Far from the Madding Crowd | Study Guide

Thomas Hardy

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Far from the Madding Crowd | Chapters 16–18 | Summary

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Summary

Chapter 16: All Saints' and All Souls'

A soldier appears for a wedding. He stands and waits. No bride appears. Eventually, he leaves with the eyes of all at the church upon him. As he crosses the square, he meets a woman. Fanny Robin says she went to the wrong church. She was at All Souls' Church, not All Saints' Church. She asks, "Shall it be tomorrow, Frank?" He laughs bitterly and walks away.

Chapter 17: In the Market-Place

Farmer Boldwood sees Bathsheba Everdene in the marketplace, studies her, and finds her attractive. However, not sure of his own judgment, he asks a neighbor. His neighbor confirms that she is "a very handsome girl indeed." Boldwood watches Bathsheba conduct business, ponders why she sent the "marry me" card, and leaves without having spoken to her. She notices that she's caught his attention, but she also worries, searching for a means to resolve the situation.

Chapter 18: Boldwood in Meditation—Regret

Farmer Boldwood decides to go speak with Bathsheba Everdene regarding the valentine. He sees Bathsheba, Gabriel Oak, and Gabriel's assistant (Cain) in a field where they are trying to convince the ewe whose lamb has died to take on another lamb as her own. Rather than speak to her, doubt overcomes Boldwood, and he continues by. Bathsheba is aware that he has been there to see her. Likewise, Gabriel is aware that something between Bathsheba and Boldwood is beginning and that it tracks to the letter she sent.

Analysis

The failure of Troy and Fanny to marry, to change her status from "fallen woman" to wife, is another step along the way to the tragic end of both their lives. She chooses to believe his insincere promise to marry her. He fails to deliver on this promise, partially because of her mistake regarding the location, but also because of his prideful indignation after waiting at the altar. Both actions have consequences, and ultimately, their separate paths after not marrying lead to both of their deaths.

Likewise, Bathsheba's small error—sending the valentine—sparks the events that will lead to tragedy for her, obsession for Boldwood, and death for Troy. Boldwood's interest begins mildly, but starts to grow. These small events barely register as moments out of the characters' lives, but small moments create ripples. Arguably, all of these moments emerge from the characters' pride (a common topic in Victorian novels). Troy's wounded pride at being jilted causes him to turn away from Fanny. Bathsheba's wounded pride at Boldwood's not paying notice to her when most of the men are doing so causes her to make a rash decision in sending the valentine.

The names of the characters continue to be symbolic. Boldwood (who is, thus far, not bold) and Oak both share names with trees. These names are both pastoral and potential allusions to the Victorian image of the man as a sturdy tree to which the ivy (the woman) can cling. In Charles Dickens's, "Lucy's Song in the Village Coquettes" (1836), he defines love: "It clings to the heart, ah, woe is me! / As the ivy clings to the old oak tree."

Both Cain and Bathsheba's names have biblical roots. In the case of Cain, the characters make reference to his name, laughing at his mother's folly in naming him after the "wrong" son. When he first appears, Bathsheba asks after the origin of his name and is told that Cain's mother had mistaken the roles of Abel and Cain, "thinking 'twas Abel killed Cain, and called en Cain ... 'Tis very unfortunate for the boy." Her namesake in the Bible would also be well-known: the biblical Bathsheba was David's wife and mother to Solomon. However, she was object of his lust initially, and their relations first occurred when she was married to Uriah, whom David had murdered in order to take Bathsheba as his wife. The biblical Bathsheba actively works to ensure that her son, Solomon, takes the throne after David's death.

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