"Two or Three" Book Club, Meeting 63
First of all, please accept my apologies for the lateness of this post. Last week started out well but rapidly devolved into something which kept me in bed and unable to keep much down for three days. The good news is that when I finally crawled out and rejoined civilisation, I was svelte. =P
But what is more relevant to this readalong is that I finally know why some Far from the Madding Crowd covers prominently feature the seashore . . .
At three in the afternoon [Troy] found himself at the foot of a slope more than a mile in length, which ran to the ridge of a range of hills lying parallel with the shore, and forming a monotonous barrier between the basin of cultivated country inland and the wilder scenery of the coast. Up the hill stretched a road nearly straight and perfectly white, the two sides approaching each other in a gradual taper till they met the sky at the top about two miles off. Throughout the length of this narrow and irksome inclined plane not a sign of life was visible on this garish afternoon. Troy toiled up the road with a languor and depression greater than any he had experienced for many a day and year before. The air was warm and muggy, and the top seemed to recede as he approached.
At last he reached the summit, and a wide and novel prospect burst upon him with an effect almost like that of the Pacific upon Balboa's gaze . . .
I can't help comparing Troy's stark isolation here to Gabriel's solitude at the very beginning. While the latter is not "a person standing alone on a hill during a clear midnight" in the sense that he isn't contemplating the cosmic view which Thomas Hardy goes on to describe, he seems to understand nonetheless that he is merely making "stately progress through the stars"--and this is likely why his great loss, when it comes, does not beat him down so badly. But Troy gazes not at the stars during midnight vigil, but at the horizon during nones; and this makes a difference.
If the way Hardy breaks the news of Bathsheba's wedding is meant to remind us that Bathsheba is not the centre of Far from the Madding Crowd, then these chapters which barely shift the focus from Sergeant and Mrs. Troy are meant to remind us that neither is Gabriel. So let's stick to Troy for now.
I feel a little bad comparing him to Gabriel, but I find the twists of fortune they each endure interesting to lay side by side. Now, Gabriel arguably receives the bigger blow, losing everything he has worked hard for over ten years and the independence that came with it. In contrast, Troy loses the labour of a few hours, which was driven by a romantic whim--damage which proves easier to fix than even I had guessed. Yet the second man takes his blow much harder, for an interesting reason.
Hardy guides us to that awful point in Troy's life brilliantly, by way of the Weatherbury church's gargoyle--or as I suppose we can also spell it, gurgoyle. (Would you say that it gargles or that it gurgles?) Such an ornamental spout makes for easy personification, but Hardy makes this particular character seem especially malicious.
It was too human to be called like a dragon, too impish to be like a man, too animal to be like a fiend, and not enough like a bird to be called a griffin. This horrible stone entity was fashioned as if covered with a wrinkled hide; it had short, erect ears, eyes starting from their sockets, and its fingers and hands were seizing the corners of its mouth, which they thus seemed to pull open to give free passage to the water it vomited. The lower row of teeth was quite washed away, though the upper still remained. Here and thus, jutting a couple of feet from the wall against which its feet rested as a support, the creature had for four hundred years laughed at the surrounding landscape, voicelessly in dry weather, and in wet with a gurgling and snorting sound.
On the night when Troy tries to make amends for something he is truly sorry about, the "creature" laughs again. And because its laughter is not simply sound, but also vomiting, it can erode both the ego and what the ego tries to leave upon the earth. I can't really blame Troy for waking up, seeing what has happened, and taking it personally. That's really easy to do when a gargoyle has been sneering at you all night . . . and when you have no faith.
What happens next is probably the most outrageous part of the story for me. I've read another Hardy novel in which a major character, similarly seeking to escape what he believes is a bad marriage, takes a ship to the Americas--and it was unbelievable there, too. I have no idea what Hardy thought went on across the Atlantic ocean, but his sending Troy to the United States, where he makes a decent living as a Professor of Gymnastics, Sword Exercise, Fencing and Pugilism, seems to be the Victorian equivalent of the 80s training/makeover montage. That is: it works as a plot point only if you don't see that it's magic.
I had an even harder time swallowing Troy's "reincarnation" as Turpin--but that's partly because I'm not sure what to make of the traveling circus. There seems to be a place for such touring entertainers in Greenhill Fair, but they're not agricultural, not rustic, not very traditional, and certainly not far from the madding crowd. I wish I had something more profound to say about it, but not as much as I wish for this post to be published as soon as possible--so perhaps we can figure it out together in the combox.
At last and as for Mrs. Troy, did anyone notice that after she had to have that look in the coffin, she has been looking more often and feeling less comfortable with being looked at by others? Her watching Gabriel through his window is a reversal of the time he watched her through the hole in the cow shed.
What are your thoughts on Chapters 44 to 50?
1. Would you say that Troy's disappearance and return are consistent with his character's lack of roots and unusual career choices, or does Hardy drop the ball while expecting us to suspend disbelief?
2. What do you make of the circus?
Image Source: Far from the Madding Crowd by Thomas Hardy