The plot is laid among the shepherds and small farmers of the village of Weatherbury, “far from the madding crowd’s ignoble strife.” Hardy himself explains the situation of the village in the preface to the novel, Moreover the village called Weatherbury wherein the scenes of the present story of the series are for the most part laid would perhaps be hardly discernible by the explorer, without help, in any existing place now-a-days; though at the time, comparatively recent, at which the tale was written, a sufficient reality to meet the descriptions, both of backgrounds and personages might have been traced easily enough.”
Bathsheba Everdene is a poor girl who comes to the village of Weatherbury- with household goods in a waggon. Gabriel Oak, a bachelor and a farmer notices the beautiful maid at the turnpike gale where the waggon stops for the payment of taxes. There is higgling over two pence. The farmer Oak pays two pence to the Gatekeeper and the waggon is allowed to pass. Bathsheba does not speak a word. She looks at farmer Oak with little indifference. Gabriel finds Bathsheba full of vanity. But the farmer is full of romantic love for her. Oak meets Bathsheba again while she is riding a horse and performing some feat of bodily exercise.
At first the girl is thrilled at the idea of having a piano and the other small comforts which Gabriel can provide but she finally decides that she will be bored with married life.
One night Gabriel loses his flock of sheep because a dog had become excited and had driven them over a cliff. From this loss, he soon loses his entire farm and is forced to travel about seeking employment elsewhere.
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Meanwhile, Bathesheba has inherited a farm in the vicinity from her uncle. One night her barn catches fire and the man who rushes from the road to help put out the flames is Gabriel. He becomes her hired man. Bathsheba’s beauty and prosperity attracted many suitors among whom was the aristocratic William Boldwood. But suddenly, the gay young blade sergeant Troy, comes upon the scene and Bathsheba is swept off her feet. Even at their wedding supper, when sergeant Troy becomes hopelessly drunk, Bathsheba realizes that she has made a poor choice.
Gabriel Oak has watched the suitors come and go, and even after the object of his love has married the worthless soldier, he continues to work patiently for his mistress. Bathsheba gradually learns that sergeant Troy has had other affairs and one girl has just died, after having given birth to his baby. Finally, Troy leaves Bathsheba and the farm. A report is circulated that he had drowned.
William Boldwood enters the scene again and Bathsheba promises to marry him at the end of seven years when Troy would be legally declared dead and she would be free to marry. At a Christmas Eve party to celebrate the decision. Troy suddenly appears dead drunk. Boldwood shoots him. He is tried and sentenced to life imprisonment.
Bathsheba is prostrate with grief and gradually comes to realize that she had erred long before in not accepting the faithful Gabriel. When Gabriel decides to leave the vicinity, she comes to his cottage and offers herself to him in marriage. The vain and beautiful Bathsheba at last finds contentment and peace with the man she had at first considered commonplace and unattractive.