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Far from the Madding Crowd | Study Guide

Thomas Hardy

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Far from the Madding Crowd | Chapters 13–15 | Summary



Chapter 13: Sortes Sanctorum—The Valentine

Bathsheba Everdene and Liddy Smallbury try to divine whom Bathsheba will marry by way of Bible and key. Liddy points out that while every other man looks at Bathsheba, Farmer Boldwood did not look at Bathsheba at church despite his pew's being across from hers. Bathsheba prepares to send a valentine to Mrs. Coggan's child, but decides instead to send one to Boldwood. In debating the stamp for the wax, she selects one that simply says "Marry me."

Chapter 14: Effect of the Letter—Sunrise

Farmer Boldwood becomes entranced by his anonymous valentine and spends the evening contemplating it: "He was conscious of its presence, even when his back was turned upon it." When the mail cart arrives the next morning, he wonders if there will be another letter. Instead, there is one for Gabriel Oak. He sees Gabriel on the hill and offers to take the letter to him.

Chapter 15: A Morning Meeting—The Letter Again

In the malthouse, Henery Fray speaks ill of Bathsheba, as do Mark Clark and Joseph Poorgrass. When Gabriel Oak arrives with newborn lambs slung over his shoulder, he puts a stop to the negative talk with a stern tone and a threat. Farmer Boldwood arrives with the letter for Gabriel, which is from Fanny Robin. In the letter, she repays Gabriel because she'll be married. She asks him to keep this information a secret, but he shares the letter with Boldwood, who says that he has "very much doubt" that what she hopes to be will come to pass. The chapter closes with Boldwood showing his anonymous letter to Gabriel and asking if he knows whose handwriting it is. Gabriel identifies it as Bathsheba's.


This section of the novel contains another of the longer character study sequences. Gabriel, our pastoral hero, arrives at the malthouse with innocent lambs in arms, again highlighting him as a caretaker. Simultaneously, he is not one for secrets without reason. He willingly shares Fanny's letter, containing information about her fate, with Boldwood. He also shares the identity of Boldwood's anonymous letter writer. Gabriel is honest.

Boldwood and Gabriel both now know where Fanny is, and with whom she is involved. They do not share this information widely or with her former employer. Gabriel's defense of Bathsheba's character seems to be an extension of his intent to protect her. In the context of having just seen a marriage proposal to another man, Gabriel could also have been distracted. The motives for not sharing this information with Bathsheba are not clear.

The significance of the letter to Boldwood and the letter to Gabriel can also be seen in the fact that two letters, each arriving almost at once, are sent by the two women in the novel whose lives entwine with Bathsheba's three suitors. In Fanny's case, Boldwood has sentiment of some degree for Fanny, and for this reason, Gabriel shares the contents of her letter. Gabriel, ever the caretaker, is the last in town to see Fanny, gives her money when he has little, and will be the one to bring her body back to Weatherbury.

Further, both Gabriel and Boldwood propose to Bathsheba unsuccessfully. The moment in which they exchange letters and information ties together all of these people. Moreover, the letter Fanny sends is about Fanny's current lover, Sergeant Troy, who will become Bathsheba's spouse. Troy, in his absence, is already a factor in their lives. Bathsheba's hastily sent, and largely insincere, invitation to Boldwood would likely have led to different conclusions if not for Troy's arrival.

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