"Far from the Madding Crowd" by Thomas Hardy

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In "Far from the Madding Crowd" we have Thomas Hardy's 1874 breakthrough publication. This was my introduction to Hardy, and I expected certain aspects of his work, and didn't expect others. For one, I didn't expect the humor that I encountered in early character descriptions, but I was not surprised by the power and depth of the story. Hardy's reputation had preceded him to that extent.

"Far from the Madding Crowd" recounts the tribulations of the young and beautiful - and tragically vain - Bathsheba Everdene, and the three men who love her. Or the two men who loved her, and the rake who married her, or perhaps most accurately, the rake who married her, the inexperienced man who loved her to distraction, and the one faithful stalwart who stood by her through all. For Bathsheba is the most beautiful of women, and men become entranced with her and offer marriage pretty regularly here. The force of the story flows from Bathsheba's initial vanity, her tragic and ill-advised coquetry and first marriage, and how her self-absorption leads to mental breakdown and manslaughter. Hardy presents the plot in a straightforward way, and handles Bathsheba's evolution very skilfully and realistically. The chief characters are fully-realized, memorable creatures. Oak, her constant and ultimate protector, middle-aged Boldwood, driven to distraction by latecoming first love, and the reprobate Sergeant Troy, the tragic first husband, all ring truly; we believe them and understand their motivations. I found the rabble of farm workers to bear no such distinction.

I'm going to reserve judgment on whether this is where to start with Hardy. Plot-wise and resolution-wise, I was gratified by how this book ends. There is a tragic force in this narrative, and I understand it's something Hardy produced regularly. This book ends on a hopeful, life-affirming note, which by reputation, Hardy does not always employ. I'm glad I completed the exercise, but a little sorry that's what it felt like.
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