Thomas Hardy's Far From the Madding Crowd

Thomas Hardy's Far From the Madding Crowd

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Thomas Hardy's Far From the Madding Crowd


The name Thomas Hardy gives to the hero of his novel, Far From the
Madding Crowd, is not merely accidental. Hardy deliberately means to
associate Gabriel Oak with the Angel Gabriel. God's hero lit up the
darkness, and it is important for the reader to note that when Hardy's
hero saves a situation from having disastrous consequences, nearly
every time he does so in darkness. Gabriel's name is very significant
in relation to his character, but he is not just meant to be a holy
saint, whose sole purpose is to pour oil on troubled waters. He is a
very real person with very human feelings, and this becomes obvious as
his relationship with Bathsheba grows.

To understand how the relationship between the two main characters has
changed at the end of the novel, I need to explain how their
relationship began. Previous to chapter four, Gabriel has seen and
talked to Bathsheba on quite a few occasions, not least when she saves
him from suffocation in chapter three. By chapter four, Gabriel has
developed a deep love for Bathsheba and waits for her presence in
strikingly the same way as "his dog waited for his meals". He is so
captivated by her that he changes his opinion of an attractive woman
to suit her features - such as "turning his taste over to black hair,
though he had sworn by brown ever since he was a boy." Gabriel decides
that marriage is better than his life of solitary isolation, a life
which he has always lived quite comfortably before the arrival of
Bathsheba, and declares "I'll make her my wife, or upon my soul I
shall be good for nothing!"

Using a motherless lamb as an excuse to visit Bathsheba to ask for her
hand in marriage, he sets off for her aunt's house on "a fine January
morning" having made "a toilet of a nicely-adjusted kind". He arrives
in hopeful spirits, but it is not Bathsheba that he talks to - it is
her aunt, Mrs Hurst. Gabriel's modesty comes through in his
conversation with Bathsheba's aunt, and he leaves, mistakenly
believing that Bathsheba has "ever so many young men" after her.

However, as he is walking back along the down, he turns around to
discover Bathsheba running after him. Erroneously he believes that she
has chased after him to accept his proposal, so when she only wants to
tell him that her aunt had made a mistake in saying she had several
young sweethearts, he is understandably dismayed.

Bathsheba has quite a flirtatious disposition and toys with Gabriel's

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feelings. She likes the fact that Gabriel has asked her to be his wife
and leads him to believe that she will marry him, but rejects him when
he starts to talk about the more serious aspects of a marriage. She
would love the frills of a wedding, such as "nice flowers" and the
church, but would only want to be a bride "if I could be one without
having a husband." This is rather similar to the attitude of Maggie in
the more recent film, Runaway Bride.

In comparison to Bathsheba, Gabriel stays true to his feelings the
whole time. We can see that he is genuinely in love with Bathsheba and
is being completely honest with her - "I shall do one thing in this
life - one thing certain - that is, love you, and long for you, and
keep wanting you till I die." It would take a lot of courage for a
woman to say this to the person she loves, let alone a man, and
Bathsheba replies by basically saying he isn't enough of a man to tame
her. She only sees Gabriel as an "every-day sort of man", neither
attractive enough nor exciting enough to be with. She cannot yet see
that, ultimately, the only man who will be able to tame her is an
"every-day sort of man".

They are saying all of this to each other while standing either side
of a hollybush, which acts as a barrier between the two. The prickly
holly leaves represent how prickly their relationship is at this point
in the novel. When you touch a holly leaf, you invariably hurt
yourself, and this compares to Gabriel and Bathsheba. Whenever one of
them says something to the other, they always end up hurting them.

The main difference between Gabriel and Bathsheba at this point in
their relationship is that Gabriel respects Bathsheba and her
feelings. Bathsheba does not take into account how much she is hurting
Gabriel by laughing at him when he tells her how much he loves her.
But although this offends Gabriel, he still has the manners to respect
the fact that she doesn't want to marry him.

Gabriel is dejected by Bathsheba's refusal and when he learns that she
has left Norcombe to go to Weatherbury thinks that nothing else can go
wrong, but the worse is not yet over. Hardy begins to create an
atmosphere for disaster by describing that the "well-known idle
tinkle" of the sheep-bells are instead "beating with unusual violence
and rapidity." He uses many words and phrases that increase the
reader's feelings that everything is moving very fast, such as the
sheep-bells "beating with unusual violence and rapidity", the flock
were running "with great velocity", Gabriel "jumped out of bed…tore
down the lane".

Hardy increases the tension when it becomes obvious that the sheep
that form the bulk of Gabriel's flock have completely disappeared from
the hill. He enforces the reader's image of Gabriel being completely
alone on the dark vast landscape - "the valleys and furthest hills
resounded". He is calling out to two hundred sheep and there is "not a
single bleat." This tells the reader that there is something very
wrong. When Gabriel gets to the "extreme summit" he sees the younger
dog, George's son, "standing against the sky-dark and motionless as
Napoleon at St. Helena." Considering Napoleon died on the reclusive
island of St. Helena, the reader gets an extra sense of foreboding as
to what is about to come next. Indeed, this is exactly what Gabriel
has as, "with a great sensation of bodily faintness", he looks over
the precipice. What he sees is the first major disaster in the novel.
"The ewes lay dead and dying at its foot-a heap of two hundred mangled
carcases".

As stated in the introduction, Gabriel has very human feelings, and
one would think that anybody's first reaction in a situation like this
would be self-pity, but one of Gabriel's admirable assets is his
humanity, and the first thing he feels is sorrow for "the untimely
fate of these gentle ewes". It takes a second or two to remember that
the sheep are not insured. All at once he realises that the ten years
of hard work, patience and will to carry on have been "dispersed at a
blow", and his dream of becoming an independent farmer has been
virtually ruined. Knowing this, it is like all his energy has been
drained out of him and he "covered his face with his hands" in
despair. However, he does not dwell on his current predicament, and
his final reaction is one of thankfulness that he is not married -
"what would she have done in the poverty now coming upon me!" He feels
very relieved that Bathsheba has not consented to marry him after what
has happened, because she too would otherwise be in the same position
he is in now. He is always more conscious of the situation of others,
even animals, than of his own.

This is quite a remarkable quality he has, considering he is now left
"with the clothes he stood up in, and nothing more." Even in the most
catastrophic of situations he puts others before himself, and this
characteristic proves to be a great aid in helping his relationship
with Bathsheba develop.

As bad as things are for Gabriel, he is not the type of person to be
got down by bad luck and goes off to Casterbridge fair in the hope of
finding some work. He fails to gain employment as a bailiff in the
morning, but when he adopts the dress of a shepherd in the afternoon,
he is rebuffed again. It would seem that fate is not smiling down at
all on Gabriel, but ironically enough, it is this which draws him into
contact with Bathsheba again. Although he has the intention of going
to Shottsford fair, he finds out that it is near to Weatherbury, where
Bathsheba was headed. Overhearing a conversation in the back of a
wagon, Gabriel decides that even if the men were not talking about
Bathsheba, "the woman alluded to seemed to be the mistress of some
estate" and therefore resolves to take his chances to see if he can
seek employment from there.

As he comes to a gate in a hedge he notices "an unusual light" and as
he observes it, realises it is a fire. Unbeknown to Gabriel, this fire
acts as an instrument of fate which brings himself and Bathsheba
together again. Hardy uses very descriptive images to personify the
fire, such as "individual straws in the foreground…were knots of red
worms", "imaginary fiery faces, tongues hanging from lips, glaring
eyes and other impish forms". This makes the fire seem as if it has
been sent from hell and all the devilish creatures are intertwined
with the flames. At first Hardy makes it seem quite exciting -
"shadows danced merrily up and down, timed by the jigging of the
flames" and "tongues of yellow hue licked and darted playfully" don't
make the fire seem very serious, but it soon becomes apparent that it
is very dangerous, predominantly by the way Gabriel takes charge.

Hardy makes Gabriel seem like a hero even more in this chapter
because, amongst a babble of commotion and confusion, he is the only
pragmatic person. He knows exactly what to do and has no scruples of
doing everything he can to stop the fire. Even when told that "the
ladder was against the straw-rick and is burnt to a cinder" he doesn't
let it become a hindrance and finds an alternative way of getting up
to the wheat-stack. He seems even more heroic by the way he is
battling against the fire with only very simple tools. He has only his
crook and a beech-bough as 'weapons' and yet he still defeats this
dangerous force of nature.

Again this shows the reader how Gabriel puts others before himself. He
does not even know the owner of the farm, and yet he still risks his
life for them. He doesn't stay a "mere spectator" as he could so
easily have done, his first instinct is to help. The thought that
saving the ricks could mean employment for him does not even cross his
mind until he has saved them, which shows that he is a genuine hero.

However, he is not prepared for what is about to happen next. As he
comes up to speak to the mistress of the farm, he could not be in a
more dishevelled state. His apparel is "burnt into holes and dripping
with water", "his features smudged, grimy and undiscoverable from the
smoke and heat". He is very conscious of his appearance and so with
humility he advances, lifts his hat "with respect, and not without
gallantry" and says hesitantly, "Do you happen to want a shepherd,
ma'am?" Saying this to a stranger would be embarrassing and
uncomfortable enough, but when the "female form" turns around, Gabriel
finds himself face-to-face with none other than his "cold-hearted
darling, Bathsheba Everdene".

Although Gabriel hoped to find Bathsheba in Weatherbury, he is stunned
to find her mistress of the farm he has just salvaged. But more than
just shocked, he is abashed. He is still deeply in love with Bathsheba
and is reunited with her, not as a smartly dressed, impressive farmer,
but as an unkempt, unemployed man appealing for a job. When he
proposed to her in Norcombe he was the one who said he could give her
all sorts of things, such as a piano, nice flowers, a gig for market,
but now the roles have switched and it is Bathsheba who needs to give
Gabriel something. This makes Gabriel feel as though Bathsheba was
right and he isn't enough of a man to tame her. However, he can at
least find solace in the fact he is now no longer unemployed and,
despite the circumstances, reunited with the woman he loves.

Gabriel continues to work for Bathsheba until one day when they have a
major disagreement in which Bathsheba's pride gets wounded when she is
told some very appropriate home truths, and she sacks him in a fit of
temper. This, however, proves to be a very foolish mistake on
Bathsheba's part, as the very next day another disaster strikes her
farm which has near-fatal consequences. Bathsheba's prime flock
manages to break their way into a field of clover which, upon eating
it, makes them severely bloated. None of her other shepherd's can save
them, the only shepherd who can do it, ironically, is Gabriel.

At first Bathsheba resolutely declares, "Never will I send for
him-never!" but when she sees one of the ewes die, she is forced to
change her mind. Vexed that she has to send for him, she tells one of
her shepherds, Tall, to deliver quite an impertinent message to
Gabriel; ordering him to "return instantly". However, when Tall
returns with his reply, there is no Gabriel. Gabriel forces Bathsheba
to swallow a great deal of her pride by retorting that "beggars
mustn't be choosers" and she must ask him for his help "civilly and in
a proper manner". He is not asking her to beg, he is asking her to
realise that she was in the wrong and accept it. Gabriel is being a
true friend to Bathsheba - he isn't going to jump every time she snaps
her fingers, he is going to make her see that a friendship is a
two-way thing and that in order to keep a friend, she has to be one
too. The second time she asks for his help in a note, adding the
words, "Do not desert me, Gabriel!" at the bottom. This time Gabriel
comes.

Gabriel turns out to be the hero once again, and the reader can note
he is saving this disaster with the practicality and efficiency he
used when saving the farm from the fire. Again, he only has a simple
tool as "the instrument of salvation", but uses it "with a dexterity
that would have graced a hospital-surgeon." By "selecting the proper
point, he punctured the skin and rumen with the lance as it stood in
the tube; then he suddenly withdrew the lance, retaining the tube in
its place." He successfully performs this operation on forty-nine of
the sick sheep and "owing to the great hurry necessitated by the
far-gone state of some of the flock, Gabriel missed his aim in one
case and in one only".

To save forty-nine sheep completely by himself is a huge achievement,
and shows the reader that he may be an "every-day sort of man", but he
is an exceptionally skilled farmer. Taking this into account, it is
important for the reader to note that if Bathsheba hadn't unfairly
fired Gabriel, it is highly unlikely that the sheep would have been
able to break into the clover field. However, Gabriel is not the type
of person to hold any grudges, and we can see his undying loyalty to
Bathsheba when he agrees to stay on with her. This disaster has
brought them closer together and we can see that not only is Gabriel's
relationship with Bathsheba is growing, but also Bathsheba is growing
as a character.

As can already be seen, Gabriel's relationship with Bathsheba seems to
mature through a series of disasters. Chapter thirty-seven above all
proves to the reader his heroism and enduring devotion to her, even
though she has married Troy. Once more he saves Bathsheba's farm from
ruin with his practicality and courage, but this chapter is a lot more
frightening than the previous ones. He has already had to contend with
one force of nature; now he has to fight an even stronger one - a
storm.

Hardy makes this chapter seem like an epic battle between Gabriel and
the universe, again because of his resourcefulness. This time he has
to contend with all the major natural forces - thunder, lightning and
wind - and his only 'weapon' to fight the storm with is his ricking
rod. When "a blue light flickered down near the top of the rod" it is
almost as if the storm knows Gabriel is a rival and wants to make it a
personal battle between them. Feeling "his position to be anything but
a safe one" he descends from the stack, but after a few moment's
consideration decides to return after asking himself the question "Was
his life so valuable to him after all?" He knows it is a risk but
feels that his own prospects do not compare to the "important and
urgent labour" needed to be carried out to save Bathsheba's profits.

This is typical Gabriel behaviour, to put everything before himself
and directly compares Troy's irresponsible, self-centred behaviour.
Gabriel is prepared to risk his life for Bathsheba while her own
husband is lying asleep, drunk, in the barn. Troy is the soldier, not
Gabriel, yet it is evident to the reader he does not have the same
courage that Gabriel has.

The language Hardy uses to describe the storm is very powerful and
makes the reader envisage how prodigious the storm is. He uses
numerous animal comparisons, such as in the very first sentence of the
chapter - "A light flapped over the scene as if reflected from
phosphorescent wings crossing the sky". This makes the reader imagine
a monstrous bird flying overhead, with every flap of its wings a
strike of lightning. The alliteration he uses in the sixth paragraph
is also quite effective - "spring of a serpent".

All the animals Hardy uses to compare the storm to are animals or
creatures associated with hell: serpents, fiends, skeletons, and
enforces the idea of Gabriel being the good battling against the evil.
Another good comparison which verifies this is "The lightning…gleamed
in the heavens like a mailed army". The universe has a whole army
whereas Gabriel is fighting valiantly on his own.

We can comprehend just how terrifying the storm is and how brave
Gabriel is by the way Hardy describes the exaggerated effects of the
lightning and how intense the darkness is that follows. A tree being
"like an ink stroke on burnished tin", a rick suddenly brightening
"with the brazen glare of shining majolica" lets the reader know that
every time the lightning strikes, every little detail is outlined and
lit so vividly it is almost blinding. Hardy also uses many contrasts
of light and dark within the chapter, a good example being "It hardly
was credible that such a heavenly light could be the parent of such a
diabolical sound", referring to the lightning and thunder. This is the
third disaster to happen at night and validates the idea of Gabriel
being portrayed as the Angel Gabriel who lit up the darkness.

The most important outcome of the storm, however, is the new
relationship between Gabriel and Bathsheba. Despite everything that
has previously happened between them, they have to work together in
order to save the ricks and consequently the farm's future. Although
Bathsheba tries to be blind to Troy's faults, she cannot excuse the
fact that it is Gabriel, not her husband, who is endeavouring to save
her farm. Because of this, she feels impelled to tell him what really
happened when she went to Bath. She is ashamed to explain it but
finally admits to him that the real reason she married Troy was
"between jealousy and distraction". Gabriel, instead of acting coldly
towards her, can see she is distressed and tired and so speaks to her
"gently as a mother". This shows us again how Gabriel can empathise
with a person despite what he may be feeling inside. For once,
Bathsheba is grateful towards him and thanks him "a thousand times".
She speaks to him "more warmly than she had ever done whilst unmarried
and free to speak as warmly as she chose." The storm, although nearly
catastrophic in reference to the farm, proves to be a vital turning
point in their relationship and ultimately leads to their marriage at
the end of the novel.

As could be predicted, the story finishes with a happy ending. Gabriel
has been a sincere friend to Bathsheba throughout and has been there
to support her every time another difficulty befalls her. Gabriel may
not have the surface qualities that Troy had, but after his death
Bathsheba eventually realises that Gabriel's kindness, loyalty and
true love for her are worth far much more and it is an "every-day sort
of man" she needs most. Their relationship is not based on "pretty
phrases and warm expressions" it is based on trust and friendship and
has a much more solid foundation. As said in the blurb on the back
cover, Bathsheba achieves a painful but necessary self-knowledge -
that it is much better to love someone, rather than just be in love.

I admit I was prejudiced at first that this would not be a very
romantic novel, but as I have followed their relationship and seen how
the characters develop and pull through everything that comes their
way, I have no hesitation in contradicting my first opinions and can
say that it is one of the most romantic love stories I have ever read.
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