Hardy’s Humour With Reference To Far From the Madding Crowd


Hardy is a serious novelist, who discusses some of the philosophical aspects of life yet there is much humour in his novels. This humour is not ordinary, coarse humour which takes the form of horse laughter or tall humour. Really he illustrates the truth of the statement that best humour is that which brings a tear in the eye. The humour in Far From the Madding Crowd is pathetic. It arises out of the nobility of character of Bathsheba and Gabriel Oak. The main source of humour in Far From the Madding Crowd is the conversation of the rustics.

Rustic Humour:

Humour in Far From the Madding Crowd belongs mainly to the rustics. Collectively as well as individually the country people are made to convey the impression that there is a good deal of comedy in life to compensate for its hardships. In the later Wessex novels, this impression markedly decreases, but in Far From the Madding Crowd the rustic interludes are largely comic ones. From the beginning we are made aware that the Weatherbury folk ‘whereas Hardy, merry, thriving, wicked a set as any in the whole country’, and the rest of the novel bears this out. Chapters 8 and 15 in the malthouse, Chapter 10 in the old hall, Chapter 42 in the Buck’s Head deserve close study in this connection. What does their humorous content contribute to the novel as a whole ? Is it mere light relief? Or is it a more serious comment on human life and affairs? Nor should we forget, when, seeking answers to these questions, that the chapters just mentioned are in every case contrasted with chapters in which Fanny Robin appears: in Chapter 7 Oak meets Fanny by the churchyard wall, in: chapter 11 Fanny visits Troy’s barracks, in Chapter 16 she was to have married Troy, and Chapter 42 is dominated by her coffin. Fanny is as much a member of country community as the others, but throughout the novel she stands apart. The contrast between Fanny’s tragedy and the comic chorus is an important ingredient of Far From the Madding Crowd, perhaps nowhere more obviously so than in Chapter 42. The choice of Joseph Poorgrass, Who would tremble and blush with terror at the slightest provocation, as the driver of Fanny’s hearse is in itself a stroke of genius. No wonder that ‘his spirits were oozing out of him quite, as he finds himself and his peculiar burden enveloped in…..with its unfathomable gloom amid the high trees on each hand, indistinct, shadowless, and spectre-like in their monochrome of grey’. To say that he felt anything but cheerful’ is a delightful under-statement. And then, comes the crowning moment of comedy as Joseph joins Coggan and Clark in the Buck’s Head to drink himself into a state of blissful forgetfulness while the body of poor Fanny lies outside on its waggon under the trees.

No Coarseness:

Among the most entertaining passages in the rustic interludes are undoubtedly those in which we get glimpses of such outsiders as Coggan’s first wife, Charlotte or Bathsheba’s parents. The charge of coarseness which contemporary reviewers levelled against Hardy for his inclusion of the story of Bathsheba’s father in Chapter 8 is one to which modern readers of the novel would probably not subscribe. The present generation, nurtured on stronger meat, is not likely to wince at the humorous account of a husband, ‘faithful and true enough’ to his marriage-vow, but with a roving eye, asking his wife to take off her wedding ring, in order to fancy her still only his sweetheart, so that as soon as he could thoroughly fancy he was doing wrong and committing the seventh, a got to like her as well as ever, and they lived on a perfect picture of mutual love.”

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 Comic Glimpse:

The fact that, as Poorgrass points out, ‘a happy providence kept it from being any worse. You see, he might have gone the bad road and given his eyes to unlawfulness entirely-yes, gross unlawfulness, so to say it,” and that Mr. Everdene became in his old age a right godly man who took to saying “Amen” almost as loud as the clerk, did not prevent Hardy from laying himself open to the charge of coarseness in Victorian England. Why then the inclusion of such material in Far From the Madding Crowd? How far is it relevant to the story, to the development of character, to atmosphere”? Atmosphere is certainly created, or enhanced, by these homely details gossiped about in Warren’s Malthouse, and much of the rustic wit and shrewdness is expended’ ‘on just these topics. Whether Hardy intended the reader to draw any conclusions about Bathsheba herself from the fickleness and martial oddities of her father, we can only surmise. In several of the Wessex novels fathers and mothers play not inconsiderable parts, so perhaps this comic glimpse of Bathsheba’s father is not quite as irrelevant as it might first appear.

Wit and Irony:

There is humour elsewhere in the novel, too. It consists mainly of witty comments or comparisons and occasionally takes the form of irony. Here are several examples: In Chapter 5, a statement runs: “It may have been observed that there is no regular path for getting out of love as there is for getting in. Some people look upon marriage as a shortcut that way, but it has been known to fail”. On another occasion, in Chapter 24, we find: “He added a sigh which had as much archness in it as a sigh could possess without losing its nature altogether”. In Chapter 29 we read about the supreme instance of Troy’s goodness “which fell upon Gabriel’s ears like the thirteenth stroke of a crazy clock.” In Chapter 30 we see Liddy asserting emphatically ‘And I’l always be your friend’, and at the same time bringing a few more tears into her own eyes, not from any particular necessity, “but from an artistic sense of making herself in keeping with the remainder of the picture, which seems to influence women at such times”. Joseph has been described, in Chapter 51, as suffering from his old complaint, a multiplying eye, and was, therefore hardly trustworthy as coachman and protector to a woman.

The rustic characters as a source of comedy:

The rustic characters include Joseph Poorgrass, Jan Coggan, Henery Fray, the Old Malster, Cain Ball, Mark Clark, Laban Tall, and others. Of these, Joseph Poorgrass provides the maximum amusement. We are greatly amused by the stories of his bashfulness, his timidity, his cowardice, etc. He is indeed “a man of many calamities”, but his calamities are of a comic nature. Jan Coggan is also a source of comedy. He has a great weakness for drink which, of course, is shared by Joseph Poorgrass. Jan Coggan had acted as chief witness and best man at marriages for the past twenty years and had frequently filled the post of head god-father at baptismal ceremonies. The conversation of the rustics and their oddities constitute a very rich source of comedy in this novel.

Gabriel Oak as a source of comedy:

Oak has his funny side. He goes to church on Sundays not from any religious motive but merely as a formality: and during the sermons he often yawns. His watch, which is big enough to be called a small clock, amuses us because it is useless as an instrument for indicating time and yet Gabriel Oak keeps it with him. We are also amused when, on one occasion, Gabriel, having been handed a dirty cup, says that he does not mind dirt in its pure condition. His manner of pleading his love to Bathsheba when he proposes marriage to her in the early part of the story is also funny. He tempts her by painting a bright picture of her future with him and also tells her that he will advertise the birth of her babies in the newspaper.

Humour in the miscellaneous remarks made by Hardy:

There are quite a large number of miscellaneous remarks and comments made by Hardy in the course of the story, which are humorous. For instance, Hardy says at one place that Bathsheba yawned at night in the cowshed and that Gabriel, catching the infection, slightly yawned in sympathy. When Oak goes to the house of Bathsheba’s aunt in order to make his proposal of marriage to Bathsheba, Hardy says that Oak’s dog George walked behind him, “with a countenance of great concern at the serious turn pastoral affairs seemed to be taking:” This dog, says Hardy, ‘had arrived at an age in his life at which all superficial barking was avoided by him as a waste of breath. Again, referring to the same dog, Hardy remarks that the dog once belonged to a shepherd of inferior morals and dreadful temper and that, as a result, the dog had come to know the exact degrees of condemnation indicated by cursing and swearing of all kinds better than the wickedest old man in the neighbourhood. When Gabriel’s younger dog has driven the sheep over a precipice, the dog stands on the summit, “dark and motionless as Napoleon at St. Helena”. At one stage. Hardy says that Hanery Fray spoke, “with an oriental indifference to the flight of time.” This remark is a fling at the people of the East for not sufficiently realizing the value of punctuality. Again, describing the scanty clothes of workmen at sheep-shearing. Hardy says that the men were dressed in a manner that represented the mean between a high and low caste Hindu. This is a fling at the poor sections among the Hindus who practically wear nothing besides a loin-cloth. Hardy’s comments on Troy are also amusing. For instance, we are told that Troy could be one thing and seem another; he could speak of love and think of dinner; he could call on the husband to look at the wife; he could be eager to pay and intend to owe.



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