Far From the Madding Crowd

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The Valentine Symbol Analysis

The Valentine Symbol Icon

As a new, confident mistress of a farm, Bathsheba suddenly has the position and the freedom to write to others and be listened to, as well to complete a variety of business and personal transactions. Although she’s gained such power, she does not fully recognize the responsibility that comes with it. The valentine that Bathsheba dashes off to Boldwood, with its seal saying “Marry me,” thus represents Bathsheba’s tragic flaw for which she will have to atone. The valentine is meant to be playful and frivolous, hardly a true declaration of her feelings for Boldwood. In fact, Bathsheba only sends it because her pride is hurt that Boldwood won’t pay any attention to her, even though she hates to be ogled and gossiped about by the other villagers. She sends it off with little regard for the consequences it might have. Like other elements in the novel—the biblical or Greek mythological allusions, for instance—the valentine straddles comedy and tragedy, frivolity and great seriousness. It also is at the center of Bathsheba’s own transformation over the course of the book, as she recognizes that her actions do, in fact, have consequences, and that part of her position of authority requires acknowledging her responsibilities to others.

The Valentine Quotes in Far From the Madding Crowd

The Far From the Madding Crowd quotes below all refer to the symbol of The Valentine. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Epic Allusion, Tragedy, and Illusions of Grandeur Theme Icon
). Note: all page and citation info for the quotes below refers to the Penguin Classics edition of Far From the Madding Crowd published in 2003.
Chapter 13 Quotes

So very idly and unreflectingly was this deed done. Of love, as a spectacle Bathsheba had a fair knowledge; but of love subjectively she knew nothing.

Related Characters: Bathsheba Everdene
Related Symbols: The Valentine
Page Number: 87
Explanation and Analysis:

Bathsheba and Liddy have been teasing each other about the idea of sending a valentine to Boldwood instead of to little Teddy Coggan, as Bathsheba had first intended. They decide on it almost thoughtlessly, though Liddy in particular seems to derive a certain amount of glee from the idea of the serious, grave Boldwood receiving such a note. Bathsheba, in turn, adds a further element of intrigue by placing, at the last moment, a joke seal saying “Marry me” on the envelope.

As the chapter ends, the narrator foreshadows some of the major conflicts to come, suggesting that as “unreflectingly” as Bathsheba acted, she will have more than occasion to reflect on it in the future. So much of this novel, indeed, deals with the unpredictable and in many ways unstoppable consequences of seemingly unimportant, circumstantial events. But in this case, disaster is invited by cause and effect directly linked to a careless action that was rooted in a flaw in Bathsheba’s character. She is vain, flirtatious, and proud, and, as the narrator notes, her apparent confidence masks a greater immaturity. Bathsheba thinks of love as a natural extension of the admiring gazes of the men at the market, for instance: a “spectacle” that may make her the center of attention, may even cause her some discomfort, but one in which the stakes are relatively low. The rest of the novel will depict her increasing knowledge and maturity regarding the “subjective” elements of love and its relationship to pride.


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Chapter 16 Quotes

Boldwood’s blindness to the difference between approving of what circumstance suggests, and originating what it does not, was well matched by Bathsheba’s insensibility to the possible great issues of little beginnings.

Related Characters: Bathsheba Everdene, Mr. Boldwood
Related Symbols: The Valentine
Page Number: 103
Explanation and Analysis:

Boldwood has been attempting to figure out how Bathsheba could have sent him such a forward valentine, with its bold seal stating, “Marry me.” Here he watches Bathsheba across the room at the corn market as he tries to reconcile her lack of apparent interest in him with the flirtatious boldness put into evidence by the valentine. This passage suggests that Boldwood and Bathsheba are equally blind to the reality of their situations, though in different ways. Boldwood is too eager to create a reality based on too slim evidence: clinging to this apparent proof, he’s willing to wave away any other, more convincing, objections. Bathsheba, meanwhile, failed to understand that such a careless decision might have great consequences—including the consequences of Boldwood’s attraction, jealousy (as will be seen a few lines later as he watches her negotiate with another farmer), and ultimately obsession. Even while Bathsheba never manages to fall in love with Boldwood, then, the book suggests that in some ways their weaknesses have something similar about them: they both are faced with lessons to learn from such weakness, though Bathsheba will learn hers better than her suitor will.

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The Valentine Symbol Timeline in Far From the Madding Crowd

The timeline below shows where the symbol The Valentine appears in Far From the Madding Crowd. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 13
Epic Allusion, Tragedy, and Illusions of Grandeur Theme Icon
Conflict and the Laws of Nature Theme Icon
Pride and Penance Theme Icon
After a silence, Bathsheba says she forgot about a valentine she’d bought for little Teddy Coggan. She writes a valentine and dips it in the... (full context)
Chapter 14
Conflict and the Laws of Nature Theme Icon
Pride and Penance Theme Icon
...seal. Suddenly his quiet existence seems to distort and invite passion. Disturbed, he places the valentine in the corner of his mirror and goes to bed. He can’t decide if it... (full context)
Chapter 15
Women in a Man’s World Theme Icon
Pride and Penance Theme Icon
...confusion, Boldwood protests that the “fun” lies in trying to identify the sender of a valentine, though he says “fun” like “torture.” Returning home, he contemplates this new information. (full context)
Chapter 18
Women in a Man’s World Theme Icon
Pride and Penance Theme Icon
...wouldn’t have spoken if he hadn’t been led to hope—and she realizes that it’s the valentine. (full context)
Pride and Penance Theme Icon
Bathsheba stammers that she never should have sent the valentine, as it was thoughtless. Boldwood exclaims that it was not thoughtlessness, but rather the beginnings... (full context)