Having read – and thoroughly enjoyed – Tess of the D’Urbevilles towards the end of 2014, I was keen to read Thomas Hardy’s second entry in the BBC Top 100 as soon as possible. Voted the nation’s 48th best loved book of all time, Far From the Madding Crowd was Hardy’s fourth novel and originally appeared anonymously as a monthly serial in Cornhill Magazine.
Hardy offers the reader a rich and atmospheric backdrop to the tale as he describes the landscape that shepherd, Gabriel Oak, inhabits before introducing Bathsheba Everdene, the main protagonist with whom three different suitors fall in love.
Having inherited a farm from her uncle, Bathsheba is handsome, determined and independently wealthy and thus considered highly desirable by a number of men, namely shepherd Gabriel Oak, handsome soldier Sergeant Francis Troy and another farmer, William Boyd. Each of the suitors are very different in character, and suffer rejection at the hands of Bathsheba, who is determined to marry for love alone rather than any sort of material benefit a marriage may grant her.
As the novel progresses, the lives of Bathsheba and her suitors are cleverly woven and interlinked against a backdrop of rural Dorset that is as key a part of the novel as any of its central characters. Far less tragic than Tess of the D’Urbevilles, Far From the Madding Crowd highlights Hardy’s beautiful writing and masterful story-telling, making it plain to see why it was his first major literary success.