Thomas Hardy, one of the most celebrated novelists of the 19th century, is known for his unique vision of life portrayed in his novels. “Far From the Madding Crowd,” published in 1874, is one of Hardy’s most enduring works and provides a significant canvas for exploring his perspective on life. Hardy’s vision is often considered tragic and pessimistic, but “Far From the Madding Crowd” offers a nuanced portrayal of human nature, fate, and the complexities of existence.
Fanny is the best woman character in the novel; she is simple and innocent, she has a kind and passionate nature, as most of the women possess.
Fanny though dead herself yet created serious problems for Bathsheba. Bathsheba was told about Fanny’s child who had died with her. Bathsheba decided to confirm and so she opened Fanny’s coffin, and saw to her dismay that Fanny had a child. She thus had here the conclusive proof of her husband’s conduct. She wept bitterly. She realised that Fanny had triumphed and she herself had been humiliated. She contemplated suicide but could not commit it. She then showed kindness to the dead by offering flowers. An instant later, Troy appeared looking in upon her. Troy beheld the dead body and sank upon his knees. He gently kissed Fanny. He pushed Bathsheba away; he had been, he said a bad man; but Fanny was to him more than Bathsheba could ever be: in the sight of Heaven, Fanny was his very, very wife-Bathsheba was nothing to him-a ceremony before a priest did not make a marriage. Troy also erected a tomb-stone in Fanny’s memory with an inscription on it and also planted flowers on it. He was so deeply affected by the death of Fanny that he no longer wanted to live with Bathsheba. Though he returned to her after some time yet was shot dead by Boldwood.
I. The Tragic Thread in Hardy’s Vision
Hardy’s conception of life is fundamentally tragic, as he views existence as a series of hardships and struggles. He once stated, “Happiness is but an occasional episode in the general drama of pain.” This underlying pessimism is a recurrent theme in his works, reflecting his belief that life is not a benevolent gift but rather a relentless challenge.
A. The Role of Fate and Destiny
One of the key aspects of Hardy’s tragic vision is the idea that individuals are powerless against the forces of fate and destiny. He often portrays characters who are caught in the inexorable grip of circumstances beyond their control. In “Far From the Madding Crowd,” this theme is exemplified through the characters of Bathsheba, Boldwood, Troy, and Fanny Robin.
- Bathsheba’s Vanity: Bathsheba Everdene, the novel’s central character, is characterized by her vanity and impulsive decisions. Her initial rejection of Gabriel Oak’s proposal and her hasty marriage to Sergeant Frank Troy illustrate the role of personal flaws in determining one’s fate.
- Boldwood’s Obsession: William Boldwood’s obsessive love for Bathsheba leads to his downfall. His inability to control his emotions and the tragic consequences of his actions highlight the destructive power of unchecked desire.
- Troy’s Lack of Conscience: Sergeant Troy’s reckless behavior and disregard for moral values contribute to his tragic fate. His actions, including his mistreatment of Fanny Robin, demonstrate the consequences of moral apathy.
- Fanny Robin’s Tragic Naïveté: Fanny Robin’s innocence and lack of worldly wisdom make her vulnerable to the harsh realities of life. Her fate is sealed by her tragic decision to keep her marriage to Troy a secret, leading to her destitution and eventual death.
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B. The Absence of Free Will
In Hardy’s worldview, human beings have limited agency and are often portrayed as mere puppets in the hands of an indifferent or malevolent force. While chance and circumstance play some part in their lives, the tragedies that befall his characters are primarily a result of their own actions and character flaws.
- Characters as Architects of Their Destiny: “Far From the Madding Crowd” departs from Hardy’s usual deterministic outlook by allowing its major characters a degree of choice in shaping their lives. While external factors influence them, their personal decisions and actions play a substantial role in determining their fates.
- Fatal Character Flaws: Each of the major characters possesses a fatal character flaw that contributes to their suffering. Bathsheba’s vanity, Troy’s lack of conscience, Boldwood’s lack of self-control, and Fanny Robin’s lack of worldly wisdom are central to their tragic narratives.
II. A Counterpoint of Joy in Tragedy
While Hardy’s overall outlook may be tragic, “Far From the Madding Crowd” does not leave readers with an entirely depressing impression. The novel offers moments of joy and beauty that serve as counterpoints to the prevailing tragedies.
A. Joy in Rustic Life
The novel features a band of delightful rustics who contribute to the overall joyous impression. Their rusticity and simple, sincere lives contrast with the complexities and tragedies of the main characters. Their scenes provide moments of humor and warmth, breaking the somber tone of the story.
B. The Character of Bathsheba
Bathsheba Everdene, the central character, embodies both feminine charm and feminine destructiveness. Her growth and self-discovery throughout the novel contribute to the sense of joy, especially as she eventually finds happiness with Gabriel Oak.
C. A Happy Ending
The novel concludes on a hopeful note, with Bathsheba recognizing her true love for Gabriel Oak. Gabriel’s unwavering devotion and patience are rewarded, and their union signifies a resolution of the story’s conflicts. The novel’s happy ending mitigates its tragic elements, leaving readers with a sense of satisfaction.
III. Characters as Architects of Their Destiny
In “Far From the Madding Crowd,” Hardy departs from his deterministic outlook in some of his other works. Here, the characters are portrayed as free agents who have the power to make choices that significantly impact their lives. While external circumstances and chance play a role, the characters’ actions and decisions often lead to their own suffering or happiness.
A. Bathsheba’s Choices
Bathsheba Everdene’s character development is central to the theme of free will. She makes choices that reflect her growth from a vain and impulsive young woman into a more mature and self-aware individual. Her decision to marry Troy and subsequent realization of her feelings for Oak illustrate her capacity to shape her destiny.
B. Boldwood’s Obsession
William Boldwood’s obsession with Bathsheba is another example of personal agency. His actions, driven by his unchecked desires, lead to his downfall. His choices, such as sending valentines and proposing to Bathsheba, demonstrate the role of free will in shaping his tragic fate.
C. Troy’s Recklessness
Sergeant Frank Troy’s reckless behavior and moral indifference are crucial factors in his own tragedy. His pursuit of Bathsheba and his treatment of Fanny Robin reveal the consequences of his choices. While chance plays a role in his eventual death, his character flaws are the primary drivers of his fate.
D. Fanny Robin’s Decisions
Fanny Robin’s character is marked by her innocence and lack of worldly wisdom. Her decision to keep her marriage to Troy a secret ultimately leads to her destitution and tragic end. Her choices, influenced by her naivety, shape her fate in the novel.
“Far From the Madding Crowd” offers a complex portrayal of life that aligns with Thomas Hardy’s overall vision. While Hardy is often seen as a pessimist, this novel allows for a more nuanced exploration of human nature, choice, and fate. While tragedy and hardship are prevalent, moments of joy, personal growth, and happy endings provide a counterbalance to the prevailing pessimism. In this novel, characters are not merely victims of fate but active participants in shaping their destinies, a departure from some of Hardy’s more deterministic works. “Far From the Madding Crowd” invites readers to contemplate the interplay of free will and circumstance in the human experience, making it a compelling exploration of Hardy’s unique vision of life.
Fanny is a victim of Fate or circumstances in addition to being a victim of Man. By sheer accident, she goes to the wrong church on the day of her marriage. This one mistake costs her the entire happiness of her future life. Chance, thus, plays havoc with poor Fanny.
Bathsheba has, to a great extent, to blame herself for her misfortunes. It is her own character-her impulsive nature-rather than chance or fate, which is responsible for all her sufferings.