Far from the Madding Crowd | Study Guide

Thomas Hardy

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Far from the Madding Crowd | Chapters 52–54 | Summary

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Summary

Chapter 52: Converging Courses

On Christmas Eve, Sergeant Troy meets with Pennyways to plan his next move while Bathsheba prepares for Farmer Boldwood's party, as does Boldwood. Boldwood expresses his intent to give more of his farm to Gabriel Oak, pointing out that he knows of Gabriel's feelings for Bathsheba as well as his not acting on those feelings. Troy prepares to go to the same party in disguise where he will then unmask himself.

Chapter 53: Concurritur—Horae Momento

Gossip among Boldwood's servants reveals that they know Troy is alive, although Boldwood does not. Bathsheba arrives at the party, and Boldwood presses her for a promise to wed. She reluctantly gives him her word: "I give my promise, if I must ... conditionally, of course, on my being a widow." He presses a ring on her, which she reluctantly agrees to wear for that night only. Not long after, Troy arrives. He reveals his identity, shocking Boldwood and Bathsheba. When her husband takes her hand, Bathsheba screams. Boldwood draws a gun from over the fireplace and shoots Troy. He attempts to shoot himself, too, but a servant stops him by knocking the gun away as he fires. The second shot lodges in the rafter. Boldwood remarks, "There is another way for me to die." He then kisses Bathsheba's hand and walks into the night.

Chapter 54: After the Shock

Farmer Boldwood reports directly to the jail. Bathsheba, for her part, is calm. She holds her dead husband, covering his wound with her handkerchief. When Gabriel Oak arrives, she sends him to Casterbridge for the surgeon with the statement that "It is, I believe, quite useless, but go. Mr. Boldwood has shot my husband." When the surgeon arrives, he finds the corpse removed. He reports to Bathsheba's house to discover that she has done all that needs doing in preparing Troy. She has bathed him and laid him out in grave clothes. Afterwards, she collapses.

Analysis

The culmination of the novel, murder of one suitor by another, is not unexpected. Hardy has set the clues in place, and, though dark, the climax allows for the ensuing situation to be made right. Troy has been thought to be dead. Boldwood's hopes of marriage were only if Bathsheba's husband was dead. Here, too, Bathsheba resumes her independence. She has avoided both the results of her impulsive decision to marry Troy and evaded her reluctantly given agreement to marry Boldwood.

It is easy for a reader to see why early critics of Hardy's novel were not pleased with Bathsheba's character. She has avoided the consequences of her bad choices in the end, finding herself free of both husband and fiancé. She is not lessened in freedom, fortune, or well-being. Her reaction to seeing Troy, her cry of distress, is what leads to one man's death and another's man's imprisonment (and at this point in the novel, still possible death for committing murder).

Simultaneously, Bathsheba is changed by these events. She is once again calm and in control. She cares for her husband's corpse and handles the events immediately after Troy's death with steadiness.

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