Long considered one of England’s foremost 19th Century novelists, Thomas Hardy established his reputation with the publication of Far from the Madding Crowd in 1874. It was the first of his so-called “Wessex novels,” set in a fictitious English county closely resembling Hardy’s native Dorsetshire.
The novel, whose title was borrowed from Thomas Gray’s famous Elegy in a Country Churchyard, initially appeared in magazine serial form and was the first Hardy work to be widely reviewed. Variations of its rustic characters and settings were to be repeated in several future novels. The novel’s protagonist, Bathsheba Everdene, would also presage other strong Hardy heroines. Plot and Major Characters Bathsheba Everdene, who has inherited a large farm from her uncle, becomes the center of attention for three men.
After a chance meeting with a gentle sheep farmer, Gabriel Oak, Gabriel proposes marriage to Bathsheba, but is refused, as she does not consider him a proper suitor. Gabriel loses most of his herd and becomes a faithful shepherd for Bathsheba. She then meets a neighboring well-to-do farmer, Mr. Boldwood, who impresses Bathsheba. She later capriciously sends him a valentine, which excites Boldwood, and he later proposes marriage. Bathsheba puts him off, but it is assumed that she will succumb.
In a subplot, a marriage between Bathsheba’s servant, Fanny Robin, and the dashing Sergeant Troy is stopped because of a misunderstanding. Troy turns his attentions to Bathsheba and impresses her with his dazzling sword practice. Troy gains her hand in marriage, leaving Boldwood heartbroken. Meanwhile, the hapless Fanny dies in the workhouse, and her body is brought back to Bathsheba’s farm. Bathsheba discovers the corpse of a baby, Troy’s child, beside that of Fanny.
Troy then disappears, and when his clothes are discovered on a beach, it is presumed that he has drowned. Boldwood reappears on the scene, and Bathsheba agrees to marry him out of a sense of remorse. Troy, however, unexpectedly returns and is killed by the distraught Boldwood, who is later tried and found insane. Bathsheba is at last ready to see the true worth of Gabriel, who has faithfully waited like the Oak of his last name, and the two are married. Major Themes A facile interpretation of Far from the Madding Crowd would be that true love triumphs over adversity.