When I saw the movie adaptation of Thomas Hardy’s first novel, I had to work very hard not to laugh out loud. Maybe I’m just an awful human being, but the tragedy of the story (especially some of the crazy twists leading up to the book’s climax) basically always slipped into melodrama, making me doubt even an incredible actress like Carey Mulligan (who I am a little obsessed with).
But that was about what I’d expected, having read Jude the Obscure once and Tess of the d’Urbervilles one and a half times (once a few years ago, and the half-read a few years before that, while desperately trying to finish a presentation on the book and the Romantic era in literature. Pretty sure none of us read the book and also pretty sure we got an A. Sorry, Mrs. Briody!).
Anyhow, I’m still toying with the idea of re-reading Tess (for some reason), but I am apparently also a glutton for punishment, so I picked up Madding Crowd. And, reader, I…enjoyed it?
The first 200 or so pages, anyhow. Bathsheba was surprisingly clever on the page (not something I got from here on the big screen, somehow) and Madding Crowd, at the start, was beautifully readable. There’s no denying that Hardy knows how to write the hell out of a landscape (though, granted, his verbosity gets tedious after a few hundred pages, many of them unnecessary explanations of what sheep look like). And at the start of the book, I was very much taken with the wit in the narration and dialogue, and especially with the refreshingly clever Bathsheba (of course).
And then, we eventually meet Farmer Boldwood. Number one, if that surname ain’t a Freudian slip, I don’t know what is. Number two, I understand that I should expect sexism in every book I pick up for this challenge. Number three, I also get that maybe Bathsheba shouldn’t have randomly sent that anonymous valentine (girl, get it together).
But the reason I absolutely came to despise Boldwood is because his attitude exists to this day. Without spoiling Far from the Madding Crowd, let’s just say that Boldwood basically doesn’t see the joke in Bathsheba’s bizarre valentine to him, and then instead of being mad or shrugging it off, he begins to obsess over Bathsheba and will not rest until she agrees to be his wife. Two aspects of Hardy’s explanation here really bothered me: the fact that Boldwood’s behavior was played off as “a mind crazed with care and love,” as if stalking a young woman and causing bodily harm to another human being are completely plausible responses to rejection; and the fact that this shit still happens to this day. I was enjoying the sly sass and pastoral setting, but then I just couldn’t get over Boldwood’s characterization or his part in the plot. The melodrama in the last two hundred pages kind of killed it for me, too.
(I’m not even going into the Troy nonsense. I just can’t.)
Overall, I give this one a disappointed three out of five stars. If I had written this post a week ago, it would have been a perfect five (or at least a solid four). Damn you, Hardy, and your plot contrivances and dumb dogs running sheep off cliffs!
What do you think I should read next, book friends? I’m taking a short break from the classics to dive into Matthew Parker’s Goldeneye, but then I think I might start a theme within a theme (#themeception) and start reading the books that inspired the characters in Penny Dreadful. Thoughts?
#Classics2016 Count: 2