09 August 2013


"Two or Three" Book Club, Meeting 58

You know what would be a shoo-in for Locus Focus? Warren's Malthouse. It seems fitting that a place where working men can rest, socialise, and drink should have an air of timelessness about it. The practice seems like a natural sacrament, only half a day younger than the curse to earn one's bread by the sweat of one's brow. And in Far from the Madding Crowd, it is an essential ritual in rural community life.

"Come, shepherd, and drink. 'Tis gape and swaller with us--a drap of sommit, but not of much account," said the maltster, removing from the fire his eyes, which were vermilion-red and bleared by gazing into it for so many years. "Take up the God-forgive-me, Jacob . . ."

Jacob stooped to the God-forgive-me, which was a two-handled tall mug standing in the ashes, cracked and charred with heat: it was rather furred with extraneous matter about the outside, especially in the crevices of the handles, the innermost curves of which may not have seen daylight for several years by reason of this encrustation thereon--formed of ashes accidentally wetted with cider and baked hard; but to the mind of any sensible drinker the cup was no worse for that, being incontestably clean on the inside and about the rim. It may be observed that such a class of mug is called a God-forgive-me in Weatherbury and its vicinity for uncertain reasons; probably because its size makes any given toper feel ashamed of himself when he sees its bottom in drinking it empty.

For priest, a maltster so old that he isn't certain of his own age; for chalice, a "God-forgive-me" which has seen the fires of many such nights. And that sense of timelessness which seems to promise that the malthouse would always be there for the weary working men who need it the most. But is Thomas Hardy already writing, as he would in the more tragic Tess of the d'Urbervilles, about a lost past?

Chapters 8 to 14

When Bathsheba's bailiff is dismissed for stealing, doesn't it seem like the perfect coincidence for giving Gabriel a better job? If that were the case, it would be an embarrassingly convenient set up, wouldn't it? But Hardy is a better plotter than that, and so Bathsheba's next move after catching her late uncle's bailiff red-handed is to take his role for herself. Well, why not? It's her farm now.

"Now mind, you have a mistress instead of a master. I don't yet know my powers or my talents in farming; but I shall do my best, and if you serve me well, so shall I serve you. Don't any unfair ones among you (if there are any such, but I hope not) suppose that because I'm a woman I don't understand the difference between bad goings-on and good."

You tell them, Bathsheba! Indeed, in these seven chapters of the readalong, we learn quite a bit about her to admire. She seems pretty capable of running Weatherby. Her first administrative meeting with the men is also where she encounters someone else with an unusual Biblical name: Cain Ball, called Cainey to spare everyone the shock.

I don't know what's more interesting: the information that he received that name because he had "heathen" parents and the suggestion that Bathsheba's parents might have been the same . . . or the odd set-up of someone named Cain working as a shepherd's assistant. 

Yet not all we see of Bathsheba here is flattering--which seems ironic, given that her fatal flaw (as diagnosed by Gabriel, who may or may not be reliable) is vanity. Her public debut as a "buying and selling farmer" at the cornmarket is a professional triumph marred only by her sense that she has impressed and attracted everyone there but one. Shortly after, she is piqued again when her maid informs her that this man was the only one who didn't turn around and glance at her during the Sunday service. Some things simply cannot be borne!

It is hard for me not to see this new character as primarily a romantic foil to Gabriel Oak. Their very names suggest a contrast. Our new player is Mr. Boldwood, and unlike Bathsheba's unlucky former suitor, he is a prosperous gentleman farmer in his middle age. And he has likely never sipped from a shared "God-forgive-me" at a malthouse in his life--though I could be wrong.

Our lady "doth protest too much" when she decides to send her unmoved neighbour a Valentine, but there's no doubt that she is trying to get a reaction. And she succeeds.

Since the receipt of the missive in the morning Boldwood had felt the symmetry of his existence to be slowly getting distorted in the direction of an ideal passion. The disturbance was as the first floating weed to Columbus--the contemptibly little suggesting possibilities of the infinitely great.

The letter must have had an origin and a motive. That the latter was of the smallest magnitude compatible with its existence at all, Boldwood, of course, did not know. And such an explanation did not strike him as a possibility even. It is foreign to a mystified condition of mind to realize of the mystifier that the processes of approving a course suggested by circumstance, and of striking out a course from inner impulse, would look the same in the result . . .

The target has been hooked and won't be getting away soon. Whether or not Bathsheba will welcome the consequences of her thoughtless act, we will know in future chapters.

What do you think of Chapters 8 to 14?

1. What are your impressions of the confident, competent, yet vain Bathsheba? Is she a three-dimensional character or a stereotypical one?
2. For that matter, what about Mr. Boldwood? Is he too easily captivated by the little love letter?
3. Do you ever feel haunted by the lost past of your community?

Image Source: Far from the Madding Crowd by Thomas Hardy


Lisa Salazar said...

Most people are stereotypical, they're also three-dimensionally human. Likewise, all of the characters in the book are stereotypical.

I had not thought about it before, but, unlike the his other novels such as the Mayor of C. who sells more than his birthright for less than pottage, there is nothing unusual or outstanding about any of the characters, and perhaps the story hangs together better because of their commonness.

Mr. Boldwood's tragic entanglement with the enchanting Bathsheba is predictable once all the aspects of the story are laid out, but, predictability doesn't diminish the tragedy, but increases it.

As it likewise does with the most tragic characters in the story.

And thinking more about Bathsheba, everyone she touches is diminished by her touch, not unlike David who was diminished when he saw her for the first time.

Belfry Bat said...

The odd thing about Bathsheba is that she so plainly wants to be seen as doing exactly what she wants (as much as she plainly wants to be seen), but she has not at all convinced me that she actually wants to do any of those things she does. Not after the horse-riding, anyway. I don't really know what she'd be a stereotype of. She let Liddy talk her into sending a stupidly enigmatic valentine to the one person she knows least, apparently out of sheer boredom.

Can't say what I think of Farmer Boldwood; I certainly know nothing yet of his history. It surely is easy to read too much in a terse message (numquam pipiabo) which the internet world ought to know better even than the penny-post world; but the penny-post world should still have known it, too, both on the writer and the reader side.

In other matters, can I say? I'm greatly amused by Hardy's frequent reference to things of mathematical geometry. Hyperbolae (it's coming up) and the "mathematical straight line" of the healthy cow's back are the ones I still remember, but I'm sure there were more.

B.t.w., the funny thing about your question is in the oldest sense of the word "Stereotype" : "The method or process of printing in which a solid plate of type-metal, cast from a papier-mâché or plaster mould taken from the surface of a forme of type, is used for printing from instead of the forme itself." (OED); that is, "stereotype" used to be a cast of three-dimensional characters.

Enbrethiliel said...


Lisa -- Welcome to the blog! Thanks for your comment. =)

I confess that the word I really thought about using in the first question was "misogynistic." My second choice was "sexist." I eventually settled on "stereotypical" for two reasons: a) the first two choices, while more precise, are also far too strong; and b) I worried that they'd make the discussion too narrow. Of course, now I see that all I did was make the discussion too vague! You're right that everyone is a mix of the stereotypical and the two-dimensional.

What I really wanted to know was whether anyone thought that Hardy is relying too heavily on stereotypes of women with respect to Bathsheba's character. Take the idea that beautiful women are so used to receiving homage from men that the best way for a man to unsettle them is to ignore them. And like Gabriel's second dog, this generalisation has lead to the modern pick up artist tactic of putting down attractive women, in order to get them to prefer the insulter above all other men. This is what I thought of immediately when Bathsheba was so piqued that Mr. Boldwood wouldn't even look at her.

Your final point about Hardy's Bathsheba being a diminishing force is interesting, and one which I will keep in mind during the rest of my reading. But in fairness to the original Bathsheba, her beauty didn't give her mind-control powers over David. He still had some say in his choices and his actions after she caused him to desire her.

PS -- I can think of at least one very chivalrous writer who would say that every woman has the power to diminish a man, and that that is a good thing for men (especially those lucky enough to be selected for the diminishing), but I don't think that's what you were getting at in your last line.

Bat -- See the third paragraph I wrote to Lisa. There is enough textual evidence to support the argument that Bathsheba is a stereotype of a woman whom a savvy man can "game."

I also think that Mr. Boldwood should have known better--as King David should have known better so many millennia ago--but I am fascinated by the way Hardy traces the former's process of rationalisation. First, the red wax seal becomes "as a blot of blood on the retina of his eye," indicating that Mr. Boldwood isn't going to be seeing anything very clearly from this point on (barring something else shaking him up). On the other hand, didn't we already know that there was something wrong with his vision? He has failed to notice the beautiful Bathsheba not once, but twice--and if the maids are reliable sources, he has turned down a lot of other women in the past. Now that he is finally bewitched, it is not because of a lovely face and figure (which is the normal way of things, even in David's case), but because of a message which any other male in the region would have chuckled over.

love the girls said...

Cristina writes : "But in fairness to the original Bathsheba, her beauty didn't give her . . "

Nor does our Bathsheba intend the diminishing she causes to all, except her guardian angel. Mr Boldwood perhaps should have known better, except his naivete prevents his knowing.

Is it misogynistic to recognize and portray womanly characteristics?

When I asked my daughter what philosophical matters she discussed during meals at school, she informed me, she was with girls and therefore discussed girl stuff because that's what girls discuss. And only discussed philosophical matters when boys were also at the table. Is she misogynistic for stating plainly a common trend?

Bathsheba is choloric and thus has the womanly characteristics of a choloric.

Enbrethiliel said...


As I had feared, introducing the term "misogynistic" got us completely derailed. I wish we could go back to "stereotypical," but there's no way to get this toothpaste back in the tube.

Anyway, LTG, the question I'm raising is whether Bathsheba's "womanly characteristics" are on the level of, say, Homer Simpson's "manly characteristics." Or to borrow a term from the Honey, I Shrunk the Kids discussion, the question is whether or not Bathsheba is a buffoon.

love the girls said...

Cristina writes : "whether Bathsheba's "womanly characteristics" are on the level of, say, Homer Simpson's "manly characteristics.""

Bathsheba is an attractive and simple young choloric girl with the tastes and wants of a simple girl put in the position of heading a farm.

She's not in the least a fool. What she portrays are the characteristics one typically finds in most young girls.

Becky Sharpe was a fool, as was Anna Kerenina. Bathsheba is more like Natasha Rostova who is likewise impulsive and vivacious and charming, and equally without a significant flaw.

Lisa Salazar said...

It's been 15+ years since the last time I read any book by Hardy, and so my remembrance of his writing has more of the character of an impressionist painting, but I don't remember him treating his female characters with less sympathy and development.

Perhaps they are more stiff or less real, so to speak, but why should we expect more from a man that Hardy gives us? It's not without reason that women are said to be a mystery to men, and so in turn, any male writer is at a disadvantage in his development of women characters.

Enbrethiliel said...


LTG -- I get the impression that you think I'm attacking Bathsheba. In that case, I'd like to reassure you that I don't think she's a bad person and that I even admire her a little. But she definitely has some weaknesses which look as if they will lead to tragic ends.

Since I have not yet read War and Peace I can't say whether or not I think Natasha is anything like Bathsheba. And as usual, I'm going to remind you that my tastes are not nearly as high-brow as yours! When Bathsheba sent the Valentine to Mr. Boldwood, she just reminded me of the character of Sara from the 90s movie The Craft, who uses witchcraft to cast a love spell on a boy who has started ignoring her. All she wants is for him to like her better, but it turns him into a crazy stalker. I don't remember what happens to Mr. Boldwood (and I'll thank you now not to remind me before Hardy does), but my sense so far is that it will be as tragic as what happens to the boy in The Craft.

Now, I think that Sara is also very typical of teenage girls--to the point that she can be compared to one who would have lived over a hundred years earlier. But that doesn't make the weaknesses in her character insignificant.

Finally, in fairness to Homer Simpson, I once read an interesting critique of The Simpsons which argued that he is not just any buffoon but an archetype of America. Modern America, to be exact. Likewise, I think Bathsheba is an archetype of England, but as I mentioned several meetings ago, I'm not sure just which aspect of Englishness she represents. (I think her American equivalent would be the Valley Girl, epitomised by Cher of Clueless--another 90s film! The significant difference is that Cher didn't inherit and decide to run her father's law practice. But a mere ten years later, Elle of the Legally Blonde franchise kind of does! =P)

Lisa -- I usually wait until I'm done reading a novel before sharing my thoughts on it, but hosting a readalong means strolling down a lot of interpretative paths which will turn out to be dead ends. It also means not being as precise as I'd like. As you can see, it took me two full days to realise that the first question should probably have been: "What is the confident, competent, yet vain Bathsheba meant to be a symbol of?"

If I've given the impression that I think Hardy doesn't write female characters well, then I was especially off-base. I don't think Bathsheba is "stiff" or "less real" than the other characters. Quite the opposite, in fact! But I'm wondering what Hardy means by putting her, and not another type of woman, in charge of a big farm. What is he saying about England?

The answer seems to be something we can get at only by looking at Bathsheba--however realistic she is--as simply a type.

Lisa Salazar said...

I see that using my wife's computer has caused a problem. When you see Lisa Salazar, please see it as love the girls.

I used Natasha because I thought War and Peace was pretty commonly read.

The scene of the law school acceptance committee watching the film of Elle in Legally Blond is not unlike Mr Boldwood's reaction to Miss B.. A pretty babe on the arm, or in the school improves the decor.

Enbrethiliel said...


And here I was thinking that you had found me another blog reader! ;-) I had been impressed that you two seemed to share similar writing styles, but then I reasoned that marriage does that to people. LOL!

I like Elle, too, and agree with the first movie's moral that her not fitting into the lawyer stereotype doesn't mean she won't be able to defend a client in court, but I find your comment curious--especially since I've been wondering what the moral of Bathsheba is. There's a sense in which an "improvement to the decor" is reason enough to have someone around, but if Bathsheba's greatest contribution to farming were her beauty, she would be the first to be really annoyed by that.

love the girls said...

I don't remember Mr. Boldwood being drawn to Bathsheba because of her farming abilities.

Babe farmers are like babe tennis players, the ranking that matters is the babe factor.


love the girls said...

"moral of Bathsheba"

Enbrethiliel said...


LTG, I can't believe that I'm explaining to someone who has children to feed that: a) professional sport and farming have completely different stakes; and b) a homely woman farmer who can bring in a good harvest is better to have around than a gorgeous woman farmer who runs the operations into the ground. (Then again, you may sincerely believe otherwise.)

Bathsheba wants to be respected for her ability to run the farm as well as an older man might. This seems to be in direct conflict with her other desire to receive attention for being pretty. She may find that she can't have both--at least not at the same time or from the same people. But inasmuch as her appearance is getting in the way of her ambition, it suggests that beauty is a bad thing for an intelligent woman to have. Or maybe just the vanity that often comes with beauty. Or--and here's a radical thought--perhaps the problem lies in men's vision.

For instance, it is not quite accurate to say that it was love at first sight for Mr. Boldwood--unless you mean his first sight of the Valentine rather than his first sight of Bathsheba. He has ignored her twice in the past! And as I've suggested to Bat, there are hints that the Valentine has further compromised his already cloudy vision. Additionally, as Sheila pointed out in the previous meeting, even the gallant Gabriel is little better than a Peeping Tom when he falls in love with Bathsheba. He's not seeing her rightly, either.

love the girls said...

Cristina writes : "I had been impressed that you two seemed to share similar writing styles"

My wife on the other hand would not be amused to have herself mistaken with my illiterate meanderings.

I just wing it to see where it goes, whereas she can write, and is well read from a literary family.

love the girls said...

Cristina writes : "a homely woman farmer who can bring in a good harvest is better to have around than a gorgeous woman farmer who runs the operations into the ground"

True, but Mr. Boldwood doesn't care if she can farm well, he doesn't need a wife who can run a farm.

The story doesn't revolve around what Bathsheba thinks of herself, but how she influences others.

Am I safe referencing Connie Willis's Bellweather? Bathsheba is like Flip. What matters is how she influences everyone around her.

Enbrethiliel said...


LTG, it's really late where I am and I need to get to bed, so I'm probably missing half of what you're saying, but I am completely baffled at what you think you're responding to.

For instance, I have no idea what you're trying to say in your first sentence. All Mr. Boldwood cares about is that Bathsheba sent him the Valentine. She could be perfectly plain and he'd still be besotted. As I have said, he had seen her twice before and ignored her both times. Her looks are simply NOT the factor you are saying they are.

Then there is your second sentence, which makes me think we're talking past each other. You keep discussing Bathsheba's beauty and influence as if they work properly in the story. I can't figure out whether you're disagreeing with me or just not understanding me, and it's very frustrating because then I don't know how to answer you.

Finally, I have no idea who Connie Willis is. Sorry again, but at least that message came through all right, aye? LOL!

Enbrethiliel said...


Having slept on the great enigma of this discussion, I now think I know where things went awry. It was when I mentioned Legally Blonde and you compared the acceptance committee's reaction to Elle to Mr. Boldwood's reaction to Bathsheba. If all you meant was that in both cases the men were too mesmerised by the women's beauty to make objective judgments, then I've already explained why I don't think the novel supports that reading of Mr. Boldwood's character. (Is this where you disagree?)

What still really confuses me, though, was what you read in my comment directly before that, which made you mention the admissions committee. My first comparison was between Bathsheba and Sara of The Craft because both of them end up hurting a man out of some sort of revenge. I brought up Elle of Legally Blonde for a completely different reason: because the Harvard's first reaction to her is like the farm workers' first reactions to Bathsheba. BUT if there is a revenge dynamic in the second movie, it is between Elle and her ex-boyfriend Warren, not between Elle and the acceptance committee. So while I don't dispute that the men on the committee approved her application for the reasons you mentioned, I don't see how it applies to what I've been saying.

My question from the beginning has been how the reader is supposed to see Bathsheba; and we were definitely on the same page while you were arguing that she is a realistic portrayal of a young woman. But if you're also asserting that Mr. Boldwood and the Harvard Law School acceptance committee have perfectly clear vision when it comes to such young women, then the novel and the movie themselves would contradict you. They share the common moral that appearances are often misleading.

Before I realised that the glass slipper of your comments didn't actually fit the foot of my thread of thought, I kept trying, with the persistence of an ugly stepsister, to cram them together. And what I got for my efforts was the impression that you think there is no difference between a beautiful woman who has control over all her faculties and is doing her best to succeed at a project and a beautiful woman who is in a coma. This can't be what you meant, but in case you too have been confused by my replies, I hope that you now see where I've been coming from.

love the girls said...

Bathsheba is the central character in the story, but the story is not about her and her inward or outward struggles and such.

The story is how she effects those around her. And the contrast of them with her guardian angel and how he treats her.

You mentioned Elle's ability as an attorney as a comparison, but the real comparison is the acceptance committee's reaction to Elle.

Elle was accepted on her merits of babeness. The original Bathsheba may have been very capable as a seamstress, but King David didn't put her husband in the front lines because he wanted someone to mend his clothes. The story of Bathsheba and King David is finally a story about David and how Bathsheba effected him. That aspect is not accidental to either story.

love the girls said...

Or let me put it this way, Hardy is telling us how to read his story by harkening back to another story of an attractive girl with a very noticeable name.

Enbrethiliel said...


In that case, I have to conclude that Hardy was saying that King David didn't see Bathsheba rightly either.

LTG, this is another classic case of how we talk past each other and I end up feeling like I'm doing most of the work. (Let me guess: the feeling is mutual?) Don't you see that your reading of the novel and my reading of novel do not oppose each other but can actually stand side by side? Or if you don't think so, then please tell me precisely what it is I'm saying that you disagree with.

I don't dispute that Bathsheba is the catalyst in this drama. In fact, my question has been why Hardy picked her specific archetype to be the catalyst. So--surprise!--I'm not arguing with you about your reading.

But I am feeling frustrated that after I stress myself out to see your point, you seem to dismiss mine without even indicating that you grasped it. And I have that impression because I keep writing about revenge, which is an important theme, and you keep ignoring it. You don't even say, "This is not about revenge because . . ." And I have explained twice why the acceptance committee's reaction to Elle is not comparable to Mr. Boldwood's reaction to Bathsheba, but you keep insisting that it is without explaining your own reasoning. Come on, you can't expect me to take you on faith!

Again, I'm NOT saying that Bathsheba's effect on others is unimportant. I'm saying that since they are affected by how they SEE her, we should take their vision into account. (PLEASE TELL ME YOU UNDERSTAND THAT I'M SAYING THIS!!!)

To go into more detail . . . There is something wrong with the Harvard Law School acceptance committee's vision. (It is short-sighted.) There is something wrong with Mr. Boldwood's vision. (It is obstructed by the Valentine.) There was something wrong with King David's vision. (It is wrong to see another man's wife as something for the taking.) Gabriel seems to be the only clear-eyed one, but remember that he is also the Peeping Tom! (Classic.)

We are not supposed to see Elle the way the committee does, we are not supposed to see Bathsheba Everdene the way Mr. Boldwood does, and we are not supposed to see the original Bathsheba the way David does. When you can talk about nothing but their "babeness," it seems that you can't see them, either. I'm not saying that they aren't good looking (because they patently are) or that men aren't affected by good looking women (because you have been swooning over them in a locker room manner since you got here), but you seem to be implying that a pretty girl who is conscious is no better than a pretty girl who is in a coma. And I think Hardy himself disagrees with you. (PLEASE ADDRESS THIS LAST POINT. I REALLY WANT TO KNOW WHAT YOU ACTUALLY THINK ON THIS MATTER.)

love the girls said...

I think we basically agree. But I didn't see it before because you and bat kept talking about Bathsheba's competency as if it mattered. When Bathshebas' competency does not matter to anyone. Gabriel may love her for what she really is, but his love is not because she's a capable farmer or some such.

Who is not a peeping Tom, but her guardian angel who will never leave her and always protects her.

Revenge has nothing to do with any aspect of the book.

And no, I don't see my self as putting out any great effort, I write these post for the entertainment value.

Sheila said...

I wish you'd go to a little more trouble, LTG ... this conversation has gotten so confused I don't know who's talking about what anymore.

So I'll just ignore all the previous comments and give MY thoughts.

1. She still feels a little flat. To be honest, as far as I can remember all of Hardy's characters, male or female, are a bit flat. They have a few really noticeable characteristics in their first description and then he plays those up forever.

But every time she appears, I feel like I am getting hit in the face with the Male Gaze. Don't you? Like this exchange:

""I've been through it, Liddy, and it is over. I shan't mind it again, for they will all have grown accustomed to seeing me there; but this morning it was as bad as being married—eyes everywhere!"

"I knowed it would be," Liddy said. "Men be such a terrible class of society to look at a body." "

Clearly she's not entirely comfortable with the attention. And yet Hardy makes sure we notice that she doesn't entirely dislike it either. She "has eyes in her ribbons" for the one man who isn't looking at her. Just like the couple that always squabbles in an action movie, we KNOW from this scene that romance will ensue ... even though there is absolutely no reason for it to.

Because I'm such a terrible feminist (the horror!) I want to see Bathsheba remain single and become an excellent and well-respected farmer, and make all those other farmers shut up about her "giving an air to the old place" or "being snapped up soon enough" and instead start respecting her shrewd business sense. But, while she is getting the hang of the Corn Exchange, I'm pretty sure the bystanders are right and she won't be at it long. She is just too pretty to be defined as the Capable Woman. Despite her willingness to push the boundaries of what "women should do," I expect she'll be married and boring by the end.

It's not just her prettiness, and it's not just that the men are objectifying her (though they do, not in a sexual sense, but in a not-truly-seeing-her-as-a-person sense) .... it's also that she isn't a strong enough character to stand firm against all that. Compare her to Dorothea in Middlemarch, who wasn't willing to let men, or her attractiveness to men, define what she could do. Maybe it's that Bathsheba is too young; maybe she really is as vain as Gabriel thinks. But as long as she spends her time fretting about whether Mr. Boldwood looks at her, instead of the price of wheat, she's doomed. Her role in the book is going to be romantic and not independent.

2. Credibility is definitely being stretched here. This guy has ignored women throwing themselves at his feet, and now he suddenly changes his mind for a valentine? I'll think less of Hardy if he doesn't at least attempt to explain this anomaly.

3. All the time, and not just my community, but all the old vanished traditions of all the communities. Yeah, I'm nostalgic about stuff I don't even KNOW about! Particularly I miss the notion of "women's culture," sisterhoods, that sort of thing. Certain crafts that all women knew (spinning, for instance) and the sense that you could call on this sisterhood of other matrons for help when you had a baby or were sick. The only vestige of this that remains appears to be the friendly atmosphere of women's bathrooms. That, and the way women flock to you when you're pregnant to offer reams of advice and tell you their birth story.

I don't know what the talk about revenge is about, because I haven't seen or read any of the works y'all are referencing. Do you mean to say, E, that Bathsheba sends Mr. Boldwood the valentine to get even with him for not noticing her? Because I agree with that.

love the girls said...

Miss Shelia,

Marriage doesn't make women boring, quite the opposite.

And as opposed to saying I don't put any great effort, perhaps it would be more accurate to say that I never get frustrated by these type of conversations. I find them helpful in thinking through the subject at hand.

I find the story highly interesting because Hardy takes, in a manner of speaking, the original Bathsheba and gives us her story of her redemption.

Sheila said...

Thanks for clearing that up, LTG. I should clarify that I'm actually a Mrs. I hope that doesn't make me boring! But in Victorian literature, it seems as soon as a woman gets married, her story is pretty much over. I hate that, and I'm always looking for exceptions, but I don't think I'll find one here.

Enbrethiliel said...


LTG -- I don't know about Bat, but when I argued that Bathsheba's abilities are significant, I gave reasons for why I thought so. When you disagreed, you did not address those reasons. Yes, you explained your own reasoning, but did you notice that what you said didn't automatically contradict what I said? It's possible for Bathsheba's competence to be unimportant to the men and yet important to the moral. In other words, Mr. Boldwood may not care and Gabriel may not care, but Thomas Hardy certainly cares.

Similarly, Elle's intellectual abilities may be unimportant to the admissions committee, but they are important to the movie. Do you understand what I'm saying now?

I have also explained why I think Bathsheba's decision to send the Valentine to Mr. Boldwood was a mild act of revenge. When a woman who thinks attention is her due is ignored, she wants to get even. Again, you disagree, but you don't at all explain why and you've never been a girl ignored by a guy. So you can't expect me to find your dogmatic proclamations convincing.

Finally, I made two requests to you in my last comment. I wrote them out in all capital letters to make sure you saw them. I even said "Please" both times. You have completely ignored them. Why did you do that? I don't understand why someone who presumably wants to have a conversation with another person would not reply to what the other person is saying.

Sheila -- Oh, thank God you're here! If this combox were a room, I would have bowled you over in a hug as soon as you walked in! =D

I'll see your observation about the Male Gaze from the characters and raise you my observation about the Male Gaze from the author himself. He shows us Bathsheba in a way that makes it impossible not to look at her. But contrary to what LTG is saying, I think that Hardy has a higher purpose in focusing on Bathsheba's "babeness" through different filters. (Now I sound like Instagram. LOL!) We're not just supposed to look at her; we're also supposed to look at the way we're looking at her.

As you know, I'm reading Far from the Madding Crowd because I wanted something romantic, so I won't be too let down if Bathsheba ends up dependent on a man. As long as she is happy and he is the right man. (Oh, no. Is this sexist? =P) But while her inner conflict continues to rage--while she longs to be a bride but would hate to be a wife--it will be difficult for her to be happy either with a man or without one.

And yes, I am certainly saying that Bathsheba sending the Valentine to Mr. Boldwood was a childish attempt to put him in his place. For every step forward, she takes two steps back.

Sheila said...

Haha, Enbrethiliel, when I saw the comment thread I thought "Uh-oh, I better pitch in and help." But most of what you're debating/discussing is over my head ... I can't figure out what LTG is saying and I only have the barest grasp of what you're saying, especially with all the references to movies I haven't seen. But I *think* I agree with you.

I think it's important to remember that Bathsheba isn't just a girl ... she's a Popular Girl. She's pretty enough that she has always been paid attention to.

When men ignore *me* .... I don't notice. I am terribly oblivious about men, because I've never had a lot of male attention. But Bathsheba is so used to it (as Hardy tells us directly) that a single dissenter stands out.

If Bathsheba ends up married (and she will!) it won't be the end of the world, but if she immediately gives up the farm and stops doing anything at all that's her own ... I will be disappointed. I'll feel like the conclusion is, "Thank goodness she stopped doing all that uppity stuff and settled down to do what a woman SHOULD do." Not that there's anything wrong with being married, but from time to time one would like some kind of recognition that women can and should do other things too.

Enbrethiliel said...


If you can say that "Bathsheba isn't just a girl . . . she's a Popular Girl," then you do get what I'm saying! =D

She is a specific type and she's a little out of her element here. Now, of all the stereotypes to choose to put in charge of a farm, why does Hardy choose the Popular Girl? I think that part of the answer is to be found in the archetype of the Popular Girl herself, when she is nice rather than mean. Everyone looks at her and underestimates her when she has to be responsible for something--and then she goes on to prove that we should not judge ability by appearances.

The twist is that Bathsheba is hung up on appearances as well. As Bat said way back in this thread, she wants to be seen in certain ways but doesn't half enjoy doing what it takes to be seen in those ways. Posing can be exhausting! (Hey, did anyone notice that Bathsheba's nickname could be Bat, too? LOL!!!)

At the same time, I don't think Far from the Madding Crowd is proto "Chick Lit," which it would be if "Don't judge the Popular Girl by her looks" were the only moral. I think Hardy is also saying something about farm life in England, which is why I'm also looking at the rural community's traditions., which are above and beyond Bathsheba. But exactly what this greater message is, I'm not yet sure!

Lisa Salazar said...

LTG here : What I'm say is actually embarrassingly simple

Hardy, like most authors, writes the same basic story, but with different characters. His stories are of redemption.

Bathsheba doesn't need redemption because she's competent at farming, but because she is attractive, and wants to be attracted to.

Historically there is nothing unusual about competent women, or women given authority. Peasant farm women, the eventual middle class, may have have not been overseers, but the practical wise peasant is a stereotype because it was common.

Putting Bathsheba at the head of a farm gives her the independence to radically increase her the affects of her weakness on others.

And it must be a boy thing, but the revenge factor in the valentine went right past me. Like most guys, I can never figure out the undercurrents that I know are there. Girls never seem to want to say what they mean, and guys can't figure it out unless they do. Or as typically happens, we stand there listening hoping for the right clue so that we can figure out what is actually going on so we can give the expected response so as to avoid sinking ourselves deeper.

Similarly, I look at the men according to how men think, where as you'all are paying closer attention to Miss B.

Sheila said...

If you're looking at the men, LTG, can you tell us what Mr. Boldwood's deal is? Is he just shy, or is he brooding over a past failed relationship? Why would either of those keep him from looking at Bathsheba? Isn't it rather pointed not to even glance that way -- is he deliberately ignoring her, or does he truly not notice a new face around?

Sheila said...

E, I am excited to read more farm stuff. At the moment it's just scenery, but I think -- I hope -- it's going to appear more later.

Belfry Bat said...

While we're on the subject (er... are we on that subject?) of archetypes, I will just try to amplify the penny-post-net points I was beginning above, and say it's perfectly consistent, in a character, not to notice the outrageous things folk of the complementary do (as in pantomime) and be tripped-up on a legible text. If I mention Twelfth Night and Orsino in it, or Midsummer Night's Dream, perhaps we'll find earlier examples of such clouded vision, though in these cases eclipsed vision might be a better name for it... maybe someone else can find the properly archetypal instance of this trouble.

Having gone through those parts of the book, it's rather fascinating to me that, wherever she gets her vanity, Bathsheba's interest in men and the interest she wants from them seem so strongly formed by the kind of interest her father was actually able to show her mother (as reported in the first visit to that Malthouse Enbrethiliel wants so much to localy focalise). There's something about this that rings truer than all the rest of the book so far, and it seems to be something our Modern world wants both to deny ("innate" inclination expressed in a "choice" of "lifestyle") and hang itself from ("I couldn't help myself, your Honor, look how my parents treated me!")...

It's funny that Enbrethiliel and Sheila and all are at the same time wondering if or declaring that the characters are all flatter than might be desired, while describing the novel as being about or happening around various characters. It seems to me more and more that the story is about diverse kinds of poor judgment, each being isolated into a different character or troupe. Gabriel is given to introspection and has a great fund of practical wisdom, but he stumbles when it comes to dealing with pretty much anything new, that would require extrapolation or an exertion of sympathy (... did anyone else think of "History and Ethics" or whatever from Stormship Troopers when Gabriel shot the unnamed young dog?); there are the Weatherbury rustics who make a great fuss when something goes wrong, but can't organise themselves to get done the only thing that will do (this happens more than once); there is Boldwood who doesn't seem to be living in reality; Bathsheba, in different words from my earlier phrasing, can't seem to make up her mind, but she knows she wants what she wants anyway; Sergeant Troy will have to wait a little.

Lisa Salazar said...

LTG here:


I have no idea why he didn't pay attention to her. Perhaps he considered it an inappropriate setting for more than business.

And no doubt it took more effort to not visibly notice her, but such is commonly done in a social environment, and only points to his great care to appropriateness.

Enbrethiliel said...


LTG -- Huh?

Sheila -- Mr. Boldwood seems to be the least realistic of all the characters, and I think that's because Hardy sacrifices plausibility for symbolism in his case. Every time Mr. Boldwood enters the story, he gets something wrong because he isn't using his eyes properly, or flounders about because no one is around to help him to see. So it's perfectly consistent that before the Valentine practically stabs him in the retina, he doesn't see Bathsheba there at all. Far from making a conscious decision to avoid looking at a young woman in an inappropriate setting, he really has no idea that a young woman worth looking at is even around. Again, this doesn't seem to be realistic, but I think Hardy drops the ball a bit with this character.

Bat -- Someone is psychic! ;-) Wait and see why . . .

In the meantime, your theory that the characters all represent a different kind of poor judgment is another sort of allegory than what I think we have here (which is, of course, not to say that there can be only one). I see the characters representing different aspects of rural England, which is itself emblematised in Weatherbury. So the mystery I'm struggling with now is the question of why Hardy would put the welfare of an entire country in the hands of the Popular Girl.