Far From the Madding Crowd

Far From the Madding Crowd

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Far From the Madding Crowd Study Guide

Welcome to the LitCharts study guide on Thomas Hardy's Far From the Madding Crowd. Created by the original team behind SparkNotes, LitCharts are the world's best literature guides.

Brief Biography of Thomas Hardy

Thomas Hardy was born in a small village to a father who was a stonemason and fiddler. After attending school in Dorset, he began to be trained as an architect in London, although he always identified himself with Dorset, a rural, poor area of the country. In the 1850s Hardy developed a friendship with Horace Moule, who encouraged him to read and educate himself and who became a significant intellectual mentor to him. In 1867 Hardy returned to Dorset as an architect, and began to write. Far from the Madding Crowd (1874) marked the beginning of his success (he was able to give up his architecture career), as well as the emergence of the fictional world of Wessex that he would go on to develop in other novels. He also married Emma Lavinia Gifford that year, though they never had children. For the next several decades, Hardy continued to publish novels (most importantly The Return of the Native in 1878, Tess of the d'Urbervilles in 1891, and Jude the Obscure in 1895) as well as poetry. He became increasingly respected but also invited scandal as a result of his views on sexual conduct and his fatalism. After 1897, Hardy would publish no more novels, but began to work on a long epic poem called The Dynasts. Emma, who eventually became estranged from her husband, died in 1912, and in 1914 Hardy married his friend Florence Dugdale. In his later years, Hardy became very influential on other modern poets including W.H. Auden, Robert Frost, and Philip Larkin; he also was visited by William Butler Yeats and Virginia Woolf, among others.
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Historical Context of Far From the Madding Crowd

The Victorian age, during which Hardy was writing, was also known as the “Age of Transition”—a time in which industrialization and urbanization were causing rapid changes in daily life whose uncertain effects left Victorians unsettled in regards to the future. The stereotypes of Victorians are often that they were buttoned-up, overly prudish, and obsessed with decorum. Indeed, Hardy’s sly profanities, including the farm hands’ casual reference of the Bible when talking about country love affairs, got him into trouble in Victorian society. But the Victorians were also concerned about maintaining stability and coherence in a world in which the past no longer seemed to provide a model for the future. In some ways, Wessex seems exempt from such changes—but the outside world does enter in, as when Troy wants to become a “modern farmer” with new techniques and methods. While urban modernity is not a part of Far from the Madding Crowd, the philosophical and psychological questions of modernity—people’s place within a new, frightening world—can be teased out from its pages

Other Books Related to Far From the Madding Crowd

As his first successful novel, and the first of the “Wessex novels” that took place in Hardy’s fictionalized county, Far from the Madding Crowd prefigured other works that returned to this seemingly bucolic, but in fact tumultuous, setting. Tess of the d'Urbervilles, published 17 years later, would also deal with issues of women’s independence and vulnerability in such a world. Hardy was also extremely influenced by Charles Darwin, whose theory of evolution replaced a confidence in God’s plan for humanity with an insistence on contingent and often destructive nature, which took away much of humanity’s sense of capacity and meaning.
Key Facts about Far From the Madding Crowd
  • Full Title: Far from the Madding Crowd
  • When Written: 1874
  • Where Written: London
  • When Published: 1874, first serialized (anonymously) in the Cornhill Magazine and then in a volume edition.
  • Literary Period: Victorian
  • Genre: Novel
  • Climax: Troy bursts in on Boldwood’s Christmas party to reclaim his wife for his own, and Boldwood shoots him.
  • Antagonist: Sergeant Troy is beloved by his wife Bathsheba, and yet he is also the clearest antagonist—not only to her, but also to Fanny, Boldwood, and Gabriel, all of whom he hurts in various ways. One could also argue that Bathsheba is her own worst enemy, as it is her own actions (including marrying Troy) that lead to her unhappiness.
  • Point of View: Hardy uses an omniscient third-person narrator, who moves throughout the various settings of the novel and even among points of view. The first part of the book hews closely to Gabriel’s perspective, for instance, but after he reaches Bathsheba’s farm, the text mostly stays close to Bathsheba’s own point of view to reveal her thoughts and emotions. The narrator, however, also moves between Bathsheba, Boldwood, Troy, and the “Greek chorus” of the farm hands at Warren’s Malt-house. The narrator also at times makes general pronouncements on the characters, women, and rural life as a whole.

Extra Credit for Far From the Madding Crowd

The Good Old Days Although Hardy’s wife died with the couple still estranged, Emma’s death led to a prolific output of poetry as he recalled happier times earlier in their courtship—something that didn’t exactly please Hardy’s next wife, Florence.

Hidden in verse It’s generally accepted that Hardy stopped writing novels and turned to poetry as a result of the controversies around his candid portrayal of sexual relationships and bleak view of human life in his novels. He believed that his ideas could be expounded upon unrestricted in verse.

Far From the Hungry Crowd? As Suzanne Collins, the author of The Hunger Games puts it; “Katniss Everdeen owes her last name to Bathsheba Everdene, the lead character in Far From the Madding Crowd. The two are very different, but both struggle with knowing their hearts.”