How does Hardy present Bathsheba in ‘Far From the Madding Crowd’? Explain how she changes in the course of the novel (considering where possible and relevant Hardy’s view of women as you become aware of it. ) Thomas Hardy portrays Bathsheba at the start of “Far from the Madding Crowd” as an individual, independent and spirited young woman. I think Hardy admires her character as it is made quite clear throughout the novel that she is far from being a conventional woman of the day, and there is much to admire and like in her.
However, as the novel progresses we become aware that Hardy has many chauvinistic ideas about women as a whole and makes some rather sweeping generalisations about the entire race of womankind. Despite Bathsheba’s unconventiality in some respects and the fact that Hardy actually says she is unlike women as a whole, Hardy has instilled in her many attributes and character faults which he considers to be exclusively women’s, or at least extremely common among women, and as a result Bathsheba’s character can be very contradictory.
From her very first appearance we are given a first impression of Bathsheba’s character and a foresight into the effect she will have upon the characters of the book. She is described as “young and attractive” and is wearing red, a colour suggestive of danger and excitement. She attempts to assert her independence by refusing to pay the keeper of the toll gate two pence more, yet when Oak, in a gentlemanly act of kindness, pays for her, she snubs him because “in gaining her a passage he had lost her point”.
Here is one of the first examples we come across in the novel of Hardy adding to Bathsheba’s character faults belonging to a ‘typical woman’. Hardy says of Bathsheba’s behaviour in this situation, “we all know how women take a favour of this kind”, implying that women are ungrateful when they feel they have not gotten their way. We also learn in this scene that supposedly like all women, Bathsheba is extremely vain, furtively looking at herself in a mirror for no other reason than to look.
Hardy claims this is “women’s prescriptive infirmity”. However, though Bathsheba is vain, she is not immodest and we learn that if she were forced to wear a low-necked dress she would “run and thrust her head into a bush”. We are treated to a glimpse of Bathsheba’s unconventionality when we see her not only riding to Casterbridge like a man but “dexterously dropping backwards flat upon the pony’s back” in a most novel position for anyone, let alone a woman, to be in.
This shows her courage and confidence as well as her skill on horseback. I think this also shows Bathsheba’s very joy for life at this point in the novel. She seems happy and carefree and content with her life and herself. At Bathsheba and Oak’s first proper meeting, she remains cool and calm, “it was the man who blushed, the maid not at all. ” She is evidently in control of the situation. We are given a further impression of her being far from the stereotypical weak and helpless heroine when she saves Oak from suffocation in his hut.
This shows some presence of mind on her part, yet the fact that Hardy has her lose her head and throw warm milk at him somewhat detracts from the idea of the level-headed woman coming along and saving the day. Yet again she is the confident one in the conversation, and she is even slightly flirtatious towards Oak and seems very light hearted and unwilling to talk seriously. On several occasions throughout the novel Hardy impresses upon us that Bathsheba can be extremely contrary.
In her meetings with Oak, he unwittingly invokes her wrath by naively saying just what he is thinking. On one occasion he says honestly that he hadn’t thought of kissing her hand, and on another that as she mentions it he had thought that maybe he should marry a rich woman, not Bathsheba. These frank admissions of Oak’s pique Bathsheba’s vanity somewhat, even though in the latter example it was exactly what she had suggested herself. When Oak comes to propose, Bathsheba shows characteristic impetuosity in running after him simply to tell him she is not seeing any other men.
She is thoughtless as to his feelings, not considering that she might raise his hopes falsely by chasing after him like this; she is simply governed by her impulses, however thoughtless and foolish they may be. She is naive about love and marriage, and again showing no sensitivity for Oak’s feelings, refuses him outright in her own blunt and scrupulously honest manner, with comments such as “’tis no use, I don’t want to marry you. ” Despite her obvious lack of respect for Oak’s feelings, I find her comments rather endearing in this situation, as she and Oak are both so very honest, yet naive and innocent about love.
Bathsheba is tempted at first by the idea of having a wedding and having people talk about her marriage, and thoughts of setting up house, which are really quite materialistic incentives, yet when Oak gets to suggestions of “babies” and the two of them always looking up and seeing the other there, she does not like the sound of it at all. She is clearly not the sort of girl who “accept husbands because marriage is not possible without men”, that is, the sort of woman who is bent on getting married. The idea of a wedding does appeal to her, but not “marriage as an abstract” and definitely not the thought of having a husband constantly there.