“It is difficult for a woman to define her feelings in language which is chiefly made by men to express theirs.”
I was able to squeeze in a few solid hours of reading time yesterday and finally turned the last page at about 11pm. I could have finished earlier – on the train home from work even – but I decided to delay the last few chapters so I could finish them in bed. This is one of life’s little pleasures I think: finishing the book, turning out the light, thinking it over while you fall asleep…. I think Far From The Madding Crowd is one book that deserves a bit of mulling over.
Everything centres around the beautiful (of course) Bathsheba Everdene, who inherits her uncle’s farm in rural Wessex and determines to run the estate herself without the hindrance of a husband or farm bailiff. In doing so she’s brought into contact with the three men who end up having a huge impact on the course of her life and the novel. There’s Gabriel Oak, her loyal shepherd; her neighbour, the reserved and repressed Mr. Boldwood; and Sergeant Troy, the rakish soldier who struts in mid-way through and undermines all the romantic groundwork put in by the other male characters. Bathsheba makes some poor choices, inadvertently hurts her admirers and gets hurt herself in turn.
Despite my initial reservations I ended up admiring Bathsheba a great deal. If she wasn’t such a strong, persuasive character I wouldn’t have cared enough, I wouldn’t have felt so drawn into her troubles. Slowly the reader understands that despite all of her faults – her extreme vanity, impulsiveness and pride – she’s really not all that bad. She has courage, conviction, self-belief and there’s even a little kindness under all that haughtiness. I do love a strong, independent female character (especially in a classic Victorian novel) and Bathsheba Everdene is exactly that. She isn’t a victim of circumstance; it’s her behaviour and her choices that drive the plot forward.
As I’ve mentioned, the plot takes a while to get going and I found the slowness infuriating at first. I see now, though, that this is really one of the best things about the novel. In fact, the slowness is the whole point. It’s satisfying to watch as Bathsheba eventually realises that her only friend, the only one worth having, has been there all along. It’s a relationship that evolves slowly, through the hardship and destruction caused by past affairs.
“They spoke very little of their mutual feelings; pretty phrases and warm expressions being probably unnecessary between such tried friends. Theirs was that substantial affection which arises (if any arises at all) when the two who are thrown together begin first by knowing the rougher sides of each other’s character, and not the best till further on, the romance growing up in the interstices of a mass of hard prosaic reality.”
I think I might be a little bit in love with this book.