How successfully does Hardy open Far From The Madding Crowd?

2 February 2010

Learning Objectives

To learn about the techniques Hardy uses to create a suspenseful opening to Far From The Madding Crowd

To learn about the contexts of Hardy’s novel

An important point

Starter activity: put these elements of the opening in the correct order

Gabriel Oak loses his sheep

Oak is rescued from suffocation in his hut by Bathsheba

Oak spies Bathsheba playing on a horse

Oak pays Bathsheba’s toll fare without receiving a thank you

Oak spies Bathsheba looking in a mirror on a waggon

Oak finds Bathsheba’s hat


Hardy wrote FFMC in 1872. He was just married and had returned to his parents’ house to write the novel. He had married a woman, Emma Gifford, from a more respectable family than his and was DESPERATE to make a name for himself. His aim was to write a COMMERCIAL novel.

Question for your book: what might have been commercially successful topics to write about in 1872?

What appealed to Victorian readers

Romance – tragic love affairs, eg Pride and Prejudice, Jane Eyre, Wuthering Heights

Rural settings – Victorian readers LOVED reading about the countryside which they were separated from

Social issues – eg Dickens writing about poverty in London

Literacy and Hardy’s language

7 out of ten people COULD not read and write properly in Hardy’s time.

BUT those who could read were very highly educated. Reading and making their own music was largely the ONLY entertainment they had.

What do you do to entertain yourself in your leisure time? How are your leisure time pursuits similar and different to the Victorians?

Your context and the context of the novel

Make a list of FIVE or more things you like in stories on TV/films/books.

Make a list of FIVE or more things that appealed to Victorian readers.

Hardy’s use of the serial form.

Look at these brief chapter summaries and work out WHERE Hardy ended his latest instalment.

Opening of the novel. Work out the ending of the first serial.

Chapter 1: we are introduced to Gabriel Oak, he has his first sighting of Bathsheba

Chapter 2: Oak sees Bathsheba and her aunt at night helping a cow give birth. He discovers her hat.

Chapter 3: Oak gives back the hat. Bathsheba rescues Oak from suffocating in his smoke-filled hut.

Chapter 4: Oak proposes to Bathsheba and she rejects him, saying she doesn’t love. He says he will love her forever.

Chapter 5: Oak’s sheep are driven off a cliff by his dog. Oak is pleased he didn’t marry B.

Chapter 6: Oak has lost everything. He seeks work as a bailiff and then shepherd in Casterbridge. No luck. Passing a fire on a waggon, he saves a straw rick from going up in flames. The owner of the farm turns out to be Bathsheba, who in a reversal of fate is now mistress of the farm.

Hardy’s techniques

What do you think Hardy’s Victorian readership would have liked about this opening?

What do you find interesting about the opening?

Key sections of the text

The first sighting of Bathsheba:

“The waggon was laden with household goods and window plants, and on the apex of the whole sat a woman, young and attractive.”

Why might this sentence have interested the Victorian readership? What does it tell us about Bathsheba and the attitude of the author?

Oak’s pays her toll

‘Here,’ he said, stepping forward and handing twopence to the gatekeeper; ‘let the young woman pass.’ He looked up at her then; she heard his words, and looked down.

How does Hardy create suspense her? How does he create a sense of mystery about Bathsheba?

Chapter 1 ending

The gatekeeper surveyed the retreating vehicle. ‘That’s a handsome maid,’ he said to Oak.

‘But she has her faults,’ said Gabriel.

‘True, farmer.’

‘And the greatest of them is – well, what it is always.’

‘Beating people down? ay, ’tis so.’

‘O no.’

‘What, then?’

Gabriel, perhaps a little piqued by the comely traveller’s indifference, glanced back to where he had witnessed her performance over the hedge, and said, ‘Vanity.’

How does this ending to chapter 1 create suspense?

Page 10

Page 10 Yet, although if occasion demanded he could do or think a thing with as mercurial a dash as can the men of towns who are more to the manner born, his special power, morally, physically, and mentally, was static, owing little or nothing to momentum as a rule.

What does this quotation reveal about Gabriel Oak?


The quotation highlights Gabriel’s steady, thoughtful and deliberate nature but it also points out the key distinction between town and country. The madding crowd is of the town. Things move more slowly in the countryside.

Page 13

Page 13 …the girl now dropped the cloak, and forth tumbled ropes of black hair over a red jacket.

What do we learn about Bathsheba from this quote?


Hardy uses vivid images of colour to suggest the striking beauty of Bathsheba. Red is a colour suggestive of passion. It can be linked to Troy’s red coat and the burning red of the Valentine.

Chapter 4, Gabriel meeting B’s aunt before proposing

Page 23 You see, Farmer Oak, she’s so good-looking, and an excellent scholar besides — she was going to be a governess once, you know, only she was too wild.

What does this quote reveal about Bathsheba and the position of women during this time?


The courtship scene is a painful comedy of embarrassment. Bathsheba’s Aunt doesn’t really know what to say to the young man who has come courting so she talks up Bathsheba’s charms and qualities in a manner that discourages the literal-minded Gabriel. But Bathsheba’s Aunt also makes us aware of her niece’s qualities and the problem facing an independent and intelligent girl.

Finding the hat – list two ways this dialogue creates suspense.

‘I found a hat,’ said Oak.

‘It is mine,’ said she, and, from a sense of proportion, kept down to a small smile an inclination to laugh distinctly: ‘it flew away last night.’

‘One o’clock this morning?’

‘Well – it was.’ She was surprised. ‘How did you know?’ she said.

‘I was here.’

‘You are Farmer Oak, are you not?’

‘That or thereabouts. I’m lately come to this place.’

‘A large farm?’ she inquired, casting her eyes round, and swinging back her hair, which was black in the shaded hollows of its mass.

The marriage proposal – what is funny and touching here?

‘I can make you happy,’ said he to the back of her head, across the bush. ‘You shall have a piano in a year or two – farmers’ wives are getting to have pianos now – and I’ll practise up the flute right well to play with you in the evenings.’

‘Yes; I should like that.’

‘And have one of those little ten-pound gigs for market – and nice flowers, and birds – cocks and hens I mean, because they be useful,’ continued Gabriel, feeling balanced between poetry and practicality.

‘I should like it very much.’

‘And a frame for cucumbers – like a gentleman and lady.’


‘And when the wedding was over, we’d have it put in the newspaper list of marriages.’

‘Dearly I should like that!’

‘And the babies in the births – every man jack of ’em! And at home by the fire, whenever you look up, there I shall be – and whenever I look up, there will be you.’

‘Wait, wait, and don’t be improper!’

Her countenance fell, and she was silent awhile. He regarded the red berries between them over and over again, to such an extent, that holly seemed in his after life to be a cypher signifying a proposal of marriage. Bathsheba decisively turned to him.

‘No; ’tis no use,’ she said. ‘I don’t want to marry you.’

Losing his sheep

‘Thank God I am not married what would she have done in the poverty now coming upon me!’

Oak raised his head, and wondering what he could do, listlessly surveyed the scene. By the outer margin of the pit was an oval pond, and over it hung the attenuated skeleton of a chrome-yellow moon, which had only a few days to last – the morning star dogging her on the left hand. The pool glittered like a dead man’s eye, and as the world awoke a breeze blew, shaking and elongating the reflection of the moon without breaking it, and turning the image of the star to a phosphoric streak upon the water. All this Oak saw and remembered.


Central to Gabriel’s key role in the book is his ability to withstand disastrous events and persist without undue bitterness, jealousy, or self-pity.


Start a Far From The Madding Crowd scrap book either in Word or in your book.

Your scrapbook by half term should contain:

A summary of the novel, with key sections highlighted. Information about the characters with key sections highlighted.

A biography of Thomas Hardy.

Information/images about Victorian Britain: Victorian farms and country life, Victorian readers, the treatment of unmarried mothers, the position of women.

Films/stories with LINKS to FFMC.

Read as much of the novel as you can in your own time

your comment

for students