The next day is the corn market at Casterbridge, full of burly men carrying saplings with which to poke pigs and sheep as they move throughout the room. Only one woman glides among them, and heads turn as she walks through. She starts with the two or three farmers she knows, but then moves on, gaining confidence to negotiate with others and show them her own sample bags. Her eyes are soft, though her face suggests defiance, determination, and savvy. She holds her own regarding prices, haggles adeptly, but her feminine elasticity softens these blows.
Bathsheba’s first visit to the corn market as mistress of her uncle’s farm is her first chance to establish her legitimacy as a farmer in her own right. In some ways, Bathsheba would prefer to be considered as just another of the men, without being given special consideration; in another way, however, her pride makes her take a certain pleasure in her exceptional status.
Other farmers ask who she is, and remark that it’s a shame she’s so headstrong, even if she does lighten up the exchange. But she’s handsome and will soon be married off. Still, she looks as powerful as a queen or a sister of Jove among these men. But there’s one exception among the farmers—one with full Roman features, an air of dignity and calm. Bathsheba’s convinced that he’s unmarried, though he is around forty years old.
Bathsheba pays attention to the attention that she is getting from the other farmers. Even if she wants to be considered like anyone else, she still has her pride slightly ruffled by the fact that one person, at least, seems immune to her appearance.
After the market, Bathsheba tells Liddy that it was as bad as being married with eyes all on her. Liddy agrees that men always are likely to ogle women. Bathsheba asks about the one good-looking man who didn’t seem interested in her. Liddy exclaims that it’s Farmer Boldwood, who rides past them, his eyes fixed forward. Bathsheba says he’s interesting, and Liddy agrees that everyone thinks so. She says he met a bitter disappointment when young, jilted by a woman, but Bathsheba thinks that’s always what people say—he’s likely just reserved by nature, even if it’s more romantic to think he’s been treated badly. Perhaps it’s somewhere between the two, she thinks.
Bathsheba continues to be torn between insistence on her own independence and authority as mistress of her own estate, and desire (stemming, again, from a pride mixed with vanity) for others to acknowledge her exceptional status. Now she learns that the one person who seemed immune to her charms was the Farmer Boldwood whose voice she had heard so recently. She and Liddy take on, here, the position of friends rather than of mistress and servant.