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Far from the Madding Crowd | Study Guide

Thomas Hardy

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Far from the Madding Crowd | Chapters 19–21 | Summary



Chapter 19: The Sheep-Washing—The Offer

Farmer Boldwood seeks out Bathsheba Everdene, finding her among her employees at the sheep washing. She walks away from the others, and he follows her into the woods. When they are alone, he asks her to be his wife. She objects (as she has when Gabriel Oak proposed early on in the novel), but Farmer Boldwood persists. Bathsheba blames herself, saying she ought not have been so thoughtless as to send the letter. Boldwood persists further, and they close with the resolution that she is not outright refusing him.

Chapter 20: Perplexity—Grinding the Shears—A Quarrel

Bathsheba seeks out Gabriel Oak to ask what the men thought of her going off with Farmer Boldwood. He confirms her suspicions that they think that a wedding is forthcoming. She asks him to clarify that it is not, and they exchange heated words. Gabriel points out that she is behaving badly in her treatment of Boldwood, and in doing so, he references the valentine she sent to him. Bathsheba references Gabriel's proposal to her, implying jealousy or feelings toward her. In a fit of anger, she fires him, telling him to go at the end of the week. He counters that he'll go at once.

Chapter 21: Troubles in the Fold—A Message

Gabriel Oak's leaving the flock leads to the sheep's breaking a fence to go feed in a field of clover—which could kill them. Bathsheba runs to the flock, the men following after. They tell her there is only one cure, and the only one who knows how to do it is Gabriel Oak. At first, she exclaims that she won't ask him to help. One of the sheep dies, and so she relents, sending sends someone to fetch him. The employee returns, reporting Gabriel's refusal: "He says he shall not come unless you request en to come civilly and in a proper manner, as becomes any woman begging a favour." Bathsheba openly weeps in front of the men, but she writes a note to Gabriel, adding the line, "Do not desert me, Gabriel." He arrives and treats the sheep, saving most of them. At the end, Bathsheba asks him to stay, and he agrees.


The obsessive nature of Boldwood's interest in Bathsheba becomes increasingly clear. So, too, is her reliance on Gabriel. While her character is notably independent, Bathsheba's only advisor is the man who first proposed to her. When faced with the difficulty of Boldwood's proposal, Bathsheba speaks to Gabriel. When her flock is injured, in large part because of her own pride and anger that leads to her firing Gabriel, she admits that she needs his help. She turns to Gabriel in matters both practical and emotional.

Both the consequences of Bathsheba's careless valentine and her hasty firing of Gabriel come into fruition. She is aware of these consequences, seemingly heeding the wisdom that Gabriel has expressed and certainly willing to ask for his aid in saving her flock. However, the steadfast Gabriel insists that she treat him with respect. His refusal of her initial entreaty is his first overt action in Weatherbury to make her see him as a man and herself as a woman, rather than an employer and employee. This power dynamic would not be possible if not for her firing him, however. It heralds a shift in their relationship, especially as her plea to him is "do not desert me."

At this juncture in the novel, matters have shifted enough that a reader—particularly one who was reading it serially as the first readers were—would see the potential that Bathsheba's pride and strong will would not end in disaster. She has turned to Gabriel and sought help, and she is aware that the situation with Boldwood is troubling. She has not successfully dissuaded his interest, but she has admitted that she did not seek it as it may have seemed. Notably, her letter to him, which precipitated his growing interest, was sent anonymously. She has confessed her folly, and if Boldwood had responded differently, the matter could have been resolved then.

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