23 August 2013


"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 men are gazing at them there are also men in their scenes.

* * *

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


love the girls said...

By arrangement.

"What difference does it make who you marry so long as he's a Southerner and thinks like you?"

Sheila said...

1. To shock your socks off. And it works. Once I got to that bit I had to finish the whole book within two days! Being shocked really does pull you into a book so you have to keep reading it.

It also makes Boldwood rather a buffoon, and it sort of makes Troy look better ... though also more calculating. I think a little better of him that he didn't take the money, but a little worse of him that he went through all that trouble to trick Boldwood. He clearly isn't quite so thoughtless as Hardy describes him at first.

2. That Oak, who is wiser than her and has her best interests at heart -- standing, in fact, in the place of father or wise aunt -- advises her against it. I think of Seraphic's tips again: "Never stay with someone your friends and family can't stand." The grounds for this being that they are going to be more objective than you about the person and see warning flags you, in your in-love haze, are going to miss or explain away.

3. If the one thing you care about in life is your farm, it's idiotic not to marry a farmer. I don't care how charming he is. Really, is it impossible to find someone with whom you have at least a few essentials in common?

Now for each person those essentials are different. You can't have a list a mile long. Some people insist on marrying a fellow Catholic, even if they're not a super-fervent Catholic. Others would be happy with a Protestant so long as they had a good spiritual life. I had rather a long list, I'm afraid, and yet sometimes I feel it ought to have been longer. (Of course I'd probably still be single if it were a single item longer. The guy I found was something of a long shot.) Having a few non-negotiables *firmly* in your mind is a great help in talking yourself out of a relationship that might be fun at the time, but will probably end in grief.

Think of it this way. The feeling of being-in-love is delightful, but it only lasts a few years. After that one starts to notice the glaring differences. That's why we use our brains to sort potential partners as well as our feelings.

The trouble with Bathsheba is that she wasn't prepared for this. She never planned to get married in the first place. So naturally the first time she fell for somebody, she fell hard. She had no "list of non-negotiables." She'd never thought, in a moment of perfect calm and reasonableness, what sort of man she could live with. She just picked the first man who even made her *want* to get married.

I have so much more to say, but on double-checking I see it's all past chapter 35. What really gets me is *why* she married Troy. I think it's the key to the whole novel.

Enbrethiliel said...


LTG -- And is that how it worked out for you? LOL!

Sheila -- Oh, great. Now everyone is finished but I. ;-P

Did you notice that the marriage issue overlaps with what we've been saying about freedom and community? There's one sense in which an individual should have the only say in whom he marries. But inasmuch as his marriage will affect his community (even if it's just his family), then perhaps he should also be biased toward his respective version of "Southerners."

(Incidentally, careers affect the community, too--but advice not to choose a certain career because it will be bad for the community would get quite a negative reaction these days. That doesn't make it bad advice, though!)

I've boiled down my own list of non-negotiables to something like Scarlett's father's standard: Catholic and attractive to me. And you know what? I might as well have a mile-long list. =P

Belfry Bat said...

So, is that three, or four entries for the random-prime-number-of-points draw? Not that it helps at all. Also: one must be cautious about agreeing to "random" things before knowing something about the distribution! Since you mention Schrödinger, I think I'll award you 2 pts with amplitude √½, and 3 pts with amplitude √-½, all other primes with vanishing amplitude, and we won't know which it is untill you open THIS BOX: ⌧ !

Since you mention again that keystone scene between Bathsheba and Liddy, and believable characters and such: it would, I suppose, be hard for Hardy even to witness a scene between two unobserved women — women in their ground state, as it were; but this is closer to Heisenberg's difficulty than Schrödinger's.

The thing I can't get over is how baldly and blithely Troy talks of taking over the farm; when the thing Bathsheba objected to so much in marriage was becoming someone's property, she seems to have picked the one man about who most sees her as property, pretty-faced as that property may be. And then how little Bathsheba has to say about his agricultural and building management presumptions...

Now, to business.

1) Troy has, as I said, once or twice lied to Bathsheba and then boasted to her about it; this should be enough on its own. In an interesting parallel, Boldwood has once or twice tried to extract a lie in the name of a "promise" from Bathsheba, and proceeds thereafter to lie to himself. So that's plenty reason to avoid both of them. But I think Sheila is right, and said it better than I could.

2) I think the slow reveal is Hardy's way of building sympathy between Gabriel and the reader. Yes, it's dramatic; yes, it makes three chapters do the work that one could have done, but that mostly means this story isn't about Bathsheba, but about ... well... something else. Relationships? If it is about relationships, it's even more interesting that we don't see the actual wedding.

3) Goodness, how should I know? There's a reason I'm not, you know. Maybe LTG is right, but I'd insert the adjective "Divine". I want to say "cool and collectedly", but then GKC will insist that the two must then be brought to the furnace and made red-hot.

love the girls said...

E. asks : "is that how it worked out for you?"


I married a girl who comes from the exact same cultural background, and thus does think like I do.

And at the time I could see God's hand in it all as well.


But my comment is better directed towards looking to Bathsheba because Gerald OHara's comment to a daughter whose life and all else were very much like Bathsheba's.

The far better matches are Boldwood or Gabriel. Matches that would have been made if the decision had been left to others with more prudence.

Enbrethiliel said...



Since Troy was talking to others rather than to Bathsheba about taking over the farm, perhaps most of it was bluster? In any case, I doubt she discussed her commitment to the farm (and any potential husband's role in the "family business") with him at any time during their tumultuous courtship--not counting the times she told him to back off before the workers because public flirting hurt her authority as a manager, because he would have chalked that up to mere coquetry.

I like your analysis of the slow reveal. We talk so much about Bathsheba--and she does have so many more things happening in her life than any other character--that we may forget that Gabriel is the real centre of gravity. I've read a bit further by this time, and though the shock of the elopement has worn off, the sense of unreality hasn't. That it took place away from Gabriel's watchful eye--or just the community's watchful eye--gives it all the gravitas of a dream.

LTG -- If I remember correctly, Scarlett O'Hara's mother dies before her daughter is old enough to marry and is not there to temper her husband's masculine view of marriage with her own experience of their union. Similarly, Bathsheba doesn't have a single older woman to look after her interests--someone who knows what it's like to be a wife the way Gabriel imagines what it's like to be a husband. And as we've already established, LTG, you have never been female. =P I think a young man would be happy enough with "a Southerner [who] thinks like [him]," but a girl could be in a perfectly decent marriage and want to kill herself to escape it. Far from the Madding Crowd and Gone with the Wind would have been different with mothers around.

As Sheila pointed out, Bathsheba's blind spots came from her initial resolve never to marry, which left her completely unprepared when marriage became a serious possibility. Whether this is in itself an imprudent decision (because of the question of who will inherit the farm) is another question.

love the girls said...

Miss E.,

Let it be granted that a father's guidance alone is insufficient. Nevertheless, the underlying argument is that prudential compromise is a good, and the error made is not following it.

"George's son had done his work so thoroughly that he was considered too good a workman to live, and was, in fact, taken and tragically shot at twelve o'clock that same day--another instance of the untoward fate which so often attends dogs and other philosophers who follow out a train of reasoning to its logical conclusion, and attempt perfectly consistent conduct in a world made up so largely of compromise."

love the girls said...

Adding on,

In case I wasn't clear. The story of the sheep dogs is a the guiding parable for the book, and as is noted, the tragedy occurs because the younger dog was left alone to his own devices.

Enbrethiliel said...


While I completely agree that there should be compromises between what an individual wants and what is good for his "tribe," you weren't talking about compromise earlier. You said that the decision should be left to others with more prudence, suggesting that Bathsheba should have no say in whom she marries at all.

love the girls said...

Miss E.,

You're correct, I strayed from Hardy's argument because it's more fun to say by arrangement than within expected cultural guidelines.