Author: Thomas Hardy
Rating: 5/5 stars
Published in: 1874
Thomas Hardy. He does it every. Single. Time.
This was the only major novel of his besides Under the Greenwood Tree that I haven't read yet, and I absolutely loved it. It's probably the most descriptive of his books that I've read so far, but the backdrop and setting of Hardy's stories have always featured in a major way (e.g. The English countryside in Tess of the D'Urbervilles, the heath in The Return of the Native).
Being one of his earlier novels, Far From the Madding Crowd isn't as doomy and gloomy as Tess or Jude, although there is certainly a significant amount of tragedy that befalls many of the characters. However those that do suffer in FFTMC are mostly antagonists or villians, rather than innocents or people being tragically undone by Fate or cruelty. There are also, as usual with Hardy, numerous references to the Old Testament and ancient mythologies that are explained with footnotes and a set of Notes at the back.
The story revolves around Bathsheba Everdene, an educated woman who becomes heiress of her uncle's farm after he passes away. Her beauty and independence catches the attention of three very different men: Gabriel Oak, a farmer-turned-shephard who loves her from the very beginning; Farmer Boldwood, a 40 something year old bachelor; and womanising Sergeant Troy, who is dashing and flirtacious. Bathsheba herself is an interesting and capable character whom I would go as far as to describe as having quite a few feminist qualities. There is a lot of commentary on her being a female farmer, and yet the men on the farm are mostly supportive and respect her position, despite a few misgiving comments here and there. I have actually always liked Hardy's female characters (Eustacia Vye, Tess Durbeyfield, Sue Bridehead). Whilst not creating strong female protagonists as such, I have always felt he was hugely critical of the patriachy of those times that was stifling to so many women, and a lot of his work tends to reflect this.
I always look to Hardy for tragedy, fatalism and insights into the human condition, but Far From the Madding Crowd is a genuinely touching love story that I enjoyed from beginning to end. It's not as intense or as important thematically as later works, but it does make for much lighter reading and I would recommend it as a good introduction to those who would like to start reading Hardy.