reversal of fortunes. It is Gabriel who protects Bathsheba’s sheep and crops from a disastrous end. He thus proves that he is willing to help the woman whom he had sincerely loved until his last breath. He goes to the extent of protecting her from the pain that she would receive if she comes to know the true colors of Troy.
What ultimately brings them truly close to each other is Bathsheba’s realization that she may lose Gabriel forever. Gabriel’s and Bathsheba’s relationship is an example of an ideal Victorian love.
Bathsheba and Boldwood
Boldwood’s first love is Bathsheba. Boldwood is Bathsheba’s neighbor, a nice and rich gentleman farmer. He becomes obsessed with Bathsheba on receiving her pranky valentine induced by Lydia. Bathsheba’s nature of playing with a person’s emotions is brought out by this incident. She yearns for attention and requires unconditional love. Boldwood’s passion is constant but soon becomes a mania. Bathsheba’s sexuality is not awoken by Boldwood as he is artless. His feelings are trampled upon so easily by Bathsheba and due to his clouded vision he hopes to be rewarded with her hand. His feelings border on insanity when he understands the fact that she doesn’t love him. In spite of that he wants to possess her like a trophy after defeating his competitors (Here Troy and Gabriel Oak). When he isn’t able to marry her he ends up shooting her husband Troy. Unsolicited love drives him to insanity.
In many ways, Far from the Madding Crowd is a typical romantic period novel. Many elements of romanticism including love, individual human feelings, natural settings, typical events and happenings in a village, a positive rural life, the negative impact of city life on people’s characters are all brought out in this novel. The central theme of romantic love of Bathsheba and the way she gets entangled with each of her suitors are vividly described. Bathsheba’s fall and redemption both, are because of her love and passion. This love characterizes her relationship with all the three men. Thomas Hardy shows us that, there is no way to force love or make someone feel love no matter how strong our emotions are. We learn that ‘love triumphs in the end even though a few people might get hurt along the way’. He shows that societal pressures breakdown in the face of the onslaught of strong personal feelings which is the basis of romanticism. It is difficult for a woman to define her feelings in a language which is chiefly made by men to express theirs.