Far from the Madding Crowd

Far from the Madding Crowd (1874) is Thomas Hardy's fourth novel and his first major literary success. It originally appeared anonymously as a monthly serial in Cornhill Magazine, where it gained a wide readership.

Far from the Madding Crowd
The title page from an 1874 first edition of Far from the Madding Crowd.
AuthorThomas Hardy
PublisherCornhill Magazine
Publication date
Pages464 pages (Harper & Brothers edition, 1912)
Preceded byA Pair of Blue Eyes 
Followed byThe Hand of Ethelberta 

The novel is the first to be set in Thomas Hardy's Wessex in rural southwest England. It deals in themes of love, honour and betrayal, against a backdrop of the seemingly idyllic, but often harsh, realities of a farming community in Victorian England. It describes the life and relationships of Bathsheba Everdene with her lonely neighbour William Boldwood, the faithful shepherd Gabriel Oak, and the thriftless soldier Sergeant Troy.

On publication, critical notices were plentiful and mostly positive. Hardy revised the text extensively for the 1895 edition and made further changes for the 1901 edition.[1]

In 2003, the novel was listed at number 48 on the BBC's survey The Big Read.[2]

In 2007, the book finished 10th on the Guardian's list of greatest love stories of all time.[3]

The novel has been dramatised several times, notably in the Oscar-nominated 1967 film directed by John Schlesinger.


Meeting, parting and reuniting

Gabriel Oak is a young shepherd. With the savings of a frugal life, and a loan, he has leased and stocked a farm. He falls in love with a newcomer eight years his junior, Bathsheba Everdene, a proud beauty who arrives to live with her aunt. Over time, Bathsheba and Gabriel grow to like each other well enough, and Bathsheba even saves his life once. However, when he makes her an unadorned offer of marriage, she refuses; she values her independence too much and him too little. After a few days, she moves to Weatherbury, a village some miles off.

When next they meet, their circumstances have changed drastically. An inexperienced new sheepdog drives Gabriel's flock over a cliff, ruining him. After selling off everything of value, he manages to settle all his debts but emerges penniless. He seeks employment at a hiring fair in the town of Casterbridge. When he finds none, he heads to another such fair in Shottsford, a town about ten miles from Weatherbury. On the way, he happens upon a dangerous fire on a farm and leads the bystanders in putting it out. When the veiled owner comes to thank him, he asks if she needs a shepherd. She uncovers her face and reveals herself to be none other than Bathsheba. She has recently inherited her uncle's estate and is now wealthy. Though somewhat uncomfortable, she employs him.

Bathsheba's valentine to Boldwood

Meanwhile, Bathsheba gains a new admirer. William Boldwood is a prosperous farmer of about forty, whose ardour Bathsheba unwittingly awakens when she playfully sends him a valentine sealed with red wax on which she has embossed the words "Marry me". Boldwood, not realising the valentine was a jest, becomes obsessed with her and soon proposes marriage. Although she does not love him, she toys with the idea of accepting his offer; he is the most eligible bachelor in the district. However, she avoids giving him a definite answer. When Gabriel rebukes her for her thoughtlessness regarding Boldwood, she dismisses him.

When Bathsheba's sheep begin dying from bloat, she discovers to her chagrin that Gabriel is the only man who knows how to cure them. Her pride delays the inevitable, but finally she is forced to beg him for help. Afterwards, she offers him back his job and their friendship is restored.

Sergeant Troy

At this point, the dashing Sergeant Francis "Frank" Troy returns to his native Weatherbury and by chance encounters Bathsheba one night. Her initial dislike turns to infatuation after he excites her with a private display of swordsmanship. Gabriel observes Bathsheba's interest in the young soldier and tries to discourage it, telling her she would be better off marrying Boldwood. Boldwood becomes aggressive towards Troy, and Bathsheba goes to Bath to prevent Troy returning to Weatherbury, as she fears what might happen if Troy encountered Boldwood. On their return, Boldwood offers his rival a large bribe to give up Bathsheba. Troy pretends to consider the offer, then scornfully announces they are already married. Boldwood withdraws, humiliated, and vows revenge.

Bathsheba soon discovers that her new husband is an improvident gambler with little interest in farming. Worse, she begins to suspect he does not love her. In fact, Troy's heart belongs to her former servant, Fanny Robin. Before meeting Bathsheba, Troy had promised to marry Fanny; on the wedding day, however, the luckless girl went to the wrong church. She explained her mistake, but Troy, humiliated at being left at the altar, angrily called off the wedding. When they parted, unbeknownst to Troy, Fanny was pregnant with his child.

Fanny Robin

Some months later, Troy and Bathsheba encounter Fanny on the road, destitute, as she painfully makes her way toward the Casterbridge workhouse. Troy sends his wife onward, then gives Fanny all the money in his pocket, telling her he will give her more in a few days. Fanny uses up the last of her strength to reach her destination. A few hours later, she dies in childbirth, along with the baby. Mother and child are then placed in a coffin and sent home to Weatherbury for interment. Gabriel, who knows of Troy's relationship with Fanny, tries to conceal the child's existence – but Bathsheba agrees that the coffin can be left in her house overnight, from her sense of duty towards a former servant.[4] Her servant and confidante, Liddy, repeats the rumour that Fanny had a child; when all the servants are in bed, Bathsheba unscrews the lid and sees the two bodies inside.

Troy then comes home from Casterbridge, where he had gone to keep his appointment with Fanny. Seeing the reason for her failure to meet him, he gently kisses the corpse and tells the anguished Bathsheba, "This woman is more to me, dead as she is, than ever you were, or are, or can be". The next day he spends all his money on a marble tombstone with the inscription: "Erected by Francis Troy in beloved memory of Fanny Robin ..." Then, loathing himself and unable to bear Bathsheba's company, he leaves. After a long walk, he bathes in the sea, leaving his clothes on the beach. A strong current carries him away, but he is rescued by a rowing boat.

Troy returns

A year later, with Troy presumed drowned, Boldwood renews his suit. Burdened with guilt over the pain she has caused him, Bathsheba reluctantly consents to marry him in six years, long enough to have Troy declared dead.

Troy tires of his hand-to-mouth existence as a travelling actor and considers reclaiming his position and wife. He returns to Weatherbury on Christmas Eve and goes to Boldwood's house, where a party is under way. He orders Bathsheba to come with him; when she shrinks back in shock and dismay, he seizes her arm, and she screams. At this, Boldwood shoots Troy dead and tries unsuccessfully to turn the double-barrelled gun on himself. Although Boldwood is convicted of murder and sentenced to be hanged, his friends petition the Home Secretary for mercy, claiming insanity. This is granted, and Boldwood's sentence is commuted to "confinement during Her Majesty's pleasure". Bathsheba buries her husband in the same grave as Fanny Robin and their child.

Gabriel triumphant

Throughout her tribulations, Bathsheba comes to rely increasingly on her oldest and, as she admits to herself, only real friend, Gabriel. When he gives notice that he is leaving her employ, she realises how important he has become to her well-being. That night, she goes alone to visit him in his cottage, to find out why he is deserting her. Pressed, he reluctantly reveals that it is because people have been gossiping that he wants to marry her. She exclaims that it is "... too absurd – too soon – to think of, by far!" He bitterly agrees that it is absurd, but when she corrects him, saying that it is only "too soon", he is emboldened to ask once again for her hand in marriage. She accepts, and the two are quietly married.


Hardy took the title from Thomas Gray's poem "Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard" (1751):

Far from the madding crowd's ignoble strife
Their sober wishes never learn'd to stray;
Along the cool sequester'd vale of life
They kept the noiseless tenor of their way.

"Madding" here means "frenzied".[5]

Lucasta Miller points out that the title is an ironic literary joke as Gray is idealising the noiselessness and sequestered calm whereas Hardy "disrupts the idyll, and not just by introducing the sound and fury of an extreme plot ... he is out to subvert his readers' complacency".[6]

Hardy's Wessex

Thomas Hardy's Wessex was first mentioned in Far from the Madding Crowd; describing the "partly real, partly dream-country" that unifies his novels of southwest England. Far from the Madding Crowd offers in ample measure the details of English rural life that Hardy so relished.[7]

He found the word in the pages of early English history as a designation for an extinct, pre-Norman conquest kingdom, the Wessex from which Alfred the Great established England.[8] In the first edition, the word "Wessex" is used only once, in chapter 50; Hardy extended the reference for the 1895 edition.[9]Puddletown's parish church has significant architectural interest, particularly its furnishings and monuments. It has a 12th-century font and well-preserved woodwork, including 17th-century box pews. Hardy took an interest in the church, and the village provided the inspiration for the fictional settlement of Weatherbury[10] In The Mayor of Casterbridge, Hardy briefly mentions two characters from Far from the Madding Crowd – Farmer Everdene and Farmer Boldwood, both in happier days.



The novel was retold by author F.J. Campbell in The Islanders, set in a 1980s/90s boarding school in the UK countryside (published January 2019).[11]


The novel was adapted by Graham White in 2012 into a three-part series on BBC Radio 4's Classic Serial. The production was directed by Jessica Dromgoole and featured Alex Tregear as Bathsheba, Shaun Dooley as Gabriel, Toby Jones as Boldwood and Patrick Kennedy as Troy.


The novel was adapted by Posy Simmonds into Tamara Drewe, weekly comic strip that ran from September 2005 to October 2006 in The Guardian's Review section. The strip, a modern reworking of the novel, was itself adapted into a film, Tamara Drewe (2010), directed by Stephen Frears.


Stage productions



  • Far from the Madding Crowd (2000), a musical with music by Gary Schocker, based on the novel



  • Hardy wrote an 1882 stage adaptation with J. Comyns Carr, which starred Marion Terry
  • In autumn 2008, English Touring Theatre (ETT) toured Britain with a new stage adaptation of Far from the Madding Crowd directed by Kate Saxon[14]
  • In March 2013 Myriad Theatre & Film toured southeast England with their original stage adaptation of Far from the Madding Crowd for five actors. The show also incorporated some of Hardy's poetry.


  • In October 2016, the first episode of a web series transmedia modernisation of the novel, Away from it All, was released.[15] Based around the antics and video blogs of a group of twenty-somethings working at a village pub, the series was created by Hazel Jeffs.



  • British musician Nick Bracegirdle, better known as Chicane, released Far from the Maddening Crowds, a studio album, in 1997.
  • In 2000, the New York rock band Nine Days titled their debut The Madding Crowd to express their allegiance to modernity in opposition to Hardy.[16]
  • The Danish metal band Wuthering Heights released a studio album, Far From the Madding Crowd in 2004.
  • Nanci Griffith included the lyric "You're a Saturday night, Far from the madding crowd" in the song On Grafton Street on her 1994 release Flyer.



  1. Page, Norman, ed. (2000). Oxford Reader's Companion to Hardy. Oxford: Oxford University Press. pp. 130–132.
  2. "BBC – The Big Read". BBC. April 2003, Retrieved 31 October 2012
  3. Wainwright, Martin (10 August 2007). "Emily Brontë hits the heights in poll to find greatest love story". The Guardian. Retrieved 29 August 2009.
  4. Higonnet, Margaret R., ed. (1992). Feminist essays on Hardy : the Janus face of gender. Urbana: University of Illinois Press. p. 59. ISBN 0252019407.
  5. "Madding". The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language (4th ed.).
  6. Miller, Lucasta (25 April 2015). "Far from the Madding Crowd, Does the film live up to Hardy's novel". Guardian Review Section. Retrieved 3 May 2015.
  7. Drabble, Margaret (1979). A Writer's Britain: Landscape in Literature. Thames and Hudson. pp. 91–8.
  8. Hardy, Thomas. Far From the Madding Crowd: Preface, 1895–1902.
  9. Oxford Reader's Companion to Hardy, ibid., p. 131.
  10. Anonymous. Far from the Madding Crowd (caption to frontispiece). New York and London: Harper and Brothers Publications, 1912.
  11. https://www.fjcampbell.net/the-islanders
  12. Kemp, Stuart (18 May 2008). "BBC Films has diverse slate". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved 18 May 2008.
  13. Fleming, Mike (16 September 2013). "Searchlight Rounds Out 'Madding' Cast With Michael Sheen, Juno Temple". Deadline Hollywood. PMC. Retrieved 23 December 2013.
  14. Mahoney, Elisabeth (17 September 2008). "Far from the Madding Crowd". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077.
  15. Muddled Thoughts & a Sunset. YouTube. 20 October 2016. Retrieved 1 October 2016.
  16. "The Madding Crowd". Allmusic.com.
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