Still as engrossing today as when it was written,
This review is from: Far from the Madding Crowd (Oxford World's Classics) (Paperback)
The first of Hardy's novels to receive widespread critical acclaim, Far from the Madding Crowd is as engrossing a tale today as when it was written. It's the story of farmer-turned-shepherd Gabriel Oak, whose enduring affection for proud and independent farmer Bathsheba Everdene has to weather considerable buffeting from competing suitors - the besotted and finally unhinged Mr Boldwood and the deceitful, manipulative Sergeant Troy. In it, you can see emerging some of the major themes that would preoccupy the author in his greatest works: the changing rural world; characters suffering under and straining against the injustices of Victorian conventions; and (to a lesser extent than in later works) the way that twists of fate conspire to create tragic turning-points in the story. It's beautifully written, with rural activities lovingly painted onto a canvas where the natural world, too, has a strong and distinctive persona.
This Oxford World's Classics edition is excellent value, coming as it does with Suzanne Falck-Yi's critically-established text and notes to the text, and a thought-provoking introductory essay from Linda Shires. In it, she argues (rightly, it seems to me) that Far from the Madding Crowd is a long way from being the rural idyll that critics have often supposed. Reflecting on the fate of Fanny Robin, led to the workhouse by a stray dog which is then driven away by a hail of stones, she notes how the fate of woman and dog `speak powerfully to the limits of romantic idealism', the failure of the pastoral dream, and the unpredictability of the natural world. Violence and extreme suffering 'lurk beneath the surface of the idyll and pose a contradiction that outwardly peaceful Weatherbury cannot process' (Introduction, xxx). Well worth investing in, both for the novel itself and for the critical apparatus that accompanies it.