Into The Classics (1) : My Review of “Far From The Madding Crowd” By Thomas Hardy

One beautiful headstrong woman; Three exceptional men who want her.

Her name – Bathsheba Everdene. Why Thomas Hardy named her heroine as such is beyond me. Furthermore, he describes her in this manner:

A girl with peculiar vernal charm; An Elizabethan in brain and a Mary Stuart in spirit.

In modern terms, he’d probably describe her, too, as having spunk and oomph.

Now let’s get to the men who locked horns for Bathsheba’s love:

Gabriel Oak – a farmer and shepherd, penniless nonetheless; “A young man of sound judgment, easy motions, proper dress, and general good character”; In other words: the good guy.

Sergeant Francis Troy – the playboy soldier; Handsome and exciting; the kind girls swoon for. “He could be one thing and seem another. For instance, he could speak of love and think of dinner at the same time.” Spelled out with better clarity – the bad guy.

Mr. Boldwood – another farmer, though more well-to-do and respected; A man whose constitution is somewhere between good and evil. Beware: he can get really weird in the name of love. To put it more bluntly – a stalker and looney in one.

Romantic chaos and true love which all took place in the beautiful rural area of Weatherbury

The Story:

Bathsheba, a poor, pretty girl suddenly inherited her uncle’s farm and started proving to everyone a female honcho can be competent in the business of agriculture. She employed her former suitor, Gabriel Oak, in the process as her right hand: The man whose simple love and devotion toward her was unparalleled.

By reason of a careless flirtation, she also caught the attention and affections of a rich farmer, the stoic Mr. Boldwood. He became obsessed with her and pursued her relentlessly. But in the middle of it all, head-spinning romance overpowered her good senses after her encounter with the new guy in town, the dashing Sergeant FrancisTroy – who had had an intermittent relationship with another woman of lesser means. The name of Bathsheba’s indigent rival: Fanny Robin.

Our heroine eventually married the cunning playboy soldier. Fanny died while secretly bearing Troy’s child. The sergeant, heartbroken by the death of his true love, disappeared and was presumed dead. Boldwood rekindled his hopes on ending up with Bathsheba. But Troy, out of dire straits, reappeared – more than a year later – to claim his right on his wife and her finances. Boldwood fatally shot Troy and was sentenced to life imprisonment. Bathsheba became a true widow then and finally realized it was Gabriel she couldn’t live without. She vowed to live happily ever after with him.

So there.

No spectacular plot twists nor thick story lines, are there? I’ve no problem, though, with the ending where Gabriel wins the girl. He finally deserves his cake after all. 🙂

Yet this book happens to be my most favourite classic so far because, for one, Thomas Hardy was strikingly Promethean in his expressions – way superb for a 19th century wordsmith. Take a look –

As Bathsheba starts falling into the hands of ladies’ man Troy:

Capitulation – that was the purport of the simple reply, guarded as it was – capitulation; unknown to herself. Never did a fragile tailless sentence convey a more perfect meaning. The careless sergeant smiled within himself, and probably too the devil smiled from a loophole in Tophet – for the moment was the turning point of a career. Her tone and mien signified beyond mistake that the seed which was to lift the foundation had taken root in the chink: the remainder was a mere question of time and natural changes.

On Boldwood’s unrequited love for Bathsheba:

She had been the very lung of his hope. He had felt the symmetry of his existence to be slowly getting distorted in the direction of an ideal passion. No mother existed to absorb his devotion, no sister for his tenderness, no idle ties for sense. He became surcharged  with the compound which was genuine lover’s love.

If an emotion possessed him at all, it ruled him; a feeling not mastering him was entirely latent. Stagnant or rapid, it was never slow. He was always hit mortally, or he was missed.

Moreover, Thomas Hardy could dig deep into genuine human nature and psyche, as evidenced by the majority of his novels. To illustrate (using this novel) –

There is a loquacity that tells nothing, which was Bathsheba’s; and there is a silence which says much: that was Gabriel’s.

On Bathsheba’s torment over her feelings for Troy:

Bathsheba loved Troy in the way that only self-reliant women love when they abandon their self-reliance. When a strong woman recklessly throws away her strength she is worse than a weak woman who has never had any strength to throw away.

‘Loving is misery for women always. I shall never forgive God for making me a woman. I don’t know what I’m doing since this miserable ache of my heart has weighted and worn upon me so. Oh, I love him to very distraction and misery and agony.’  – Bathsheba

And lastly, the summation of the romantic relationship between Bathsheba and Gabriel:

This good fellowship – camaraderie usually occurring through similarity of pursuits, is unfortunately superadded to love between the sexes, because men and women associate, not in their labours, but in their pleasures merely. Where, however, happy circumstance permits its development, the compounded feeling proves itself to be the only love, which is stronger than death.

Hmm…Ideal and well said, I suppose. 🙂

Reading this classic by Mr. Hardy was worth every bit of my time.

Writers’ Take On Passion In Literature Of Modern Times

Two weeks ago while I was casually browsing on the internet, I chanced upon an interesting exchange of perspectives among certified writers taking place on FB as they touched on the subject of passion in prose. Initially, the conversation was set in motion by a lady writer who had just finished watching “The French Lieutenant’s Woman” based on the period novel by John Fowles that tells of a story of passionate love verging on fragile intensity and more than negligible risk. Sarah, the main character is a “fallen” woman who’s unfit for love, yet this French lieutenant guy blindly falls for her. So the questions that pervaded principally in the discussion were: Are dysfunction and hindrances elemental in generating powerful feelings in romantic fiction? Must the strength of passion be tested through the battle against the barrier? And is there really such a thrill in the forbidden-ness of consummated sex? When we live in a world devoid of forbidden stuff like we do now, we try to find what’s missing in our lives through literature and similar other forms of escapism. It could be true then that a substantial impediment is crucial for passion to last or even exist, and the struggle to overcome that barrier is elemental to the success of a love story told through the pages. Hearts must be ready to bleed. That much can be true for the majority of hopeless romantics of this world.

Well, the FB sort-of debate flowed and took some twists and turns until it touched on a colossal issue of the modern writer’s dilemma. Each writer then began sharing his/her valuable insight in what they deliberated to be the contrast between romantic literature of the past and romantic literature of the present. There’s this growing but discomforting recognition that readers of today swoon for passion represented by the likes of “Twilight,” “The Time Traveler’s Wife,” and “The Notebook” despite their obvious flaws. Ruffled by the fact that it just might go on to become the wave of the future, prospects for quality serious prose look dismal considering present literature continues to be awash with vampire love triangles, ridiculous plotlines, absurd settings and sundry other pieces of cheesy romantic narrative. Romance fiction in the tradition of “Wuthering Heights” and “Pride & Prejudice” doesn’t seem to carry weight as it used to. Today’s genre of prose has dishearteningly upended the traditional classics in the book market. A concern these writers share is that they may also have to kowtow to the demands of the market trend somehow and do away with their desire for original creativity in their written art.

Is “bad fiction” really here to stay? As the same flamboyance in cinema-making surges ahead, we may be resigned to the reality of the bastion of banality which ultimately blights on the integrity of “high literature” and so-called certified writers. The FB conversation went on to belabor on the writers’ objection to this moneymaking scheme practiced by fad writers to recycle the same plotlines, characters, settings, etc., expressing in unison their dissent for both the authors and the readers who indulge in said genre. People crave for passion in literature. True. Yet these days, people want to get it from nonsensical fantasy settings that also provide hindrances strong enough to make love challenging or forbidden (which bring us back to the point above). This emergence and success of vampire books, movies and TV shows inundated with tales of supposed ardor and true love, have they practically been ghosts of the real thing we found in Wuthering Heights, Romeo and Juliet, Jane Eyre, etc.?

One writer tried to neutralize the feeling of disdain by saying these fiction authors who cater to the current market might have been highly successful because they were able to explore passion that is meaningful and relevant in present contexts. It’s as though genuine passion cannot thrive anymore in this modern society because of numerous distractions around, that results to us readers being slightly desperate for out-of- this world passion to fall for just about anything.

My idea of Nirvana
Ok, so what’s my personal take on all this? In all the most important regards, I hope writers of any genre would continually be able to come up with literary books worthy of occupying places of honor on our shelves.

And frankly, I haven’t considered things much on their side of the equation because I’m not even a professional writer and I’ve no intention yet of dipping my toes on the pond of fiction writing. But speaking of passion, well..

The goal of love is rapture. There’s undeniably rapture in passion, and love without passion is like eating chocolate without sugar. That’s how it is for me because I’m simply a sucker for all things sweet.

No doubt even the most cerebral of women crawl on their knees in the name of love and passion. Do I go on to confirm that our species truly thrive on obstacles engineered by love and its variety of forbidden constitution?

It’s not something I’d like to answer right this moment so I may have to get back on this topic in another post.

But this I’ve got to ask for now. How did we women end up being vulnerable to such literary crap anyway? Female readers have always been the never-ending target market of what has been established as “Chick Lit” (that presently includes the genre fiction we’re submerged in). Literature of this kind definitely gives an erroneous touchstone for our romantic longings. I wish we have been trained to be more of inveterate thinkers like men which would make all these fabricated stuff about silly romantic fantasies and passion-defeats-all illusion unnecessary. We’d therefore find no urge at all to pine for a 600-year-old vampire, even if he’s as handsome as Robert Pattinson. Neither will we find perfect chemistry between Borat and Jessica Alba (creepy huh?), nor reason out that it’s ok for a woman to suffer for love as long as the man is a superhero like the ever-busy Superman, Spiderman on the go, or the elusive Batman.

Women have a choice. Books that encourage women to be stronger, more discerning and selective in matters of the heart are rare yet essentially precious. They are a must read for us delusional romantics who believe dysfunctional love just might be the real thing, in accordance to what’s been fed to us since we were young girls. I believe we do badly need such empowering books both for the benefit of young minds and for the reversal of all the crap that has accumulated in our not so young minds.

But then, I bet books of this ilk would unfortunately sell only 8 copies.