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.
Epic Allusion, Tragedy, and Illusions of Grandeur ThemeTracker
Epic Allusion, Tragedy, and Illusions of Grandeur 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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.