Far from the Madding Crowd (1874) is Thomas Hardy's fourth novel and his first major literary success. It originally appeared anonymously as a monthly serial in Cornhill Magazine, where it gained a wide readership.
The novel is the first to be set in Hardy's fictional county of Wessex in rural south west England. It deals in themes of love, honour and betrayal, against a backdrop of the seemingly idyllic, but often harsh, realities of a farming community in Victorian England. It describes the farmer Bathsheba Everdene, her life and relationships—especially with her lonely neighbour William Boldwood, the faithful shepherd Gabriel Oak, and the thriftless soldier Sergeant Troy.
On publication, critical notices were plentiful and mostly positive. Hardy revised the text extensively for the 1895 edition and made further changes for the 1901 edition.
The novel was listed at number 48 on the BBC's survey The Big Read in 2003. The book finished 10th on The Guardian's list of greatest love stories of all time in 2007.
The novel has been dramatised several times, notably in an Oscar-nominated 1967 film directed by John Schlesinger.
Gabriel Oak is a young shepherd. With the savings of a frugal life, and a loan, he has leased and stocked a sheep farm. He falls in love with a newcomer six years his junior, Bathsheba Everdene, a proud beauty who arrives to live with her aunt, Mrs. Hurst. Over time, Bathsheba and Gabriel grow to like each other well enough, and Bathsheba even saves his life once. However, when he makes her an unadorned offer of marriage, she refuses; she values her independence too much, and him too little. Feeling betrayed and embarrassed, Gabriel offers blunt protestations that only foster her haughtiness. After a few days, she moves to Weatherbury, a village some miles off.
When next they meet, their circumstances have changed drastically. An inexperienced new sheepdog drives Gabriel's flock over a cliff, ruining him. After selling off everything of value, he manages to settle all his debts but emerges penniless. He seeks employment at a hiring fair in the town of Casterbridge. When he finds none, he heads to another such fair in Shottsford, a town about ten miles from Weatherbury. On the way, he happens upon a dangerous fire on a farm and leads the bystanders in putting it out. When the veiled owner comes to thank him, he asks if she needs a shepherd. She uncovers her face and reveals herself to be none other than Bathsheba. She has recently inherited her uncle's estate and is now wealthy. Though somewhat uncomfortable, she employs him.
Meanwhile, Bathsheba has a new admirer: the lonely and repressed William Boldwood. Boldwood is a prosperous farmer of about 40, whose ardour Bathsheba unwittingly awakens when – her curiosity piqued because he has never bestowed on her the customary admiring glance – she playfully sends him a valentine sealed with red wax on which she has embossed the words, "Marry me". Boldwood, not realising the valentine was a jest, becomes obsessed with Bathsheba and soon proposes marriage. Although she does not love him, she toys with the idea of accepting his offer; he is, after all, the most eligible bachelor in the district. However, she postpones giving him a definite answer. When Gabriel rebukes her for her thoughtlessness regarding Boldwood, she fires him.
When Bathsheba's sheep begin dying from bloat, she discovers to her chagrin that Gabriel is the only man who knows how to cure them. Her pride delays the inevitable, but finally she is forced to beg him for help. Afterwards, she offers him back his job and their friendship is restored.
At this point, the dashing Sergeant Francis "Frank" Troy returns to his native Weatherbury and by chance encounters Bathsheba one night. Her initial dislike turns to infatuation after he excites her with a private display of swordsmanship. Gabriel observes Bathsheba's interest in the young soldier and tries to discourage it, telling her she would be better off marrying Boldwood. Boldwood becomes aggressive towards Troy, and Bathsheba goes to Bath to prevent Troy returning to Weatherbury, as she fears Troy may be harmed on meeting Boldwood. On their return, Boldwood offers his rival a large bribe to give up Bathsheba. Troy pretends to consider the offer, then scornfully announces they are already married. Boldwood withdraws, humiliated, and vows revenge.
Bathsheba soon discovers that her new husband is an improvident gambler with little interest in farming. Worse, she begins to suspect he does not love her. In fact, Troy's heart belongs to her former servant, Fanny Robin. Before meeting Bathsheba, Troy had promised to marry Fanny; on the wedding day, however, the luckless girl went to the wrong church. She explained her mistake, but Troy, humiliated at being left at the altar, angrily called off the wedding. When they parted, unbeknownst to Troy, Fanny was pregnant with his child.
Some months later, Troy and Bathsheba encounter Fanny on the road, destitute, as she painfully makes her way toward the Casterbridge workhouse. Troy sends his wife onward with the horse and gig before she can recognise the girl, then gives Fanny all the money in his pocket, telling her he will give her more in a few days. Fanny uses up the last of her strength to reach her destination. A few hours later, she dies in childbirth, along with the baby. Mother and child are then placed in a coffin and sent home to Weatherbury for interment. Gabriel, who has long known of Troy's relationship with Fanny, tries to conceal the child's existence – but Bathsheba agrees that the coffin can be left in her house overnight, from her sense of duty towards a former servant of the household. Her new servant, Liddy, repeats the rumour that Fanny had a child; when all the servants are in bed, Bathsheba unscrews the lid and sees the two bodies inside.
Troy then comes home from Casterbridge, where he had gone to keep his appointment with Fanny. Seeing the reason for her failure to meet him, he gently kisses the corpse and tells the anguished Bathsheba, "This woman is more to me, dead as she is, than ever you were, or are, or can be". The next day he spends all his money on a marble tombstone with the inscription: "Erected by Francis Troy in beloved memory of Fanny Robin ..." Then, loathing himself and unable to bear Bathsheba's company, he leaves. After a long walk he bathes in the sea, leaving his clothes on the beach. A strong current carries him away, but he is rescued by a rowing boat.
A year later, with Troy presumed drowned, Boldwood renews his suit. Burdened with guilt over the pain she has caused him, Bathsheba reluctantly consents to marry him in six years, long enough to have Troy declared dead.
Troy, however, is not dead. When he learns that Boldwood is again courting Bathsheba, he returns to Weatherbury on Christmas Eve to claim his wife. He goes to Boldwood's house, where a party is under way, and orders Bathsheba to come with him; when she shrinks back in surprise, he seizes her arm, and she screams. At this, Boldwood shoots Troy dead and tries unsuccessfully to turn the gun on himself. Although Boldwood is condemned to hang for murder, his friends petition the Home Secretary for mercy, citing insanity. This is granted, and Boldwood's sentence is changed to "confinement during Her Majesty's pleasure". Bathsheba, profoundly chastened by guilt and grief, buries her husband in the same grave as Fanny and the child, and adds a suitable inscription.
Throughout her tribulations, Bathsheba comes to rely increasingly on her oldest and, as she admits to herself, only real friend, Gabriel. When he gives notice that he is leaving her employ, she realises how important he has become to her well-being. That night, she goes alone to visit him in his cottage, to find out why he is deserting her. Pressed, he reluctantly reveals that it is because people have been injuring her good name by gossiping that he wants to marry her. She exclaims that it is "... too absurd – too soon – to think of, by far!" He bitterly agrees that it is absurd, but when she corrects him, saying that it is only "too soon", he is emboldened to ask once again for her hand in marriage. She accepts, and the two are quietly wed.
Hardy took the title from Thomas Gray's poem Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard (1751).
Far from the madding crowd's ignoble strife
Their sober wishes never learn'd to stray;
Along the cool sequester'd vale of life
They kept the noiseless tenor of their way.
"Madding" means "frenzied" here.
Lucasta Miller points out that the title is an ironic literary joke as Gray is idealising the noiselessness and sequestered calm whereas Hardy "disrupts the idyll, and not just by introducing the sound and fury of an extreme plot ... he is out to subvert his readers' complacency".
Far from the Madding Crowd offers in ample measure the details of English rural life that Hardy so relished.
Hardy first employed the term "Wessex" in Far from the Madding Crowd to describe the "partly real, partly dream-country" that unifies his novels of South West England. He found the word in the pages of early English history as a designation for an extinct, pre-Norman conquest kingdom, the Wessex from which Alfred the Great established England. In the first edition, the word "Wessex" is used only once, in chapter 50; Hardy extended the reference for the 1895 edition. The village of Puddletown, near Dorchester, is the inspiration for the novel's Weatherbury. Dorchester, in turn, inspired Hardy's Casterbridge.
In The Mayor of Casterbridge, Hardy briefly mentions two characters from Far from the Madding Crowd – Farmer Everdene and Farmer Boldwood, both in happier days.
In 2003, the novel was listed at number 48 on the BBC's survey The Big Read. In 2007, the book finished 10th on the Guardian's list of greatest love stories of all time.
The novel was adapted by Graham White in 2012 into a three-part series on BBC Radio 4's Classic Serial. The production was directed by Jessica Dromgoole and featured Alex Tregear as Bathsheba, Shaun Dooley as Gabriel, Toby Jones as Boldwood and Patrick Kennedy as Troy.
Tamara Drewe is a comic strip serial based upon a modern reworking of the novel by Posy SimmondsFar from the Madding Crowd (1915) directed by Laurence Trimble, starring Florence Turner and Henry Edwards.
Far from the Madding Crowd (1967) directed by John Schlesinger, starring Julie Christie, Terence Stamp, Peter Finch, and Alan Bates.
Far from the Madding Crowd (1998) directed by Nicholas Renton, starring Paloma Baeza, Nathaniel Parker, Jonathan Firth and Nigel Terry.
Tamara Drewe (2010) directed by Stephen Frears, adapted from the comic strip Tamara Drewe, starring Gemma Arterton.
Far from the Madding Crowd (2015) directed by Thomas Vinterberg, screenplay by David Nicholls, with Carey Mulligan as Bathsheba Everdene, Matthias Schoenaerts as Farmer Oak, Michael Sheen as Mr Boldwood, Tom Sturridge as Sergeant Troy and Juno Temple as Fanny Robin.
Far from the Madding Crowd (1996) is a ballet by David Bintley for the Birmingham Royal Ballet
Far from the Madding Crowd (2000), a musical with music by Gary Schocker, based on the novel
Far from the Madding Crowd (2006) is an opera by Andrew Downes
Hardy wrote an 1882 stage adaptation with J. Comyns Carr, which starred Marion Terry
In autumn 2008, English Touring Theatre (ETT) toured Britain with a new stage adaptation of Far from the Madding Crowd directed by Kate Saxon
In March 2013 Myriad Theatre & Film toured South-East England with their original stage adaptation of Far from the Madding Crowd for five actors. The show also incorporated some of Hardy's poetry.
In October 2016, the first episode of a web series transmedia modernisation of the novel, Away from it All, was released. Based around the antics and video blogs of a group of twenty-somethings working at a village pub, the series was created by Hazel Jeffs.