Monday, October 17, 2016

Classics Corner: Far From The Madding Crowd by Thomas Hardy

Far From The Madding Crowd by Thomas Hardy

This is going to be a slight movie review as well...since the movie inspired me to read the book, and I can't really explain it any other way.

In 2015, I was very excited to learn about the "Far From The Madding Crowd" movie. At the time, coming off Downton Abbey and Outlander, I was still craving a good costume drama.

And the movie REALLY fit the bill. The picturesque countryside and the "twist" ending were just what the doctor ordered, escapism wise. I ended up seeing the movie twice in theaters, winning an AWESOME prize pack from a theater company, buying the DVD for myself and others, and finally purchasing a copy of the book. 

When I bought the book, I stuck up a conversation with the B&N clerk about the author (a rare thing for me, being an introvert). The clerk hoped I liked the book, even though Thomas Hardy probably "hated women."

This took me aback for a brief moment. Was this something I wanted to read?? The movie seemed to empower the female lead...and although dramatic, there was an underlaying sweet romance to it. Was the book vastly different?? Was I going to hate it?? Shock! Horror! Angst! 

Having finally read it, the answer is it is different, but no, I don't hate it.

Whereas the movie makes the female lead, Bathsheba Everdene, the main character, the book focuses much more on the male lead, Gabriel Oak.

The first few chapters focus on Gabriel's farm, his attraction to Bathsheba, the night she saves him, his proposal, and the tragedy against his dreams. We then follow Oak to his next line of work and his interactions with his fellow farmhands. The story doesn't focus on Bathsheba until she starts making mistakes.

Therefore, the book is Oak's story, while the movie is much more Bathsheba's story and viewpoint. I'm not sure if the screenwriters and director thought this would make the movie flow better or if it's reparation for Hardy's treatment of his female lead.

Although Hardy puts Bathsheba in a power position as a wealthy female land owner, as an author, Hardy puts her down a lot. As though, between the lines, he's saying, "you silly female character, you." It's definitely odd. I can see where some ladies would be offended by it.

In the same vein as some men might be offended by “It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.”

To enjoy the story you have to take it with a grain of salt and consider the time frame when the book was first published. It wasn't so bad I wanted to stop reading, but it did shock me now and again.

As with most book vs. movies, everything in the book is intensified. Bathsheba is more naive and coy. Gabriel is more true blue. I felt even more pity for Farmer Boldwood...and much, much less pity for Sergeant Troy.

The book is still very dramatic and romantic. What's more, Hardy had a knack for weaving a sense of community into the story. I got lost in the rural English countryside and started to wonder more about Hardy's personal background. Surely, he knew some humble farm "folk" in his lifetime whom he based some of these delightful farmhand characters?

Overall, the story will stick with me a long time. I don't doubt that I will eventually re-read it and re-listen to it on Librivox. It feels like the great-grandmother of many of the contemporary romantic dramas and love triangles that we enjoy today.

And, Gabriel's character? Well, he proves a hero doesn't have to be a high born gentleman to be noble.

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