It becomes certain to the reader of this novel, even after only a few chapters into the story, that the central and major theme of the book is love, not only as the driving impulse behind the plot, but also as a characteristic of human nature Hardy intends to explore and communicate his perspective about of to the reader.
In addition, although Hardy’s intention in the novel was not to illustrate an innovative and highly conceptual insight into the entanglements of the nature of love, as the initial publication by instalments in The Cornhill Magazine sought to be appealing and entertaining to as wider an audience as possible, the development of those aspects portrayed is, as we shall se, rather intricate and elaborated.
This treatment, which reflects on another level Hardy’s detailed descriptive style, is focused in its intention: reflect and underline the author’s point of view on the correct nature of love, that characterised by ever standing constancy and based on the adequate balance of the emotions and actions. Hardy develops and achieves this balance through the progression of the plot, constructed mainly around the interactions between Bathsheba, Oak, Troy and Boldwood, presenting those extremes which ultimately lead to a fatal end in Boldwood and Troy and resolving in Oak’s persistent and sensible love as the way to conjugal happiness.
Thus, we will begin exploring the extremes to then explain, through their contrast to Gabriel’s moral and spiritual qualities, Hardy’s point of view. Farmer Boldwood acts in the novel as the paradigm of a rather common deviation of love: obsession. The continuous suffering and torment he experiences since he receives Bathsheba’s valentine, which he, in his clouded vision, hoped would be rewarded by years of joyous matrimony, but which in reality only leads to his tragic imprisonment, does but serve as a somewhat exaggerated but effective example of what this kind of love causes on the person who experiences it.
An important consequence of this emotion reflected in Hardy’s writing is its capacity to become extremely overwhelming, which through its various stages of increasing intensity is used as a tool to bring about rejection to obsessive love from part of the reader. For example, in the early stages of the novel, when Boldwood receives Bathshseba’s valentine, we are narrated how his perception is confounded by the torment he inflicts upon himself by his constant contemplation of the letter, “…
the pale sheen had the reverse direction which snow gives, coming upward and lighting up his ceiling is an unnatural way, casting shadows in strange places, putting lights where shadows used to be” or “The whole effect resembled a sunset as childhood resembles age”. Later this overwhelming love leads him not to cover the stacks of the harvest and finally, in a shock of blinded rage, to kill Troy in presence of all his guests at the Christmas dance. We notice in all of these events a shared characteristic: that of being unnatural (inverted perception of the natural scenery, wasting of the harvests and the killing of another human being).
Therefore, given Hardy’s constant use of pathetic fallacy to reflect the situations of the characters, they depict Boldwood as a sort of criminal due to his twisted way of loving Bathsheba. This leads us to another important feature of Boldwood’s love for Bathsheba: its selfishness and immaturity. Throughout the novel Boldwood is exclusively concerned with his own gratification without regard for Bathsheba’s emotions. Thus we see that he presses her at all moments, even though it is evident that she is being hurt, to marry him:
” (Bathsheba) “O, I don’t know, pray let me go! ” – she said, her bosom beginning to rise. “I am afraid what to do! “… ” (Boldwood) “Say the words, dear one, and the subject shall be dismissed… O Bathsheba say them! ” ” We are thus presented with an unbalanced, one-sided, version of love through Boldwood’s obsession, factor which, although Bathsheba takes no conscious notice of, constitutes the main reason why his feelings are not corresponded, as the single-sided nature of his intentions is reflected on their single-sided outcome, unreciprocated love.