Reading Hardy and Responding

One of my favorite phrases is “Far from the madding crowd’s ignoble strife.” It appears in Thomas Gray’s Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard. Because I use this line, and the shortened “Far from the madding crowd,” I have been asked many times if I have read Thomas Hardy’s novel Far from the Madding Crowd. Eventually I began to wonder about Hardy’s book: if a book uses one of my favorite phrases as its title isn’t it probable that I will like the book? And so I read it.

The following comments may contain plot spoilers about the book–so fair warning–though most of my remarks are not about the book.

It fascinates me that I chose to read Far from the Madding Crowd right now. It fits very well with my life experience in 2012. In fact, I have never identified more closely with characters in a book than I did with some of Hardy’s creations. At times the dialogue mirrored actual conversations I had so well that it caused me to remark out loud as I read it. It produced a mixed reaction. At times I would laugh at the similarities–at times I would feel sick. Regardless of the feeling, it left me thinking about some things that have been weighing on my mind.

We would like to believe that our love will not be called to die.

Killing love intentionally is a terrible thing. It hurts. Thankfully the need to kill love intentionally is not a common occurrence [1]. In stories the triumph of love is the expected outcome. We celebrate when love wins. Love is not meant to die, yet in life it often does. It is usually a slow death, brought about by neglect or distraction. A cold wind chills the heart. Eyes once fixed begin to roam. It is a form of entropy. Without input of effort, without input of energy, love will die. These instances are tragic. In these situations there are often distraction and oblivion as love dies. The real pain arrives later in realization. Sometimes, however, love must face a more intentional and necessary demise. One day the conclusion is reached: if you love her, let her go. In these cases the final act of love is to let go.

Letting go is the hardest thing [2]. It doesn’t feel heroic or good. It just hurts.

Free will means love might be called to die.

When love is sentenced to die I wish that the right thing to do was to hold on like Westley in The Princess Bride. He responds with “As you wish” when he is rejected. Years later when Buttercup is in trouble he rescues her because he never gave up on her. What a great story. Yet in life a decision must be respected. Devotion against someone’s wishes looks more like stalking than noble pursuit.

Life and love do not have maps.

In Far from the Madding Crowd love is called to die in three conspicuous cases. The responses of the characters to this verdict varies. None of the three exhibit behavior that I would endorse. Boldwood goes mad and kills someone. Troy lies and deceives. Oak lets go but follows [3]. What strikes me about these responses is that they are so diverse. The author infers that real love looks different than a mere passion. It is convenient that only one character exhibits real love. I think the book would have benefited from another noble foil. In life and love you will find millions of stories with different outcomes. Sometimes the same tactic results in disparate outcomes.

Miscellaneous Notes

I enjoyed Hardy’s writing very much. His comments about perception were interesting. I enjoyed the way he explained the cause or motivation for failures and problems. The characters in Far from the Madding Crowd are believable–they have a combination of good and bad, with the complexity and messiness encountered in real life. I wonder if the fact that Hardy was in a good relationship and about to be married factored into the tone and outcome of his book?

Disclaimers: I believe there is a major difference between love that exists between people in a marriage covenant and love that is between people outside of that covenant. My comments are not intended to apply to those who are married. While I have spent a lot of time thinking about these things, this post was written as a free flowing monologue and contains thoughts still under development. Life is serious, but I don’t take myself too seriously.

[1] I am speaking only of a noble love here. I think we must kill loves that are not noble on a regular basis.
[2] Based upon my experience this year I can say that it is far more difficult than writing a dissertation.
[3] I have a hard time believing that Oak could keep himself so carefully in check all those years and that Bathsheba would be okay with him in the picture when he initially shows up.

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