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on 13 July 2003
I thought that Far From the Madding Crowd was a really good book. It was the first novel by Thomas Hardy that I had read and it encouraged me to read some more of his works.
It is my favourite novel at the moment. I liked it so much because of the fantastic way in which characters are created and established. They are given such strong personalities, like Bathsheba Everdene, that it helps you become swept up in the action.
Far From the Madding Crowd is a novel about a country romance. A beautiful and interesting young woman is caught in a love triangle with three very different men. The first is the honourable and steady Gabriel Oak, who loves Bathsheba and is obviously fated to be with her, even though he seems quite her opposite. There is Farmer Bolwood who becomes obsessed with Bathsheba after she sends him a valentine, he is upstanding yet passive and we watch him drive painfully on to his undeserved end. Then there is the debonare Sargent Troy, who wins womans hearts and breaks them without thought.
This is a novel about life in the country, and how maddening it can be. It follows a magnificent set of characters, set in the beautiful place of Wessex, Hardy's imaginative countryside of England.
My favourite thing about this novel is how it centres on a woman. (A rare thing in the 19th century.) And a woman who is given the power to make her own descisions, be in charge of her money, and given sexual power. Bathsheba Everdene is a wonderful creation, up there with the best of 19th century fictions heroines. As complex as Madame Bouvary, innocent like Tess and tragic like Anna Karenia.
I reccomend this novel to anyone who is a fan of Thomas Hardy, enjoys romance novels or wants to gain a fresh view of England in the 19th century.
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on 7 August 2004
Hardy's first major success starts out with a plethora of rich, evocative description of the landscape the shepherd, Gabriel Oak, inhabits, such as "the dry leaves simmered and boiled in the desolate winds, a tongue of air sending them spinning across the grass", the trees "wailing and chaunting to each other in the regular antiphonies of a cathedral choir". Hardy is an excellent (and in my opinion unsurpassed) creator of atmosphere.
Hardy evokes sympathy for Oak in his initial rejection by Bathsheba, giving the reader a sense of his vulnerability, with his initial description also describing how his face "had some relics of the boy", further suggesting vulnerability. However, Oak seems after this rejection to transform into a hero, becoming a character one does not so much relate to as idolize and respect. Hardy writes at the beginning that Oak's "hues and curves of youth" were "tarrying on to manhood", and we get a sense through his patience and humility, his helping Bathsheba with her dying sheep even after she had ousted him in a paroxysm of fury just before, he has achieved manhood, and that the abovementioned qualities are those of ideal masculinity, not the flashy extravagance of Troy or the wealth of Boldwood.
Due to the construction of the plot, however, with Oak at the beginning thus being portrayed as the principal character, the end is rather predictable to the cynical reader. Towards the end, the beautiful description is completely dropped to allow pure action to ensue, with the idea that the pace is quickened thus exciting the reader, yet the ending, though dramatic, feels overly rushed nevertheless.
But all in all, it was a very enjoyable read, with the atmospheric description of the landscape demonstrative of Hardy's poetic ability (which he was later to excercize fully, abandoning the novel form and progressing with verse in his last years) being the strong point of 'Far from the Madding Crowd'.
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on 19 August 2006
When I was at school I was forced to read several Thomas Hardy novels and was bored to tears by them but now that I'm older and, hopefully, wiser I've embarked on a Hardy revival and am loving every second of it.

The description of people and places and the intricate ways in which the characters interact with each other in 'Far From the Madding Crowd' all fit together to produce a piece of fiction which builds to a dramatic climax that will shock. This novel will leave you frustrated, annoyed, shocked and pleased all at the same time!

Victorian values have a lot to answer for!
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There are number of very good reviews of this `classic' novel. I believe the other reviewers have given a good plot overview. So here goes on my thoughts of this unabridged edition, for what they're worth. For my part I was introduced to this novel in my English Literature class and even then I enjoyed the narrative, I found out early on that Hardy had original produced his narrative as part of monthly serial for a publication called the Cornhill Magazine. I think that this monthly serialization shows in the narrative. As the author had to keep his monthly readership enthralled and eager, so they would get the next `episode'.

As the serial progressed the story gained a broader audience. Eventually it gained mainly positive reviews and was ultimately compiled into a novel. What I didn't know, at the time, and only realised until quite recently is that Thomas Hardy revised/tweaked the narrative on number of occasions. So I guess what we read today has changed from the early manuscripts.

For me this is a story that can be seen on many levels - yes it is a romance, a comment woman in society of the time, the stoical nature people have about their lives - but for me it is the rural background of England and agrarian culture that prevailed - before the impact of industrialization that changed the face of the British countryside. For this had a profound effect on the people who worked and the managed the land - this then gives this tale that extra dimension that I find so interesting and enjoyable.
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on 1 September 2008
Reading this novel again in 36 degrees of heat in Tunisia was a delightful and slightly unusual experience! As I sat moderately baking in occasional shade, Bathsheba and Oak wrestled out their very pragmatic romance amidst the debris and lives of other characters whose impracticality and passion proves their undoing. The novel recommends survival through work and co-operation and this core value in the narrative far from being dull and tame compared to the heated, reckless drives of others,provides humour and finally healing. The scenes where Oak saves the gas ridden sheep and the stacks communicate Oak's consummate competence and care and Hardy 's sensory skills are marvellously suggestive and psychologically apt:

'He felt a zephyr curling about his cheek and turned.It was Bathsheba's breath - she had followed him, and was looking into the same chink.'

Far From The Madding Crowd is full of 'peeping tom' moments where characters watch each other through hedges,chinks and doors! This moment is beautifully laid out, the metaphor 'zephyr' registers the magic of Bathsheba's physicality...even more, her very breath, her life force enchants Oak. She is as special and magical to Oak as any legend from the Greeks. The simplicity of this shared watching explores their natural equality and the unconscious attraction of Bathsheba for Oak. How beautifully erotic is this scene and yet how it reveals their hesitancy and delay.

Hardy allows Bathsheba her eventual happiness which is rare indeed in the so-called 'great' novels, and he is also astute in granting Bathsheba autonomy in characterisation. She remains true to her perverse, challenging self and we do not see a shadowy, chastened figure at the end, though this Bathsheba has learnt about consequences!

' I have thought so much more of you since I fancied you did not want even to see me again.'

Human nature is perverse! This admission is fully in keeping Bathsheba's vanity and wilfulness. Yet is also reinforces the honesty and intimacy that has existed between them. Such intimacy elevates their relationship and makes their future marriage and happiness certain.

A final glimpse, simply because it is highly Impressionistic and tender and would not be out of keeping in a Katherine Mansfield story or a Monet painting:

'Ten minutes later, a large and smaller umbrella might have been seen moving from the same door, and through the mist along the road to the church.'

The tenderness of the ordinary here is palpable. Oak and Bathsheba are granted some privacy away from the speculative eye of reader and community and under their umbrelllas remains sanctuary and promise!

Wonderful!
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on 14 August 2009
Please be aware that this audio is a CONDENSED/ABRIDGED version of the book. My daughter needed it for school and I would have loved to return it, but she removed the shrink wrap before discovering this most crucial fact.
There are notes & quotes and a full and abridged text included in the Bonus CD-ROM.... but I would not have purchased this item if it had been fully described by Amazon!
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on 5 June 2012
This is my ultimate favourite book of all time. It was the first Hardy book I read and I absolutely loved his style of writing and his presentation of all the main characters. It is so finely written, and you can picture everything with Hardy's in-depth descriptions. The book was written in the latter half of the 19th century, but is still incredibly accessible. The emotions Hardy deals with and the way the characters interact is fantastic. All in all, the author's writing skills coupled with a very busy yet easy to follow story line make this novel truly brilliant and timeless.
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on 19 November 2005
I liked this book. I read Tess of the D'Urbervilles and found it quite hard-going and long-winded, but I really enjoyed reading this. It takes a while for the story to get going, but I kept wanting to go back to it to find out what was going to happen next.
I'd recommend this to anyone, even if you haven't liked some of Hardy's other books.
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on 3 November 2003
No-one can fail to be moved by this novel which contains all the ingredients to keep you enthralled from page one. It can be seen primarily as a romance avoiding the usual unremitting gloom associated with many of Hardy's novels. But it also contains its fair share of death, tragedy and deception. Despite this it is beautifully written and a heartwarming tale, vividly evoking Hardy's familiar countryside.
The main protagonist is a heroine who despite her flaws comes across as a powerful woman surviving in a mans world by running a farm single handed. This makes her an impressive role model. Her trio of romances are sensitively drawn so that we never lose sympathy for any of the characters.
A novel to read again and again. I would highly recommend it.
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on 11 February 2011
Hardy's title is taken from Thomas Gray's "Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard", and may have been meant ironically. Gray was comparing the quiet life of country dwellers with the frenzied crowds of the city:-

"Far from the madding crowd's ignoble strife
Their sober wishes never learn'd to stray",

yet Hardy is writing of rural characters whose wishes are often far from sober and to whom strife is by no means unknown.

This was Hardy's fourth novel and his first major success. It was also the first in which he used the name "Wessex", previously only used by historians in connection with the Anglo-Saxon kingdom of that name, as a description of contemporary south-west England. Most of the action takes place in the village of Weatherbury in the county of South Wessex (for which read Puddletown, Dorset- Hardy's novels are generally set in real towns and villages disguised under fictitious names).

The plot centres upon a device which Hardy used in a number of his novels; two or more men in love with the same woman. (This theme also occurs, for example, in "A Pair of Blue Eyes", "Two on a Tower" and "Tess of the D'Urbervilles"). The heroine, Bathsheba Everdene, has inherited a farm from her uncle, which makes her independently wealthy and therefore a very desirable "catch". Bathsheba is a high-spirited young woman, proud of both her financial independence and her good looks, determined to farm her land herself without relying upon a bailiff, even though her inexperience and impulsiveness make this at times a difficult task.

Bathsheba's three suitors are given sharply contrasting characters. Sergeant Francis Troy is a handsome young soldier in the Dragoon Guards. He has plenty of charm, but is shallow, superficial and as impulsive as Bathsheba herself. His surname is taken from a Dorset village named Troy Town, but also has a symbolic significance in that it evokes the Trojan War which was set in motion by the reckless young seducer Paris. Bathsheba's own name recalls another unhappy love story, that of David and Bathsheba in the Old Testament.

Gabriel Oak is Troy's polar opposite. He works as a shepherd on Bathsheba's farm, but was an independent sheep-farmer before he was ruined financially by a tragic accident. His name also has an obvious symbolic meaning; his surname suggests solidity whereas his Christian name implies that he is a "guardian angel" to Bathsheba whom he loves from a distance. (He saves her from ruin on two occasions). He is steady and patient where Troy is dashing and reckless, and faithful in love where the sergeant is fickle.

The third suitor, William Boldwood, is another farmer. He is good-looking, wealthy and respectable, widely regarded as the most eligible man in the district, but Bathsheba rejects his proposal as she is determined to marry only for love, not for any material advantages the marriage might bring her. In some ways Boldwood and Oak are alike; both continue to love Bathsheba after an initial rejection, and they have more in common with each other than either has with Troy. Boldwood, however, can be seen as representing the "dark side" of Oak, as his disappointed love for the young woman turns into an obsessive jealousy verging on insanity. It is this obsession, combined with Troy's faithlessness, which leads to tragedy.

As one might expect in a novel with a rural setting and in which three of the main characters are farmers, agriculture plays a major part in the plot. Besides the main characters, there are also a crowd of rustic labourers with names like Joseph Poorgrass or Laban Tall, often used to provide comic relief or to comment on the main action. As always with Hardy, there are vivid passages describing the Dorset countryside in its many aspects. Yet this is not mere "beautiful writing" for its own sake. The story unfolds to the rhythm of the changing seasons- not just the seasons in the sense of spring, summer autumn and winter, but the seasons as the countryman would understand them- seedtime and harvest, haymaking, lambing and sheep-shearing, the hiring-fair in February and the grand agricultural fair in August.

At times the landscape seems to enter into the story as a character in its own right, as Hardy uses his descriptions of its changing moods for symbolic purposes, to reflect the changing fortunes of his characters. (He does something similar in many of his other novels, such as "Tess"). Two scenes in particular stand out. The first comes in the chapter "The Hollow amid the Ferns", when Troy seduces Bathsheba after a dazzling display of swordsmanship. (Given the strict codes of Victorian literary propriety, Hardy could not actually describe their physical lovemaking, but the swordplay itself is used to suggest it). This scene takes place outdoors, on a fine evening in early summer, and Hardy's descriptions of the burgeoning vegetation are used to symbolise the young couple's growing feelings of love and sexual desire. The second comes only two months later when Oak and Bathsheba are desperately trying to cover the corn-ricks ahead of a threatening storm. This passage contains some magnificent descriptive writing, used to convey not only the approach of the physical storm but also to suggest that there may be metaphorical storms ahead, threatening to destroy the happiness of Bathsheba and Troy who have recently married.

The novel was written in 1874, but it is clear that the events described take place some years before that date, possibly around 1850 or 1860. Whereas in "Tess", written in the 1890s, Hardy was describing a countryside in the throes of rapid social change and economic depression, the countryside of "Far from the Madding Crowd" is a more tranquil, timeless place. Although some of the protagonists meet with tragedy, the story has a more optimistic ending than many of Hardy's other novels. Whereas later novels such as "Tess" or "The Mayor of Casterbridge" can be seen as tragedies, his equivalent of "Macbeth" or "Hamlet", "Far from the Madding Crowd" is closer in spirit to Shakespeare's late comedies. I was particularly reminded of "The Winter's Tale", another story of passion and drama against a rustic setting which ends serenely. This is undoubtedly one of the great novels of the English tradition.
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