Genre: Romance, Classic
Narrative Style: Third person, chronological
Synopsis: Bathsheba Everdene is independent and determined to run the farm she has inherited from her uncle her way. She quickly comes to the attention of three very different suitors – Gabriel Oak, a kind and sensible man, whose circumstances are much reduced since he proposed to her originally, William Boldwood, a gentleman farmer who soon becomes completely obsessed with Bathsheba and a charming but shallow soldier, Sergeant Francis Troy. Each man would have an influence on Bathsheba’s, unsettling her life and destroying her independence.
Time on Shelf: This was a loan from my father in law. Hardy is his favourite author and he suggested that I read it after we watched the 2015 film and I didn’t take him up on it until now. My only other experience of Hardy was reading Tess when I was in sixth form and absolutely hating it. I vowed never to read another Hardy ever again.
I would like to start by saying that I enjoyed this more than I expected to. It isn’t such a doom fest as Tess of the D’urbervilles. Having said that, it is still a classic and a romance to boot, neither of which are genres I love. After I watched the film, I said that now I didn’t need to read it because the plot was the best part and I wouldn’t have to trudge through sludgy paragraphs of description. Well, it wasn’t as bad as that. Hardy’s prose was very readable although I did feel that sometimes the description slowed things down too much.
It is clear from the start that Gabriel Oak is Hardy’s chosen one. He is at one with the rural setting which Hardy felt was under threat. He is good and kind and patient. He is able to put his love for Bathsheba to one side and treat her like a human being. He helps her out, often puts her interests ahead of his own and the reader starts to hope that he will be given a second chance romantically. He has to wait, though, for Bathsheba to go through the horror of her relationship with Troy first.
Both Boldwood and Troy do not think of Bathsheba as a separate person who is capable of having needs and emotions that do not relate to them. They think only of their own longing. To be fair, Bathsheba was foolish to send the valentine to Boldwood and her surprise when he took it seriously was annoying but she couldn’t have envisioned the way his passion would drive him completely mad. Troy was even worse because at least Boldwood was a decent person who would have loved and looked after Bathsheba well. It is apparent from the start that he will be trouble.
Of course, Bathsheba doesn’t know about Troy and Fanny. The reader has that knowledge and worries for Bathsheba. It is obvious that Bathsheba will fall for him and equally obvious that it will not go well. Troy thinks of no one but himself and he all but destroys Bathsheba when they marry. I found it hard to sympathise with Bathsheba – perhaps if I hadn’t seen the film, I wouldn’t have been so against Troy right from the start – I felt she should have been able to see through his superficial charm. Of course, Bathsheba is her own woman and so if free to make bad decisions but even so it irritated me.
Overall, I enjoyed it as much as I ever enjoy a classic or a romance. I felt my usual impatience with the first suitor being the best suitor and sometimes I felt bogged down in the descriptions of rural life and scenery but I wouldn’t rule out reading another Hardy and that really is progress.