Far From the Madding Crowd

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Epic Allusion, Tragedy, and Illusions of Grandeur Theme Analysis

Themes and Colors
Epic Allusion, Tragedy, and Illusions of Grandeur Theme Icon
Conflict and the Laws of Nature Theme Icon
Women in a Man’s World Theme Icon
Pride and Penance Theme Icon
Class Status and Mobility Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in Far From the Madding Crowd, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.
Epic Allusion, Tragedy, and Illusions of Grandeur Theme Icon

In Far From the Madding Crowd, Hardy began to construct a fictional region of England, “Wessex,” which he calls in the preface a “partly real, partly dream-country” and which he went on to further develop in a number of other novels. In some ways, Hardy describes this world and its inhabitants with all the world-historical importance of places found in famous epics, such as Homer’s Ithaca or Troy. And yet, at the same time, Hardy deploys an ironic touch that works to deflate his mythical or Biblical allusions. Thus, even as he treats his fictional English locale as a place of eminent significance, Hardy also reminds his readers of the much more pedestrian concerns of modern rural life.

The book is full of allusions to the Bible, as well as to ancient Greek and Roman stories. For instance, Hardy describes his character Bathsheba, after she kisses Troy, as experiencing a kind of shock similar to Moses’ amazement after God gives him a command. Hardy describes Gabriel Oak, meanwhile, as comparable to Minerva, referring to the Roman goddess of wisdom. These allusions rely on the Victorian reader’s familiarity with the Bible and epic literature, and they work to insist on the significance of the actions within the book by making the actions of rural England seem comparable to the consequential actions of myths. Even if Far From the Madding Crowd takes place in a “partly dream-country,” one that’s far from the metropolitan center of society, we are asked to take its concerns and those of its characters seriously.

Nonetheless, even as Hardy insists that the tragic events in the book should be taken seriously, his ironic touches constantly threaten to undercut the grandiosity of his Biblical and classical allusions. One example is the mother of Cainy Ball, who mixed up the Genesis story about Cain and Abel and named her son for the murderer rather than the victim. Again, readers would have been expected to laugh knowingly while the characters of Weatherbury are subject to ironic teasing. Similarly, in some ways the group of villagers, like Joseph Poorgrass and Jan Coggan, who gather periodically for a pint at Warren’s Malt-house, function like an ancient Greek chorus by reflecting on the affairs of others and providing a running commentary on the events of the village. Their country patois and joking demeanor, however, make such a characterization humorously inapt. Irony, then, serves as an extra layer of complexity in Far From the Madding Crowd, prodding the reader to both recognize the grand allusions to canonical texts and to smile at their deflation in a modern rural world where illusions of grandeur can be woefully misplaced.

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Epic Allusion, Tragedy, and Illusions of Grandeur Quotes in Far From the Madding Crowd

Below you will find the important quotes in Far From the Madding Crowd related to the theme of Epic Allusion, Tragedy, and Illusions of Grandeur.
Chapter 1 Quotes

She did not adjust her hat, or pat her hair, or press a dimple into shape, or do any one thing to signify that any such intention had been her motive in taking up the glass. She simply observed herself as a fair product of Nature in a feminine direction—her expression seeming to glide into far-off though likely dramas in which men would play a part—vistas of probable triumphs—the smiles being of a phase suggesting that hearts were imagined as lost and won.

Related Characters: Bathsheba Everdene, Gabriel Oak
Page Number: 6
Explanation and Analysis:

Gabriel’s first image of Bathsheba is of a woman who clearly cares about her appearance and is eager to admire herself. Here, Gabriel notes that there’s no reason for her to look into the mirror—nothing to adjust—other than her vanity and pride. It’s not exactly a positive first impression. Nonetheless, Gabriel’s observation also sets up a number of the motivating forces of the novel. It foreshadows some of the book’s major conflicts, conflicts in which, indeed, “men would play a part.” While Bathsheba is described as majestic in her awareness of her own power over men, however, there’s no sense that she understands just what the consequences of such power may be.

As the narrator will state later on, Bathsheba knows little about how love functions beyond the surface—indeed, this ignorance will in many ways lead to her own suffering. Gabriel’s powers of observation are acute enough to allow him to study Bathsheba and foresee some of what awaits her in the future, even if he cannot, of course, foretell precisely what will unfold.

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Chapter 2 Quotes

The image as a whole was that of a small Noah’s Ark on a small Ararat, allowing the traditionary outlines and general form of the Ark which are followed by toy makers, and by these means are established in men’s imagination among the finest because the earliest impressions, to pass as an approximate pattern.

Related Characters: Gabriel Oak
Page Number: 9-10
Explanation and Analysis:

Here the narrator describes the small hut belonging to Gabriel Oak, who has established himself in Norcombe in order to become a self-sufficient sheep farmer. Part of the purpose of the comparison to Noah’s Ark is to emphasize just how isolated Gabriel’s position in the countryside is: he is alone with his dogs and sheep (which is why, perhaps, Bathsheba’s presence is so intriguing to him). But the book also often includes references to biblical and mythological affairs in describing characters as well as the natural setting. Ararat is a mountain in what today is eastern Turkey, where Noah’s Ark was said to have come to rest after the flood that takes place in the Book of Genesis. To compare Gabriel’s hut to this ark is thus to emphasize the nobility and dignity in his work, and the pride he takes in it, despite his lowly social status.

At the same time, it’s perhaps best to not always take such comparisons altogether seriously—the idea of the shabby shelter as a world-historical ark is also meant to provoke a smile given the gulf between the two contexts. That the description subsequently includes a comparison to the arks that are fashioned by toymakers underlines the irony, as well as signaling the approximate and even vague nature of the comparison—it wouldn’t necessarily keep up under scrutiny.

Chapter 5 Quotes

The sheep were not insured. –All the savings of a frugal life had been dispersed at a blow: his hopes of being an independent farmer were laid low—possibly for ever. Gabriel’s energies patience and industry had been so severely taxed, during the years of his life between eighteen and eight and twenty, to reach his present stage of progress that no more seemed to be left in him.

Related Characters: Gabriel Oak
Related Symbols: Lambs and Sheep
Page Number: 33
Explanation and Analysis:

Gabriel has followed, in dread, the son of his more mature dog George to a cliff, off of which the dog has driven his entire flock of sheep. The book acknowledges that, in some ways, the dog was merely taking what he had been taught to its logical conclusion: he has been trained to lead the sheep from one place to another, to herd them until they no longer move, and he’s done so. Gabriel understands that there is no one to blame, exactly, for the tragedy—that nature has its own laws, which can be entirely indifferent to what humans what. At the same time, this is a scene that doesn’t diminish the tragedy of the situation through tongue-in-cheek irony. Gabriel deals with what has happened with dignity, but also despair—he’s spent his entire adulthood trying to create a better life for himself, and now all those hopes have been dashed. The event thus also makes clear just how fragile life in the country can be, given the vagaries of nature and the difficulty of foreseeing contingent circumstances.

Chapter 12 Quotes

Among these heavy yeomen a feminine figure glided—the single one of her sex that the room contained. She moved between them as a chaise between carts, was heard after them as a romance after sermons, and was felt among them like a breeze among furnaces. It had required a little determination—far more than she had at first imagined—to take up a position here, for at her first entry the lumbering dialogues had ceased, nearly every face had been turned towards her, and those that were already turned rigidly fixed there.

Related Characters: Bathsheba Everdene
Page Number: 79
Explanation and Analysis:

For the first time, Bathsheba attends the corn market at Casterbridge: she’s the only woman among the many farmers that have come to buy and sell their goods. While Bathsheba seems entirely comfortable and at ease here, such apparent confidence belies her uncertainty. She’s acutely aware of how much everyone is ogling her: the extra level of scrutiny that women always have to face in her society is exacerbated by the fact that she’s occupying a role that’s quite rare for women, being the owner of a farm herself. At the same time, part of Bathsheba does appreciate the fact that all eyes on her. Rather than cowing in the face of attention, she is inspired by it to act the part of a woman in authority until she becomes it. Bathsheba is described as a kind of breath of fresh air for the other men—a “breeze among furnaces”—that shakes up the monotony of daily life and suggests changes to come.

Chapter 35 Quotes

That same evening the sheep had trailed homeward head to tail, the behaviour of the rooks had been confused, and the horses had moved with timidity and caution.
Thunder was imminent, and taking some secondary appearances into consideration, it was likely to be followed by one of the lengthened rains which mark the close of dry weather for the season. […] Oak gazed with misgiving at eight naked and unprotected ricks, massive and heavy with the rich produce of one half the farm for that year.

Related Characters: Gabriel Oak
Page Number: 209-210
Explanation and Analysis:

As Troy prepares to lead a drunken party at the harvest supper, only Gabriel remains aware of the responsibility that’s needed at the farm. As he’s learned to do, Gabriel interprets certain elements of nature as warnings: the behavior of the sheep, rooks, and horses all suggests that a heavy storm is to come, and that humans would do well to heed such signals. Oak’s own experience with the indifference of natural forces has taught him to respect them, rather than to dismiss them like Troy does. As this passage makes clear, the stakes are high on the farm, with income equaling to half the farm’s annual produce in play. The tone of this section doesn’t belittle such features but rather emphasizes the importance of the countryside—it is after all the country that is the source of the rest of the nation’s nourishment, which lends an even greater sense of responsibility to the affair.

Chapter 37 Quotes

Oak, suddenly remembered that eight months before this time he had been fighting against fire in the same spot as desperately as he was fighting against water now—and for a futile love of the same woman.

Related Characters: Gabriel Oak
Page Number: 223
Explanation and Analysis:

As Gabriel continues to battle against time in order to save the ricks from the storm, he recalls a similar moment and a similar set of actions—when he saved the farm from a fire right at the beginning of his time in Weatherbury. In some ways, Gabriel’s situation has changed since then: he’s in a more stable position, and is working his way into greater trust and responsibility on the farm. But in other ways, as this passage makes clear, little has changed at all: he’s still in love with Bathsheba, even while he recognizes that she doesn’t love him and that, especially now, their class positions are far too different for him to reasonably hope that she might change her mind. Such futility is underlined, for Gabriel, by the persistence and determination required to fight the laws of nature, over and over again. Nature doesn’t care that he helped put out a fire months ago: its indifference is juxtaposed in a kind of tragic irony to Gabriel’s own feelings of great consequence regarding the affairs on the farm.

All the night he had been feeling that the neglect he was labouring to repair was abnormal and isolated—the only instance of the kind within the circuit of the county. Yet at this very time, within the same parish, a greater waste had been going on, uncomplained of and disregarded. A few months earlier Boldwood’s forgetting his husbandry would have been as preposterous an idea as a sailor forgetting he was in a ship.

Related Characters: Gabriel Oak, Mr. Boldwood
Page Number: 224
Explanation and Analysis:

Gabriel has managed, with Bathsheba’s help, to secure the ricks, keep the animals safe, and ensure that all the wealth and time represented by the farm’s produce is kept safe from the storm. Throughout, he’s thought bitterly about just how little Troy cared about the farm’s well-being, not to mention the extent to which Troy’s thoughtlessness prevented nearly everyone else on the farm from helping him as well. As a result, Gabriel has felt isolated and alone, fighting against the kind of neglect that would be unthinkable to most farmers.

Here, however, in conversation with Boldwood, he realizes that Troy isn’t the only careless one in Weatherbury, even if Boldwood’s negligence seems to come from a quite different place. Gabriel is particularly distressed because, unlike Troy, Boldwood wasn’t always this way: according to Gabriel, the farmer used to be as at home in his fields as a sailor in a ship. Gabriel knows enough to guess what has changed: Boldwood’s pride has been laid low by Bathsheba’s marriage refusal and preference for Troy, and he’s grown apathetic about everything else in his life. Gabriel realizes, here, that few others are paying attention to Boldwood’s plight; it will be up to him, as it often is in such situations, to monitor the man, even if Boldwood is technically his own rival.

Chapter 40 Quotes

Her pride was indeed brought low by this despairing perception of spoliation by marriage with a less pure nature than her own. She chafed to and fro in rebelliousness, like a caged leopard, her whole soul was in arms, and the blood fired her face. Until she had met Troy Bathsheba had been proud of her position as a woman; it had been a glory to her to know that her lips had been touched by no man’s on earth, that her waist had never been encircled by a lover’s arm. She hated herself now.

Related Characters: Bathsheba Everdene, Sergeant Francis Troy
Page Number: 239
Explanation and Analysis:

It hasn’t been very long since Bathsheba married Troy, but the excitement of the courtship has certainly faded away. Now, it’s become clear that Troy was never supportive of Bathsheba’s pride even in its more valuable manifestations, in her independence and self-reliance. For a long time—up to and including her refusal of marriage to Gabriel and to Boldwood—Bathsheba had felt that the bar for giving up her independence had to be set high. Yet Troy didn’t exactly meet such a bar; he simply seduced Bathsheba according to another logic entirely.

Bathsheba, though, hasn’t quite learned to submit to her husband as he would like, and as the standards of Victorian society required. She understands that she does have to submit to many of her husband’s decisions, but she doesn’t like it, and refuses to accept his authority without difficulty. The description of Bathsheba as a “caged leopard” bolsters such an idea of liberty now penned in and a free spirit now in chains. Bathsheba’s new situation of dependence doesn’t precisely, however, make her despise her husband: it more accurately makes her despise herself, as someone who isn’t able to maintain her own independence. This is portrayed as perhaps the greatest tragedy of Bathsheba’s marriage.

Chapter 41 Quotes

Suddenly, as in a last attempt to save Bathsheba from, at any rate, immediate pain, he looked again as he had looked before at the chalk writing upon the coffin-lid. The scrawl was this simple one: “Fanny Robbin and child.” Gabriel took his handkerchief and carefully rubbed out the two latter words. He then left the room, and went out quietly by the front door.

Related Characters: Gabriel Oak
Page Number: 254
Explanation and Analysis:

Gabriel has carried Fanny Robbin’s coffin back to the farm, where Bathsheba has asked that it remain in her home before being taken to the churchyard the next day for burial. Although the book doesn’t mention exactly how Gabriel knows to look at the chalk writing, Gabriel is known to be an excellent observer and always discreet. He is one of the first to learn the secret of Fanny’s pregnancy, and although this rumor will begin to spread throughout the village, it won’t be because of him. Instead, Gabriel, as always, is eager to do whatever he can to make things easier for Bathsheba. He knows that, given the love of gossip among the villagers and the very small, interconnected world that they all inhabit, it will not be possible to keep this a secret for long. He may even suspect that Bathsheba may come to fully understand the relationship between Gabriel and Fanny. Unable to prevent that, nonetheless, Gabriel still wants to keep Bathsheba innocent and retaining some shred of pride for as long as possible.

Chapter 42 Quotes

The one feat alone—that of dying—by which a mean condition could be resolved into a grand one, Fanny had achieved. And to that had destiny subjoined this reencounter to-night, which had, in Bathsheba’s wild imagining, turned her companion’s failure to success, her humiliation to triumph, her lucklessness to ascendancy; it had thrown over herself a garish light of mockery, and set upon all things about her an ironical smile. But even Bathsheba’s heated fancy failed to endow that innocent white countenance with any triumphant consciousness of the pain she was retaliating for her pain with all the merciless rigour of the Mosaic law: “Burning for burning; wound for wound; strife for strife.”

Related Characters: Bathsheba Everdene, Fanny Robbin
Page Number: 260
Explanation and Analysis:

Bathsheba has looked into the coffin and been given incontrovertible proof that Fanny was pregnant—between the color of her hair and the circumstantial evidence, she has guessed too that her own husband was the baby’s father. Bathsheba’s feelings for Fanny, nevertheless, remain very complex. On the one hand, she continues to feel pity for Fanny, who, like Bathsheba herself, suffered at the hands of Troy. Both women have felt alone and isolated in a world made by and for men. And yet on the other hand, Bathsheba recognizes Fanny as her full rival, especially since Bathsheba continues on some level to love her husband—and yet the fact of Fanny’s death means that it would be cruel for Bathsheba to feel angry at or jealous of the girl.

Bathsheba seems almost to want Fanny’s body to mock her, to give her a justification for hating her, even as she knows that would be wrong. While she cannot find any shred of “triumph” in Fanny’s expression, Bathsheba thinks of the Mosaic law—the one that includes the idea of an “eye for an eye”—in helping her to come to terms with her own relationship to Fanny. Bathsheba, indeed, feels like she is being made to suffer personally in retaliation for what Fanny has suffered—suffering that, at least until this point, Troy has managed to escape entirely.

Chapter 45 Quotes

The persistent torrent from the gargoyle’s jaws directed all its vengeance into the grave. The rich tawny mould was stirred into motion, and boiled like chocolate. The water accumulated and washed deeper down, and the roar of the pool thus formed spread into the night as the head and chief among other noises of the kind formed by the deluging rain. The flowers so carefully planted by Fanny’s repentant lover began to move and turn in their bed.

Related Characters: Sergeant Francis Troy, Fanny Robbin
Page Number: 276
Explanation and Analysis:

Troy has just completed perhaps the first major selfless act of his life, buying a fancy engraved tombstone for Fanny and spending a long time planting flowers around it. But as he sleeps, the narration moves to a description of the church, where the spurt from an old, ugly gargoyle is positioned in precisely the right place to wash out all the work that Troy has done. For Troy, this act has been one of penance and retribution: he’s accepted, to a certain extent, his own guilt for what he has done, and hopes to account for it by this small gesture. What Troy, unlike Bathsheba, for instance, fails to understand is that penance (at least in this novel) doesn’t work that way—it’s never simply a single act that can be accomplished and the guilt done away with.

In addition, Troy has not yet felt the full coldness and indifference of nature’s laws. He’s a man of the town and is used to getting his own way rather than having to bow to a force greater than humans. Nature doesn’t care where the water from the gargoyle pours down, even if it may seem like it’s laughing in Troy’s face. Unlike Gabriel, Troy won’t learn a valuable lesson about the necessity of working within nature as a result of this event; instead, he’ll react petulantly and run away again.

Chapter 53 Quotes

The household convulsion had made her herself again. The temporary coma had ceased, and activity had come with the necessity for it. Deeds of endurance which seem ordinary in philosophy are rare in conduct: and Bathsheba was astonishing all around her now, for her philosophy was her conduct, and she seldom thought practicable what she did not practise. She was the stuff of which great men’s mothers are made.

Related Characters: Bathsheba Everdene
Page Number: 333
Explanation and Analysis:

Boldwood has just shot Troy and has left the house in order to give himself up to the authorities. When Troy had ordered Bathsheba to come along home with him, she had been frozen in place: this was the culmination of the gradual erosion of her cool, calm sense of authority. Now, however, the crisis seems to have jolted her back into such an authoritative position. Just as in the corn market, everyone in Boldwood’s home now looks at and admires her; here, however, Bathsheba isn’t flattered. She is matter-of-fact about this ability to keep calm amid a tragedy. At the same time, even the novel itself, which mostly portrays Bathsheba as a competent and successful businesswoman, reveals itself to be a product of its time, describing Bathsheba not as a great woman herself but as the kind of woman who might give birth to a great son.