I’ve read several of Hardy’s novels and enjoy them quite a lot. This is his best according to many I only finally got to it. The first e-book edition I got was pathetic, no paragraph breaks except at the chapters and many typos. I got it because it was supposed to be annotated but it’s not. I returned it, got a better (still cheap) version and was quite happy. I tell you this only as a precaution – all formats are not created equal.
Anyway, a young but promising sheep farmer named Gabriel Oak – I suppose he’s an earthly angel – falls in love with Bathsheba Everdene, a beautiful young neighbor who is the niece of a very large farmer and, as her name implies, she’s a bit on the wild side, reluctant to settle down, much less marry. Anyway, she refuses his proposal and leaves the area.
Now of course with Hardy, bad things always happen to the good guys, so a large number of the sheep belonging to Oak suddenly die leaving him financially ruined. He sets out in the direction Bathsheba did only this time seeking employment – and maybe he’ll run across her again.
After helping with a fire Oak is hired on at Bathsheba’s farm in Casterbridge which she has inherited from her uncle and is determined to run herself. Her servant, Fanny Robin, has disappeared, Oak came across her briefly, on her way to meet her lover Fran, a soldier who seems to be avoiding marriage.
Meanwhile Mr Boldwood, a rich, bachelor-farmer neighbor to Bathsheba, shows a curious lack of interest in Bathsheba so she sends him a valentine with the words “Marry Me” stamped on the back. He takes this seriously, promptly falls in love and asks her.
Meanwhile, Oak is doing very well at Bathsheba’s farm but will not show any sign of jealousy or hurt. This is a love triangle which may turn thorny.
I was thinking as I read along that Hardy uses the group of workmen on Bathsheba’s farm as a kind of Greek chorus all giving their opinions on what is happening in the developing main plot. Interesting to read it that way – when groups of people are gathered they seem sometimes to function like that.
And now re-enter the soldier, Sergeant Troy, to snag Bathsheba’s dress and attention. I could barely stand to read Chapter 26 where he is so pretentiously flattering and yukkie. I would have run fast and hide from that fake.
One feature of Hardy’s writing which irritates me, and this is true authors then and now – perhaps more then though, is the tendency to generalize from his character’s traits to all women or all Englishmen, or all politicians, whatever.
“Perhaps in no minor point does woman astonish her helpmate more than in the strange power she possesses of believing cajoleries that she knows to be false—except, indeed, in that of being utterly sceptical on strictures that she knows to be true.” (Chapter 29)