LANGUAGE AND LITERATURE IN THE WORLD; Thomas Hardy's Far from the Madding Crowd

By Hayes, Tracy | Papers on Language & Literature, Spring 2020 | Go to article overview

LANGUAGE AND LITERATURE IN THE WORLD; Thomas Hardy's Far from the Madding Crowd


Hayes, Tracy, Papers on Language & Literature


On Saturday, 13 April 2019, the third annual Thomas Hardy Society Study Day took place in the Town Hall at the Corn Exchange in Dorchester, attended by 115 people from across the UK, Europe, and America. The aim of the day was to mark the 145th anniversary of the publication of Far from the Madding Crowd by providing an event that included talks, seminars, interactive displays, and workshops intended to appeal to academics, students, and general admirers of Hardy alike.

Far from the Madding Crowd was the novel whose success allowed Hardy to give up architecture and devote himself full time to writing. It also provided the income for him finally to be able to marry Emma Gifford after a long-distance courtship of four years. In December 1874, The Spectator surmised that "either George Eliot had written it, or she had found her match." Hardy's delineation of character was divisive from the start: R.H. Hutton declared Sargent Troy and Farmer Boldwood to be "conceived and executed with very great power," while Henry James memorably stated that "the only things we believe in are the sheep and the dogs."

As the conference organizer, I offered a brief welcome speech and outlined the program for the day. Next, the keynote lecture entitled "The Gurgoyle: Its Doings" was delivered by Dr. Trish Ferguson, Senior Lecturer in English Literature at Liverpool Hope University, whose publications include Thomas Hardy's Legal Fictions (Edinburgh Press, 2013). Trish related how, according to an article in the Guardian in 2007, Far from the Madding Crowd is the tenth greatest love story of all time, though it is a modified pastoral mixed with elegy. In this novel, supernatural machinery comes into conflict with fate and character in a tale that still resonates with modern readers. The many instances of abjection and borders contained in the text are constant reminders of life and death, though Nature's beauty quite often masks the abjection in many scenes. The novel was written after the suicide of Hardy's close friend and mentor Horace Moule, images of which reverberate throughout most of Hardy's works. No matter how abject the scene Hardy is describing, it is always clothed in the pastoral. Indeed, the coffin scene in the chapter "Fanny's Revenge" is actually a work of art, a portrait in words. Sergeant Troy is portrayed as a "continental grotesque" in the novel, much like the church gargoyles under which he plants a plethora of bulbs on Fanny's grave in a futile attempt at showing remorse for his previous actions. Trish contended that this is a consciously intertextual novel, a negotiation of poetic genres containing many contrasting views on death in which Hardy is developing his response to the death drive. And when serialized in the Cornhill by Leslie Stephen in 1874, it was experienced by readers in real-time, the months in the novel corresponding with the months of the year that each number of the journal was released.

Following the keynote was the first plenary of the day, given by Professor Paul Niemeyer, Associate Professor of English at Texas A&M International University in Laredo, best known for Seeing Hardy (McFarland & Co., 2002), the first book-length study of Hardy and film. In "'What We See in Him': Projections of Manliness in Two Film Adaptations of Far from the Madding Crowd," Paul reminded us that the novel appeared at a time when shifts in gender roles were apparent; likewise, the film adaptations from 1967 (directed by John Schlesinger) and 2015 (directed by Thomas Vinterberg) reflect the gender issues of the times in which they were made. The two films each show the "young" lovers--Bathsheba, Gabriel, and Troy--as embodying the strengths and concerns of contemporary males and females, but the film-makers have had a harder time with Farmer Boldwood. According to Paul, Boldwood is a difficult, protean character in the novel who both undercuts the traditional progress of the romantic plot and exposes the ideology behind the romantic enterprises of Troy and Gabriel. …

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