Far From the Madding Crowd

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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.
Women in a Man’s World Theme Icon

Just as Bathsheba has to struggle against unfriendly natural forces, she also has to navigate a world that is made largely by and for men. This is particularly true once she takes over her uncle’s farm as its mistress and owner. The attitudes of the novel’s characters towards their new female supervisor range from admiring to condescending, and even the novel itself can indulge in stereotyped analysis of specifically “womanly” attributes. What is unmistakable, however, is that it is quite rare in the novel’s world for a woman to be a farmer—or to be in a position of authority at all. From the beginning of Far From The Madding Crowd, nonetheless, we are given to expect that Bathsheba is not like other women. She is headstrong and confident; while many women would happily accept a marriage proposal from someone like Gabriel Oak, she refuses almost unthinkingly.

Oak and Boldwood, perhaps because they fall in love with Bathsheba, don’t seem to mind her position of female authority (although Oak does think that Bathsheba wouldn’t be able to run the farm without him). Others, though, feel differently. At the markets, for instance, people look askance at Bathsheba weighing seed and chatting with clients just “like a man” with mingled respect, suspicion, and scorn. Meanwhile, the “Greek chorus” of farm hands continually discusses her every move. As a woman Bathsheba is subject to increased scrutiny and judgment and is held to a far higher standard than men—a scrutiny that holds for the other women in the novel, like Fanny Robbin, while the actions of someone like Troy are simply laughed off. Bathsheba recognizes and fears this level of judgment: it’s one of the reasons that she relies so much on her servant Liddy, whom she thinks of as a fellow woman she can trust.

Despite Hardy’s radical attempt to portray Bathsheba as a confident and capable woman, the novel often slips into characterizations of her stereotypically female weaknesses. Such judgments might strike a contemporary reader as frustratingly old-fashioned. Ultimately, though, Bathsheba does prove herself able to manage a farm on her own. This portrayal of a successful female business owner is a challenge to Victorian assumptions about the role of women in public life.

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Women in a Man’s World 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 Women in a Man’s World.
Chapter 4 Quotes

“What I meant to tell you was only this,” she said eagerly, and yet half-conscious of the absurdity of the position she had made for herself: “that nobody has got me yet as a sweetheart, instead of my having a dozen as my aunt said; I hate to be thought men’s property in that way—though possibly I shall be to be had some day.”

Related Characters: Bathsheba Everdene (speaker), Gabriel Oak
Page Number: 26
Explanation and Analysis:

After Bathsheba’s aunt tells Gabriel that her niece has had plenty of suitors, and he goes away dejectedly, Bathsheba runs after Gabriel. He’s encouraged by her apparent eagerness, but soon it becomes clear that she hasn’t hurried after him in order to accept his proposal. Indeed, Bathsheba herself begins to realize that her purpose perhaps hasn’t merited such eagerness. Nonetheless, she wants to make clear to Gabriel that she won’t stand being considered as the property of a man, not to mention a girl to be handed around between a number of different suitors.

It’s not clear why exactly Bathsheba feels the need to share this conviction with Gabriel, especially as she admits that while she is free and independent now, she may not always be—a pragmatic acknowledgement of the historical reality in Victorian England, in which women were subject to their husband’s authority far more than in recent times. But for now, it does seem both that Bathsheba wants to maintain her independence, and that she wants Gabriel to understand her desire for such independence. He’s seen her at her most proud and vain, and she hopes that he can come to recognize the more positive sides of such character traits as well.

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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 15 Quotes

“Our mis’ess will bring us all to the bad,” said Henery. “Ye may depend on that—with her new farming ways. And her ignorance is terrible to hear. Why only yesterday she cut a rasher of bacon the longways of the flitch!”
“Ho-ho-ho!” said the assembly, the maltster’s feeble note being heard amid the rest as that of a different instrument: “heu-heu-heu!”

Related Characters: Henry (Henery) Fray (speaker), Bathsheba Everdene, The maltster
Page Number: 93
Explanation and Analysis:

As is often the case, the farm hands gather at Warren’s Malt-house in order to discuss the local gossip and affairs of the village. Here they’re talking about their new mistress, Bathsheba, who has recently taken over from her uncle. While a number of the farm hands already respect and admire her, Henery Fray is far more skeptical—and indeed, his proclamations come to sway the others, at least temporarily. Henery’s criticisms take shape in two ways. First, he suggests that Bathsheba is going to meddle with how things have always been done, by introducing her “new farming ways.” Weatherbury, unlike a city like Bath or London, is described in the novel as largely unchanging through the years, even if it is beginning to be affected by industrialization. As a newcomer, even if she doesn’t do anything to suggest the idea of total transformation, Bathsheba is naturally looked upon with suspicion by those who see any change as too much.

Secondly, Henery criticizes Bathsheba’s “ignorance” regarding farming in general. His example proves wildly funny to the others, including the maltster, although the reference to her misuse of a rasher is so specific that this shared humor may well be absent for the non-specialist reader. Indeed, the arcane nature of the charge is meant, in itself, to provoke a comic response and to undermine the credibility of the men’s criticism. At the same time, Henery is skeptical of the very possibility of a woman being a mistress of a farmer: he resents Bathsheba’s authority over him and the others, and some of his criticisms undoubtedly stem from that prejudice.

Chapter 19 Quotes

In every point of view ranging from politic to solicitous it was desirable that she, a lonely girl, should marry, and marry this earnest, well to do, and respected man. He was close to her doors: his standing was sufficient: his qualities were even supererogatory. Had she felt, which she did not, any wish whatever for the married state in the abstract, she could not reasonably have rejected him as a woman who frequently appealed to her understanding for deliverance from her whims.

Related Characters: Bathsheba Everdene, Mr. Boldwood
Page Number: 113-114
Explanation and Analysis:

Boldwood has asked Bathsheba to marry her, and she considers this, her second marriage proposal, with slightly more reflection than her first. Having lived and grown a little more since she so eagerly, if thoughtlessly, ran after Gabriel, she now recognizes that marriage is not necessarily just a matter of love but also a social, economic, and moral question. She takes a step back in order to judge Boldwood as coolly as she judges the labor done on her farm: in this she finds little to object to in his character and social position. Bathsheba understands that while part of the problem in accepting Gabriel’s proposal would have been their different social statuses, no such gap exists between herself and Boldwood. And his moral standing is no less suitable.

Nonetheless, Bathsheba’s most well-considered judgments cannot make her desire something that she does not. It’s not simply that Bathsheba doesn’t love Boldwood; the book also emphasizes here that she doesn’t want the “married state” at all. Still, Bathsheba never declares that she’ll never marry, that she refuses the institution as such; she simply wishes to remain independent for as long as it suits her, despite all the advantages to the contrary choice.

Chapter 24 Quotes

He had been known to observe casually that in dealing with womankind the only alternative to flattery was cursing and swearing. There was no third method. “Treat them fairly and you are a lost man,” he would say.

Related Characters: Sergeant Francis Troy (speaker)
Page Number: 148
Explanation and Analysis:

Following Bathsheba’s initial encounter with Troy, the novel paints a brief character sketch of the man, who is new to Weatherbury. Though he’ll become Bathsheba’s third suitor, is quite different from the first two. This passage explains some of his worldview, particularly relating to women. Already, Troy has flattered Bathsheba to the state of embarrassment, though she hasn’t been sure whether to be pleased, offended, or suspicious. But Troy’s flattery has little to do, it seems, with Bathsheba herself, or with Troy’s own feelings: rather, it’s a mode that he adopts whenever he finds himself around women, in order to best “deal” with them.

Troy’s view of women is prejudiced and in many ways offensive. To him, women lack subtlety—he has to either flatter their vanity or yell at them—and he believes that women can be easily manipulated. Troy seems to understand the relationship between the sexes as a kind of contest, in which one person needs to win above the other. And it’s a kind of performance or play, in which authenticity is replaced by good acting. One problem with this view, as the book will go on to show, is that it makes it difficult for Troy himself to know when his feelings are real rather than performed.

Chapter 28 Quotes

Bathsheba loved Troy in the way that only self-reliant women love when they abandon their self-reliance. When a strong woman recklessly throws away her strength she is worse than a weak woman who has never had any strength to throw away.

Related Characters: Sergeant Francis Troy, Cain (Cainy) Ball
Page Number: 164
Explanation and Analysis:

Such a description of Bathsheba, as she falls in love with Troy, relies upon prior characterizations of Bathsheba as independent, proud, and self-reliant. But it also attempts to describe women in general—and in that general thrust, seems not all too different from Troy’s own characterization of “woman” in an earlier chapter. The novel is making the point that, given how much farther Bathsheba had to fall, her loss of self-reliance is more acute than that of a “weak” woman. Once she abandons her self-reliance, her very sense of self is thrown into question, and she no longer knows how to define herself. As a result, the book suggests, she’ll lean even more on Troy, becoming even more reckless and desperate. Character traits in general, it’s suggested here, are not immutable but subject to change. This may be for the better—take Gabriel’s growing maturity as a result of his own tragedy, for instance—but may also go awry.

Chapter 30 Quotes

“You are taking too much upon yourself!” she said vehemently. “Everybody is upon me—everybody. It is unmanly to attack a woman so! I have nobody in the world to fight my battles for me, but no mercy is shown. Yet if a thousand of you sneer and say things against me, I will not be put down!”

Related Characters: Bathsheba Everdene (speaker), Mr. Boldwood
Page Number: 179-180
Explanation and Analysis:

Bathsheba has attempted to avoid Boldwood, since she’s just sent a letter to him telling him that she cannot marry him, but by the luck of circumstance she’s run into him on the road anyway. Now Boldwood loses his grave, somber demeanor entirely, beginning to rage against his lot—recognizing not only that Bathsheba has refused him, but that her affections belong to another, to Troy. Bathsheba initially tries to suffer Boldwood’s anger in silence, but when he claims that this is all “woman’s folly,” she begins to lose her temper herself.

Bathsheba is fed up with being judged, observed, and condemned on all sides. As a woman and the mistress of the farm, she is subject to more scrutiny than anyone else, and, in addition to that, she lacks a single other person who can truly understand what her situation is like. Her conflicts are all her own: there’s no one she can turn to who might advise her exactly how to act or what to do. Bathsheba clearly understands the double standard that applies to her, and the unfairness of the way she’s treated—even if she has erred gravely. At the end, nevertheless, she reclaims some of her pride, not to flatter herself but simply to maintain a sense of self and sanity in a hostile world.

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 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 50 Quotes

“I don’t know—at least I cannot tell you. It is difficult for a woman to define her feelings in a language which is chiefly made by men to express theirs.”

Related Characters: Bathsheba Everdene (speaker), Mr. Boldwood
Page Number: 308
Explanation and Analysis:

Boldwood is trying to convince Bathsheba once again to give him a positive response; this time, though, he’s attempting to extract not an actual agreement to marry him, but a promise to at least consider marrying him in six years, since she’s not yet a legal widow. As Bathsheba, who doesn’t want to marry Boldwood any more than she ever has, tries to tell Boldwood that she does respect him, he insists on knowing exactly how much she likes and respects him. It’s that demand that leads Bathsheba to the frustration she expresses in this passage. She’s frustrated that Boldwood, as always, is asking more of her than she can give, pushing and pressuring her in a way she finds overwhelming, given that she has no one to turn to of her gender and social position.

Here, she links that sense of isolation to the very language she uses. It’s not, of course, that only men speak English: the idea is that public life in society is, in her experience, directed by men—the laws that define and circumscribe everyone’s actions, the articles in the newspapers, even the gossip at Warren’s malt-house, are all written or spoken by men. Bathsheba may assert her own authority by claiming her own right to such language, but here she has a more sober outlook on the possibility of this act of reclamation, suggesting that a woman trying to play by men’s rules may never be able to express herself just as she wishes.

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.