Far from the Madding Crowd


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Far from the Madding Crowd


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Far from the Madding Crowd is a novel by Thomas Hardy about a female farmer whose wealth, beauty and wilful independence attract several suitors. Set in fictitious Wessex, it details her journey towards self-knowledge.

Far from the Madding Crowd: a book by Thomas Hardy

Thomas Hardy was born in Dorset in 1814, where he grew up in an isolated cottage. Despite suffering from ill-health during his childhood, Hardy attended local schools and became an architect's apprentice in London. His countryside childhood influenced his novels, with his fictional Wessex being a representation of the South East England he grew up in.

Hardy left architecture for a career in literature with the serial publication of A Pair of Blue Eyes (1872) in Tinsley’s Magazine. Introducing his fictional Wessex, Far from the Madding Crowd was published in the prestigious Cornhill Magazine in 1873 and as a novel in 1874. It bought Hardy global acclaim.

As well as regularly addressing the class system, Hardy explored the realities of life for women in the Victorian era in poems from 'The Ruined Maid' (1866) to novels like Far from the Madding Crowd (1874) and Tess of the D’urbavilles (1899). Hardy was often asked to publically support the suffragette movement. He always declined, despite his estranged first wife, Emma, being a member until 1909. He also declined to sign an anti suffragette letter, despite a direct request from Lord Curzon.

The suffrage movement began in the UK in August 1832, when Mary Smith petitioned her MP, Henry Hunt for the right for spinsters to vote. By 1866, the first en-masse petition containing over 1500 signatures was presented in the House of Commons by John Stuart Mill.

In July 1928, The Representation of the People Act allowed everyone over 21 to vote for the first time. This movement happened, mostly simultaneously, in many other countries around the world.

Far from the Madding Crowd: summary

The novel begins in a fictional area of England called Wessex. The key character, Gabriel is introduced as a local shepherd. Bathsheba, the novel’s protagonist, is first introduced as the beautiful niece of a local woman. Gabriel keeps bumping into her. Although at first she seems disinterested in him, she later saves him from suffocating when he falls asleep with a fire in his hearth.

Gabriel falls in love with her and asks her aunt if he can court her. The aunt replies, untruthfully, that Bathsheba has other lovers already. After a brief and amusing misunderstanding, Bathsheba tells Gabriel that she will not marry him and he accepts her answer.

In the Victorian era, dating was referred to as courting and had some pretty strict rules and protocols. For instance, at a dance, if a man and woman happened to find themselves dancing without having been formally introduced by the host, they were not allowed to talk to each other.

Often a chaperone was required in the early stages of a courtship to help protect the woman's honour from gossip or speculation.

Bathsheba inherits a farm from her uncle and moves to Weatherbury to manage it. Gabriel’s novice sheepdog herds most of his sheep into a chalk pit and he ends up bankrupt. He leaves to look for work as a farm labourer, ending up in Weatherbury just in time to save Bathsheba’s barn from burning down. After recognising each other, Bathsheba hires Gabriel to work as a shepherd on the farm.

Bathsheba’s servant, Fanny runs away, bumping into Gabriel in the forest, where he lends her a shilling. Fanny tries to convince the father of her unborn child, Sergeant Troy, to marry her. Despite agreeing, he treats her quite coldly in front of other men in his barracks.

A while later, on Valentine's Day, Bathsheba, in collaboration with her maid and confidant, Liddy, jokingly sends a Valentine’s card to her wealthy neighbour, William Boldwood. Bathsheba had decided that William paid her no attention, despite her beauty, and thought he would take the card as a jest. He did not. As he had actually been interested in her, he becomes increasingly insistent that she marry him. She agrees that she may do so perhaps in the future.

The plans for Fanny and Troy’s wedding fall through. Gabriel leaves the farm after an argument with Bathsheba over her callous treatment of Boldwood. He returns a day later at her request to rescue her sheep. Bathsheba meets Troy and becomes involved with him, running away to Bath to marry him in secret. Their marriage is an unhappy one, with Troy being more interested in drinking and gambling than being a husband or farmer. He dominates Bathsheba. She discovers that he is the father of Fanny’s child when Fanny dies in a poorhouse and Bathsheba takes charge of her burial.

Troy is deeply affected by Fanny’s death and goes for a swim, where he is swept out to sea and considered dead. Boldwood proposes to Bathsheba again, and she agrees to marry him in six years time. Troy then reappears and demands Bathsheba back. Boldwood shoots him and attempts to shoot himself but is stopped. He is sentenced to life in prison.

Gabriel, who has remained loyal to Bathsheba proposes again and they are married a year after Troy’s death.

Far from the Madding Crowd: themes

Far from the Madding Crowd has the usual Hardy-esque themes of the realities of Victorian-era country life, the class system, and gender roles. Themes more particular to this novel include love or trying to understand love, independence, and the connection between humans and nature.

Gender roles and independence

In Far from the Madding Crowd, Bathsheba is a woman in a man’s world. As a female farm owner and sometime bailiff, she is not the usual Victorian woman. Her fiercely independent streak allows her to competently manage the farm but also is an obstacle in allowing her to become close to Gabriel.

Hardy subtly shows her true independence to be a mirage. She depends on Gabriel in key moments from the burning barn to the sheep that ate clover to getting the farm ready for a storm while her workers are drunk with her husband, Troy.

Do you think Bathsheba was ever truly independent or did she rely on Gabrielle from the beginning?

Love and deceit

Love is a central theme, with Bathsheba exploring the different types of love offered by her suitors. Boldwood offers respectability and wealth but his affection is shown through material gifts and a possessive sense of ownership. Troy offers sexual excitement and an air of mystery but ultimately he is undependable, deceitful, and domineering. On the other hand, Gabriel offers steady support and reliability, which initially seem less appealing to Bathsheba. As she matures she learns to appreciate him more.

Connected to love is deceit. Bathsheba is deceitful and unthinking in sending the overly serious Boldwood a Valentine’s card. Her deceit about her feelings, however harmless the intent, creates havoc. Troy is calculating and deceitful. He hides his relationship with Fanny and disguises his identity when he returns from aboard. The scale of deceit varies but the results are always depicted as negative.

What do you think about Bathsheba's treatment of Boldwood? Why do you think that she marry Troy and not Gabriel or Boldwood?


The phrase, 'far from the madding crowd' means somewhere away from the frenzied activity of crowded places. The line comes from Thomas Gray's 1751 poem 'Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard'. The novel is set in the country, far from the madding crowd but ironically, life here is not all idyllic.

The plot follows the cycles of nature, the growing and harvesting of crops in line with the seasons. The interplay between man, agriculture, and nature is explored too, for example in the ruin of Boldwood’s unprotected crops during the storm.

Gabriel is portrayed as the character most in tune with nature, being the only person who could save Bathsheba’s sheep. Troy and Boldwood are either always disengaged from nature or become more disengaged. Boldwood fails to protect his crops from the storm and Troy fails to appreciate the strength of currents in the sea. Both of these examples end badly for the characters concerned.

Far from the Madding Crowd, sheep in a field, StudySmarterFig. 1 - This is the version of the idyllic countryside that Hardy subverts.

Far from the Madding Crowd: characters

There are many interesting and rounded characters in Far from the Madding Crowd but it is worth looking at the key ones in a little more detail.

Bathsheba Everdene

Bathsheba is the main protagonist. She is a beautiful, tempestuous woman who inherits and manages Upper Weatherbury Farm. She values independence above all else but is more reliant on Gabrielle than she realises for most of the novel. She allows Troy to deceive and dominate her but regains her inner drive once he dies.

She is a flawed heroine as she undervalues the qualities Gabrielle embodies and fails to understand the impact that her careless actions can have on others. An example of this is her Valentine’s card to Boldwood.

Gabriel Oak

The main supporting character, Gabrielle is a loyal and supportive friend to Bathsheba throughout the novel. She doesn’t initially love him but comes to appreciate his quiet expertise and ongoing assistance. Gabrielle starts as a farm owner, then becomes bankrupt and has to take up work as a farm labourer. He ends up as a wealthy bailiff, married to Bathsheba.

Sergeant Frank Troy

The soldier, who gets Fanny pregnant, doesn’t end up marrying her despite his professed love for her and repeatedly lies to Bathsheba. Troy is deceitful and dominates Bathsheba in their brief marriage. He undermines her and is negligent of the farm.

William Boldwood

Boldwood is an eligible bachelor and a wealthy neighbouring farmer. He is a little obsessive and unstable, evident in his shooting of Troy in a crime of passion. Bathsheba thoughtlessly leads him on. She does not realise the extent of his feelings for her, nor the effect of her teasing of him.

Far from the Madding Crowd: quotes

A few key quotes highlight the themes that Hardy addresses in Far from the Madding Crowd.

What a luxury to have a choice. "Kiss my foot, sir, my face is for mouths of consequence."

This amusing one-liner by Liddy sums up Bathsheba’s unusual position of being a beautiful and wealthy farmer which means that she has several suitors to choose from. From this situation stems much of the story line around her journey to an understanding about what kind of love she is looking for and from whom.

Oak was an intensely human man: indeed, his humanity tore in pieces any political intentions of his which bordered on strategy, and carried him on as by gravitation. A shadow in his life had always been that his flock should end in mutton - that a day could find a shepherd an arrant traitor to his gentle sheep.”

This quote is a precise of Hardy’s portrayal of Gabriel as a man in tune with nature.

It was a fatal omission of Boldwood's that he had never once told her she was beautiful.”

Here Hardy illustrates Bathsheba’s starting stage in her journey from a capricious and vain woman, to one who comes to appreciate slightly different things.

And at home by the fire, whenever you look up there I shall be— and whenever I look up, there will be you.

Gabrielle says this to Bathsheba. It is not a particularly passionate or fiery declaration of love, rather it just expresses a fairly mundane dependability and reliability.

Far from the Madding Crowd - Key takeaways

  • Far from the Madding Crowd is a novel written by Thomas Hardy in 1784.
  • The protagonist is a feisty, beautiful woman, Bathsheba, who inherits and manages a farm named Upper Weatherbury Farm.
  • She attracts several suitors from Gabriel, the shepherd to Boldwood, the farmer and Troy, the Sergeant.
  • Themes in the novel include love, class, independence, gender roles, deceit, and man’s relationship with nature.
  • By the end of the novel, Bathsheba comes to appreciate Gabriel’s predictability and they end up marrying each other.


  1. Fig. 1 - English countryside at its best - geograph.org.uk (https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:English_countryside_at_its_best_-_geograph.org.uk_-_1394983.jpg) by Derek Voller (https://www.geograph.org.uk/profile/34885) licensed by CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0/)

Frequently Asked Questions about Far from the Madding Crowd

In the Victorian era in the 1860s to 1870s.

Thomas Hardy wrote Far from the Madding Crowd.

In this case 'madding' means 'frenzied' or something that is not peaceful.

Far from the Madding Crowd  about Bathsheba, a farmer, whose wealth, beauty and apparent independence attract numerous suitors. Set in rural Wessex, it follows her journey towards self-knowledge.

The title comes from a line in Thomas Gray's 1751 poem 'Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard'. 

Thomas Hardy ironically subverts the idyllic countryside myth, portraying country life more realistically. 

Consider, for example the fate of Fanny or Troy and Boldwood.

More about Far from the Madding Crowd

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