A Madding Crowd of Suitors

HALLOWEEN 2017: BY RACHEL SEXTON

The years of history known as the Victorian era offer readers a plethora of literary possibilities to choose from and enjoy. Many impressive and essential efforts from authors of both genders from England and America have endured through the years. This period was before the world made much progress towards women’s equality, however, and one author couldn’t help but be a product of his times. Thomas Hardy wrote novels that remain in the public consciousness despite their often downbeat endings. One of Hardy’s happiest endings is in his fourth novel, Far From the Madding Crowd. In it, the three suitors represent patriarchal archetypes to guide women in their choices regarding the opposite sex.

Hardy serialized Far From the Madding Crowd in Cornhill Magazine and published it in 1874. He made many revisions for the 1895 and the 1901 editions. The plot centers on the independent Bathsheba Everdene’s romantic life. Filmmakers have adapted this classic tale for the big and small screen many times: a silent version from 1915 directed by Laurence Trimble; in 1967, John Schlesinger directed Julie Christie, Alan Bates, Terence Stamp, and Peter Finch in a version nominated for Golden Globes and an Oscar; a television miniseries production aired in 1998 starring Paloma Baeza and Nathaniel Parker. Carey Mulligan, Matthias Schoenaerts, Michael Sheen, and Tom Sturridge are the cast members for the most recent film version in 2015, directed by Thomas Vinterberg.

The character of Sergeant Troy is the suitor most calculated to act as a cautionary tale. Bathsheba meets him the last of her romantic prospects as the classic dashing man in uniform. Troy proves his physical prowess by seducing Bathsheba with a display of expert swordsmanship. It’s an exciting moment, and Bathsheba soon marries him. This decision proves a typical youthful mistake. Troy is a gambler and not in love with his wife. He intended to marry Fanny Robin (a former servant at the estate Bathsheba inherited from her uncle) but she accidentally went to the wrong church and Troy was so humiliated he wouldn’t forgive her. This is not a reliable man for a woman to bestow her affections on.

The nearby wealthy and older farmer Mr. Boldwood is the choice parents of the era would make for their daughters. He is financially secure and respectable… and turns out to be the wrong partner. Bathsheba treats Boldwood too cavalierly when she sends him a valentine that leads him on. He proposes, but she holds him off and winds up married to Troy. Boldwood proves mentally unstable. When Troy learns Fanny Robin died giving birth to their child, he takes off and is presumed drowned; he returns, though, and tries to take Bathsheba back and Boldwood defends her by shooting and killing Troy. Hardy seems to imply the obvious choice may not be right one, either.

Bathsheba’s final romantic prospect is Gabriel Oak, who she’s known the longest. She refuses his proposal prior to inheriting her estate but employs him when he finds himself on hard times. Though he has a tiny bit of a chauvinist attitude, Oak is as sturdy and reliable as his name suggests. On three occasions, Gabriel saves Bathsheba’s farm from disaster, and he tries to advise her during her interactions with Troy and Boldwood. Ultimately, the outcome the reader has expected for most of the novel occurs when Bathsheba and Gabriel admit their love and marry. The author may suggest that a compromise between the thrilling guy and the boring guy is possible for women to find.

Far From the Madding Crowd presents three different suitors who could be interpreted as archetypes of a patriarchal society which women could learn from. Though gender equality has come a long way in our culture, the novel is still an entertaining experience as a memorable love story. In fact, with its happy ending and use of threes, Far From the Madding Crowd may be the closest Thomas Hardy ever got to a fairy tale.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Rachel Sexton is from Ohio. She loves her parents and her dog Lily. She has to have acting, film, reading, and dance in her life. Her hobby is editing fan videos.

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