26 August 2013


"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.

Chapters 36 to 43

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


Sheila said...

You see why I said that WHY Bathsheba marries Troy is the key of the whole novel! The whole book, her desire has been to have people notice, admire, and love her. She's hurt when Gabriel says he doesn't want to marry her anymore -- even though she turned him down! She couldn't stand Boldwood not noticing her. She isn't going to accept Troy abandoning her. Since she can keep Boldwood on a string, she has to marry the one man she can't keep around any other way.

The one source of sympathy I have for her is that she really is hungry for love. She's an orphan, she's got nobody. Even Libby has to be paid to be her friend. She just doesn't seem to have learned yet that to get love, you have to be willing to give it. She really does love Troy, so it's a start, but unfortunately it doesn't take her long to realize she made a mistake. (People always get married in such a hurry in Victorian novels! A six-month engagement would remove a great deal of the tragedy!)

It took me two days to write this comment, so I'll just go ahead and post it so I can see what others have written before addressing your questions.

Sheila said...

Ah, I'm still first! Okay:

1. She would have been really upset about it, of course! On the other hand, it may have been the Right Thing for Troy to do. The best thing, of course, would be for Troy to have married her, but since he didn't, he owes it to her to at least help.

As a side note, how come Hardy doesn't tell us she looked pregnant? I don't know much about the clothing of the time, but here it is at least July, she got pregnant sometime in winter, so shouldn't she be showing? What exactly does she die of? I assumed at first that she had just overexerted herself and died, pregnant, and the workhouse people saw she was pregnant and put "and child" on the coffin. But apparently she did give birth to the baby, so did she put herself into preterm labor climbing that hill? Or what? It bugs me (as a birth nerd) that Hardy doesn't give us any more information than that. And if she's in labor that whole way up the hill, why doesn't he give us that information?

2. No, I think he was trying to spare Bathsheba's feelings, and it would have prevented a lot of trouble, too. But since Fanny did look pregnant (I'm guessing), Bathsheba suspects and it's wasted effort.

3. If the present is really okay, the past should make no difference. I can't imagine anything from the past that would make me love my husband any less. But if he managed the present badly to spoil the future, you'd better believe that would make a difference to me.

I can't imagine being as ridiculously jealous as Bathsheba is about my husband having liked someone before me. No biggie; I'd just assume he loves me best now and drop it. Of course Bathsheba (being hopelessly needy about love) demands affirmations that he loves her best, and Troy is being peevish and won't provide them.

You see he's more than just thoughtless. He doesn't like her jealous and decides to respond by willfully hurting her.

I think my favorite scene in the whole book is the bit with the wheat stacks and the thunderstorm. There is Troy, heedless of the good of her farm (though later he whines that he lost some of the grain -- but he sees it merely as an income that failed to deliver ... this is what I call "industrial farming" and it is one of the things that makes me angriest in the world: expecting a farm to produce an income for you without taking the trouble to take care of it) .... and on the other hand, there's Gabriel, looking out for her even though there's nothing in it for him. He just can't bear the thought of all that good grain to be ruined. And you see that he and Bathsheba are more on the same page than she ever will be with Troy.

Belfry Bat said...

Oh, Unhappy Troy to have proved less fickle than he thought; I do wonder at now-Mrs. Troy, though, to have counted on both his fickleness and his constancy. (That's by the way, as I know from observation, nothing to do with "what marriage would be like"; evidently it's what marriage to this Sergeant would be like). Without any evidence to go on beyond Bathsheba's and young master Ball's equally laconic accounts (isn't it curious we actually learn more and more reliably from a silly boy?), it seems quite impossible to figure what Troy's motivation was, beyond a striking figure and a prosperous farm. We know now he's a literal gambler, too, and the die must roll some time; he might have viewed the wedding just as thoughtless and impulsively. But this seems to be one of the things we just can't really know.

1) ... No-one is told what would have happened. (Mum and Dad gave me a C.S.Lewis 7-in-one for my birthday! ... none of the Chronicles, but it puts one in that frame of mind)... would Bathsheba have been in any frame of mind to consent? Need she have learned the nature of the older "ties"? Might she not herself have freely aided poor Fanny had Troy been far away?

2) Yes. Yes, I think so. And, clearly, it only delays the eventual. I won't say, "inevitable". But, with Liddy's gossip and the open box... that's not your box, btw. The points wavefunction still isn't collapsed.

3) Oh dear... well. Bad fruits popping up may be a cross to bear, but at least have a chance of making a decent jam: just apply heat. Sowing bad seeds may well lead to bad fruit, the sowing is compounded by moral evils (neglect, malice, ...). So. But, really, I don't know.

love the girls said...

"2) Was Gabriel too interfering in rubbing out half the writing on the coffin?"

No. It was tactless and scandalous to put both on the coffin. Further, the act fits Hardy's use of Gabriel as a second Uriah.

Sheila said...

That makes me think again of Nathan's parable of the sheep. Bathsheba has to have all the sheep; she wants Fanny's "sheep" and yet keep the sheep she had before. Being greedy about sheep -- or male admirers -- doesn't end well!

Boldwood's seeing himself as the poor farmer, and Bathsheba as the sheep, is misguided. He keeps insisting she "should have been his." That bother anyone? It does me. Puts me in mind of a guy I knew who was dumped by his girlfriend and refused to believe that it was over because they hadn't mutually agreed it was over. When, six months later, she announced her engagement to another guy, he became enraged because she was "cheating on him."

She ain't yours till she decides to be yours, Boldwood, and a promise to give a promise is not the same as a promise. His possessiveness by this point is already frightening and there's still a lot of book left.

love the girls said...


While I can see how Boldwood would be considered frightening according to modern standards in some social circles, I can't see a single reason why those in Wessex would likewise see him as frightening.

What am I missing?

Enbrethiliel said...


Sheila -- We've found Bathsheba's key sin, then! Not vanity, but greed.

It would have been really disrespectful to Bathsheba for Troy to have helped Fanny into the wagon then and there, but given Fanny's pregnancy weakened state, I say that Bathsheba (hardly an innocent party) should have sucked it up. And Sheila, you're not the only one who was taken by surprise when Fanny turned out to be pregnant. We can't even say that the baby was a preemie because: a) we know how much time has passed since Troy and Fanny were last together; and b) she would have been so skinny that the baby would have shown. Even a short line about Troy looking down at one point and blanching at something would have done the job. But imagine how much more harrowing Fanny's last journey would have seemed to us, knowing about her condition.

While I fancy that I'm not as crazy as Bathsheba, I have been irrationally jealous before and assume that I will be again. =/ So I imagine that seeds will be easy to thwart, but fruit would really freak me out!

When I was reading the scene before the storm, my worry was that Gabriel would do all the work and Bathsheba would never know. I was glad when she woke up and helped him out. He does a lot for her and gets hardly any appreciation.

Bat -- Troy is quite mysterious. I think I'll get into that in more detail when I write the next readalong post . . . whenever that happens to be! (I confess that I'm swamped at work and slightly feverish.)

I think C.S. Lewis was letting the pretty sounds of the subjunctive mood carry him away. "No-one is told what would have happened" makes a haunting world-building rule, but it could also be a clever way for a novelist to gloss over the fact that he hasn't thought out every possibility he should have. Anyway, Bathsheba may be silly, but she isn't cruel and she likes being in charge, so I think that: a) she would have aided Fanny (whom she has felt responsible for in the past) if Troy had not been there; and b) might not have guessed the truth until much later, if Troy had assisted Fanny at that moment.

In any case, my question was less about possibilities than about propriety. There is another classic novel in which a married man has an affair with the town midwife, which means extra humiliation for his wife when it is time for her to have her baby. If a man must have an affair, he should choose his mistress with more delicadeza than this character does.

LTG -- That's something I didn't consider. On principle, I wouldn't want the child to be totally erased from memory and treated like a dirty secret. But it probably was not necessary to have made it so public. Do you think that the baby should have been quietly buried elsewhere by the Casterbridge Union people, and only Fanny's body should have been sent back to her old parish?

Belfry Bat said...

The suggestion that the Casterbridge Union men should for tact have elided the existence or presence of the infant strikes me as the same sort of respect for the dead that Jan and Joseph show at the Buck's Head. It's not clear to me that they could apprehend the infant as a matter touching on tact at all. But whether it is or not, its soul needs prayers. Gabriel's trying to spare Bathsheba's feelings on this one point... I know why it would occur to him to do it, but even so he oughtn't have done, and (what he couldn't know) it only draws out Bathsheba's already active curiosity.

love the girls said...


The baby should have been buried with the mother because that is where a baby belongs. And it never was in anyone's memory, or at least should not have been. That is how Fanny and her baby would have wanted it.

In a better time girls didn't make spectacles of themselves, but were hidden away until another family member had an unexpected birth. Problems were taken care of quietly by the family by married sisters, or, mothers, having unexpected babies.

Fanny, apparently didn't have a family to turn to in her need and so Gabriel accorded her the same dignity a family would have provided for her.

love the girls said...


Why does a newborn baby need prayers?

Belfry Bat said...

Well, if they'd Christened the poor thing, they'd have given it a name (or a better name than "Baby"). So it needs prayers. I'm not saying it's in a dire condition, but it doesn't do anyone good to pretend its doing better.

Enbrethiliel said...


I think the reason I asked the question and Bat answered yes was that he and I were both thinking about Bathsheba's feelings (which I haven't been too concerned about for a while) or the Troys' marriage (which is clearly a lost cause). But LTG seems to be looking at it from Fanny's (absent) family's point of view, in which case Gabriel's actions, although motivated by concern for Bathsheba, have the good effect of doing right by Fanny.

Enbrethiliel said...



love the girls said...

Babies in limbo are not helped by prayer because they're not in need of redemption. And for those who think all babies go to heaven making baby baptism unnecessary till when? the age of reason? As you note, those in heaven do not require prayer.

Removing the name for Bathsheba's sake is sufficient alone for it to be a work of mercy.

Sheila said...

E, I think the *midwife* should have been a bit more professional, don't you think? I certainly wouldn't expect to keep a job in a small town if I was sleeping with my clients' husbands!

LTG, you don't find Boldwood frightening? Bathsheba certainly does. Especially when she is going through the woods and runs into him, and has to tell him she's not going to marry him after all. He puts pressure on her in a completely unacceptable way. What kind of guy wants a wife who had to be browbeaten into marrying him? She doesn't have a specific fear -- it's not like she thinks he's going to attack her, but she's clearly intimidated by his anger and loss of control.

I have definitely felt this way. Men are kind of big and scary and seem bigger and scarier when they're angry.

love the girls said...


Mr Boldwood is a man of his culture, as is Bathsheba a woman of that same culture.

I don't recall Mr Boldwood acting beyond accepted standards. And if anything, he was acting within his right of expectation that Bathsheba would rectify if the opportunity presented itself to her to do so.

Belfry Bat said...

Clearly, I don't understand the Limbus Infantium, except that it belongs to Justice and Mercy and the whole of Goodness; at a guess I might have guessed that, even within the L.I, souls have particular states, and even within the L.I some states are be better than others; perhaps I had just been supposing that L.I had a similar dynamic character to it that Purgatory does (as the souls in Limbus Patronum were capable of receiving the Gospel), though with a different final end. Of course, I really don't know. I shan't willingly contradict the Magisterium, and if you can pull up the Definitions and Anathemas, that'll settle me nicely. But I've been taught to pray for the dead, and infants and inaccessible pagans and all them dead are among the dead, unless you can convict me of equivocation.

Now, Boldwood... As Sheila remarks, Bathsheba is already afraid of him; as no-one has remarked recently, he has already given Troy's neck an experimental squeeze; as Gabriel has seen, he's no longer acting much like a farmer; as the young fellow at the corn market must imagine, there's something funny about his vision... absolutely no, Boldwood is not behaving as his culture has taught him, nor as his neighbors expect. Perhaps he can be given the tiny excuse that Bathsheba dropped him into a confusion his culture hadn't prepared him for, but... that's no excuse for his own irrationality.

Sheila said...

To illustrate what I mean about Bathsheba being afraid of Boldwood, a few quotes:

"His unreasonable anger terrified her, and she glided from him, without obviously moving, as she said, 'I am only a girl—do not speak to me so!' "

And this, at the end of the conversation:

"'I'll punish him—by my soul, that will I! I'll meet him, soldier or no, and I'll horsewhip the untimely stripling for this reckless theft of my one delight. If he were a hundred men I'd horsewhip him—' He dropped his voice suddenly and unnaturally. 'Bathsheba, sweet, lost coquette, pardon me! I've been blaming you, threatening you, behaving like a churl to you, when he's the greatest sinner. He stole your dear heart away with his unfathomable lies! … It is a fortunate thing for him that he's gone back to his regiment—that he's away up the country, and not here! I hope he may not return here just yet. I pray God he may not come into my sight, for I may be tempted beyond myself. Oh, Bathsheba, keep him away—yes, keep him away from me!' "

That is a very definite threat, and where it counts, too!

Off topic a bit, his constant harping on possession and theft -- is Hardy just trying to bring to mind the lost lamb parable, or is he also trying to show us how Boldwood sees her as a thing, rather than a person? Why else would he want a woman whom he knows doesn't want him back?

"'Why did Troy not leave my treasure alone?' he asked, fiercely. 'When I had no thought of injuring him, why did he force himself upon your notice! ... He stole in in my absence and robbed me.'"

"Treasure" here is no endearment. It is, quite literally, what he thinks she is. He has fallen in love, and like Bathsheba he is utterly unprepared for it. And his reaction is to insist on an instant fix to his emotional state: simply marry the woman and then all we be well! Prevent him from marrying the woman he wants, and all is awful! Gabriel is much better at being a rejected suitor. He keeps his dignity, and he isn't going to harp at her after being turned down once. Boldwood is angry at her -- not just for leading him on, which would be reasonable, but for not swallowing her own feelings and marrying him when she doesn't want to. I can't pity or respect him.

love the girls said...

Thank you Miss Sheila and Bat,

Since its been 15 years since I read the book, and I've always had a poor memory, I was relying on the overall abstract impression of the book in which my Mr Boldwood comes off as dignified and rash to action, but not frightening.

But apparently, that impression is wrong.

Enbrethiliel said...


LTG -- Out of curiosity, can a baby receive a baptism of blood?

Sheila -- The novel I'm referring to is set about 100 years ago, so it wouldn't have been so easy for the town to find another midwife. More insult to injury. =(

The case on Mr. Boldwood seems closed, but I wanted to add my own two centavos anyway. I agree that Bathsheba has been frightened by him for some time, but I think the reason I didn't pick up on it myself until right now (Thanks for the quotations!) was that Gabriel doesn't seem scared of him of scared for Bathsheba's sake. Gabriel has noted the older man's irrational behaviour and has always felt compassion for him (being one of Bathsheba's spurned suitors himself), but he has not--or at least, not yet--warned Bathsheba about him the way he has warned her about Troy.

love the girls said...

That's an interesting question. If all babies go to heaven as some argue for, then in turn were the holy innocents baptized by blood? Or are they simply martyrs. I suppose it could be argued that they're baptized by blood because it's of greater merit even though they did not will the martyrdom.

Enbrethiliel said...


I was actually thinking of babies who were still in the womb when their mothers were martyred. (At first I thought St. Felicity's baby was a good example, but then I checked the story and saw that she gave birth before her martyrdom.)

love the girls said...

Miss E.,

I can't say what actually occurs, but the loveliness of a mother's maternal bond with her baby extending to the baptizing of her baby in martyrdom is an appealing one.

Sheila said...

No, the Romans thought it was impious to execute a pregnant woman. (Ditto for virgins: that's why they often raped them first. Delightful.)

My general opinion is that when God knows a baby is going to die, he reveals himself to it in some miraculous, mysterious way so that the baby can choose to desire baptism or not. I made this up myself, so I can't vouch for its theological correctness, but it seems like something God would want to do.

Gabriel has it in his head from the beginning that Boldwood is the proper suitor of Bathsheba, so he forces himself to encourage Boldwood, speak well of him to Bathsheba, etc. .... because his temptation is to do the opposite, and he realizes that would be unfair.

However, he never sees Boldwood like he is with Bathsheba. He sees him depressed, sad, careless of his farm, but he does NOT see him berating Bathsheba, saying she *owes* him something, trying to wheedle promises out of her. Naturally he doesn't know to warn Bathsheba about that.

Gabriel may be her guardian angel, but he's human, and he doesn't know everything.

love the girls said...


That's actually a rather common speculation. The issue though is by what capacity does the baby choose given that its sole disposition is its fallen nature.

We either end up with a catholic Calvinism of some babies not receiving sufficient grace and suffering in hell through no fault of their own because God chose not to give them sufficient grace. Or we end up with a universalism of all babies go to heaven thus making infant baptism a farce.

Enbrethiliel said...


I've been noticing that virtue is being tied very closely to good farming practices--to the point that if Gabriel, Mr. Boldwood and Sergeant Troy were all given the exact same seeds to plant, only Gabriel's would grow properly. Or at least it seems that cut and dried to me! =P

But then we have decent workers like the three in the Buck's Head inn, who would slip up and lose their way more often without firm leadership--and they're not bad men. I guess Gabriel wouldn't see the same red flags I fancy Hardy has been training me to spot; but I also think that if one farmer has been letting his farm go as badly as Boldwood has, then he's no longer the obvious match for a young woman who is serious about making her own farm a success.

Anyway, I've finally got the next post up, and my mind is full of the next seven chapters, so the discussion can take a new turn. See you at the other meeting! =)