Far From the Madding Crowd


Thomas Hardy

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Far From the Madding Crowd: Foil 2 key examples

Chapter 29
Explanation and Analysis—Troy and Gabriel:

The narration reveals that the charismatic Troy serves as a foil to the stern, steadfast Gabriel:

And Troy’s deformities lay deep down from a woman’s vision, whilst his embellishments were upon the very surface; thus contrasting with homely Oak, whose defects were patent to the blindest, and whose virtues were as metals in a mine.

The difference between love and respect was markedly shown in her conduct. Bathsheba had spoken of her interest in Boldwood with the greatest freedom to Liddy, but she had only communed with her own heart concerning Troy.

Troy is revealed to contain hidden (unspecified) faults, while his “embellishments” (his charm, his physical beauty) are readily apparent to all who meet him. Meanwhile Gabriel is “homely,” and full of clear shortcomings, but contains virtues buried deep within. 

The description of Troy’s positive qualities as “embellishment” reveals that they function primarily to cover and distract from what lies below. Meanwhile, Gabriel’s virtues are like “metals in a mine,” objects of true value hidden below an unassuming and perhaps protective exterior.

Their differences in character are reflected in Bathsheba’s different treatment of each man. She refuses to discuss Troy even with Liddy, her closest confidante. Meanwhile, she has openly hired Gabriel, consults him on everything, and is seen with him everywhere. Bathsheba may love both men (to differing degrees at this point), but it says a lot that her greatest show of respect is truly reserved only for Gabriel.

Troy’s presence in the book highlights Gabriel’s positive traits. Troy enters and exits his relationship with Bathsheba as it benefits and pleases him; Gabriel is a constant in her life. Troy will not help run the farm, but Gabriel saves it from destruction many times. At the novel’s beginning Gabriel seems uninteresting, mediocre perhaps, and certainly untried. But as Bathsheba, Troy, and Gabriel suffer through the novel together, Bathsheba can only rely on Gabriel’s help and love.

Chapter 43
Explanation and Analysis—Bathsheba and Fanny:

Fanny and Bathsheba are foils to one another in Far From the Madding Crowd, as is clear from the physical description of Fanny that appears at the moment of her death:

Fanny’s face was framed in by that yellow hair of hers, just as she had slept hundreds of times in this house [...]. She appeared rounder in feature and much younger than she had looked during the latter months of her life [....]. [Fanny] had been no further advanced in womanliness than had the infant in childhood; they [...] had vanished before they could well be defined as examples of that stage.

The contrast between the two women is reflected in the visual opposition between the two characters. Bathsheba’s foremost feature is her dark hair, while here Fanny is “framed” by a halo of blonde. Interestingly, Fanny’s youth and innocence are emphasized here (“she appeared […] much younger”), despite her condition as a “fallen woman.” Buried with her infant, Fanny is no more a woman than the infant is a child; they have both perished before reaching any further stage of development.

Fanny’s youthful appearance contrasts with the older, more experienced Bathsheba, whose marriage to Troy has already weathered away much of her girlishness and naivety. The reader can see that the upshot of Bathsheba’s ability to let go of childish illusions is that she has matured and developed, while Fanny has not changed even in death. Fanny’s immaturity highlights Bathsheba’s development, and Bathsheba’s independence contrasts with Fanny’s vulnerability and need. 

The reader can also think of Fanny as a “failed” version of Bathsheba—she is, in some ways, who Bathsheba may have become if not for her class privilege and sense of judgment. Part of Fanny’s vulnerability is class-based: she does not have money and property to fall back on when she makes mistakes. Fanny is also younger and has had less time to develop the awareness Bathsheba has. She seems to have spent most of her life working for Bathsheba’s uncle as a maid (“hundreds of times”).  Circumstance has forced Bathsheba to uproot from her home, move to Weatherbury alone, seize control of the farm, and dismiss multiple suitors. The uncontrollable events of Bathsheba’s life have better prepared her to make tough decisions and handle misfortune.

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