Ch. 46: The Gurgoyle: Its Doings
Runoff from the rain pours through a hideous gurgoyle (that is, a gargoyle) on the church. The splash stones that usually scatter the runoff have been moved during some work on the church grounds, and the heavy storm directs the flow onto Fanny’s grave, flooding it and destroying Troy’s work. When he wakes in the morning, the rain has passed and he feels stiff and headachy. He walks toward the grave, seeing on the path remnants of the flowers he planted. When he reaches the grave and sees the muddy tombstone and wrecked garden, this final injury is “more than could endure.” After some thought, he decides not to repair the damage. No one has seen him in the churchyard, so he “simply threw up his card and foreswore his game for that time and always”—in other words, he walks away from Weatherbury, Fanny, Bathsheba, everything.
During the night, Bathsheba had watched the lantern light by the church and wondered who was there. When morning comes, Liddy reports that Oak also saw the light and has gone to check on the grave. Troy, she says, has not come in, but Laban Tall saw him on the road that leads to Budmouth, where the horse races take place. Bathsheba has breakfast and then walks to Fanny’s grave, which is in the “reprobates” quarter in back of the church. Oak watches as she reads the tombstone: “Erected by Francis Troy in Beloved Memory of Fanny Robin.” Bathsheba calmly asks Oak to fill the hollowed-out grave again; she replants the flowers tenderly and asks Oak to have the rainspout repaired. Then she wipes the mud from the headstone.
Readers can contrast the reactions of the two people most affected by Fanny’s reappearance and death—Troy and Bathsheba. Troy’s reaction is intense but short-lived; he has no stamina to face continued grief and no moral strength to alter his actions. When his past catches up to him, he turns and walks away from it to start a new present; after all, no one knows he was ever in the churchyard. Bathsheba, by contrast, lives with the past, accepting Fanny’s grave, with its insulting (to her) tombstone, and caring for it after Troy abandons it. She has matured because of these events.
Ch. 47: Adventures by the Shore
Troy travels desultorily south toward the coast. He’s disgusted with farming, sad about Fanny, guilty about the baby, and unable to face Bathsheba. The day is muggy and hot, so he decides to cool off by swimming in a calm cove by the sea, leaving his clothes on the shore. A strong current carries him out to sea, and too late he recalls that this part of the seashore is known for its dangerous currents. Troy treads water and hopes to be carried back to shore, but time passes and exhaustion begins to set in. Then a boat appears—Troy shouts and waves and is rescued. The small boat was on an errand and is now headed back to the ship from which it was dispatched.
Troy needs something new—a new course of action, a new line of work, a new place to live. In literature a common symbol is the death and rebirth by near drowning and then rescue, which Troy has now undergone. The symbolism is strengthened by the fact that he left his old clothes behind and now wears what his rescuers are able to scrape together for him. Reborn, among people who have no idea who he is or what is in his past, he has a real chance to start fresh.
Ch. 48: Doubts Arise—Doubts Linger
Meanwhile, Bathsheba is surprised but also relieved that Troy does not return. She dreads the future for fear that she will lose the farm and plunges back into work. One day at business in Casterbridge, a man finds her to deliver bad news: Troy has drowned. She faints, and Boldwood, ever hovering near her, experiences the bliss of catching her and carrying her to a sofa. At the news of Troy’s death, “a strange fire lighted up” his eyes and “an unutterable thought” possesses him. When Bathsheba awakens, she refuses further help and drives herself home. There, Liddy asks about buying mourning clothes, but Bathsheba declares that she is “perfectly convinced” that Troy is still alive. The next day she reads an account in the paper by a doctor who saw Troy swept out to sea, and a package with his clothes, including the precious watch, is delivered. Clearly, he intended to return to shore. Still, Bathsheba cannot be sure. She wonders if Troy somehow “followed Fanny into another world” but made it look like an accident. That evening, she opens the watch and sees the lock of golden hair. She thinks of throwing it in the fire but in the end keeps it, “in memory of her, poor thing.”
Troy appears to be out of Bathsheba’s life, and she accepts his loss calmly, perhaps because she believes him still to be alive. For Boldwood, though, the feverish passion is stirred to new life. Readers may wonder what this will mean for Bathsheba’s state of mind, which is calm but fragile. It’s clear also that Bathsheba has allied herself emotionally with Fanny against the man who wronged them both; the rivals, one fair and one dark, are united in their ill treatment, and Bathsheba enters a period of depressed spirits and the death of hope.
Ch. 49: Oak’s Advancement—A Great Hope
Autumn passes into winter. Bathsheba is quiet, not out of peace but out of apathy. She carries on with her work but without any investment; at last, she makes Oak her bailiff. Boldwood, too, is “secluded and inactive,” letting his crops go to ruin. When even the pigs refuse to eat the crops, however, Boldwood rouses enough to hire Oak to manage his farm as well. Bathsheba “languidly” objects to this plan because Oak will have less time on her farm, so Boldwood gives Oak a horse to make travel between the farms easy. Now Oak is in charge of 2,000 acres, which he works “in a cheerful state of surveillance, as if the crops all belonged to him,” while Bathsheba and Boldwood sit in their respective houses “in gloomy and sad seclusion.” Because Bathsheba has finally consented to wear mourning clothes, Boldwood indulges a “fevered hope” that someday she will reconsider his proposal. Bathsheba leaves Weatherbury to visit her aunt for two months, during which time Boldwood tries to get information from Liddy, asking with studied coolness how “Mrs. Troy” is doing and whether she thinks of remarrying. By flattering Liddy, he extracts the idea that Bathsheba might, after seven years from Troy’s death have passed, consider remarrying, but not till then because she fears that he is not dead and will come back to claim her. Boldwood begins to feel shame over his manipulation of Liddy and leaves, but he has gained hope because he now has a date, six years in the future, when he can press his suit again. Six years is a long time, “but how much shorter than never! He would annihilate the six years of his life as if they were minutes—so little did he value his time on earth beside her love.”
It is now late summer, time for the Greenhill Fair.
Boldwood’s passion for Bathsheba is described in this chapter as “a fond madness which neither time nor circumstance, evil nor good report, could weaken or destroy.” He stoops to underhanded methods and plots against reason, sustained by the faint hope of getting Bathsheba at last. Like Troy, he seems stuck in a pattern of behavior, unable to learn from events. Bathsheba, too, is stuck, unable to get past the grievous deaths and betrayals. Only Oak is going strong, having risen at last to a position that calls for all his skills.
Ch. 50: The Sheep Fair—Troy Touches His Wife’s Hand
The “busiest, merriest, noisiest day of the fair”—arrives, the day when sheep are sold and traded. Boldwood and Bathsheba send a combined flock in Oak’s care. A traveling circus is also in town for the fair. Such circuses put on melodramatic plays as well as other acts, and this circus advertises such a production: “The Royal Hippodrome Performance of Turpin’s Ride to York and the Death of Black Bess,” based on the heavily romanticized adventures of a historical person, a cruel highwayman named Dick Turpin. People, include Weatherbury denizens Joseph Poorgrass and Jan Coggan, crowd in to see the show. In the dressing room behind the circus tent, none other than Frank Troy prepares to play the part of Durbin.
After his rescue at sea, Troy signed on as part of the ship’s crew and worked his way across the Atlantic to the United States. There he taught gymnastics, fencing, and boxing, but he disliked the low-paying work. He prefers comfort, and he knows that he could return to Weatherbury and Bathsheba at any time. He wonders whether Bathsheba thinks he is dead. Half-afraid to face her and half-afraid that she might have lost her comfortable farm by now, he returned to England and hired on with the travelling circus to buy time while deciding what to do. His title with the circus is “the Great Cosmopolitan Equestrian and Roughrider.”
Outside the tent, Boldwood and Bathsheba discuss the sheep sale. She must speak to a buyer later in the day and considers attending the melodrama to pass the time till then. Boldwood offers to get her a good seat. He seats her on a raised bench, covered with cloth and arranged on a carpet. Bathsheba is above the crowd and thus draws attention, from which she shrinks, but she musters her dignity and stays. Troy is startled to see her through a small gap in the tent. His costume disguises his face, but not his voice, he knows. Troy feels the effect of Bathsheba’s beauty, but now he feels shame as well about his current status as a travelling player. Thinking quickly, Troy tells his manager that a creditor is in the audience and will accost him if he recognizes him by his voice. The manager agrees that Troy can play the role, which is largely actions, without words, and the show goes smoothly. During the show, Troy spots Pennyways, the disgraced bailiff, in the audience, and Pennyways recognizes Troy. Troy must now make an ally of Pennyways before the bailiff uses the information about Troy to get back in Bathsheba’s good graces. Troy sees Boldwood serving Bathsheba tea and feels jealousy rise. Is she flirting? He cuts two slits in the tent so that he can observe her more closely: “She was as handsome as ever, and she was his.” He decides that he will claim her, but he needs time to cover up the evidence of his recent life. Bathsheba is about to leave when Pennyways approaches her with “private information,” which she coldly refuses. Pennyways then writes a note—“Your husband is here. I’ve seen him. Who’s the fool now?”—which he folds and hands to her. When she won’t take it, he laughs, throws it in her lap, and leaves. Troy knows he must get the note, which Bathsheba intends to read, thinking it a bit of malicious gossip about one of her employees. She lets her hand drop, with the note between her fingers, and Troy acts quickly, grabbing the note through the tent and taking off after Pennyways. He catches up with him, whispers a few words, and takes him off to walk and talk.
For readers who hoped that Troy’s losses and his symbolic rebirth from the sea would inspire him to reform, his reappearance here is a disappointment. Still contriving to get as much from the world as he can by trading as little effort as possible, he thinks of Bathsheba now in terms of what he can get from her: the comfort of her profitable farm and the pleasures of her beauty. It is likely no accident that the role he plays with the circus is that of a known highwayman. He is a thief in his own way and responsible indirectly for Fanny’s ruin and Bathsheba’s grief.