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Monday, June 08, 2015

The Road of Rereading takes us Far From The Madding Crowd yet close to Jane Austen country

While getting reacquainted with Thomas Hardy's Far From The Madding Crowd on my Road of Rereading this spring, I couldn't help but notice a few of the story sign posts that pointed towards some familiar fictional terrritory.

Namely, the work of Jane Austen, who preferred to focus on "three or four families in a country village" and while this tale of Bathsheba Everdene and the men who adore her is not quite what Miss Austen had in mind,  I think she would have appreciated the solid pastoral tones of FFTMC.

She also might have spotted a few of the characters that have a great deal in common with the ones she created,although not as lively in nature, and applauded Thomas Hardy for his keen eye and in depth descriptions of country life.  To show you what I mean by comparing Austen to Hardy, let's look at Hardy's  four main characters  here to see their counterparts from the pages of our dear Jane:

Gabriel Oak: He's the first man in the book to fall for Bathsheba and manages to take her refusal of marriage well. The two of them even form a friendship of sorts, with Gabriel not hesitating to give her advice when needed or at times, unasked for.

The part where Gabriel calls Bathsheba out for sending a valentine to Mr. Boldwood(who we'll get to soon) without any serious intention of a romantic relationship, I was reminded of how Mr. Knightley in Emma often felt the same need to do so with Miss Woodhouse. Particularly when Emma goes out of her way to insult poor chatty Miss Bates at the Box Hill picnic. In both situations, the argument leads to a temporary parting of the ways until circumstances bring them together again.

While Knightley and Emma have a much more family oriented connection between them than Bathsheba and Gabriel do, the same urge to set a beloved one straight about their careless behavior towards others is a trait that both Knightley and Oak share. If those two did meet, each would find the other a man of good common sense worth listening to:

Mr. Boldwood: This gentleman farmer of means has long resigned himself to bachelor hood until the arrival of a valentine's day card(with a wax seal that says "Marry Me" to boot) changes his whole life.

While Bathsheba didn't have any ill intentions in sending that note to him. the consequences were great indeed. Even with her out and out reluctance to accept his hand, Boldwood clings hard to the possibility that Bathsheba might be his wife one day. even after she takes up with Sergeant Troy. His die hard devotion is unnerving at times and doesn't end well.

Persistent yet pitiful suitors are more humorous in Austen's work, with Mr. Collins of Pride and Prejudice being the best known. In some ways, he shares a sense of entitlement towards his intended bride similar to Boldwood in that they are both considered "good catches" and well able to provide for their lady in question. The fact that the lady is in no doubt of how unsuitable such a marriage would be isn't a concern either one agrees with:

Sergeant Troy: This charming military man has a way with the ladies that borders on the indecent and Bathsheba is far from the first woman to be swayed by his sword slicing ways.

Unfortunately, his affections are rather fickle and that combined with a selfish streak a mile wide, Troy is a heartbreaking menace that leaves a passionate pile of misery in his wake. Now, Austen ladies have had their fair share of devious men in red coats such as P&P's Wickam and Henry Tilney's disreputable brother in Northanger Abbey.

Yet, even non- enlisted men can cause trouble as Marianne Dashwood discovers in Sense and Sensibility.  Her near death due to heartbreak and exposure to the elements upon discovering that her darling Willoughby married another woman for money(much like Troy did with Bathsheba) is close to the suffering that Fanny Robin,an earlier love of Troy's, went though.

Fortunately for Marrianne, she was able to recover from that illness and despair unlike poor Fanny did. Both Troy and Willoughby did regret leaving behind those former loves but that remorse did nothing to alleviate the pain that others were subjected to because of their actions:

Bathsheba Everdene: This vibrant heroine has a great deal in common with many of Austen's leading ladies. Like Emma, she has a stable financial status that doesn't require her to marry for money yet even when she wasn't, as Lizzie Bennet was in P&P, refuses to jump at the first offer made to her.

While Bathsheba's impulsive nature does lead her to take on Troy with bad consequences, both of the Dashwood sisters would have been able to console her. True, Bathsheba should have seen through Troy much sooner(and before they got married in the first place) but headstrong and heart smart don't always go together.

Bathsheba is more blunt in her speech than Lizzy Bennet yet they both would enjoy taking a good long walk out of doors to discuss their romantic situations as well as appreciate the beauty of nature around them.  Overall, Bathsheba can be a tough nut to crack yet in the end, she does so on her own terms which is why she's one of the most admirable fictional females in English literature:

The last lap on this part of the Road to Rereading will be a double movie review of the 1967 adaptation of FFTMC and a somewhat modern day take on the story in Tamera Drewe. While I may never feel the strong attachment to Thomas Hardy that I do for Jane Austen, it was good to see that Hardy's creation of a memorable couple such as Gabriel Oak and Bathsheba Everdene is a solid counterpart to the iconic pairings, such Lizzy and Darcy or Anne Eliot and Captain Wentworth, that Austen has remained famous for:

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