My Sentimental Chat with Far From The Madding Crowd

Readers of fiction come to know the stock flavors of love stories. Readers will sense the familiar narrative of ships passing in the night between two characters. A reader will want to yell at a character, imploring them to finally “wake up” and see that good man or woman. Often readers see glimpses of themselves in a character. Readers know the “kiss her finally!” moment or the “she needs to leave him!” frustrations born from personal experience. We as readers empathize with the characters. We get emotionally invested in their well-being. Even if the love story on the pages feels shopworn, we enjoy it. These familiar stories are psychological. Rarely do we come across stories painting the spectrum of inherent human nature, and how that nature manifests during the various stages and flavors of courtship. Especially the youthful visions of romance playing out during those nascent stages of courtship.

As we mature we learn that some people evolve past those youthful, utopian visions of love; that some people never evolve past their most handicapping patterns of behavior; and know all too well that some men or women are toxic nightmares leaving a wake of regret, consequences, and confusion. We hope to become good partners; we hope to find good partners. To find what we hope requires work. As we face romance’s trials of innocence and anguish, we, if we’re healthy souls, evolve. When we evolve we gain a spiritual depth. That all has a nature to it. And those stories are never quite told on the pages of fiction. Familiar psychology is much easier to put inside the pages of a book. That doesn’t mean that familiar psychology is always trite and banal, yet it’s difficult to combine psychology, human nature, and the nature of romance. All that nature is a vast spectrum, simple at times, complex at others, both erratic and consistent.

Thomas Hardy’s Far From The Madding Crowd does paint that vast spectrum. It’s tough to call Far From The Madding Crowd a love story. Hardy paints the nature of courtship via the nature of four characters, a woman and three men. You will not find neat and tidy love stories in Far From The Madding Crowd. Hardy is a realist. Hardy laces character storylines with coincidence, chance, consequences, and the tragicness and irrationality of human nature. Hardy lures the reader into sentimental reflection. We see the moments of our youth when we idealized someone. For men, we see our crush go for the cad. Women will recognize how youthful whimsy can sometimes blind the ugly truth of a man’s low character. Both men and women can see how some people on paper, look to be perfect, look to be right, but upon dating, we discover that a superficial checklist does not equate complementary values, worldviews, depth, and capacity. All that, Hardy depicts. Hardy’s Madding Crowd is not a love story; it’s a revelation of human nature.

Far From The Madding Crowd – Victorian Realism

Hardy first published the story in 1874. As was custom then, the story was published as a series in a magazine. Hardy, however, edited and revised the story for decades after its first publication. One reason for the ongoing edits, censorship. Well, censorship may be too strong a term. The publisher and Hardy, more or less, decided to play it safe. The story isn’t in any way lewd. No graphic scenes exist. But Hardy’s poetic phrasings paint the erotic. He’s not speculative, euphemistic, or cliched — the erotic is obvious without graphic detail. This is a rare talent to make what is often subjective objective without saying it explicitly. Hardy is a Victorian realist. Realist literature takes care to depict reality and avoid speculation. Realist literature is associated with Realist art. Realist art captures moments and captures the atmosphere in the sense that we see more than just what is painted. For instance, if it’s a painting of a man sitting on a chair, we pick up his internal atmosphere. That atmosphere could be sadness, happiness, boredom, or reflection. Hardy has only words and not a paintbrush. He uses style and rhetorical devices to give palpable life to a scene. And when Hardy paints a scene with sensual tones, or a scene conjuring the sacred parts of the erotic, he creates an atmosphere without upsetting Victorian sensibilities. He does the same when he portrays a character’s religious misunderstandings to depict that character’s lack of education.

A great example of this realism is when Hardy depicts the human nature to anthropomorphize a house.

Lively voices were heard this morning in the upper rooms, the main staircase to which was of hard oak, the balusters being turned and moulded in the fashion of heavy bedpost, the handrail as stout as a parapet-top, and the stairs themselves continually twisting round like a person trying to look over his shoulder. Going up we find the floors above to have a very irregular surface, rising to hillocks, sinking into valleys, to be eaten into innumerable vermiculation. Every wind replies by a clang to the opening and shutting of every door, a tremble follows every bustling movement, and a creak accompanies a walker about the house like a spirit, wherever he goes.

Hardy makes the house live and breathe — the twisting of the stairs, and the vermiculation (that’s the worm-eaten wood effect). Humans anthropomorphize a house, and Hardy’s prose depicts this natural impulse. We get more than a good description of the house. The house rouses to life with the “clang” of doors opening and shutting, the “tremble” following every movement, and the “creak” clinging to a person “like a spirit.”

Victorian realism at its finest.

The Story

The story centers on four characters, and a fifth impends in the background.

  • Bathsheba Everdene
  • Gabriel Oak
  • Frank Troy — “Sergeant Troy”
  • William Boldwood

And impending in the background….

  • Fanny Robin

And the frenzy befalls in Hardy’s fictional English countryside, Wessex. Wessex comprises multiple counties in Hardy’s world. The southwestern England where Hardy grew up influenced his Wessex. Hardy used Wessex throughout his career and he used certain characters in multiple stories. Far From The Madding Crowd introduces Wessex in the Hardy canon. The specific location is the fictional town of Casterbridge, a small, countryside farming community.

Hardy enjoyed injecting frenzy into the idyllic. When we envision the idyllic, like a farming village in the English countryside, we picture a cozy agrarian community of friendly neighbors and simple living. We give zero thought to the possible frenzy occurring in that town. The word “madding” means acting in a frenzied manner, or frenzied. The phrase madding crowd according to Merriam Webster’s 11th Edition implies the crowded world of human activity and strife.

Strife.

Frenzy.

Those two words define Hardy’s story and characters. In my perspective, Hardy aimed to capture the growing pains of youthful romance; and he aimed to capture how some men and women never evolve past those youthful growing pains. And Hardy details brilliantly that for some people, the bad patterns are innate, psychological —the person is broken, toxic, or undateable. For others either the inability to evolve or their refusal to evolve, and that they can’t or won’t evolve, leaves a trail of internal and external turmoil in their wake.

Guys will recognize the youthful physical and emotional frenzy of their first time being in close physical proximity to a strikingly gorgeous woman. That initial jolt, then stealing her into private corners of a frenzied mind and then planning out your entire life with her (and some guys, the more sophomoric, plan out a sexual conquest).

Ladies will know the frenzy they feel when certain male suitors take the slightest compliment as flirting and turn it into overbearing annoyance. That frenzy of wanting to be nice yet wanting to tell the him no, coinciding with the near manic back and forth of “Why did I say that innocuous thing and why does he think that means we’re getting married?”

Hardy shows us the nature of puppy love. And how it tends to wear off when we approach our early twenties but can linger in the form of frenzied hopeless romantic visions. And he shows that some people never evolve past those youthful growing pains. And how when someone can’t evolve past romantic idealizations, it destabilizes them psychologically. And if that person is already unstable, horrific consequences entail.

And here’s what makes Hardy’s writing engrossing. Victorian realism works to depict reality without any idealizations. It works to refrain from romantic idealizations. Hardy depicts the characters as they are. But men and women, especially when they’re young, idealize, and force a person into their vision versus seeing them as they are. His characters idealize, as people are wont to do, and he lets the reader see the reality.

The Innate Nature of Courtship

I’ve come across a few people claiming Hardy’s characters are archetypes explaining men and women. That each character resembles a neat and tidy grand unified theory summing up all women, simpy men, and the perfect man. I can see where that view comes from but it’s myopic. That view comes near some crumbs of truth, but it misses the rich spectrum of character, human nature, experience, and the deeper psychology of a person.

Life doesn’t fit into neat connect-the-dots post hoc explanations, nor do people. Sure, people fall into familiar behaviors and patterns. Men and women do have their inherent emotional and psychological differences. People can fit into an archetype, but that often doesn’t tell us everything about that person. Some people evolve and change. Others do not evolve, and if they don’t, as they age and face life’s unknowns, whatever they come up against, will have tradeoffs, consequences, and outcomes. Exceptions exist, and those exceptions are not the norm, nor do they refute the norm. And within the norm, we find variegation. Hardy shows all of this.

The reader will recognize themselves, or someone else, or their youthful self, or a time of their lives, or a time in someone else’s life, and so on, with Hardy’s characters. This makes it real. We know these characters. We may see ourselves or a portion of ourselves in them

For instance, men and women will know of a few men similar to the character, Troy. Either having experienced a Troy in person or hearing of a Troy. But Hardy still injects into Troy, the sides of human nature we all have. Good, healthy men wouldn’t mind the charisma of Troy but enjoy that charisma without the malicious undercurrents of cold, deceptive, and cynical conquest. We’d want it more in the style of a character like Chevy Chase’s Fletch or Eddie Murphy’s Axel Foley.  Both men have a moral compass. They have an authentic charisma and humor well-suited for flirting. Yet we see how Troy’s compass is pure conquest and then bail. He presents the image of vigor and strength, but it’s pageantry, and behind the pageantry exists a weak, pathetic man.

Hardy takes the reader back to our hopeless romantic periods. He takes us to how we lost our youthful romantic innocence. I couldn’t help but think of Bob Seger’s iconic Night Moves after I read Madding Crowd. The song is a story of the changing seasons of life and our romantic, intimate sentiments. Seger sings of the sweet summertime, that period right when we hit early adulthood. Yet when we hit, for some, a lingering youth, sensitivity, and innocence can’t quite put into context what we’re doing with romance, especially when it turns physical. And when Seger sings about autumn closing in, for those of us in our forties and beyond, we look back at the sweetness of that summertime. We don’t yearn, necessarily, for the person we practiced the night moves with, but we have context, reflection, and an endearing appreciation of that time. The appreciation is now knowing the context of working on mysteries without any clues before we head into the final seasons of life “closing in.” It’s sentimental beauty, rich with memories, rich with lessons, and a period that colored our soul.

But life is not always pretty. Not everyone loses their innocence in the way Seger sings it. For some, their innocence is robbed in some manner. It’s not the youthful heartbreak, where at the time we think we’ll never get over it, to then only years later barely remembering the person, but an action or event that truly robs that innocence. Hardy shows the frenzy of stolen innocence. That has consequences, sometimes devastating consequences.

Hardy doesn’t follow typical hero’s journey narratives. He likes to use chance, coincidence, and the randomness life can throw our way. For those of my readers who never used a dating app, and remember dating before them, we know how much chance plays a part in how we date. Even if we meet someone in our social circle, we quickly realize how crazy it was for our schedule to line up for that encounter at that moment. I met my fiancée after mistakenly slamming a door in her face. Had I not been shocked by the loud slam, which made me look behind me to then see a beautiful girl standing there, I would have walked on, oblivious to her behind me. That is a matter of chance. And so much lined up for that moment. The traffic lights on the way home. My rummaging in the center console to find my apartment keys. And I was out on a day I normally don’t drive. And her schedule had to line up as well. It was pure chance, pure serendipity.

Let’s look at the characters. I’ll do my best to represent these characters and will work to not spoil the ending. I’m focusing on the character, the disposition, and what they represent.

Gabriel Oak

Oak is the first character we meet. He’s a shepherd. He’s tall, awkward in his movements, and he’s cocksure. He owns the common veneer of confidence many men in their twenties enjoy before some — not all — mature into their masculinity. A man enters their twenties wanting to prove themselves, wanting others to validate and respect them as established. Yet traces of boyhood along with the raging hormone of teenage craziness still linger. This stage comprises a frenzy. You left boyhood, you’re a young male, full of raging hormones, and you’ve entered manhood, but you haven’t yet developed effectiveness or maturity. And Oak is a late bloomer. He’s not immature. Rather, he’s a late bloomer in understanding his values, worth, and effectiveness.

Oak is somewhat aware he’s at the edge of maturing. He’s aware he’s entering manhood. Yet his disposition early on is more of a sheepish cocksure. But that embracing of manhood, his willingness to embrace it, means he understands responsibility. He accepts the challenge of responsibility. Yet, like most young men, Oak wants to be at the stage of being established already. He wants to be taken seriously. But establishment and being respected come with experience.

Oak is determined. He’s a man of humble means, but he’s betting on himself. And Oak is betting on his self-growth, he’s self-erudite and seems aware of how this gives him an edge. He has books on bettering himself and bettering his craft. Oak isn’t an intellectual, but he’s smart, and he’s willing to learn not only how his craft works, but intellectual endeavors as well. He wants to be a man of personal depth and substance. Oak is a man of faith. He doesn’t evangelize others. But he works to be a Godly man. A Godly man in the traditional sense, a man of morals, hard work, faith, taste, integrity, purpose, and discipline. And these are all great, highly valuable traits of a man, but when you’re young, or when you’re still sheepish like Oak, you’re still cultivating these traits.

Oak is a late bloomer when it comes to women. Early in the story, he’s plagued by a sense of hopeless romanticism. Oak was brought up with Christian morals, and those guide his sexual morals. As in, he’s not a shithead bro obsessed with sexual conquest, despite his hormones raging. He’s sensitive, he’s intrigued by love, and the prospect of starting a family. He owns an understanding, at least conceptually, of being choosy. He wants a chaste woman of good standing and good values.

But that hopeless romanticism and the nature of his environment, he’s about to encounter something sensitive men will never forget.

Not sensitive in the manner that he can’t withstand bad news; sensitive in the manner of connection to his moral intuitions and how the world is interacting directly or indirectly to his personal radar. A sensitive man in this manner is choosy in whom he desires. Even if he’s idealizing a woman, he still consciously or unconsciously feels out how she aligns with his worldviews and his tastes of right or wrong. But he’s also sensitive to the effect — consciously or unconsciously — the woman wields.

Bathsheba Everdene

Oak from a distance spots a woman in a horse-drawn carriage. And that woman is not just beautiful — she’s striking and distinct.

That woman is Bathsheba Everdene. Bathsheba is about twenty years old.

Striking.

Distinct.

Let’s look at that.

Oak is 28. He’s a man of frugal means. We get a sense he’s lived in the English Countryside for his entire life. He’s not a complete rube. He’s worldly. He has taste. He has depth. But he has not yet seen a truly striking woman.

For men, especially sensitive men (see the note above for the definition), we remember when in person we came across a woman who stood out, lookswise. And it’s different than just “the hot girl.” Raging hormones rule teenage males. During that time, males recognize “hotness” in or what comprises “hotness” in its most simple and sophomoric forms. It’s a simple “She’s hot brah!” And when asked what makes her hot, it’s along the lines of “She just is” and maybe a sophomoric expansion with “Her body is bangin’!” That recognition is inherent, but a time arrives for some men, when they start to recognize distinctness. Certainly, personal tastes come into it, but we come to recognize what separates a woman from others. Sometimes it’s one feature, like a wider smiler. Sometimes it’s a few features combined. It’s almost unusual to see it. For an example, Kathy Ireland had a distinct wider jawline that made her striking blue eyes stand out. Consider Jennifer Grey before the nose job. Post her rhinoplasty, Jennifer Grey is still a beautiful woman, but her old nose is distinct. And Jennifer Grey may not be considered a supermodel, but she’s undoubtedly beautiful, and her old nose along with her facial features gave distinct color to her expressions. And if you add physical features distinctness — bust, height, figure, hair, birthmark, and so on — it heightens distinctness.

That strikes a frenzy.

Bathsheba is striking.

Bathsheba is distinct.

From what I gather, Bathsheba’s face has a sultry, playful essence. And her figure is one that not even the most modest of Victorian outfits can make modest. In sum, Hardy places a woman into the English Countryside who could trigger an avalanche.

When Oak first sees Bathsheba, he only sees her face. She’s riding in a carriage with her aunt. The carriage stops. Bathsheba’s aunt steps away from the carriage. Then Hardy paints that initial moment when men or women see a gorgeous man or woman: we instinctually want to look. We know it’s rude to stare, and past staring it can either send signals or get creepy depending on the person. And modern society tells us it’s bad to judge or to look at someone beautiful for more than a second. But humans recognize beauty. Whether it’s in a painting, a sunset, or a person. And when we see it, it arrests us for a moment. Bathsheba’s beauty arrests Oak. And Hardy gives us a glimpse into Bathsheba’s character and her current season of life.

When the aunt steps away from the carriage, Bathsheba looks around to ensure she has a moment of privacy. When she believes she has that moment, she pulls out a mirror and adores herself with enormous self-satisfaction. On one end, we see her vanity. Oak spots this too. And most men, as Oak does, would say she’s vain. And that is true. Most authors would leave it here, but Hardy is not most authors, he shows us something more complex. On the other side of her self-satisfaction, we see a woman coming to terms with the power her beauty wields, and she’s enjoying it.

Consider this.

She’s 20 years old.

She’s exiting a common teen phase of feeling awkward, maybe even conflicted with her beauty.

Many teen women will dislike a physical feature of theirs. It could be their eyes, maybe it’s their legs, their nose, their height, their figure, their bust and so on. That feature, in this stage, can sap their confidence. It may prevent them from trying a sport or trying out for the play, or they see it as a curse. And that feature or features, often draws attention. And if it’s from teen boys or immature men of the opposite sex, which there are always plenty of, that attention is sexualized. Which at that age, can be terrifying, confusing, and overwhelming. And women, the same age and older, will also project their jealousy onto her. That’s another form of attention not feeling so great. And at that young age, young women don’t quite grasp the full context of why they get that attention and get it in such one-dimensional ways.

Add on top of that, the growing pains of comparison. Teens have a nasty habit of wanting to have the features of someone else. A tall teen girl may hate her long legs. An athletic framed girl may hate she doesn’t have the skinny physical features of the tall skinny girl. And when girls suddenly enter womanhood, their tall legs can feel weird, awkward, or clumsy. Or the athletic girl may think her legs look bulky or fat or weird. And with growth spurts, it does feel physically weird and off. This is another example of frenzy.

All of this creates an awkwardness with the self. Boys go through it too. But teen gals start to get a ton of attention they never got before.

But as we enter the seasons of adulthood, we begin to come to terms with ourselves. Sometimes in a delayed manner, and sometimes it happens quickly.

Some women come to grasp their features and what they mean. The conflict stops. They no longer feel awkward with themselves. They no longer hate a physical feature. They’re better suited to handle the immaturity of men or women who ogle. The comparisons and desires to want to look like “that famous actress” die down. It may never subsume fully, but it dies down. And they may come to recognize the power it can wield. Or it can be more like an athlete hitting a growth spurt, going through a period of feeling awkward and out of the body, and then arriving into their new height with a newfound sense of self-confidence. Whatever it is they come to embrace it rather than reject it or find it weird, bad, or any of the other spite they directed towards it.

Bathsheba is in that stage of acceptance versus rejection. She’s coming into her own, and she’s deeply satisfied.

Hardy triples down on the frenzy.

In a subsequent scene, Oak spots Bathsheba riding a horse. Like the earlier scene, Bathsheba believes no one else can see her. She looks carefully around, hoping to ensure she’s private. Under the assumption no one can see her, which implies her sense of chastity and modesty, she begins trick riding. A woman riding on a horse, to some perspectives, is sensual. Whether Hardy was using that factor, I’m fifty-fifty. But, when a woman starts doing certain tricks on a horse, it does offer a sensual flair. And how Hardy describes Bathsheba, borders on erotic. She took care to ensure no one was seeing her, and her movements and Hardy’s description of her movements conjure the erotic.

But we get a sense of something else. Hardy does this throughout the story with the character’s physical features, albeit man or woman. How she is moving on the horse, how much balance, force, grace, and athleticism; how her sensuality wades into the erotic, we get an image that her body is striking. He gives her a sense of athleticism and has her move in a way that has an erotic mystique.

This generates more frenzy.

She causes a frenzy in the men who see her. Even other women in the story recognize her distinctness. And like the mirror scene, we get a sense that Bathsheba is now reveling in her womanhood. She’s reveling in how she’s moving. She knows she wields a power, she’s starting to grasp a sense of what that means. What may have once been a source of killing her confidence, is now a source of her confidence. 

And to add more frenzy, Hardy throughout the story, with realism flair, reveals that Bathsheba has a voluptuous figure. To be less graceful than Hardy, she’s busty and arrests others with her figure. Hardy will make a quick mention of her bosom via characters noticing, like an elevator glance, and then surround that glance with the descriptions of spring, ample fields, and so on. It depicts the sacred with beauty versus being crass. And he does it in a way that does not raise the eyebrows of censors.

Bathsheba while she is reveling coming into her own with her features, we still see her care for modesty, hoping for a private space. That little glimpse of her awareness of modesty reveals a character element, she owns a capacity for growth. She’s aware she causes a frenzy in others. But this moment, she’s coming to accept herself in some manner. It’s early. She’s young. But it’s a beautiful scene. A scene, I believe, that both men and women can relate to. That time in our lives when we realize we’re good at something, or we have a physical advantage, or our skillset goes from awkward to competent. We’re aware that it’s a bit taboo to be enjoying our capability, to cherish it for a few moments. Maybe we think we shouldn’t be good at it or get attention for our feature, but for a fleeting few moments, in our own privacy, we revel in it.

Hardy doesn’t make Bathsheba the impossible ideal of a unicorn, nor does he make her a two-dimensional vain hot girl. Had he done that, the story would be sophomoric and have read like trash. Bathsheba has capacity. Bathsheba is the product of good raising, yet it’s clear she lacked or was robbed of particular guidance. That’s likely due to her being orphaned at a young age. We see the immaturity of her self-satisfaction with the powerful effects she wields over men. We see it in the story how she’s a bit myopic around charming cads out for conquest. She’s chaste. She’s modest. But, perhaps, whoever raised her, felt uneasy or ignored guiding Bathsheba about certain men and women up to no good.

Bathsheba is penniless but seemingly comes from a family that once had money. She inherits her uncle’s farm. And it’s a sizable estate. This reveals she owns traits that make a family member trust her. And she’s willing to work. When she inherits the farm, she’s determined to do it herself. While she is stubborn, and some men question working for her, she’s capable. She falters at times but keeps going.

She’s vain. She’s rash. She overindulges with the effect she wields over men. And this sophomoric side of her behavior gets her into trouble. And she knows when she’s the reason for her predicament. Yet she has an insecurity of wanting to keep some kind of lifeline to what she should cut off. She gets caught up indulging in her effects over a suitor. And that shallow indulgence keeps her in a state of frenzy. She wants to stop that frenzy, but her immaturity, her rashness, and her appetite for her indulgence keep her shackled to this frenzy.

That capacity, that potential, that depth, all clashes with her superficiality. That’s human nature.

Boldwood

William Boldwood is the looks-good-on-paper bachelor. He’s handsome. He’s wealthy. He runs a sizable estate. He seems serious. He’s an esteemed gentleman at the age of forty. But something is askew. Some readers may pick it up early, but it’s easy for the reader, especially male readers, to notice Boldwood’s fantasy-like idealizations of Bathsheba. Call it one-it-is. Call it simping. Whatever it is, something is off.

Hardy uses Oak, Boldwood, and Troy to depict the spectrum of male idealization. Oak resembles the hopeless romantic side of the spectrum. He’s a bit innocent, a bit shy, a bit late to find his romantic footing, and he’s sentimental. His mind turns into a frenzy when he meets Bathsheba. It’s his first time encountering such a beauty, and a beauty with capacity. And as he gains some courtship experience, he can see her follies. So while he idealizes her, he’s able to keep his feet on the ground not go overboard.

Troy, I’ll get to in a moment.

Boldwood sits on the extreme ends of idealization. Boldwood is the older guy going onto a young woman’s Instagram account and replies and likes to every post while believing she is the “perfect woman.” We can forgive a boy doing that. But Boldwood is forty years old doing it. That’s a small hint that he left the reservation long ago.

We know Bathsheba feeds off the frenzy she induces in men. When she attends Church or does chores in town she revels in how her figure and her beauty cause a frenzy.

Boldwood is considered by many to be a good suitor, yet it’s stated early that he doesn’t show much interest in any woman. It at first adds a mystique since not much is known of his past. It seems as if he’s being very particular or choosy. Boldwood is known as a gravely serious man. He’s all business. That’s all that is known of him.

The first time Bathsheba sees Boldwood she’s offended that he pays her no attention. She feels rebuffed. She’s not used to this. When the notion comes out that Boldwood might be the biggest catch in town, she’s further upset that she’s non-existent to him.

She’s competitive. Boldwood’s ignoring of Bathsheba is too much for her. She’s aware of her power of her figure and her beauty. But Boldwood looks impervious to this, and she hates this. Bathsheba decides to write Boldwood a Valentine. She plays it off as a spoof, but it’s a ploy for attention. She also knows sending this Valentine is unbecoming, uncouth, and very, very forward. She does refrain from immediately sending it. But instead of considering what she’s doing, she puts her moral considerations of this valentine to a coin toss. The coin toss favors her sending the Valentine. She sends it.

The Valentine says only: Marry Me.

Boldwood reads it. At first, he’s confused. But then he stews on it. Then he does what some men are wont to do, he envisions a perfect woman and a perfect life. He projects a fantasy life with her. He goes wild with this vision. He goes neurotic with it. He does all this without knowing who Bathsheba is or what she looks like. His mind immediately churns up his vision of his ideal feminine being.

Men do this.

Not all men.

But men do this. Especially younger men. A fifteen-year-old getting a random text saying Marry me is apt to turn that teen’s mind into a frenzy. He may picture the woman who sent it to be his high school crush. He may picture her to be along the lines of a celebrity babe. And the youthful mind, a mind that still has a foot in puppy love, projects a fairytale. Boldwood is doing this youthful idealization and projection.

Keep in mind, healthy and capable men grow out of this phase --- Boldwood is forty.

Life grows men out of this phase in a variety of ways. Their first girlfriend breaks their heart, and a few months later they realize it was puppy love. Some grow out of it after the guidance of parenting. Men will come to learn and see the dynamics of romance, intimacy, or physical intimacy and grow out of frenzied idealizations. That’s healthy.

But there are men, who do not grow out of this phase. And it manifests unhealthily. A man will subjugate all values and want women to fit his vision. He will do things like have covert contracts with her. Or they’ll set bizarre expectations, as Boldwood does. They feel entitled to the vision. Or they’ll go on Instagram and follow thirst-trapping fitness influencers, and comment, “Beautiful! You’re perfect!” And have an entire relationship with that influencer in their mind, and think “Only if she knew how well I could treat her.” This is weakness. This is a defect of character. And couple that with someone who has bad wiring in the brain, it does not end well.

I’ll leave it there to not give away the story.

Back to the Valentine.

So Boldwood’s mind races and projects a fantasy.

He wants to find this Bathsheba.

He does.

Her beauty is overwhelming. Her beauty is more than what he envisioned. And this cages his mind into a frenzy. Boldwood did not expect, nor would most males, a beauty like Bathsheba to send the note, marry me.

Consider this a moment. Hardy depicts a fairly common male behavior of reading too much into a girl’s note. But the note is heavy-handed, it’s Marry me. That’s not I like you, that’s not “you’re hot” that’s not even a provocative picture. Instead, Marry me carries a deep gravity. His mind is running.

Again, men envision a woman in this scenario. It’s like teens going on Reddit forums and picturing “CuteOmahaGal99” as a pretty girl from Omaha.

But it’s Bathsheba. It’s not just a pretty girl. It’s a striking, distinct, buxom, gorgeous stunner. It’s as if CuteOmahaGal99 agrees to come to prom, but it turns out that girl is Sydney Sweeney or a woman in that league.

That is like dropping ten nuclear bombs of frenzy onto the male mind. And remember, this nuclear attack is being dropped onto an unhealthy mind, onto a mind ruled by frenzy.

Bathsheba’s negative trait of indulging in the effect she has over men has now put her into a predicament with an unhealthy, manic man.

Francis “Sergeant” Troy

Troy is a cad. He’s all about sexual conquest. He’s charming. He’s handsome. He’s charismatic (but many men and women know his type), he can bullshit his way into sounding smart in a moment, and he has game. But he’s also immature, impulsive, weak, lazy, immoral, and cynical.

Troy is what teen boys may ephemerally view as cool, as some teen boys used to see Hugh Hefner as cool. In a group of young men, having a night on the town, Troy may be seen as fun. He gets laid. He charms hot women. He’s been at his game for a while. He’s twenty-four, and fairly experienced in seducing women. On paper, like Boldwood, he looks to have a lot going on. But some men, mature healthy men, know Troy is pathetic. Some women as well, either those who can see through the bullshit or have experienced a Troy in some form, also know Troy is pathetic. His whole life is game, the dynamics of game; his whole moral compass is getting laid. That’s pathetic.

A reader can compartmentalize a little, and recognize the charm of his game. Hardy even has some female characters who find Troy’s looks and charm amusing and even flattering, but they know to stay away. They know he’s a dangerous cad.

With Troy, Hardy gives us the sort of man who robs a woman’s innocence. And Troy robs innocence twice in the story. And one robbing is devastating. He’s not a rapist. But he takes the innocence of one girl (I don’t want to give any spoilers, because the description of the scene where it’s apparent what Troy did is stirring) in a manner that carries serious consequences.

Troy injects frenzy into the hearts of women. But his behavior surfaces consequential frenzy. And since he’s a weak man, and is given to the impulses created by his own frenzy for conquest, this casts him and those associated with him into frenzy.

Fanny Robin

Fanny is an undertow in the story. I won’t give away much here, as I don’t want to detract from one of the most moving scenes (one of the most moving scenes I’ve ever read).

Fanny is depicted as sweet, pretty, naive, earnest, fanciful, yet lacking worldliness. And that lack might be because she never learned it, never had the guidance, lacks maturity, or many of the other possibilities. It’s unknown. Yet we know she’s a sweet person. And we all have come across that man or woman, especially a young man or woman, who is easily taken advantage of. And this easily taken advantage of is not always necessarily their fault or that they’re dumb, but sometimes it is their fault and they are dumb. Life is nuanced that way.

Fanny is the type who heard “don’t sin” and likely nothing more than that when it comes to chastity, romance, or sex. Merely telling a young person just to “not sin” or “don’t have sex” and nothing else, and leaving it at that, is dumb, misguided, lacks sophistication, and sets the person up for outright failure. It doesn’t cultivate the tools in that person, in that teen boy or girl, to repress their impulses at a time when their impulses are going bonkers. Fanny is stuck in a girlishness. By no fault of her own, Troy strips her of her innocence. And she’s unable to see it. But here’s where Hardy makes things so real. Sure, young people make dumb decisions. But also, young people are the agents of their decisions. While 19-year-olds may not quite grasp the gravity of a decision, they will know that they are doing something they’re not supposed to do. With a young mind, one that may be naive or lacked an earlier guidance, or heck, maybe just unchecked burning curiosity, they will make a myopic decision.

Fanny is, in some ways, a consensual participant, and one could say even an eager participant, in what she does with Troy. But she’s fooled. She’s fooled by a cad obsessed with conquest. She, like Bathsheba, gets promised the world and is overwhelmed with a charming, handsome, and playful man. Fanny sees him as a Prince Charming. She believes this older gentleman will sweep her off her feet. And Troy is callous, but his callousness is a result of his ambiguity. He does seem to develop feelings for Fanny, but they’re more out of his puerile vision of her. And his outright drive for sexual conquest robs her of her innocence. Yes, she’s willing. Yes, she’s aware of what she’s doing. But Troy’s behavior, his actions, his deception, and his carelessness, betray how weak morals drive his actions. He is the weaker person.

Fanny also gives us a window into Bathsheba’s immaturity. When Bathshabe learns that Troy is tangled up with Fanny, she gets competitive in a way she knows is bad. She faces a frenzy of the worst parts of her immaturity battling with her maturity. Bathsheba beats herself up in one moment from a place of regret for not seeing who Troy truly was, but then in the next moment, she feels like she’s second choice to Fanny, and she can’t quite grasp how she, Bathsheba Everdene, could ever be second fiddle. And Hardy goes very — VERY — primal with it. This creates a manic scene, because Bathsheba knows, correctly, she’s being ignoble. The base instinct that comes out, is part of human nature, and she wrangles with it.

The Frenzy of Human Nature

We can envision ourselves as a fly on the wall watching and knowing these characters. Hardy doesn’t teach us moral lessons, yet we see people’s morals or lack of them at play. Hardy doesn’t teach us the psychology of male idealization, yet we see male idealization at play. Hardy gives us reality. Frenzy occurs in human nature. Sometimes it’s rational. Sometimes it’s irrational. Sometimes it’s primal. Sometimes it’s neurotic. But in courtship, a frenzy occurs. Hardy tosses in human nature, psychology, class hierarchies, culture, innocence, tragedy, morals, disposition, faith, and more. These are all currents humans swim in and have swum in since man began walking.

Someone reading The Madding Crowd at age twenty will likely see it a bore in some places. Their current season of life may have them think, “A really hot girl made all the boys go crazy, then this one guy simped for her, another went insane because he was simping, and the playboy turned out to be a douche.” A cynical reading. But that’s someone who has not yet waded far into the seasons of life. Life adds perspective. And that perspective makes Hardy’s story a classic.

With perspective, we see how Bathsheba’s immaturity creates turmoil and that turmoil battles against her maturity. She is the agent of her consequences. This she recognizes, which reveals her capacity. She recognizes her immaturity but puts herself into binds when wanting to eliminate it. She loves the attention. Yet she struggles to close a door that needs closing — her self-indulgence of the effect she wields over men. And when she ends up marrying Troy, she sees his facade, and sees her foolishness for falling for it, but then works to make it work. But she does it in a youthful manner, she overlooks her intuitions and what she herself brings to the table and ends up hoping and chasing the early playfulness Troy displayed. Simultaneously, we see her recognizing him for who he is. She recognizes the gravity of vowing to marry someone. Again, this shows the spectrum of human nature. As that occurs and she gains perspective, she comes to recognize how Oak matured into an effective man but knows ruminating over him or fantasizing over “what if” will only further distract her from her situation. It creates a bind and a frenzy that is all too human. That bind, that frenzy, gets heightened when it appears Troy is dead. Troy is not dead. He somewhat fakes a death (he can’t even commit to that) to get out of his marriage. Bathsheba takes precautions and adheres to the norms of the time, that after your husband has passed you need to wait over a year before considering being available again. This makes her real.

Theories and ideologies today attempt to remove the complexity of people.

The manosphere would hyper-focus on Bathsheba’s whimsical nature and proclaim, “All women are like this!” That completely misses nuance. Sure, some women are wholly immature, at any age, many to the point of being undateable. Some in the manosphere may see her erotic scene on the horse as proof that Bathsheba is a woman of easy virtue who gives it up to anyone. But she isn’t. Yes, she’s aware of her erotic presence, she’s self-satisfied with it, which leaves much to the imagination, but she expressed her sensuous nature, to her belief, in private. Yes, she enjoyed the taboo nature of it, being outdoors, but she did it in the context of it believing no one else could see her. She knows her looks, her beauty, provides an advantage, which she indulges in, but she doesn’t throw modesty out the window.  This reveals a feminine grace. That grace comes from her morals. Her chastity and modesty are important to her. Also, she values hard work and she works hard. She takes over a nearly defunct farm and manages to do pretty well. She handles ups and downs well. She handles the business side of people well. We see she’s capable of growth and maturity. But Hardy makes her ignore certain insecurities she needs to face. Bathsheba wants a strong, man. But she’s misguided on how to recognize the values and traits of one. Her immaturity surfaces and she picks Troy. Troy would be the perfect pick on paper and a hero to Manosphere men, but he’s weak. He’s ineffective. She intuits something off with Boldwood but sees on paper he looks sterling. She just can’t quite put a thumb on it. In other words, she has depth. She hasn’t arrived to it in spots. And who knows if she will ever arrive at it.

And to bring back chance and consequence, the characters all meet at certain points of their lives. Bathsheba at 18 may have outright hated a feature of herself. And that self-dislike would kill some confidence, thus altering certain storylines. Had Oak developed romantically a bit and his self-assuredness, Bathsheba may have never met the other guys or thrown them interest. The frenzy would still be there, but the storylines might be a little different. Such is life, and such is a beautiful feature of life, even though at times it can be maddening.

Feminist Tract

I must address the other theory, a theory I saw in the Penguin Classic’s introduction. The Penguin version I read featured an introduction and some fairly helpful footnotes. They were written by a Feminist Literature Professor. And her introduction, while at times helpful, made Bathsheba a victim of the patriarchy. That all her behavior, and all her bad behavior, was a result of her being pressured by males. And that Oak seeing her dancing on the horse in a field was somehow deeply violated Bathsheba. And some of the footnotes slanted Bathsheba as a victim to all of the men. Sure, Troy is a cad. Boldwood is insane and never listens. But Bathsheba is also the agent of her own decisions. She makes bad decisions. A woman’s bad decisions or bad behavior isn’t erased because.. you know… men. Men and women can make shit decisions when they don’t intend to. They can behave poorly. Even when they are young, like Fanny and Bathsheba, and lose their chastity to a deceptive cad like Troy — still, while they may lack deeper perspective before the knocking of boots is about to occur, they still opt to knock boots. This is not to blame them. This is not to say they felt compelled to because of the systemic forces of the patriarchy. Each made their decision to knock boots with him for their reasons, good, bad, irrational, regrettable, self-worth, delusion, primal, impulsive, and all the other reasons. Each of their dispositions and emotional makeup, and the moment, led them to that decision. We can’t quite put a finger on it, but we know how Troy conducted himself, that he’s, in salty words, the weak beta asshole. Troy is to blame. Yet, again, Bathsheba and Fanny made their decisions. And this feminist academic also tried claiming Bathsheba wasn’t taken seriously as a boss and the men grumbled. Well, no shit the men grumbled. One, she’s their boss. It’s inevitable humans will bitch about their boss. Two, she’s a single woman in Victorian England doing what was then considered a man’s role. Of course, that is different. Of course, certain farmhands are going to have some concerns. That isn’t sexist, it’s human nature. Yet as the story goes on, her employees develop trust with her. They enjoy working for her.

So no, Bathsheba isn’t a victim of the patriarchy in this story. The introduction and some of the footnotes drove me up a wall. Many feminist and manosphere theories completely ignore human nature.

And turning over to the men.

With Oak, we see a man coming into his own. Yes, he’s a hurt puppy at times. But he evolves. He raises his station. In the beginning, he hangs out in the pub, but he matures past this. He’s not a snob, but he’s focused on other things. Other characters stay stuck in the pub life, never evolving. Oak evolves. His frenzy at first is Bathsheba. And it comes from his hopeless romantic idealization and from him being struck for the first time, encountering a distinct beauty like Bathsheba. It takes up real estate in his mind, yet he keeps his doing his thing. He keeps working hard. He keeps evolving.

We also see his early veneer of confidence turn into actual confidence. Oak is manly.  He’s honest. He’s a late bloomer to some things, which is natural, and he’s a man of faith, resolve, passion, and morals. He contrasts Troy and Boldwood. He contrasts their character, and their weaknesses.

To finish this section, Madding is a story of tragedy. It’s ending, I’m still deciding whether it’s happy, good, bittersweet, or just is, and life goes on. It’s also a courtship story. I see youthful impulses, innocence, immaturity, insanity, idealization, and emotion all clashing together. We see tragedy, beauty, and consequences. We see individuals act in familiar ways, yet the actions reveal their complexity.

Concluding Musings; Personal Conversation

Literature has a habit of revealing truths of the world. Hardy depicts human nature in the context of courtship, attraction, decisions, consequences, morals, and class. As I read I couldn’t help but remember my youthful romance days. I was a hopeless romantic as a teenager. I can relate to Oak. I felt those male idealizations. I remember doing them myself. Hardy added life to the songs I listened to repeatedly in my dorm room in high school when I had a crush on a girl. I’d listen to Photograph by Def Leppard, and Wait by White Lion. I remember the first time I laid eyes on a distinct beauty in person, and was able to put it into context. I remember the frenzy of it all. And Hardy made me appreciate my change of seasons. I mentioned Bob Seger and his iconic Night Moves. That song holds a special place for me. At the risk of oversharing, my changing of season, or you could say, growth out of innocence (yes, men also have their innocence), adhered almost to the letter of that song.

When I read of Oak and his hopeless romanticism coming to terms with Bathsheba, and how it played out, I came to better understand the timeless meanings painted into the lyrics of Night Moves. The mysteries without any clues certainly imply the physical awkwardness occurring in the backseat frenzy of that ’60 Chevy, but Hardy showed me it means so much more. That line reveals the nature of young men and women, brand new to courtship, love, and intimacy. While they’re “adults”, they’re still new to it all. Puppy love can still linger. You think at that time in your life that you are deeply in love with that person. But as you grow, and maybe get married only a few years later (likely to someone else, but even if it is the same person, a lot more maturity has happened), you mature and see the colors of that time better. You come to develop personal depth and perspective. The veneer of confidence evolves into confidence, And with perspective, you come to understand that period of youthful frenzy a bit better.

And when Seger sings awakening last night to the sound of thunder to reminisce the autumn closing in line — it resembles the human change of seasons. Hardy likes to use the seasons in Madding Crowd. He uses the ample fields of spring to describe Bathsheba. We see Oak thinking of the growing with the seasons of his own life. Seger’s line autumn closing in means the final decades of life are approaching. I’m 43. I’m still young. But I know a lot more about life now than I did at 19. I’ve gained perspective. When Bob Seger wakes up at night, he remembers the girl, but he’s not pining after her. Rather, he’s sentimental about that time in his life, that frenzy, that playful intimate mischievousness. And Seger has since gained perspective. Those young days tastes sweet to him as the season of the later years of his life approach. I relate to that. At 43, the years fly by as do the days. When at 19, time moved slowly. And that excitement and frenzy during courtship of those years, the idealizations, I thought I had to know way more of women, I thought I had to be Superman to attract them — aka awkward teenage blues. I had the veneer of confidence, but I lacked true confidence. Hardy surfaced that time of my life. That time of yearning to be a man, that yearning to conquer the world, yet still stumbling with the growing pains of fanciful romance. Hardy gave me an appreciation for my disposition. I feel blessed that I connect to the protagonist in Seger’s song. Blessed because I know some guys and gals never grow up. They stay stuck. Some guys stay in conquest. Some guys want a man cave and sophomorically obsess over bacon and boobs. Some guys join the red pill and hate women, hate the colors of life, and ultimately hate themselves, and feel it necessary to project their psycho-sexual fantasies and cynical theories onto the world. And the same goes for women. Strong cultural currents tell them to hate men. Other currents make them view men or a relationship solely for the purpose of self-actualization. Others may only view their gifts negatively, instead of coming into their own with them like Bathsheba. Whereas others may take Bathsheba’s shallowness and go too far with it, perpetuating cycles of frenzy. Yet some will take the capacity of Bathsheba, and evolve into those strengths.

And the modern world has drastically altered dating. We’ve nearly vanquished serendipity. Teens are checking out of dating. But despite those changes, and regardless how much they portend, our nature has not changed. That frenzy still exists. The spectrum of Oak and of Bathsheba and the rest will outlive us. The frenzy overwhelming a man when he sees a Bathsheba happens every day, as does the frenzy overwhelming a woman when she sees a man revel in his effectiveness. This will go on. That Hardy captures, and that is what makes The Madding Crowd special.

Hey we felt the lightning


And waited on the thunder

Waited on the thunder


I woke last night to the sound of thunder


How far off I sat and wondered


Started humming a song from 1962


Ain’t funny how the night moves


When you just don’t seem to have as much to lose


Strange how the night moves


With autumn closin’ in 


– Bob Seger

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