18 August 2013


"Two or Three" Book Club, Meeting 60

Far from the Madding Crowd seems to be Hardy's "sheep novel," as Tess of the d'Urbervilles is his "cow novel." It would be downright adorable--in a dignified way, of course--if each of his novels featured a different aspect of English farming. This would suggest that the rural traditions came first and the stories came second: that is, that the farms are not merely for framing, but for fleshing.

Which brings us to our second Locus Focus worthy setting. (Remind me to do a theme challenge on barns in the future, okay?)

They sheared in the great barn, called for the nonce the Shearing barn, which on ground-plan resembled a church with transepts. It not only emulated the form of the neighbouring church of the parish, but vied with it in antiquity . . .

One could say about this barn, what could hardly be said of either the church or the castle, akin to it in age and style, that the purpose which had dictated its original erection was the same with that to which it was still applied. Unlike and superior to those two typical remnants of medievalism, the old barn embodied practices which had suffered no mutilation at the hands of time. Here at least the spirit of the ancient builders was at one with the spirit of the modern beholder . . . The fact that four centuries had neither proved it to be founded on a mistake, inspired any hatred of its purpose, nor given rise to any reaction that had battered it down, invested this simple grey effort of old minds with a repose, if not a grandeur, which a too curious reflection was apt to disturb in its ecclesiastic and military compeers. For once mediaevalism and modernism had a common standpoint . . .

I also like the chapter in which everyone gathers for the customary shearing supper. They provide their own music--both workers and employers taking a turn--and give the meal an air of a ceremonial dinner. But as the setting sun casts them half in shadow and half in evening light, there is a sense it is setting not just on a regular day's work but on a whole way of life. 

The disconnect between tradition and modern life can be like death--and as long ago as the 1870s, Hardy was already in mourning. He also betrays an intense longing for what he considers forever lost, although he may no longer believe in the ancient faith nor put his trust in country's princes. I wonder what he would have said at what we have since put up in place of shearing barns.

Chapters 22 to 28

It's easy to see how Hardy made the connection between shepherding and the story of David and Bathsheba. He was likely pondering the social difference between a big landowner with livestock numerous enough to require that he hire a workforce and a small homesteader with a flock he must manage himself, when the allegory of the man with a hundred sheep taking away the only lamb of another suddenly whacked him between the eyes.

But Far from the Madding Crowd transcends the roman a clef pattern in that Hardy's Bathsheba can be the lamb in one setting . . . and the wealthy farmer in another . . . and the poorer farmer in yet a third. (I wonder if she'll also play the role of Nathan the prophet at a later point in the story.) The other leads do similar doubling up. 

(In short, yeah, it took me over seventy-two hours, but I finally understood what LTG was saying about Far from the Madding Crowd being a retelling of David's fall. LOL!!!!!)

Interestingly, the "one little ewe lamb" line is given to Sergeant Troy, who is not a farmer, although he is from the region and has retained enough skills to help out with the haymaking in one scene. Of course, he isn't doing it because it is good for someone who will benefit from the use of the hay to pitch in with the cutting and loading of it, but because it is another chance for him to talk to Bathsheba, whom he probably intended to catch with his spur (in a move as deft as it was practiced!) a few weeks before. And he does seem to play a prophetic role when he says . . .

". . . I may as well be hung for a sheep as for a lamb . . . Why, Miss Everdene, it is in this manner that your good looks may do more harm than good in the world . . . Probably some one man on an average falls in love, with each ordinary woman. She can marry him: he is content, and leads a useful life. Such women as you a hundred men always covet--your eyes will bewitch scores on scores into an unavailing fancy for you--you can only marry one of that many. Out of these say twenty will endeavour to drown the bitterness of despised love in drink; twenty more will mope away their lives without a wish or attempt to make a mark in he world, because they have no ambition apart from their attachment to you; twenty more--the susceptible person myself possibly among them--will be always draggling after you, getting where they may just see you, doing desperate things. Men are such constant fools! The rest may try to get over their passion with more or less success. But all these men will be saddened. And not only those ninety-nine men, but the ninety-nine women they might have married are saddened with them. There's my tale. That's why I say that a woman so charming as yourself, Miss Everdene, is hardly a blessing to her race."

In short: "Thou art the woman"? Well, okay, but then what is an unusually beautiful female to do: walk around veiled for the sake of the ninety-nine men and ninety-nine women whose lives she might ruin? And perhaps, while they're at it, the unusually glib men can take vows of silence. Fair looks and silvery speech are not the real root of the harm others sometimes cause by them. Clever to shift the blame, Sergeant.

Soon we see that Sergeant Troy can wield "the wondrous power of flattery in passados at a woman" both figuratively and literally. He's quite the showman, isn't he? And in his ability to command attention and to prioritise what looks good over what is good, he seems to be Bathsheba's proper partner at this time. I can't feel very sorry for her at the end of the ill-advised meeting among the ferns.

Though nothing serious has passed between the two, she is clearly more affected by the stolen kiss than by the sincere proposals she has received in the past. And so, despite their respective histories, I find myself wondering what would happen if they did end up getting married. The image that comes to mind is that of a centuries-old barn converted into a weekend spa . . . or into a townie family's upscale country home. It's called "upcycling," did you know? 

What are your thoughts on Chapters 22 to 28?

1. Does Hardy have something to say about the military profession or is non-commissioned officer just the most plausible job for a character who must hang around without being one of the farmers?
2. Should Bathsheba know better or is she totally naive at this point?
3. Would you say that modern marriage has gone (or is going) the same way Hardy says medieval castles and Catholic churches have? 

Post Scriptum: It seems that everyone else has outstripped me in his or her reading, and I imagine that I'm getting these posts up too slowly for the rest of you. If anyone else wants to lead the discussion of the next seven or eight chapters, feel free to volunteer! You may submit a guest post for me to publish or do it on your own blog for me to link to. Just let me know within the next two days. Thanks!

Image Source: Far from the Madding Crowd by Thomas Hardy


love the girls said...

"2. Should Bathsheba know better or is she totally naive at this point?"

David acted against reason in taking Bathsheba to his bed. But is Bathsheba naive? As in incapable of equal reasoning ability? An interesting question indeed given that the stories are parallel.

Naivete regrets its inexperience, but invincible ignorance saves it from the strong remorse David expressed.

I wonder, was the first Batsheba naive? She certainly didn't seem to put up much of a fuss or show much regret at being led to David's bed, or of her husband's death.

love the girls said...


I appreciate your invitation.

Similarly, Ezra Pound dug up again Bertan de Born, a stirrer up of strife.


Bringing the dead back among the living is a common theme in literature to be sure, but not always appreciated, especially by those also in the story.

And speaking of stories with soldiers brought back from the dead for sowing of discord. E., have you read the Book of Three series?

Belfry Bat said...

Is Bathesheba naïve? hmmm... tricky. Gabriel knows from the letter that Troy had a prior attachment, but he also has Boldwood's opinion that it may well come to naught; he also seems a decent fellow and might well not have told anyone else what was in the letter, as Fanny asked. So Bathsheba might just be innocent of knowing Troy to have a prior commitment. But on the other hand, she seems much too clearly to perceive that he really is toying with her; indeed he admits plainly to baldly lying to her, claiming the lie is to protect her when it's an excuse to recklessly endanger her; and the most excuse for Bathsheba there can be is that she, somehow, wants to be toyed with. There are plenty of men about in her employ who could remove the cad if she wished it!

I was surprised (and relieved) that Troy didn't seduce Bathsheba in the fern hollow, beyond that stolen kiss; but I can't help but think the scene is meant as a figure of seduction nonetheless... er... I can't remember where I was going with this. Maybe someone else can run with it.

love the girls said...

May I run with it. You were going to say that while its tricky to discern if Bathsheba is naive, Troy is the naive party because while he gives outward signs of worldliness, interiorly he has the maturity of a child and thus has the experience commonly attributed to the naive.

Enbrethiliel said...


LTG -- Well, Hardy's Bathsheba is very young and has clearly never dealt with someone as slick as Sergeant Troy before. This isn't to say that she's incapable of reason, but that she doesn't know what we know and can't make decisions accordingly. After Troy flatters her in the haymeadow, she says, "I wish I knew how much of it was true!" Can she be excused insofar as she decided to trust that most of it was true or to wait until she had more evidence? Or am I grasping at straws because there is really no excuse for her here?

If you mean The Book of Three by Lloyd Alexander, yes, I have read it. (Are we shocked yet?!?!) I also got as far as The Black Cauldron and remember enough to know you were referring to its eponymous magical object. Sergeant Troy as a "soldier brought back from the dead for sowing discord" is a fascinating take on his character that I hadn't considered! But yes, the opposition of swords and plowshares was always there for me to remember, wasn't it?

Bat -- I think that Bathsheba is totally innocent of Troy having prior commitments. (I use a plural noun because poor Fanny must have had at least one predecessor--and that's my conservative assessment!) But whether that means it's okay for her to let him flirt with her--in front of the workers, no less--is another issue. I think she shows poor judgment as a boss, but does that mean she has also shown poor judgment as a woman?

The only thing I would hold against her at the end of this section is her decision not to take Liddy with her to the secret meeting. The fact that she even suggested it means she knew that she shouldn't be alone with a strange man. (On the other hand, she has met other men without a chaperone before and nobody in the story or in this combox held it against her then. Her running after Gabriel in one of the first chapters was quite forward, but she did it to tell him the truth rather than to toy with him. And she has "dated" Mr. Boldwood enough times to cause gossip. I don't think her meetings with the latter were all chaperoned, but then again, he's a pillar of the community whose reputation might be enough to protect hers. But the only question I'm leading to is whether a girl's decision to think for herself, to see for herself, and to speak for herself where a man is concerned--just as she would where, say, sheep are concerned--is a bad thing in and of itself or depends on the character of the man in each individual situation.)

I agree that the kiss amid the ferns and Bathsheba's tearful reaction to it are meant to make us think of seduction. She falls here, and she knows it.

Belfry Bat said...

1) "Does Hardy have something to say about the military profession?" ... hmmm... no. So far we've seen one soldier and heard one other. If there were something to say about soldiering itself, there'd be more of them; and as for Troy, well, his heart isn't in it.

3) I should say that Marriage, among Hardy's readers, had started to go the way of those old churches and castles about the same time as the churches and castles themselves did. But, yes, in much of the modern mind the old word has lately been quite gutted and filled with dry-wall and composite appliqué detailing and lighting alternately garish and moody.

love the girls said...

Miss E.

The innate capacity to reason may be equal, but lack of experience causes the naive to be less capable of acting on the innate ability. But I don't think naivete is Bathsheba's weakness, even if she is naive.

Given that the naive and the prudent will act the same in a common given situation, the first by following expected social standard, the second because she understands the reasoning behind the standard, and given that S. Troy is a common enough character for her to know how to act in his presence, I don't think the issue is naivete, but choosing to act against social expectation.

Bathsheba is willfully choosing what she wants by letter her emotions rule her reason. By making her fully independent and destructively appealing, Hardy is giving her enough rope to hang not only herself, but all those who come in contact with her.

Belfry Bat said...

... that makes Troy sound like the Pharisee who said "it is expedient that one man be killed rather than ..."; what he said was true, but the truth of it was darkness to the speaker.

Of course, Troy himself shows some naïveté, in being surprised to find he means more of his flattery than he intended at first in saying it, Hardy tells us. He is as much allured by her initial rebuffs as she is by his confusing and contradictory manner; and in this I think is the contradictory answer to LTG's claim that Troy makes a competent birdcatcher: he is as much unwillingly caught (or willing unwitingly) as his quarry.

But the Catholic answer is that they're all flirting, not with eachother, but with Near Occasions; and I do think they all know it; and that's not naïveté, but sloth.

Belfry Bat said...

Enbrethiliel, I didn't mean the kiss at all, when I said "figure of seduction"; I meant Troy's use of Bathsheba's body for a reckless display of "some skill with a blade".

Enbrethiliel said...


Bat -- But don't you think the kiss seals the deal? I personally wouldn't be comparing the fencing demonstration to seduction if Troy hadn't "closed" it.

Related to that, I do find it interesting that a skill which is presumably useful for soldiering is put to effective use at seduction. I doubt that farming skills are so easily "transferable"! =P

As for the bird catching metaphor, does it matter if the hunter is himself caught, as long as he was successful in his own attempts to catch his quarry? (To stick with military metaphors, is it a blot on a sniper's record if he himself is shot by an unseen enemy? Those facts have no bearing on each other.) Troy isn't a practiced pick up artist, but he does seem to be a natural charmer--sort of the way Bathsheba is a natural beauty. I personally wouldn't rank attracting the opposite sex too highly in the hierarchy of skills, but you already know that I think anyone who has closed, has closed.

LTG -- I asked the second question just in case there was a loophole for Bathsheba, but the more her actions are discussed, the worse they look. And I've already referred to the kiss as her "fall," so now she can only hope to redeem herself from what has happened.

love the girls said...

E. writes : "The disconnect between tradition and modern life can be like death"

I can well see why Hardy would miss the shearing supper because it so nicely signifies communal rural life.

I miss it and we in the US never had it because american agrarianism was, and is, in contrast isolated farms on rural roads. I miss Hardy's communal farms because thet are natural and true rural social life, where as american agrarianism is an unnatural creature of protestantism that denies man's natural social nature.

Nevertheless, life is a continuum and just as I wanted a modern hospital when our baby, (now 7-years-old) had bacterial meningitis, so do I also want most of what else comes with modern life. I may long for shearing suppers, but not if the price paid is my son's life.

And so what I long for is not the past, but a present that is equally Catholic in outlook where a shearing barn is replaced with a different, but equally communal life.

Similarly to Hardy watching the passing of society, this afternoon while thinking about my children growing up, especially because our 3-year-old will be our last, I found myself thinking of how I die a little bit each day because each day they grow up and away from me.

And while I pass away, I gladly watch them grow because they were never meant to be mine except for but a short time. They are the future, and while I fear their martyrdom with more anxiety than Hardy regrets the future of Wessex, nevertheless I remain hopeful that while those shearing barns are now gone, they will be replace by better and equally communal structures.

Belfry Bat said...

Re farm skills and catching skills. There's a lovely scene in some French novel set in a similar time, I wish I could remember details...

"She was not at all ignorant: the animals had taught her many things. But she also knew what was proper, and had given away nothing by the time she extracted his proposal of marriage." ... a poor paraphrase from vague memory.

Sheila said...

On the contrary, E, I'm having trouble keeping up. I forced myself to hold off reading this post till I'd finished the chapters, and have come here still a bit out of breath from that really steamy scene. Sure, a kiss is all that comes out of it, but the sexual tension is very high indeed!

I think Bathsheba really had no idea what she was getting into here. She's always been in control of every situation in the past. With Boldwood and with Gabriel both, they were quite willing to let her make the decisions. Neither one had any skill with flirting either, not having any experience. (Which, of course, I consider to be a GOOD thing.) Some people would say that's why she's not attracted to either of them, and is to Troy -- he is more dominant, hence more manly, hence more attractive. And maybe that's what Hardy thinks.

But on the other hand, I don't think Bathsheba's going to go along with this. I haven't read a single line past chapter 28, so you'll all laugh at me if I'm wrong. But I think the main result of her flirting with Troy is going to be an increase in humility. She is very vulnerable -- as she mentions, she "hadn't yet got through the verbs when Father died," so she has no protector and hasn't had one for a long time. In her society she is at a huge disadvantage, and up to now she thought her comparative wealth and social status would save her.

Troy absolutely overwhelms her, but at the same time he teaches her where she's wrong. Take this line: "She felt powerless to withstand or deny him. He was altogether too much for her, and Bathsheba seemed as one who, facing a reviving wind, finds it blow so strongly that it stops the breath."

She isn't enjoying herself. I think Hardy knows perfectly well that his readers are; nothing a proper young lady likes better than to imagine getting that kind of attention from a man -- AND being powerless to do anything about it, so she can't be blamed for anything that happens! (IMO this is why rape scenes are so popular in romance novels. NO, women do not want to be raped. A certain kind of woman likes to *read* about it though.)

Anyway, by the end of that exchange, perhaps Troy thinks he's "closed," but I think he's actually poured cold water on her head. Bathsheba realizes for the first time that she's in over her head. Troy has manipulated her into this -- she thought she could just command him not to speak to her and have him obey, but he doesn't work that way. And now she's realizing she can't just get whatever she wants *and no more* out of a man ... she isn't the one in charge anymore, and that frightens her. I HOPE that means she heads for the hills. I fear instead she's going to try what she was going to do with Boldwood -- try to make up for bad decisions with more bad decisions.

Sheila said...

Anyway, to your questions:

1. Soldiers and sailors are both renowned for being bad men to hang around. Like Wickham in Pride and Prejudice, or the fellow in the song "Died for Love." (Sometimes it's a soldier, sometimes it's a sailor.) The reason I suppose is that, since they're always on the move, they aren't under the eye of their parents or the community, and aren't going to be around when the girl turns up pregnant. I ashamed to say (being a daughter, granddaughter, and sister of sailors) that the stigma remains, and for good reason.

2. I think she's totally naive, but at the same time if she had more humility, she'd be aware that she's naive. She's young, she has no guardian or mother or sister to help her out. I'm not really sure what she could have done at this point -- she has few people to consult with and had little opportunity to do so -- but her instinct to bring a friend to the fern hollow was the right one. Too bad she falls for Troy's manipulative bit there and decides not to tell anyone she was going.

3. Pretty much everything has gone the way of the medieval castles and churches, I'm afraid. Some of it I'm glad to be without (aristocracy) and some I miss (that level of stability and community spirit). The barn needs no change and has nothing out-of-place as long as it is being used the same way. But let a barn -- or a definition of marriage -- cease to be *used* the same way, and pretty soon people are asking "why is this here? Tear it down!" Marriage, as it exists sacramentally, is so far removed from what people have been actually doing the past century or so that no one can see why *any* of its old properties are still around.

I must disagree with LTG, though -- the US has lots of traditions like the shearing supper! Corn-husking bees (get the red ear and kiss your sweetheart!), barn dances, sugaring-off, barn raising, exchanging haying and reaping with your neighbors. There is one part, though, that never would have flown in America, and that's the table through the window. No. Everyone would have their own land and be (or pretend to be) equal around the table. Which is fine by me.

Sheila said...

Uh-oh, I read another chapter. Dangit, Bathsheba, I was trying to defend you! Yeah, naivete got her to the end of chapter 28. By 29 it's willful ignorance.

Belfry Bat said...

re. the sniper: it's maybe a small blot inasmuch as part of the art of snipery is not to be seen.

But I just might have more respect for a big-game hunter that gets eaten by his tiger (so long as it isn't Col. Moran, but that's another kettle of English Writer) than a sniper who finds himself outsnup.

love the girls said...


True, there were various get togethers, but getting together from outlying isolated farms is a completely different understanding of society from that of the farming village with outlying land.

It's the difference between a village school and that of homeschooling with playdates. The first is an act of communal society, the latter reduces society to size of the nuclear family.

America rural society has for the most part been rural isolated farms on isolated plots of land, not small villages with outlying land to is tilling by those who live in the village.

Enbrethiliel said...


Sheila -- I'm so wrapped up in disliking Sergeant Troy that you and Bat picked up more of the seduction elements than I did! But I don't think the original readers would have enjoyed the interactions between Bathsheba and Troy any more she does: knowing what we do of Fanny Robin, we understand that he's not just a Bad Boy type but may actually be quite bad.

At first I thought this was a cop-out on Hardy's part, making us distrust him outright rather than trusting us to pick up telling clues along the way. (One such clue is the flash of red in the fields that Bathsheba always sees before Troy pops up. It really makes me think of a snake in the grass, although snakes never seem to be red themselves!) But now I think that he did it so that we would be as uncomfortable as possible, too.

Your analysis of Bathsheba coming right after Bat's mentioning of a French novel reminds me of another French book that is like not what he's thinking of. In Le Petit Prince, the rose truly believes that her four sharp thorns will be enough to save her from tigers. Well, maybe if she met Daniel Tiger (LOL!)--and even then, it wouldn't be her thorns that do it, but his own good character.

Enbrethiliel said...


Now for your answers:

1) Given how rooted in the land Gabriel, Mr. Boldwood and the other farmers are, Sergeant Troy is an incredible contrast. He would have been different enough had he remained a clerk in the city, but now he's even more of a leaf in the wind.

Note that Bathsheba herself seems to have been "transplanted" into Wessex soil. But she is torn between putting down roots there and retaining the independence to uproot herself again if she so wishes. I think that her attraction to Troy is actually a desire to be like Troy: to have the freedom he seems to have.

2) That Bathsheba decides not to take a chaperone is the most inexcusable of her actions, in my eyes. For one thing, I don't think Troy manipulated her into that. His reaction to the initial suggestion seems unusually artless. Until this point, he has skilfully anticipated and parried every move she has made to block him, but this one--not a move in the shady seduction game but a move in the honourable courtship game--can truly spoil all his fun. And he can't hide his displeasure at being outmaneouvred by a girl who didn't even know she was doing it.

But instead of seeing that she suddenly has an advantage, Bathsheba only notices that the man who has been feeding her ego so thoroughly for the past half-hour has stopped, and doesn't look inclined to continue. So she changes her mind so that he will change his mind. Her desire for control, which was at least a step in the right direction of competence, has lost out to her vanity. And now it's worse than when she was trying to get even with Mr. Boldwood by sending the Valentine.

3) Some past institutions strike me as organic systems on which all the elements are so perfectly in balance that getting rid of something perceived as negative will also hurt something perceived as positive. Take the idea of aristocracy, which I'm actually a fan of! =P I think that the main reason the San Juan Day tradition of soaking people with water has become so degraded of late--with pranksters from the lower income areas dousing people with water from cisterns or even water they've deliberately contaminated, and the police having to step in--is that the "old rich" families have stopped doing it. In the past, when everyone in the area could take their cues from the "first" families, this wouldn't be such a problem. This isn't to say that the upper crust don't have their own issues, but that letting town fiestas deteriorate into travesties isn't one of them.

There is still a bit of a traditional aristocracy in my city, given that only members of a single family have been elected mayor for the past few decades; but it does not count in this case because the mayor's family doesn't attempt to lead the soaking traditions. As far as I can tell, they don't even join in.

Anyway, I really do think that when societies form and endure, a kind of aristocracy is inevitable--because a kind of hierarchy is inevitable. Where there is a body, there will be a head. It doesn't follow from that that the head is better than any other part of the body; but when the head lets the feet or the stomach or the sex organs do its job of rational thinking and planning, then the whole body suffers.

Or take something you wrote about earlier (which I was too distracted to pick up at the time): the loss of supportive women's groups. This seems to me to be an inevitable result of more women working out of the house. The model of neighbours helping each other out is replaced with the model of the daycare business. Now, I'm not decreeing that women should stay at home no matter what, but it's obvious that we can't have our cake and eat it, too.

Unfortunately, the things we are happy to do without today are probably the things that propped up or even fed what we now also miss.

Enbrethiliel said...


LTG -- What you have that Hardy doesn't is optimism--or rather, real hope--about the future. I'm afraid that I lean closer to Hardy's side. =P

As I've just said to Sheila, I don't know whether a lot of the great innovations we have today (which were arguably supported by the ideals of "rugged individualism" and capitalism) would have come about for us in a more communal world. On the other hand, I don't think that they are mutually exclusive. But I don't know where the balance is or whether enough of us are interested in finding it again.

Sheila said...

When I say Troy manipulated her, I don't exactly mean it had to be intentional. But that's what men like to do, it seems, in all the books: lavish the woman with praise and attention and banter, and then the moment she turns from the course he has in mind, get all hurt and angry. Since the emotion seems sincere -- and might actually be sincere -- she fears to make him angry and so will never do the thing he's against.

I suppose women do the same. And that would be why men are so suspicious of women when we cry. It seems manipulative, and sometimes it is -- even if the emotion is sincere.

I don't know if you read Seraphic Singles, but she would have a lot to say about Troy! He's dropping every single warning sign, from offering expensive presents, to trying to separate her from her support network, to threatening to leave her. If only Bathsheba had a kind aunt like that to tell her these things!

I've never head of this San Juan's Day waterfight tradition. Sounds pretty neat to me.

I guess we would have to define aristocracy. What I'm thinking of in particular isn't just social inequality -- that, I think, is with us always. But a society in which Bathsheba owns the whole farm and all those other men work for her, instead of each owning their own plot and sharing labor as required. Of course the one-large-farm setup is more efficient in many ways, and it also allows for a lot of community activity. But on the other hand, it restricts the freedom of everyone. Gabriel, having his own land, had a lot more freedom than Gabriel, having to say and not say certain things in order to keep his job. And the offhand remark I just read of one of the men, saying his father had deliberately dislocated his arm just to get off work. Seriously? Did people do that?

LTG, I guess that depends what part of America you're talking about. I'm in Virginia and we most definitely did have a rural village tradition. As well as an aristocratic tradition ... and slavery. :P I don't want it *all* back.

I guess one simply hopes that, having learned from this and that mistake of the past, we'd be able to build up something with the best of all of it: the community spirit of Bathsheba's Wessex, the widespread landownership of pioneer America, and the modern medical care of today. Is that so impossible?

Well, apparently it is, or at least not enough people want it.

love the girls said...


True, when a where does make a difference. Nevertheless, the vast majority of american farm homesteading has been isolated farms.

Further Catholic society can coexist with modern hospitals and the like. But Catholic society cannot coexist with the american demand for luxury, including exurban american agrarianism, i.e widespread land ownership in its most typical form as advocated by the Catholic intellectual types who inhabit places such as The Front Porch Republic, The Distributist Review and similar.

love the girls said...

My wife tells me I'm an optimistic to a fault, and is fond of reciting

The optimist fell ten stories.
and at each window bar
He shouted to his friends:
"All right so far."

Nevertheless, I don't expect the near future to improve, and as I wrote, I do worry that my children will face persecution and and even martyrdom. America is showing signs that are not good. Speaking of which, you should read Michael O'Brien's Plague Journal, and the others books that follow.

Enbrethiliel said...


Sheila -- I actually stopped reading Seraphic's blog after she stopped being a single! The reason I liked visiting was that she and I were in the same boat and I could relate to her daily lifestyle; but after she got married, her blog lost that particular appeal for me. Granted, I could probably use her tips on warning signs and troublesome types.

Now that you bring up the Kind Aunt archetype, I wonder whether her absence is part of the point for the Popular Girl. That is, one reason the latter gets into the kind of cakes she does with men is that she doesn't have an older woman who can advise her.

It's true that the semi-aristocratic setup we have in the novel restricts the freedom of the non-aristocrats, but I don't think the trade-off is bad in and of itself. For one thing, part of it depends on whether the farm owner is a tyrant or a responsible patriarch . . . or matriarch. ;-) (Incidentally, the story of the dislocated shoulder reminds me of the history of a certain Japanese POW camp in the Philippines. Many Filipino and American prisoners wanted to find a way out of the forced labour, and the result was that dozens of them voluntarily got a buddy to break their left arms!)

For another thing, there really are some things which can only be created by a body which is not "free" to break apart at the decision of one of the members. This doesn't mean, of course, that institutions like slavery are defensible, just that some losses of freedom will be inevitable in a community which value communal life. I'd say that the loss of freedom is only a problem to the extent that the one depriving others of it considers himself separate from them. Such as politicians pushing a draft law for young people who aren't in college, while pulling strings to get their own children into the best universities in the country. Inasmuch as Bathsheba's fate is as tied to the land as those of her workers, she is all right.

Adding on to that, isn't it interesting that most of the characters seem to find it only logical for Bathsheba to marry Mr. Boldwood--not simply because he is the most eligible bachelor in the area, but because it makes sense to them to unite the two big farms in the area? I'm not sure how this bears out in economics, but it does reflect the lost mindset that it is better to be united in one body than to be several separate bodies working together.

LTG -- I've been thinking that the world has been a dystopia for some time. I've also thought about doing A Canticle for Liebowitz vs. Father Elijah for a future "Two or Three" Book Club pick, but those plans are still fuzzy.

love the girls said...


That's a fun combination. And see, two more books we've both read.

Sheila said...

Okay, I don't want to wander too far from the topic, but I am rather startled by this sentence: "Catholic society cannot coexist with ... widespread land ownership What?! How do you get that? Especially seeing what Popes have written on the topic?

I don't consider myself exactly a distributist -- it seems to ignore the property rights of those who currently own property in favor of those who would get it redistributed to them -- but widespread land ownership seems a matter of justice. Concentrating land ownership in the hands of the few allows for a great deal of exploitation.

One of my big problems with aristocracy is that you really are at the mercy of who you get as your landowner. It could be someone great, like Bathsheba. It could be someone awful. It's just as likely to be someone awful as someone good.

In Iceland there was a system where you could switch your feudal lord at will. That resulted in the lords treating the vassals better for fear they would transfer their allegiance (and rents, I believe) to someone else.

If community really can't coexist with freedom, I think I'll have to give it up, much as I love and miss it. But you are right; every time I've been part of one of those close-knit communities, there was always an element of coercion that eventually ruined it for me. Like at Christendom, I loved how close I was with my friends and how easy it was to meet people, but there were so many rules "to preserve community" that ended up having bad effects. Or the Catholic commune that my husband's family knows -- they have community, sure, but the lack of freedom there borders on the scary.

But is it really true that real community requires coercion? Doesn't it sometimes arise spontaneously? Or, when that happens, is it always doomed eventually to degrade?

Belfry Bat said...

Just because the digressions are interesting and nonetheless digressions: neither Bathsheba nor Boldwood owns the land their respective farms are on. Gabriel at his most prosperous didn't own the fields his sheep were pastured on. They own the animals and whatever grain they raise, and probably the farming implements, but the land they rent and perhaps the buildings, too. I don't recall at what point "the agent" or "the land agent" is mentioned, but it's another point of the English arrangement, and the closest we seem to get in this novel to hearing about the local prince.

Enbrethiliel said...


LTG -- Not so fast! =P I haven't read those two novels, either! I just know that they are similar and would therefore make sense in a face-off for Book Club pick.

Sheila -- While we await LTG's response, I want to add that I have observed similar things about tight communities. I think coercion to conform swings too much in the opposite direction from freedom, so that there is no longer a balance. It seems to me that people who want to be part of a body can make choices for the good of the body without needing to be pressured into them. (Whether or not the other members will agree with those choices is something else!)

On the other hand, there are some communities with rules or constitutions which really will limit what the members can do--and often the members are okay with that. Like a husband and wife happy to keep their vows and to sacrifice even things which are good and healthy for the sake of their marriage. Of course, I don't think every association has the binding obligations of a sacramental marriage or a parent-child relationship, but I like finding reasons to choose the body over a protesting member. If only because I am often the protesting member. =P

By the way, please don't worry about going too far off topic here. I do wish, however, that we could be having part of this discussion over at your blog, because it is quite relevant to what you have been saying about small farms. Homesteading really isn't my thing, which is why I've been struggling to leave you a meaningful comment for days, but I do like what you've been writing about it.

Bat -- Which certainly complicates matters!

Sheila said...

Well, I'm glad you read that last post at least! It was rather an epic to write, and I wondered if anyone had gotten through it.

It's one thing to say "we are committed to this community." And other to say, "we are compelled to remain in this community." Sure, some level of commitment on the part of everyone is going to keep that community stable. But what if the leaders of the community decide that something is for the benefit of the community, and the others don't agree? Are they to be forced to go along with it?

I'm particularly thinking of this with regard to a debate I'm in right now about Christendom's PDA policy. "Those who have care of the community" say that for boyfriends and girlfriends to hold hands in public harms and divides the community. Hardly any of the students agree. Is it necessary for this sort of rule to be compelled -- with a fine, as it is -- to preserve community? Should the rulers just *advise* everyone to follow the rules without force? Or can we just trust community spirit to work this stuff out without making a specific rule about it?

(My general opinion is that the community I formed with my now-husband is going to last our whole lives, whereas my relationship with the college lasted only four years, so it seems to me unreasonable to prioritize college community over individual relationships within it.)

When I think of community I think of close-knit towns, groups of friends, families. I don't so much think of monasteries, feudal systems, or communes ... mainly because I wouldn't want to be part of a community that included actual compulsion. But I haven't really realized my dreams, either, so perhaps it really is impossible to form community outside of one of those coercive systems.

Belfry Bat said...

Hm! Without attempting to comment directly on that policy at C.C., perhaps you'd be interested in a contrasting policy: each of the last five years or so, as part of my being a TA at this school I've been obligated to listen to a twenty-minute lecture that, every time, opens with the statements "the University cannot and does not have anything to say about who you fornicate with. The University does, however, have rather a lot to say about whose work you can grade for credit;" and then proceeds to describe what actions are necessary should one suffer the misfortune to fornicate with one of his students.

So, on the one hand, there are Christendom Colleges that build up a fence around the Law, and there are Urban Metropolis Universities that do their best to deny that the Law exists, acknowledging only power and will. I do not at all approve of my own school's model; but in what you describe of Christendom, it is the particulars of the fence I might disagree with... while in Wessex most everyone seems to know what the laws are, and keep to them (in so far as they do) at least in part to appease public opinion.

love the girls said...

Miss Sheila,

A better reading of my comment is as follows :

But Catholic society cannot coexist with the american demand for luxury,

including exurban american agrarianism,

i.e widespread land ownership in its most typical form as advocated by the Catholic intellectual types . . .

The cardinal word is luxury.

Sheila said...

I don't mind the pressure of public opinion. In fact, in many ways it's much more effective than law, without actually exerting any force. And every community has its own standards, which may be more or less than the law. For instance, the law forbids going 80 mph on my nearest freeway, but everyone I know does it. But divorce is quite legal, and yet the social stigma of divorce in my Catholic circles has probably convinced many a couple that it's better to put up with each other so they still have friends.

An advantage of social pressure is that an individual or group can sort of pull it in whatever direction they want. The Bad Guys understand this ... sometimes I feel that Catholics don't. And, of course, if something is so important to you that you're willing to be a social pariah for it, at least there isn't someone ready to haul you off to jail.

Not that there aren't still cases for the law to get involved. I just finished the book and there is one pretty notable case where it has to.

LTG, the thing is I don't think land ownership is a luxury. It's simply access to the goods of creation, to which everyone has some kind of right.

Now, I know a few people (professors at Christendom, mainly) who hold that to be true philosophers they need ten fairly useless acres so that they can "contemplate the good" there. And that, yes, is a luxury. But I think that anyone with a real desire to till the land and work hard should have the opportunity to do so.

love the girls said...

Sheila writes : "But I think that anyone with a real desire to till the land and work hard should have the opportunity to do so"

I agree. And I would have that 10 acres of land back up to the village as best as possible, not spread out on rural roads.

With other further outlying lands being used for in less intensive ways.

The 10 acres of contemplation land, and similar exurban uses are pure american luxury.