"Two or Three" Book Club, Meeting 61
A few meetings ago, I mentioned that I had seen one of the movie adaptations of Far from the Madding Crowd many years ago. If I had any doubt that the memory of it had faded enough to make it safe to read the book at last, that was dispelled yesterday, when I was absolutely gobsmacked at what happened next with Sergeant Troy.
"A rambling, gloomy house this," said Troy, smiling . . .
"But it is a nice old house," responded Gabriel.
"Yes--I suppose so; but I feel like new wine in an old bottle here. My notion is that sash-windows should be put throughout, and these old wainscoted walls brightened up a bit; or the oak cleared quite away, and the walls papered."
"It would be a pity, I think."
"Well, no. A philosopher once said in my hearing that the old builders, who worked when art was a living thing, had no respect for the work of builders who went before them, but pulled down and altered as they thought fit; and why shouldn't we? 'Creation and preservation don't do well together,' says he, 'and a million of antiquarians can't invent a style.' My mind exactly. I am for making this place more modern, that we may be cheerful whilst we can."
What was I just saying about "upcycling"? I really had no idea I was foreshadowing anything. =P
We can hope that Troy will leave the great barn alone, but we already know he won't.
Chapters 29 to 35
So Bathsheba has married Sergeant Troy. Was anyone as surprised as I was? Or did you think it was QED, given all the constants and variables laid out for us since these two lovebirds met? (Did you like that mathy bit, Bat?)
I find it curious that Hardy gives up the omniscient point of view when breaking the news about their wedding. We just get a comically unreliable narrator in Cainy Ball, who makes Bath sound more interesting than Bathsheba . . . and a sadistic bit of verbal fencing between Troy and Mr. Boldwood before the former finally drops the bombshell he could have revealed at once. The result, in my case, was a mild state of shock, with a dash of denial. Although my special rule is to read no further than seven or eight chapters ahead (but as you can see, usually stopping at the seventh), I kept going after the big revelation, just to make sure it was real. (It was. Damn.)
* * *
On the other hand, I thought Hardy undermined his omniscience in an earlier scene with just Bathsheba and Liddy. Their interaction was completely farcical--enough to make me reconsider my impression that the former is a buffoon, on par with the modern TV father. But there may be another explanation for this . . .
I was reminded of a remark one of my former professors made about Jane Austen's novels: according to him, she has never written a scene with only men in it, but always inserts a woman character--a tacit admission that she herself doesn't quite understand how men tick. Well, a few years later, an Austen fan told me that this was about as true as that other critical cliche that all of William Shakespeare's comedies end with marriage, while all his tragedies begin with them . . . but she didn't say which scene from which book proves my professor wrong. Personally, I'm willing to let this be Schrodinger's Critique where Austen is concerned, and I bring it up now only because it also applies here. (I'm so STEM today, aye, Bat?!) Hardy's women seem believable only insofar as
* * *
There are so many reasons why marrying Sergeant Troy was wrong, but in fairness to the new Mrs. Troy, she knew none of them. She was unaware of the real reason Fanny Robin disappeared and never checked the smaller entrance to the church which Troy claimed he always used. There was that instinct which made her uneasy about meeting him unchaperoned--and we can hold that against her--but now that they're married, that bit of history has been rewritten as "anticipating the wedding."
So her actions are not excusable, but they are definitely excused. Just like her namesake's actions thousands of years ago. (I am honestly scandalised.)
Anyway, going with nothing but what the utterly uninformed Bathsheba knows, I'm afraid that the main objection to her eloping with Troy is twin to advice which The Last Psychiatrist exposed as hypocrisy a few months ago:
The most important--her words--advice [Facebook COO Sheryl] Sandberg has to offer women is . . . to choose your husband carefully. Think about this for a minute. I've fallen in love with some catastrophes in my life, I've drank a lot of rum, and I'm sure a lot of/all people say the same about me, but how on earth could I choose whom I fell in love with? The heart wants what it wants, even when what it wants is on Prozac. How could I select my love based on my career concerns, or is the logic that my soulless zombie skull would love anyone who agreed to do half the chores? The only person who can pull that off is a psychopath, and sure, you may indeed succeed in life, but at what cost? What are you good for? But the Time Magazine force vector doesn't care about your human happiness, it most certainly doesn't care about your caring about your partner's happiness, it cares about your role as producer, and by producer I mean consumer. Eat up, it will have corn in it.
If Bathsheba were truly serious about being her own bailiff, then she would have married a man who would support her in that "career." But to argue alongside Alone, that's as bad as an aspiring politician marrying a woman because she'll appeal to a bigger demographic of voters. The heart wants what the heart wants, and sometimes a farmer's heart will want someone who would run the operations into the ground. That makes the farmer a bad manager, not a bad person or a bad spouse.
It just really zeros my functions (You know what I mean, Bat?) that a character who has made horrible choices and been an incredible idiot is still, when all is weighed in the balance, pretty much blameless.
What are your thoughts on Chapters 29 to 35?
1) Why do you think Hardy finds such an oblique way to work the wedding into the narrative?
2) If you knew nothing about Sergeant Troy but what Bathsheba herself knew, what would be the main argument against her marrying him?
3) So how should one select a spouse?
Image Source: Far from the Madding Crowd by Thomas Hardy