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.
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.
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.