"Two or Three" Book Club, Meeting 62
If you've read this far, you've probably already finished! Something really exciting happened a few chapters ago, and it seems that everyone who joined the Far from the Madding Crowd readalong has leaped ahead to the end because of it. I can't blame you, my friends! But I hope you understand that I have to be the tortoise in this race. =P
He did not now love her enough to allow himself to be carried too far by her ways. Yet it was necessary to be civil. "You wrong me by such a suspicious manner," he said. "Such strait-waistcoating as you treat me to is not becoming in you at so early a date."
"I think that I have a right to grumble a little if I pay," she said, with features between a smile and a pout.
"Exactly; and, the former being done, suppose we proceed to the latter. Bathsheba, fun is all very well, but don't go too far, or you may have cause to regret something."
She reddened. "I do that already," she said, quickly . . . "[My] romance has come to an end."
"All romances end at marriage."
It seems that one theme of this novel is endings, whether it is the end of a way of life or the end of a romance. But we also get some literal deaths in the plot--and I no longer mean just the sheep.
As soon as I published the post for the previous meeting, I plowed through the next eight chapters in a single sitting. And now I want to take back what I have said about Bathsheba being blameless. She doesn't marry Sergeant Troy out of real love that he is unworthy of, but out of something else entirely . . .
". . . Well, I was alone in a strange city, and the horse was lame. And at last I didn't know what to do. I saw, when it was too late, that scandal might seize hold of me for meeting him alone in that way. But I was coming away, when he suddenly said he had that day seen a woman more beautiful than I, and that his constancy could not be counted on unless I at once became his . . . And I was grieved and troubled--" She cleared her voice, and waited a moment, as if to gather breath. "And then, between jealousy and distraction, I married him!" she whispered with desperate impetuosity.
Now that Bathsheba's motivations are no longer a mystery, I'm going to wonder about Troy's. He has already compromised one woman without bothering to marry her first, so why is he taunting another into a wedding? It can't be just Bathsheba's money, despite the merry use he goes on to make of it as her husband. Troy strikes me as very impulsive, even reactive--someone who follows the whim of the present, improvising his "script" as necessary. So whatever, or whoever, happens to be out of sight at the moment would also be out of mind for him.
It's easy to say that if he genuinely cared for Fanny, he would have tried to find her after she disappeared. Or tried harder, as perhaps his original objective in going back to Weatherbury was to seek her. Of course, the moment he arrived, he was distracted by Bathsheba. It doesn't make him evil--just self-absorbed, thoughtless, and immature. But this is enough to lead to death.
And now it seems that Bathsheba will forever be eclipsed--not by a woman more beautiful than she, which was her original fear, but by a woman who has a hold on a man they both loved which Bathsheba will never be able to match. Mrs. Troy may have thought she had won by marrying the sergeant, because a man can have only one wife; but Fanny won by dying in childbirth, and now even suicide would be, for Bathsheba, just "tamely copying" her rival. In the immortal words of a colonial marine whose own tale will unfold 300 years in the future: "Game over, man. Game over!"
The drama is rich in these eight chapters, and Hardy would have already had a good novel if he had kept the focus squarely on his principal characters. But right when it is most exciting--when Fanny and her child are on their way back to Weatherbury on Bathsheba's cart--Hardy deliberately interrupts the flow by making the wagon's driver stop somewhere for a near-bottomless drink and a drawn out chat. And this is amazingly profound writing.
There's a sense in which Far from the Madding Crowd has two settings: one in which time rushes forward like a river, and another in which things remain unchanged for centuries. And we can climb out of the current of the main story any time we wish, by scrambling onto the banks of rustic tradition. Jan Coggan's detour into the Buck's Head inn, as if he didn't have somewhere else to go and something else to do, reflects the rural response to the great dramas of history--including those of religion.
"For my part," said Coggan, "I'm staunch Church of England . . . I've never changed a single doctrine: I've stuck like a plaster to the old faith I was born in. Yes, there's this to be said for the Church, a man can belong to the Church and bide in his cheerful old inn, and never trouble or worry his mind about doctrines at all. But to be a meetinger, you must go to chapel in all winds and weathers, and make yerself as frantic as a skit. Not but that chapel members be clever chaps enough in their way. They can lift up beautiful prayers out of their own heads, all about their families and shipwrecks in the newspaper . . . We know very well that if anybody do go to heaven, they will. They've worked hard for it, and they deserve to have it, such as 'tis. I bain't such a fool as to pretend that we who stick to the Church have the same chance as they . . . But I hate a feller who'll change his old ancient doctrines for the sake of getting to heaven. I'd as soon turn king's-evidence for the few pounds you get . . . I'll stick to my side; and if we be in the wrong, so be it: I'll fall with the fallen!"
Ah, Coggan is a theologian after my own heart, even if he is not of the same Church!
I'm really not sure about the historical details (and apparently don't even know how to research them properly), but I got the impression that Casterbridge Union House is run by those "chapel-meetingers," who, for all their theological deficiencies (and unfriendliness toward dogs--Grrrr!), are certainly not lacking in charity. If I am correct about them, then they make an interesting contrast to the rooted faith and unreliable practices of the staunch Church of England men.
What are your thoughts on Chapters 36 to 43?
1) Would it have been so bad if Troy had made his new wife assist his former lover when the two met on the road?
2) Was Gabriel too interfering in rubbing out half the writing on the coffin?
3) What would you say is worse in a marriage: bad fruit popping up from the past or bad seeds being sown for the future?
Image Source: Far from the Madding Crowd by Thomas Hardy