Explore Thomas Hardy’s use of letters in ‘Far From The Madding Crowd’. Do you think they are successful literary devices? In ‘Far From The Madding Crowd’ there are several letters that are important and change the course of the novel in one way or another. I am going to focus on what I consider to be the four key letters in the novel. They not only advance the plot, but also give the reader a much greater insight to the personalities of the characters. They reveal their emotions when writing the letter, and we can also learn a lot about the characters by observing their reactions when they read the letters.
This novel is about a young woman called Bathsheba who gains control of her uncle’s farm. She has effectively gone from rags to riches and a lot of the story focuses on the relationship between her and Gabriel Oak, a 28 year old bachelor. When they met Gabriel was the one that owned his own farm, and Bathsheba was the poor one who lived with her aunt. But soon Bathsheba takes control of her uncle’s farm because he died, and Gabriel has no-where to live and no money because there was a fire in which he lost everything.
The first letter is written by Bathsheba and sent to Boldwood, a well-mannered and rich 40 year old gentleman farmer who is well respected. The letter is a Valentine with ‘marry me’ on the seal that is sent as a joke. She sees it as a harmless bit of fun and she could not have imagined in her wildest dreams how much this was going to be blown out of proportion. ‘So very idly and unreflectingly was this deed done of love as a spectacle. Bathsheba had a fair knowledge; but of love subjectively she knew nothing’ She expected Boldwood to accept the letter as a joke but his reaction was quite the opposite.
He is sure that it must be real because of its fine craftsmanship. The letter takes control of his life instantly. He just keeps reading it over and over, and even when he could not read the words, he continued to replay the contents of the letter in his head. Boldwood very quickly develops an obsessive and somewhat unhealthy love for Bathsheba. Everything he did began to involve Bathsheba in some way. When Boldwood was in the market-house, Casterbridge, we are told that he looked at Bathsheba ‘Not slily, critically or understandingly’, but in a gaze. Women had always been a ‘remote phenomena’ to him, but not anymore.
He also began to feel jealousy whenever she was in the company of a man. At the corn market Bathsheba was doing business with a young farmer, and Boldwood ‘Grew hot down to his hands with an incipient jealousy’. All of the time Bathsheba knew that his eyes were following her everywhere, but didn’t do anything about it in fear of making the situation any worse than it already was. Boldwood then speaks from his heart and makes a proposal to Bathsheba. ‘I come to make you an offer of marriage’ is his opening line, which is followed by a very convincing speech.
However ‘I do not feel – what would justify me to – in accepting your offer’ is Bathsheba’s reply. Boldwood is obviously disappointed, and he literally begs her to change her mind. When saying ‘I may speak to you again on the subject? ‘ Boldwood is almost forcing her to not make her decision final. Therefore Bathsheba ends the conversation by saying ‘give me time’ Later on Bathsheba goes to see Gabriel because she needed to talk about her situation to someone, and she usually respects Gabriel’s opinions and advice.
She tells him all of the details, but his reply is not what she wants to hear. He says ‘it is unworthy of any thoughtful, and meek, and comely woman’ He goes on to say ‘you are greatly to blame for playing pranks upon a man like Mr Boldwood, merely as a pastime. ‘ Bathsheba is hurt by what Gabriel says. She tells him ‘I can’t allow any man to criticise my private conduct’ and asks him to leave. Boldwood proposes to Bathsheba again, in the same sort of way as last time and although Bathsheba still doesn’t love him she gives him great hope that she will accept to marry him at harvest time.