"Far from the Madding Crowd" by Thomas Hardy as a Criticism of Romantic Love

Term Paper, 2017

15 Pages, Grade: 1,0



1. Introduction

2. Romantic Elements in Far from the Madding Crowd
2.1 Definition of Romanticism
2.2 Elements of Romanticism in Far from the Madding Crowd

3. Criticism of Romantic Love
3.1 Definition of Romantic Love
3.2 Boldwood’s Love for Bathsheba
3.3 Bathsheba’s Love for Troy
3.4 Bathsheba’s Love for Gabriel

4. Conclusion

5. Bibliography

1. Introduction

“For Hardy the issue was love itself, love as an overwhelming and capricious power, the great source of human joy and grief” (Irwin 195). This is a quote from Michael Irwin’s Hardy and Romantic Love . It shows that it is a well-known fact that love plays a major role in Hardy’s novels. Accordingly, there have been a lot of studies on the topic of love in Hardy’s novels. This paper will concentrate on one particular novel, namely Far from the Madding Crowd. There has been much research on the treatment of love in this novel. Studies that have been conducted deal with Bathsheba’s courtship, her suitors and her developments throughout the novel (cf. Adey 47). This paper will focus on the manner in which romantic love, an ideal of the romantic period, is portrayed in the novel. Despite having been written a few decades after the romantic period, several elements of Romanticism appear in Hardy’s novel Far from the Madding Crowd. However, the concept of romantic love is strongly criticized in the novel. While playing an important role in the novel and characterizing many relationships, romantic love is always depicted in a negative light.

To begin with, the term Romanticism will be defined. Following the definition, the paper will deal with how several elements of Romanticism are incorporated in the novel. The next part will examine the concept of romantic love and how it is criticized in Far from the Madding Crowd . After a definition of what is meant by romantic love, two different characters of the novel, who both suffer because of their romantic love towards another person, will be focused on. Finally, the ending of the novel, where the two protagonists are united, will be analysed and the type of love that characterizes their relationship will be discussed.

2. Romantic Elements in Far from the Madding Crowd

Far from the Madding Crowd was published in 1874, during the Victorian Period. Nevertheless, the novel incorporates many elements of Romanticism. Set in rural England, it highlights the joys of rural life and the beauty in nature.

2.1 Definition of Romanticism

In order to be able to recognize the elements of Romanticism that can be found in the novel Far from the Madding Crowd, the term Romanticism must first be examined more closely. Romanticism describes a period between the late 18th and mid- 19th century (cf. Romanticism 160). However, the essence of the period is very difficult to define as the term refers to numerous different and sometimes contradictory concepts and ideas (cf. Ferber 1). Nevertheless, certain features of Romanticism are largely agreed on. It is generally thought of as a school of thought that opposes the concepts of the preceding neoclassical period (cf. Breen 1f). The ideals of order, harmony, balance and rationality were rejected and substituted by new ideals (cf. Romanticism 160). Unlike their predecessors, the romantics didn’t highlight rationality, but believed that emotions were of key importance. The romantics shifted their focus to the inner workings of the mind and were interested in exploring the human personality. The individual was emphasized (cf. Romanticism 160) and every human being was seen as end in himself as oppose to merely an instrument for the state (cf. Romanticism and Realism 690). Furthermore, many romantics were intrigued by heroic figures and the genius and were attracted to the exotic, the remote, the mysterious and the weird (cf. Romanticism 161).

During the period of Romanticism, England was rapidly industrialising and the Romantics wished to escape from this changing world. Consequently, a love for the past was ignited (cf. Seeber 240). The Romantics were especially interested in the medieval era and developed a taste for folk culture. Nature offered another contrast to the urbanising world. The Romantics therefore had a deep appreciation of the beauties of nature (cf. Romanticism 161) and saw nature as a means of self-expression (cf. Seeber 245). Finally, the Romantics cherished truth and sincerity. Their aim was to “strip off the social mask und recover the happiness imagined as still dwelling among the humble” (Romanticism and Realism 690) and thereby valued personal, rural, spontaneous and vernacular expression (cf. Myers 105).

This is also mirrored in the literature of the romantic period. During this period, the way literature was written changed from being poeticized to simply representing the feelings of ordinary people (cf. Breen 4f). This was especially the case in the regional novel. Here, speech was often expressed in dialects, sociolects and idiolects and regional and class-based life and customs were described in depth (cf. Curran 199). Another novel that was very popular in the romantic period is the gothic novel, which was set in mysterious places and dealt with supernatural phenomena and characters with irrational obsessions. (cf. Myers 107). Overall, most romantic novels shared similar themes like sensibility, nationalism, gothic images and the sublime in nature (cf. Breen 15). In the following sections I will point out how some of these features appear in the novel Far from the Madding Crowd .

2.2 Elements of Romanticism in Far from the Madding Crowd

In many ways, Far from the Madding Crowd can be seen as typical for the romantic period, despite having been written several decades after the end of this period. The novel incorporates many of the elements typical for regional novels. The farming community is presented in an authentic way, with the workers speaking in local dialects (cf. Harvey 61). Joseph Poorgrass, for example, when talking about Bathsheba says “when I seed her, ‘twas nothing but blushes with me” (Hardy 45). In the same scene, Jan Coggan says to Joseph: “Why, Joseph Poorgrass, ye han’t had a drop!” (Hardy 45). The novel also contains detailed descriptions of the different rural tasks, rituals and events that are part of the farming calendar (cf. Harvey 61). Throughout the novel, the workers on Bathsheba’s farm pursue typical rural tasks such as washing and shearing the sheep, grinding the shears and harvesting crops. Typical events in a farming community are also portrayed in the novel. Bathsheba hosts a shearing supper as well as a harvest supper and dance and the annual sheep fair takes place towards the end of the novel (cf. Squires 304). Overall rural life is presented in a very positive manner. Instead of stressing the coarseness of rural life, it is depicted as beautiful (cf. Squires 299). In the shearing scene, for example, the shearing is described as a peaceful and harmonious event where the barn is “natural to the shearers, and the shearers [are] in harmony with the barn” (Hardy 114). The community is thereby represented as integrated; everyone works together and even the maltster helps out (cf. Hardy 114). Rural life is portrayed as timeless. In Weatherbury, the village where Bathsheba’s farm stands, time stands still and “nothing less than a century set[s] a mark on its face or tone” (Hardy 113). Also timeless are country virtues such as humility, integrity and stoicism which are highlighted throughout the novel (cf. Squires 309). For example, when Pennyways, the former bailiff, refrains from stealing anything at the harvest supper he is commended by the farm workers as he has done an “honest deed” (Hardy 124).

The idealized representation of the rural world is contrasted with a negative portrayal of urban life. Although cities are not significant in the novel, a criticism of urban life is intimated in a number of ways. To begin with, the title of the novel indicates remoteness from city life. It was taken from a poem by Thomas Gray named Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard . The peasants in the poem are praised for living “Far from the madding crowd’s ignoble strife” (cf. Squires 304). Later on, city life is associated with the devil. In the shearing scene, God is described as being “palpably present in the country” whereas “the devil had gone with the world to town” (Hardy 112), which emphasizes the superiority of rural life over city life. The contrast of rural and urban worlds is also embodied in the characters of Gabriel and Troy. Gabriel is shown as superior to the urbanized Troy, Although at first glance, Troy seems dazzling, his urban flaws are hidden underneath the surface (cf. Squires 309). He is thereby characterized as insincere and untruthful as he masks his true character. His untruthfulness becomes apparent at several points in the novel. When he is first introduced he is said to lie to women “like a Cretan” (Hardy 131). This is proved later when he decides that “frankness would benefit neither of the women” (Hardy 207) and tells Bathsheba that he doesn’t know who Fanny is. Besides lying, he also has a tendency to swear (cf. Hardy 131). Gabriel on the other hand represents rural life and is portrayed in a more positive light. He has a strong connection to nature, as he understands natural phenomena and can read nature. Not only is he able to tell the time by looking at the sun and stars (cf. Hardy 4) and can tell if his sheep are well by listening to the ringing of their bells (cf. Hardy 29) he can also recognize a coming storm. This becomes apparent when he predicts a storm in August. He observes the behaviour of different animals and finally comes to the correct assumption that there will be a storm that evening (cf. Hardy 191f). Unlike Troy, he also has the characteristic virtues of rural life, such as stability and integrity (cf. Squires 311).

Nature in general plays an important role in the novel. It is portrayed as fascinating and glamorous. Creeping plants are described as “bowed with rows of heavy water drops, which [have] upon the objects behind them the effect of minute lenses of high magnifying power” (Hardy 185), the ground as “melodious with ripples” (Hardy 96) and the sun as a “bristling ball of gold”. Nature is also often used to describe characters and to reflect their inner state. When Bathsheba runs to catch up with Gabriel at the beginning of the novel she is “panting like a robin, her face red and moist from her exertions, like a peony petal before the sun dries off the dew” (Hardy 23). Nature is also used to mirror her mood. When sleeping outside after Troy has told her that she is nothing to him, she wakes up and sees a swamp before her, which is described as malignant and “[f]rom its moist and poisonous coat seemed to be exhaled the essences of evil things in the earth”. To Bathsheba it seems a “nursery of pestilences” and she arises “with a tremor at the thought of having passed the night on the brink of so dismal a place” (Hardy 239). Consequently, this scene uses nature as an instrument to emphasize Bathsheba’s dismal mood. Occasionally the nature described in the novel has a gothic touch. In the three great catastrophes of the novel, the sheep falling off the cliff, the fire at the farm and the great storm, gothic imagery is used. When Gabriel discovers that all his sheep are dead he looks up to see “the attenuated skeleton of a chrome-yellow moon” and sees before him a pool “[glittering] like a dead man’s eye” (Hardy 30). Further on in the novel when he is fighting against the flames, he sees “fiery faces, tongues hanging from lips, glaring eyes, and other impish forms” (Hardy 36). Finally, during the August storm, “[t]he forms of skeletons [appear] in the air, shaped with blue fire for bones” (Hardy 198). Overall, therefore, nature and other romantic elements are frequent and numerous in the novel.

3. Criticism of Romantic Love

Aside from the afore mentioned romantic elements, romantic love also plays a central role in the novel Far from the Madding Crowd. As mentioned in the introduction, love is portrayed as a great power that can result in both joy and grief (cf. Irwin 194). The question that arises during the course of the novel is whether the joy of love is worth the sadness and grief (cf. Irwin 208). The answer seems to be no. Romantic love is represented in a very critical way throughout the novel as it always has tragic consequences (cf. Daleski 58). The novel shows love based on romance and passion resulting in death and sorrow whereas the only love that is portrayed positively is a love which is based on affection instead of romance. This love characterizes the relationship between Gabriel and Bathsheba (cf. Mitchell 172). These different forms of love in the novel and their consequences will be examined in the following chapter.


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"Far from the Madding Crowd" by Thomas Hardy as a Criticism of Romantic Love
University of Augsburg
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Literature, Thomas Hardy, Far from the Madding Crowd, Romantic Love, Love, Bathsheba Everdene, Romanticism, Criticism, William Boldwood, Gabriel Oak, English
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Teresa Schenk (Author), 2017, "Far from the Madding Crowd" by Thomas Hardy as a Criticism of Romantic Love, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/367660


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