Thomas Hardy, the celebrated English novelist and poet, is renowned for his richly detailed and often pessimistic portrayals of rural life in the 19th century. His works, including the novel “Far From the Madding Crowd,” often grapple with complex themes of fate, character, and the human condition. In this essay, we will delve deeper into Hardy’s art of characterisation, with a specific focus on how he crafts and develops characters in “Far From the Madding Crowd.”
One of the defining features of Hardy’s vision of life, which is particularly evident in “Far From the Madding Crowd,” is its inherent tragedy. Hardy believed that life was inherently marked by suffering, hardship, and the capriciousness of fate. He famously stated, “Happiness is but an occasional episode in the general drama of pain.” This perspective permeates his works, and “Far From the Madding Crowd” is no exception.
The novel is replete with instances of suffering and misfortune that befall its characters. Fanny Robin’s tragic fate, Bathsheba’s tumultuous romantic relationships, and Boldwood’s descent into madness all underscore the prevalence of tragedy. Hardy’s tragic vision suggests that individuals are often at the mercy of circumstances beyond their control, leading to inevitable sorrow.
Hardy’s conception of life is essentially tragic. He is one of those who think life by no means a boon. For him ‘Happiness is but an occasional episode in the general drama of pain.’ His attitude to life is melancholic and depressive. He hates life inversely. He does not think it worth living. He perceives it in the grip of cruel, blind and oppressive unknown will.
Hardy is an incorrigible pessimist. The underlying idea in most of his novels is the struggle of man against the Force that rules the world. He believes that man always fights a losing battle against Fate or Destiny. Human beings have no free will. They are mere puppets in the hands of an indifferent and often a malignant Force.
But Far From the Madding Crowd does not support this view. In this novel, Hardy allows his characters the choice to make or mar their lives. Thus the major characters – Bathsheba, Boldwood, Oak, Troy and Fanny Robin- are all free agents. No subt, chance plays some part in their lives, but, to a great extent, the tragedy is brought about by their own actions, rather than by circumstances over which they have no control.
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Each of the major characters suffers from a fatal defect. Thus, vanity is Bathsheba’s fatal flaw, lack of conscience is Troy’s, whereas lack of self- control can be regarded as Boldwood’s fatal failing. In the case of Fanny Robin, lack of worldly wisdom or lack of experience of men can be considered the chief weakness. This fatal defect is responsible for the sorrows of the various characters. Bathsheba, Boldwood. Troy and Fanny Robin are themselves the authors of their misfortunes. Fate has very little to do with their tragedies.
All that we can say is that Hardy’s outlook is tragic in Far From the Madding Crowd. He shows us, in everyday life human beings aspiring for happiness and meeting with dis-appointment and disaster instead. In this respect Hardy, like Shakespeare, seems to suggest that as far as human beings go, character is Fate. Man himself is the master or architect of his destiny. Unhappiness is so common and happiness so rare because man refuses to make reason the guiding principle of life. He suffers because he yields to stray impulses.
Far from the Madding Crowd does not leave a depressing impression on the mind of the reader. The dominant impression is that of joy. The band of delightful rustics contributes a great deal towards this joyful impression. Then there is the character of Bathsheba in whom feminine charm and feminine destructiveness are most wonderfully mingled. Even Sergeant Troy, so long as he courts Bathsheba, appears to be quite a pleasant and delightful figure.
Again, the novel has a happy ending. Ultimately Bathsheba discovers herself and her true lover. Oak is rewarded for all his patience, sincerity and fortitude.
There is, no doubt, that at several places the story moves towards tragedy rather than comedy. There is the tragic death of the innocent girl, Fanny Robin. There is also the misery experienced by Bathsheba when she knows the truth about her husband’s relations with Fanny Robin. There is then the consuming suffering endured by the rejected Boldwood. On the whole. however, the story is neither depressing nor disheartening.
Fate seems to have withdrawn her hand once from the novels of Thomas Hardy. Characters are comparatively free and they themselves, not Fate, are to blame for any suffering which they have to endure.
In “Far From the Madding Crowd,” Thomas Hardy showcases his remarkable talent for characterisation. Each character, from the complex and evolving Bathsheba to the steadfast Gabriel, the enigmatic Troy, and the tormented Boldwood, is meticulously crafted to serve the overarching themes of the novel. Through these characters, Hardy explores the intricate interplay between individual character, fate, and the human condition.
Hardy’s characters are not mere literary constructs; they are living, breathing entities with flaws and virtues, making choices that shape their destinies. As readers, we are drawn into their lives, empathizing with their struggles, and witnessing the profound impact of their character on the unfolding narrative. “Far From the Madding Crowd” stands as a testament to Hardy’s art of characterisation, a testament to his ability to capture the essence of human nature in all its complexity and contradiction.