The title of Far From the Madding Crowd is taken from an 18th-century poem by Thomas Gray, “Elegy on a Country Churchyard,” but it cuts off the rest of the line, which in its entirety reads, “Far from the madding crowd’s ignoble strife.” While the idea of the bucolic countryside as being free of the “strife” of the crowd is one way to characterize country life, Hardy’s title is ironic: rather than depicting stereotypes of pastoral calm, his novel uses those images as a jumping-off point to portray a landscape that’s actually riddled with conflict. Its characters must battle against the dangerous and often overpowering laws of nature and its creatures, even while the characters themselves become subject to conflicts among each other that mirror the difficulties of the natural world.
Indeed, nature seems often to fly in the face of people’s desires and plans. The disaster of Gabriel Oak’s sheep is the novel’s first dramatic instance of this. While Gabriel has spent years and all his resources developing the flock, one unlucky event kills them all and immediately transforms his circumstances. Later, though, Gabriel seems better equipped to handle the vicissitudes of natural disaster. He meets Bathsheba again after putting out a fire in Weatherbury, and he saves a group of lambs from being poisoned by clover—two instances of Gabriel’s newfound ability to navigate the danger of the natural world. Troy is the opposite case: he is used to managing his own affairs adeptly, but after Fanny’s death—and after a storm washes away the flowers he’s planted at her grave—he rages against cold natural laws and uncontrollable circumstances rather than learning to work within them.
Bathsheba, meanwhile, also learns to navigate as best she can in a hostile natural environment: for her, Troy eventually becomes yet another conflict-ridden aspect of this environment. After their wedding, for instance, he plies Bathsheba’s workers with alcohol. As a result, no one except Gabriel is around to keep the hay safe from an incoming storm, and Gabriel and Bathsheba have to race against time and nature to ensure that all is not lost. Humans, then, can work to mitigate conflicts within nature, can rebel—unsuccessfully—against it, or can become hostile forces of their own. Whichever the case, the novel makes clear that country life is not exempt from such conflicts. And while humans manage natural forces as best they can, there is little they can do to halt forces outside their control. Fate, chance, and circumstance, then, rule Hardy’s rural world.
Conflict and the Laws of Nature ThemeTracker
Conflict and the Laws of Nature Quotes in Far From the Madding Crowd
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.
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.
“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!”
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.
Bathsheba would have submitted to an indignant chastisement for her levity had Gabriel protested that he was loving her at the same time: the impetuosity of passion unrequited is bearable, even if it stings and anathematizes; there is a triumph in the humiliation and tenderness in the strife. This is what she had been expecting, and what she had not got.
Though in one sense a woman of the world it was, after all, that world of daylight coteries, and green carpets, wherein cattle form the passing crowd and winds the busy hum; where a quiet family of rabbits or hares lives on the other side of your party-wall, where your neighbour is everybody in the tything, and where calculation is confined to market days. Of the fabricated tastes of good fashionable society she knew but little, and of the formulated self-indulgence of bad, nothing at all.
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.
Having from their youth up been entirely unaccustomed to any liquor stronger than cider or mild ale, it was no wonder that they had succumbed one and all with extraordinary uniformity after the lapse of about one hour.
Gabriel was greatly depressed. This debauch boded ill for that wilful and fascinating mistress whom the faithful man even now felt within him as the eidolon of all that was sweet and bright and hopeless.
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.
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.