Far from the Madding Crowd | Study Guide

Thomas Hardy

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Far from the Madding Crowd | Chapters 49–51 | Summary

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Summary

Chapter 49: Oak's Advancement—A Great Hope

Autumn and winter pass. Gabriel Oak becomes bailiff of the farm, and Farmer Boldwood asks him to take on his farm as well. In this case, shares of the farm will be part of his payment, which drastically improves Gabriel's finances as both changes increase his income.

Boldwood continues to plan for marrying Bathsheba even though he learns from Liddy Smallbury that Bathsheba would not be thinking of doing so anytime soon. Liddy relates, "she supposed she might marry again at the end of seven years from last year, if she cared to risk Mr. Troy's coming back and claiming her."

Chapter 50: The Sheep Fair—Troy Touches His Wife's Hand

Summer passes, and Bathsheba goes to the Greenhill Fair. Troy has returned from America, where he worked as a "Professor of Gymnastics, Sword Exercise, Fencing, and Pugilism." He now works locally with a traveling troupe that will put on a play. Pennyways (the bailiff who stole from Bathsheba at the onset of her ownership of the farm) recognizes Troy on stage—despite his disguise—and passes a note to Bathsheba. She refuses to read a note from Pennyways, and the disguised Troy takes it from her hand before she can change her mind. Troy finds Pennyways and arranges to speak with him.

Chapter 51: Bathsheba Talks with Her Outrider

Boldwood accompanies Bathsheba homeward from the fair, and he again speaks of his wish to marry her. He expresses that she is in debt to him for how she has wronged him and that reparations ought to be made by becoming his wife. She allows that she has been unjust to him but that she needs time. Frightened by his insistence, she agrees to give her answer on Christmas. She then speaks to Gabriel Oak and reveals that Boldwood seems likely to "go out of his mind" if she refuses. They discuss giving Boldwood a conditional promise, but Gabriel also points out that "The real sin, ma'am in my mind, lies in thinking of ever wedding wi' a man you don't love honest and true." Bathsheba leaves irked that Gabriel had not mentioned his own interest in her.

Analysis

These chapters, which span a lengthy time (autumn, winter, summer), move the novel from revealing Troy's secret and character to putting the pieces in place for a climactic end. Gabriel is no longer poor, Boldwood is no longer restrained, and Troy is no longer missing. The three suitors are all in Weatherbury, and an astute reader will anticipate the conclusion—but not the precise details of how it will arrive.

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