Far From the madding crowd was written by Thomas Hardy and was first published in serial form in the Cornhill magazine in 1873. The structure of the story is therefore affected as each episode builds towards a dramatic moment or climax and crucial questions are raised. It was later published as a novel in 1874. Hardy’s title is taken from the poem “Elegy in a Country Churchyard” by Thomas Grey. It suggests that the countryside is a calm place brimming with tranquillity, far away from the mayhem of city life.
Ironically, it couldn’t paint a less precise picture, as life in the countryside turns out to be just as lively and hectic as in the city. Many of the characters experience several obsessions throughout the novel. These obsessions affect them on several levels and their combination leads to an interesting plot. The main character in the novel is Bathsheba Everdene. In addition to having obsessions of her own, she is also the subject of obsessions from various other characters. These include Oak, Boldwood and Troy. The primary fixation we are made aware of is her preoccupation with her appearance.
Her vanity is evident from the very beginning of the novel. This obsession causes her to crave attention from every man she desires and ignore the attention of those who she does not consider “worthy of her notice”. Because Oak does not flatter Bathsheba in the way she would like, she chooses to ignore his feelings towards her and treats him with little respect. She soon finds another distraction – Farmer Boldwood. Hardy describes Boldwood as a “recusant” and it is for this very reason that Bathsheba is prompted to send him a Valentine.
She cannot bear to be ignored and therefore craves the attention of Boldwood – the one man who has shown no interest in her. However once he does become interested in her, she wants no more to do with him and Boldwood is left in love with Bathsheba to the point of obsession. She does feel guilty for her actions and treats him with a greater deal of respect than Oak when refusing his offer in marriage. Troy appealed to Bathsheba’s vanity by complimenting her frequently and impressing her with such ostentatious acts as sword fighting. Flattered by the attention, Bathsheba is convinced Troy would be a suitable husband.
However her attraction to him is more spontaneous than serious and she is blind to Troy’s disloyalty towards her. Her obsession with vanity and the constant need she feels for attention from men, causes her to mistreat many people who genuinely care about her. Gabriel Oak’s obsession with Bathsheba remains throughout the entire novel. He is greatly impressed with Bathsheba’s refined beauty and elegance. However, Oak has an admirable ability to control his emotions and consequently his obsession with Bathsheba is moderate, and to a certain extent – sensible.
At no point does Oak neglect his duties and responsibilities, which therefore suggests he is in control of his obsession. This may be helped because of his genuine honesty towards Bathsheba. He tells her unmistakably and openly “You know, mistress, that I love you, and shall love you always”. Yet his love for his mistress is not blind, and after meeting Bathsheba for the first time he can already admit, “she has her faults – vanity”. Although Oak accepts that Bathsheba does not consider him as a companion, his affection for her persists.
He initially does not approve of the relationship between Bathsheba and Boldwood, telling his mistress he is “a man of no conscience”. However, Oak’s fair and practical nature means he doesn’t allow his jealousy to cloud his judgement, and he acknowledges to Bathsheba that Boldwood would be a suitable companion. Continuing to put the well being of Bathsheba before his own, he is even prepared to leave for America to prevent any further suffering on Bathsheba’s part, telling his mistress “I have danced at your skittish heels long enough”.
However, Oak’s perseverance and patience prevails as Bathsheba eventually responds truthfully to his feelings towards her and the couple marry happily at the end of the novel. This is one of the few obsessions in the book that has a positive outcome and perhaps this is purposeful as Hardy wanted to emphasise how dangerous obsession can be. Farmer Boldwood’s stillness is the most striking part of his character. He is a serious man who leads a dignified life and is therefore deeply affected when his mistress Bathsheba sends him an unexpected Valentine.