By now, I would imagine that some readers are getting tired of hearing about my journeys through Victorian British literature. As I “arrived” in Dorchester, I began to feel weary myself. The novel we were beginning, Far From the Madding Crowd, certainly didn’t help.
The novel focuses mainly around three characters: Gabriel Oak, Bathsheba Everdene, and William Boldwood. Their names are highly symbolic and carry heavy religious associations, as does much of the novel. Thomas Hardy was a well-read man, therefore it comes as no surprise that his characters are so rich. Far From the Madding Crowd might at first seem as though it has nothing to do with its title. I had no idea what I was in for, and it took me until an end of the book analysis before I understood what I had read. The title refers to Hardy’s belief that mankind is straying too far from nature. Taken from Thomas Gray’s poem “Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard,” it speaks to the joys of country life, a quiet life that is in touch with nature. Gabriel Oak is close to nature and is one of the only good characters in the novel. Harmony with nature was being lost in Hardy’s time, and he desired to bring it back.
I did not enjoy the novel. I thought it was slow and filled with too much symbolism and meaning that had to be closely analyzed. Also, it was very long… Not longer than The Woman in White, as far as I know, but it felt twice the length it actually was. That is my personal opinion. It was also the personal opinion of every other student in the course. I don’t think that’s a coincidence. I don’t want to say that Hardy is unappealing to every member of my generation, but I think his style doesn’t connect with readers of my generation as well as others from the time period might. I can imagine some readers from older generations blaming it on technology or whatever it is on which they blame our short attention spans, and maybe, they’re right. Maybe my generation can’t handle Hardy because we can’t focus. I, however, believe that his style doesn’t reach us because it’s not meant to do so. I doubt Thomas Hardy sat down one day and decided that he wanted to write a work of literature geared toward twenty year-olds. I would like to wait ten or twenty years and come back to his work. I think after experiencing more of life that I will be able to better understand what he was trying to say.
My dislike of it doesn’t mean that it isn’t widely liked and often referenced by other authors. It is a classic, after all. Someone had to have read and liked it. You may have noticed Bathsheba’s last name: Everdene. Katniss, the main character of the Hunger Games series got her last name from Hardy’s heroine. Suzanne Collins chose to do this because Katniss reflected Bathsheba’s strong-willed independence. I did notice some similarities as I read.
Recommendation? I say don’t read it. If you want to read Victorian novels, try something else. Far From the Madding Crowd won’t make you want to read more if you’re starting with it or ending with it for that matter.
(Go read The Woman in White.)