Far from the Madding Crowd | Study Guide

Thomas Hardy

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Far from the Madding Crowd | Chapters 40–42 | Summary

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Summary

Chapter 40: On Casterbridge Highway

Fanny makes it to Casterbridge, in part with the help of a dog, and collapses. She is taken inside, weakened and unable to stand.

Chapter 41: Suspicion—Fanny Is Sent For

Troy asks for 20 pounds, but when Bathsheba Everdene asks if it's for the races, he avoids answering. They fight again, but she gives him the money. When he opens his watch to put the money away, Bathsheba sees a curl of yellow hair there. She asks about it, and he lies, saying it is hers. Bathsheba says that she's insulted at his lie. The hair is yellow, and hers is dark. He admits that it's the hair of the woman he was going to marry before her. She asks him to burn the curl. He leaves. Not long after, word comes that Bathsheba's missing servant, Fanny Robin, has died at Casterbridge Union (a poor house). Bathsheba sends for her body to look after the burial. In the ensuing conversation with her employees, she discovers that Troy knew of the late Fanny Robin's lover. Her questions, on the color of Fanny's hair, lead to her stopping the line of inquiry.

Chapter 42: Joseph and His Burden

Joseph Poorgrass goes to retrieve Fanny Robin's corpse. On his return, he stops and drinks with Jan Coggin and Mark Clark. Gabriel Oak arrives to find them drunk and takes the wagon back to the parson himself. On the coffin, the words "Fanny Robin and child" are written. Gabriel, to protect Bathsheba, erases the last two words.

Analysis

Fanny's death is typically melodramatic, but death from starvation and the assorted weights of poverty was a real concern in the Victorian era. Prior to The Poor Law Amendment Act of 1834, there were "poor houses" for the destitute, but this law made the resources for the poorest of the poor even harsher. They could deny shelter and food, claiming that the person could still work. Families were separated, and the work they provided was hard to the point that it could be equated with the work of convicts. The other options Fanny would have had were the "slop trade" (akin to modern sweatshops in many ways) and prostitution, the most likely source of income for a fallen woman like Fanny.

Hardy does not explore what Fanny's life has been like after leaving Bathsheba's farm in expectations of marriage, but her options would have been known to Troy. Seeing her meant that both Troy and Bathsheba have to confront his past.

Here, though, is one of the moments of Bathsheba's greatest flaws: her awareness that Troy has loved another woman causes her to rage at him and demand that he declare his sole devotion to her, that he burn the other woman's hair, and that he swear he loves Bathsheba "better than any woman in the world!"

Troy, meanwhile, appears as if in a daze. Seeing Fanny has shaken him. He disregards Bathsheba's demands: "There are considerations even before my consideration for you; reparations to be made—ties you know nothing of. If you repent of marrying, so do I."

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