Ch. 51: Bathsheba Talks with Her Outrider
Joseph Poorgrass was supposed to drive Bathsheba home, but he is drunk again, and Oak is busy with the sheep. Bathsheba decides to drive herself home, but Boldwood insists, to her dismay, on riding alongside her. Bathsheba knows that Boldwood still loves and has determined not to be unkind to him. Ever hopeful, he reads too much into her guilt-motivated civility. They speak of the farms, the fair, Oak—then suddenly he asks whether she will ever marry again. She says that she hasn’t thought seriously of it and still is not convinced that Troy is dead. Even if he is, Bathsheba would feel “very contemptible” to consider a new marriage. They rehearse their old regrets; Bathsheba wishes the conversation would end. Finally, Boldwood asks his real question: If she could be sure of Troy’s death, would she “repair the wrong” she did him so long ago by marrying him? She will not say yes and begs him not to speak of the matter, but he persists. She owes him this reparation—won’t she promise? Bathsheba agrees that she will not marry anyone else while Boldwood still loves her—a minor concession, but a chink in the wall of her defenses. Boldwood presses her, despite her distress, to agree to marry him once Troy is legally declared dead, seven years after his disappearance. She begs him to give her till Christmas to decide, and he drops the matter.
The months pass too quickly, and as December approaches, Bathsheba feels pressure to promise Boldwood what he wants. One day she and Oak are auditing accounts when the subject of Boldwood comes up. Oak mentions the farmer’s devotion to Bathsheba, who then spills out the whole story. She worries that if she refuses his offer, Boldwood may “go out of his mind.” Oak allows that to marry for these reasons would be uncommon but not wrong, except that Bathsheba doesn’t love Boldwood. Or anyone, she laments: “Love is an utterly bygone, sorry, wornout, miserable thing with me—for him or any one else.” But giving the promise, she says, is the only way she can atone for the valentine prank. Oak gently hints that he still loves her, too, she wishes him goodnight and leaves. Later, though, she feels disappointed. Why hadn’t Oak declared, “I could wait for you as well as he”? Instead, he remained cool. Yet she wanted him to remain cool—did she not?
Boldwood’s obsession with Bathsheba caused him, earlier, to bribe Troy and to flatter Liddy so she would reveal information, and in both cases, he felt shame about his actions. Yet here his passion drives him to behave similarly with Bathsheba herself, playing repeatedly on her overblown guilt about the valentine to prove that she owes him reparation—her person in marriage. This is outrageous reasoning, couched in vaguely legal or commercial terms, though Bathsheba continues to consider her relationship to Boldwood in moral terms. She punishes herself overmuch for a silly mistake, and he lets her and even encourages her to do so to get what he wants. In this sense, he is not much better than Troy; he merely applies different levers of manipulation. However, Troy does what he does in sound (though rascally) mind, while it’s clear that Boldwood’s passion has developed into an obsession that threatens his soundness of mind. His state is pitiable, and Bathsheba does pity it.
Ch. 52: Converging Courses
I. Christmas approaches, and Boldwood announces a party for the whole village—something that has never happened before. His announcement is as odd “as if one should hear of croquet-playing in a cathedral aisle.” Much decorating and cooking is underway at Boldwood’s farm, and the furniture has been removed to make room for dancing; yet “the spirit of revelry was lacking.” For a lone, aloof man like Boldwood, such festivities are “a wrench.”
II. Meanwhile, Bathsheba dresses for the party, with Liddy’s assistance. She is “foolishly agitated” and wishes that she weren’t obliged to attend. She knows full well that she is “the reason” for this party and laments, “I wish I had never seen Weatherbury.” Fourteen months have passed since Troy’s purported death, but Bathsheba still insists on wearing mourning clothes.
III. Boldwood is also dressing, with more care than he has ever before taken, in a new suit. Oak comes in to report on the farm and is happy to note Boldwood’s cheerful mood. Boldwood interrupts the report to ask an odd question: “Does a woman keep her promise?” Oak cannot say, but he does point out that seven years is a long time to wait for the fulfillment of a promise. Boldwood corrects his bailiff—it’s five years, nine months, and a few days, which is not so long. Bathsheba, he believes, will not deceive him.
IV. In Casterbridge, Troy sits in a tavern waiting for Pennyways, whom he has sent to talk to Boldwood. Pennyways enters to say that Boldwood wasn’t home, and Troy asks about the legality of his claim on Bathsheba. Just because a man is thought to have been drowned doesn’t make him “liable for anything,” he argues. Perhaps not, Pennyways counters, but Troy hasn’t described the case accurately. Troy took steps to deceive his wife about his death, and that is “a punishable situation.” What Troy really wants to know is whether Bathsheba is going to marry Boldwood. Troy has left the circus behind and must decide whether to return and claim his wife. He asks Pennyways if he saw Bathsheba while in Weatherbury, and Pennyways describes seeing her on the farm. She’d just been riding, so she was rosy and panting with the exercise. Troy feels urgently that he must see her again for himself. Then Pennyways brings up the unpleasant subject of her reliance on Oak, who has replaced Pennyways. Troy reassures him: “stick to me, and neither this haughty goddess, dashing piece of womanhood . . . nor anybody else shall hurt you.”
V. Bathsheba finishes her toilette. Despite her plain, black clothes, she looks beautiful and feels “wretched at one moment, buoyant at another.” She tells Liddy that her intention remains not to marry for many years, and even if then, “’twill be for reasons very, very different from those you think, or others will believe!” With this enigmatic statement, she rises in dread to face the evening.
VI. Back in Boldwood’s dressing room, he tells Oak that he intends to increase the bailiff’s share of the farm’s prosperity. He knows that Oak also loves Bathsheba and hopes to make up financially for the personal injury he will do his bailiff by marrying Bathsheba. Oak drily comments that it is too soon to speak of these matters and hurries away. He sees clearly that Boldwood’s obsession with Bathsheba has “made him not the man he once had been.” Alone, Boldwood assumes a solemn mood and takes a small box from a locked closet. In it is a diamond ring, at which he gazes, thinking of “the presumed thread of that jewel’s future history.” Pocketing the ring, he goes down to greet the arriving guests.
VII. Back in Casterbridge, Troy disguises himself in a bulky coat and hat. Pennyways tries to persuade him not to go to Weatherbury but to write to Bathsheba first instead. Troy brushes this advice away: “There she is with plenty of money, and a house and farm, and horses, and comfort, and here am I living from hand to mouth—a needy adventurer.” Also, he is offended that a mere fourteen months after his reported death, Bathsheba should rush to marry another man. Ignorant of the true circumstances, he dismisses Pennyways’s warning that the past will out, fortifies himself with liquor, and sets out for Boldwood’s party.
This is the only chapter in the novel that is subdivided. In each subdivision, readers see a different character preparing for the scene that will be the climax of the novel. Each character moves on a course that will indeed converge in one place and one moment; the characters have conflicting desires and fears that cannot be reconciled. Throughout Hardy’s novels and poetry runs the theme of inescapable fate, of people racing along paths in ignorance of the calamity toward which they rush. Yet each character’s movements are driven by his or her weaknesses. Troy still wants total control of Bathsheba and her farm for his selfish purposes; Bathsheba is fleeing the guilt over one error into another; and Boldwood has allowed a fantasy to overcome reasonable thought.
Ch. 53: Concurritur—Horæ Momento
Outside Boldwood’s house, several of Boldwood’s laborers are talking about Troy, who reportedly has been spotted in Casterbridge. As they debate his possible intentions, their sympathy is with Bathsheba. “Poor young thing,” one says, “I do pity her, if ’tis true. He’ll drag her to the dogs.” Another defends her bad judgment in marrying Troy: “She was no otherwise than a girl mind, and how could she tell what the man was made of?” Billy Smallbury and Laban Tall join their conversation, and the men decide not to tell Boldwood what they have heard—“God send that it be a lie.” When Boldwood comes out, they try to look busy. They overhear his anxious words as he awaits Bathsheba’s arrival. Finally she comes up the path, and Boldwood escorts her inside. The laborers follow, commenting that they did not know till now how serious Boldwood is about marrying Bathsheba. Now they add to their worries how Troy’s presence may harm not only their “good mistress” and “brave girl” but also Boldwood. Sam, Billy, and Laban are so distressed that they skip the party and go to the malthouse instead. But as they approach, they see Troy peering in through the malthouse window, eavesdropping on Oak and the maltster about the party. The three men slip away into an orchard and decide that they must inform Boldwood about Troy’s presence.
In the farmhouse hall, Bathsheba can’t bring herself to join the festive dance; she puts on her wraps and prepares to leave, but Boldwood stops her, distressed. He forces the question: Will she promise to marry him when Troy is legally declared dead? Her agreement, he ironically argues, would be a “mere business compact, you know, between two people who are beyond the influence of passion.” He reminds her that “You owe it to me!” Bathsheba objects that she is no longer the woman he fell in love with; she cannot decide the right action. Yet finally she relents: “I give my promise, if I must. I give it as the rendering of a debt, conditionally, of course, on my being a widow.” She uses the same business language that Boldwood had used, but now her promise is not enough for him. He presses her to name a date and, “unable to sustain the forms of friendship any longer,” lets his wild passion pour out in a torrent of words painful for her to hear. He tries to get her to wear the diamond ring; he will not let go of her hand. Finally she is “fairly beaten into non-resistance,” and he leaves her to compose herself.
Bathsheba prepares again to leave but sees Billy, Laban, and Sam enter, appearing to be in some doubt. Boldwood reenters the hall, but neither he nor Bathsheba seems to hear a knock at the door, where “Mrs. Troy is wanted” by a stranger. Troy enters, and Bathsheba knows him at once: “her whole face was pallid, her lips apart, her eyes rigidly staring at their visitor.” But Boldwood extends a courteous greeting born out of his triumph over Bathsheba, not realizing that “the impersonator of Heaven’s persistent irony towards him, who had once before broken in upon his bliss, scourged him, and snatched his delight away, had come to do these things a second time.” Troy laughs, and Boldwood recognizes his rival. Troy tells Bathsheba to come with him, and, when she merely stands in shock, “peremptorily” commands her to come. Suddenly Boldwood speaks, in “a strange voice . . . sounding far off and confined, as if from a dungeon.” The men and Bathsheba see that “sudden despair had transformed” Boldwood, who says, “Bathsheba, go with your husband!” She cannot move, so Troy reaches for her. When she flinches from his touch in “invisible dread,” he grabs her, and she screams. Then “a sudden deafening report echoed through the hall”—Boldwood has taken a gun from its rack and shot Troy dead. Boldwood tries to shoot himself but fails. Declaring “There is another way for me to die,” he kisses Bathsheba’s hand, puts on his hat, and goes out. No one thinks to stop him.
The Latin title of this chapter suggests that forces come together suddenly and in conflict in a moment of consequence, and that is of course exactly what happens in this chapter, the climax of the novel. The courses of the three fated people converge, and the results are fearful. Readers may notice the emphasis on malevolent fate, common in even this gentlest of Hardy’s novels, in the narrator’s comment that Troy is the embodiment of “Heaven’s persistent irony” toward Boldwood. Yet the events that happen in this dramatic chapter could easily have been turned aside at many points in the histories of these characters. But Troy’s impetuousness and deep sense of entitlement, Bathsheba’s confused guilt and fearfulness of doing further damage, and Boldwood’s overwrought passion explode when brought together.
Ch. 54: After the Shock
Boldwood walks “at an even, steady pace” to Casterbridge’s gaol (jail), where he rings the bell and speaks with the porter. Shortly, another man leads Boldwood in, “and the door was closed behind him, and he walked in this world no more.” Back in the hall, bewilderment and panic afflict all but Bathsheba, who is seated with Troy’s head in her lap, her handkerchief pressed uselessly against his wound. “The household convulsion had made her herself again,” the narrator comments. “The temporary coma had ceased, and activity had come with the necessity for it.” When Oak enters, she calmly asks him to go for a surgeon, though “[i]t is, I believe, useless.” On the way to the doctor, Oak thinks that he should have sent another man and stayed to look after Bathsheba. He has no idea what happened in the hall. Three hours pass before the surgeon, Mr. Aldritch, arrives, by which time Bathsheba has had Troy’s body moved to her house. The surgeon remonstrates—she should not have moved the body before a proper inquest had been made! One of her servants assures him that she understood the legal issues but said “law was nothing to her, and she wouldn’t let her dear husband’s corpse bid neglected for folks to stare at for all the crowners [coroners] in England.”
At Bathsheba’s house, she has done everything proper for the body and is now waiting on the parson and the surgeon. The doctor is amazed—“this mere girl! She must have the nerve of a stoic!” But she replies, “The heart of a wife merely,” and now that the work is done, she collapses. The doctor tends to her, and Liddy watches over her as she moans through the night, “O it is my fault—how can I live!”
Bathsheba is relieved of the terrible threats that have hung over her for so long—the threat of Troy’s return, and the threat of marrying Boldwood out of guilt. Yet she is in a worse state than ever, feeling responsible now for the fates of Fanny, the baby, Troy, and Boldwood. Yet she impresses all with her strength during the crisis. She is, the narrator says, “of the stuff of which great men’s mothers are made.” The comment strikes many readers as ironic: Even as he compliments Bathsheba, the narrator relegates her to a subservient position. She cannot be great in herself; she can only move men—husbands, lovers, sons—to action.
Ch. 55: The March Following—‘Bathsheba Boldwood’
March has come, and people are gathered on Yalbury Hill to await the traveling court. (At this time, cases in small country towns were held for judgment till a traveling judge arrived to pronounce rulings.) Coggan and Poorgrass confer quietly after the judge passes. Did he have a merciful face? They are waiting for the ruling on Boldwood, who pleaded guilty to murder. After Troy’s death, an investigation revealed that in the locked closet in Boldwood’s room were many fine things—furs, jewels, gowns—all labeled with the name “Bathsheba Boldwood” and with a date about six years hence. These findings gave weight to the idea that Boldwood was not sane when he killed Troy. In Weatherbury the villagers wait to hear whether Boldwood’s unbalanced mind will spare him the death penalty. They agree that Boldwood was “not morally responsible,” but the judge must decide whether Troy’s death was murder or “a sheet outcome of madness.” The execution is set; the gallows are built. Oak has visited Boldwood a final time and reports to the villagers that Boldwood’s only concern is for Bathsheba, who is still weak and in seclusion. Liddy worries that Bathsheba, too, will lose her mind if Boldwood hangs. Finally word arrives: Boldwood’s sentence is commuted to life in prison.
It is sweet to see the great concern and sympathy that the villagers have for Boldwood, whose life is wrecked, and just as instructive to note the utter lack of sympathy for Troy, whose actions and desires have wrecked the lives of three of Weatherbury’s citizens. Through all of the dramatic events, Oak’s presence goes almost unnoticed by the narrator, yet the bailiff is quietly at work in the background, keeping the farms running while both master and mistress are imprisoned, one literally and the other by ill health and despair.
Ch. 56: Beauty in Loneliness—After All
By summer Bathsheba has regained some strength but remains in seclusion, even from Liddy. Gradually, though, she begins to attend to farm tasks again, and in August she enters the village for the first time since Christmas Eve, still wearing the black of mourning, against which her sun-deprived skin seems all the paler. Bathsheba hears the church choir at practice as she goes to Fanny’s grave and sees, with “a motion of satisfaction, the inscription she added to the tombstone; she had Troy’s body buried by Fanny’s. She listens to the children singing a new hymn, “Lead, Kindly Light,” and is moved to weeping as she thinks that the little children cannot understand the import of the hymn.
As she weeps healing tears that are “a luxury” and not “a scourge,” Bathsheba senses Oak’s presence. He has come to choir practice and does not want to disturb her, but she engages him in conversation. They regard the tombstone together. Then he asks if he might bring up a business matter. He wants to leave the farms, and perhaps England, in the spring when his contract is up and he hands Boldwood’s farm over to trustees. Bathsheba is dismayed; she expected him to stay as her neighboring farmer. “I would have willingly,” he says, were she not now so helpless. He goes in to practice. At home, Bathsheba wonders whether Oak has been avoiding her presence lately, though she hardly noticed. Weeks pass, confirming her suspicion, and Christmas comes again. Now Bathsheba has been legally widowed one year and is eligible to remarry. She receives Oak’s formal letter of resignation and weeps selfish tears. She has come to consider Oak’s love for her “as her inalienable right for life,” she realizes, and she is “bewildered too by the prospect of having to rely on her own resources again.” She feels that her life is “becoming a desolation.”
That evening, Bathsheba walks to Oak’s house. Oak lets her in, and awkward silence falls. She asks finally if he is leaving because she has offended him. “As if you could do that, Bathsheba!” he replies. Then why? Oak confesses that he has changed his mind because Bathsheba was so distressed at the idea of his leaving. He has bought Boldwood’s farm. Still, she will need a new bailiff now, because he cannot work for the woman he still hopes to marry one day. At first she objects, “Too soon”—but soon they confess their love in a sweetly comic scene. He hadn’t asked her to marry, he says, for fear of injuring her good name, but he has “danced at your skittish heels, my beautiful Bathsheba, for many a long mile, and many a long day.”
They walk back to her farm, talking business. They have no need for “pretty phrases” because they have the “substantial affection” of friends who know each other’s “rougher sides.” Romance has “grow[n] up in the interstices of a mass of hard prosaic reality.” This is the kind of love—of camaraderie—that is rare between women and men because they inhabit such separate spheres, but when it does exist, it is stronger than death and more lasting than passion.
Hardy’s readers would most likely have known the hymn that moves Bathsheba to tears, John Henry Newman’s “Lead, Kindly Light.” They would have instantly understood what makes Bathsheba weep. For today’s readers, too, the lyrics convey the deep regret Bathsheba feels; its sentiments mirror closely what she feels. Here are two stanzas of that hymn. Notice the emphasis, for example, on the prideful desire to choose one’s path regardless of the wisdom of one’s choice:
Lead, kindly Light, amid the encircling gloom,
Lead Thou me on;
The night is dark, and I am far from home,
Lead Thou me on.
Keep Thou my feet; I do not ask to see
The distant scene; one step enough for me.
I was not ever thus, nor pray'd that Thou
Shouldst lead me on;
I loved to choose and see my path; but now
Lead Thou me on.
I loved the garish day; and, spite of fears,
Pride ruled my will: remember not past years.
Ch. 57: A Foggy Night and Morning—Conclusion
Oak and Bathsheba marry secretly, though Oak does tell Jan Coggan, who “had been true as steel all through the time of Gabriel’s unhappiness about Bathsheba.” Not even Liddy knows till the morning of the wedding that it will occur. In a pretty recursion to their first meeting, when Oak observed Bathsheba looking at her beauty in the mirror while perched upon the wagon, she dressed her hair in the same fashion as she wore it that night. Rest has brought color back to her cheeks; she’s only, the narrator reminds readers, twenty-four, despite all that has happened. That evening, the villagers serenade the newlyweds, happy in their happiness.
Of Hardy’s novels, Far from the Madding Crowd is the closest to a romance, and it has the happiest ending. Though it is risky to read too much out of an author’s biography and into his or her works, critics often point out that Hardy was courting his first wife, Emma, during the time that he wrote this “sunniest and warmest” of his novels. The demureness and absence of destructively strong emotions that characterize the simple wedding and tea afterward, and the quickness with which the newlyweds take up their housekeeping and farms again, are sweet idealizations of life in a quiet countryside, where Hardy did much of the composition of this novel, a great deal of it, in fact, out of doors.