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Sunday, May 05, 2013

Far From The Madding Crowd by Thomas Hardy

Jenifer Lawrence as Katniss Everdeen in the Hunger Games.  I get to use this picture because Katniss was named after the main character in Far From the Madding Crowd by Thomas Hardy


Book Review
Far From The Madding Crowd
by Thomas Hardy
p. 1874

  I'm struggling to find an angle for the five or so Thomas Hardy books I'm going to be reading over the next several months.  Hardy, along with George Eliot and Anthony Trollope, was a quintessential Victorian period Novelist, both in terms of his rural subject matter and voluminous output.  Although Far From The Madding Crowd was published in the 1870s, the action appears to take place 20-40 years prior, in the rural district of Wessex.  Wessex was the fictionalized location for many of Hardy's novels, and it proved to be a popular invention.

  Far From The Madding Crowd was the Novel that secured Hardy's literary reputation.  After it was published he felt secure enough to quit his day job and work full time on literature. For a modern reader, perhaps the most relevant detail is the name of the main character, independent farmer and proto-feminist Bathsheba Everdeen.   Bathesheba is the acknowledged name sake of Hunger Games lead character Katniss Everdeen

  Far From The Madding Crowd echos prior books by Trollope and Eliot in terms of the rural setting.  Elements of the plot also feel familiar.  The story of Far From The Madding Crowd concerns Bathsheba Everdeen and her bad marriage decisions.  Wooed by a hustling young farmer in the first act, she turns him down flat.  After inheriting her own farm from an Uncle, she turns down a more established farmer in the second act, and instead falls for a solider, who turns out to be a wastrel.   The soldier ends up disappearing on her, and in his absence she agrees to marry farmer number two.  Then soldier returns, and farmer number two kills him and is imprisoned for the murder, leaving Bathsheba Everdeen free to marry farmer number one, who she should have been with all along.

  The idea of pairing a rural marriage drama with a dramatic final act murder is a device that appears to have been developed in the Victorian period as "serious" Novelists considered a way to increase the popular appeal of their work with a mass audience.  Far From The Madding Crowd most resembles George Eliot's Adam Bede in this regard.  Adam Bede, published in 1859, centered around the dramatic child murder and subsequent imprisonment of teen mom Hetty.  Unlike Bede, in Far From The Madding Crowd the murder is more a plot device to resolve the marriage story.  In Bede, Eliot spent much of the third act dealing with the trial, imprisonment and attempts to avoid the execution of Hetty.
 
  When reading the "serious" novels of the 1860s ad 1870s, it is important to understand that sensationalist novels were also hugely, hugely popular at the same time. No doubt Hardy felt pressure to deliver excitement within the framework of his pokey rural drama, and you can't do much better then a murder.

  I'm having trouble getting motivate for the next 40 years of literature.  10 years of this guy, and then after the century barrier I get a decade of Henry James.  Really dreading Henry James.

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