One of Bathsheba’s principal weaknesses is her sense of pride, which (at least initially) is linked to vanity. When Gabriel Oak catches her looking at herself in the mirror, Bathsheba is simultaneously embarrassed and comforted by knowing that he’s seen her at her worst. Bathsheba’s pride suffers a number of other setbacks over the course of the novel, setbacks which she ultimately recognizes and accepts as proper ways of atoning for her earlier mistakes.
Bathsheba’s pride can also be linked to her thoughtlessness regarding other people: confident and impetuous, she dashes off a valentine to Boldwood without pausing to think of the possible ramifications of her actions. In another way, Bathsheba’s pride leads her down a difficult path and into dire consequences for herself. Carried away by Troy’s charm and flattery, she seems to decide to marry him for the sole purpose of rehabilitating her pride after he compares her to another, more beautiful woman.
Pride is not, of course, limited to Bathsheba. Gabriel Oak, too, is proud and stubborn. After being refused marriage by Bathsheba, he only reluctantly begins to work for her, and keeps his feelings about her to himself for almost the entire rest of the novel. But for men, pride is usually an admirable quality, a sign of maturity, dignity, and self-discipline; for a woman, meanwhile, pride is more often portrayed as a vice.
After Troy’s apparent death, Bathsheba does decide that she must pay for her headstrong decisions of the past. Part of her penance involves her relationship to Boldwood, even as she struggles to determine whether agreeing to marry him would, in fact, be a properly moral show of penance. In general, the tragedies and deaths in the novel suggest that weakness and mistakes do ultimately lead to some kind of retribution—even if the novel shies away from implying that there’s a divine accounting that balances out good and evil in the end. The book also implies that penance may not have to be eternal. There is not exactly a fairy-tale ending to the novel—the final chapter includes a tiny, quiet wedding that takes place amid eerie fog—but Oak and Bathsheba are finally permitted to be together, implying that mistakes can be corrected and pride accounted for.
Pride and Penance ThemeTracker
Pride and Penance 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.
“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.”
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.
So very idly and unreflectingly was this deed done. Of love, as a spectacle Bathsheba had a fair knowledge; but of love subjectively she knew nothing.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
“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!”
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.
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.
“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.”
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.