In the novel Far from the Madding Crowd the main female role, Bathsheba Everdene, is pursued by three suitors, each of whom is very different from the others. These three men are Farmer William Boldwood, owner of the farm adjacent to Bathshebas, Gabriel Oak, bankrupt farmer who becomes Bathshebas shepherd, and later, bailiff, and Sergeant Francis Troy, a soldier whose regiment was close by to Weatherbury.
Each of the three suitors pursues Bathsheba in a very different style, each of which I will look at in this coursework, but, unfortunately for naïve Bathsheba she fails to choose the best for her, Gabriel Oak, when he becomes her first suitor. Only at the end of the novel does she make the obvious and correct choice.
The first character I will look at is Sergeant Francis Troy who came upon Bathsheba one night as she walked along the fir plantation, checking that all was well in the fields and paddocks, although Gabriel Oak had check before her. When Troy had become entangled with her, one of his first questions was Are you a woman?, to which Bathsheba replied, Yes. His immediate reaction was to compliment her by calling her a lady, illustrating his natural tendency to see most young ladies he comes across as merely objects for personal conquest. Flattery is of course his chief weapon in charming and conquering the female heart.
One of the main reasons that Bathsheba fell for him in the first place is her own vulnerability to flattery, as she is such a vain young lady. From this point on, on the occasions that he meets her, he continues to remark on how beautiful see looks, concentrating on praising her appearance. His first attempt at courtship was filled with nothing more than these praises as he quickly wormed his way into Bathshebas heart. His impressive skills at swordmanship astonished Bathsheba, as shown in the hollow among the ferns when she realised how sharp his sword really was as he manoeuvred it around her, and she suddenly found herself falling deeper and deeper in love with him.
There are a number of things which had attracted her to Troy, the most principal being the constant flattery and praise of her beauty. His sword skills in particular excited her and were a wonder, something totally different from the mundane ways of country life which surrounded her at present. His handsome appearance drew her closer and she found herself captivated by him. She was attracted by his superficial glamour especially the fact that he was a dashing Cavalryman, with his red jacket and shiny buttons.
From the start she was deceived by his appearance, knowing this inside herself by never admitting it. She had to ask other people about their relationship, for example Gabriel even though she rejected his advice to reject Troy and marry Boldwood, because she was so doubtful herself as to what was happening. His forwardness also intrigued her, always asking for another chance to meet her and the kiss he gave to her in the hollow in the ferns after demonstrating his swordmanship.
Their secret and hasty marriage shocked many of the townsfolk who had not known such an affair had been occurring and genuinely believed that she should have married Boldwood instead. She dismissed all talk that the marriage was to be doomed, and even stopped Gabriel from uttering a word about it, now I dont wish for a single remark from you upon the subject – indeed, I forbid it, and this shows how she did not wish her happy mood to be ruined.
This also shows her reluctance to face the reality of her situation and her refusal to face the truth that she had made the wrong choice. Even before her marriage, when she had first met Troy, she asked Liddy if she knew him and almost immediately Liddy warned her of him. She said that he was a wild scamp and Bathsheba immediately jumped to his defence, protecting him because she could not see his faults as she was so blinded by her infatuation with him. Liddy pleaded with her to forget about him, saying he was a liar and a cheat but Bathsheba eventually told her, after a lengthy bout of sobbing, that she was to keep her opinions to herself and try to understand what she was feeling.
Troy also had frequent outbursts with Boldwood on the subject of Bathsheba, before and after the marriage, in which we saw his humour in laughing at these country bumpkins of the village, for example Gabriel, Boldwood and the others who frequented the malthouse, who wouldnt know how to win the heart of a woman even if they spent years trying to. In fact, while he was playing around with Bathsheba, even after the marriage, he failed to realise that both Blodwood and Gabriel were deeply serious about Bathsheba and would never treat her the ways in which Troy would never have thought of. This shows Troys over-confidence in how he treats women, thinking that what he does is the best any man can do.
Later in the novel, we find out the real consequences of Troys earlier affair with Fany Robin, an employee of Farmer Boldwood. Troys relationship with her had ended up with he becoming pregnant, and to avoid embarrasment and a possible expulsion from his regiment, he agreed to marry her. He did not, however, do this immediately and atempted to stay away from her for a while, not asking his superiors if it was even possible. When he finally did agree to wed her, he discovered that she had arrived at the wrong church and had turned up too late and could not get married then, to Troys delight.
Fanny even followed him to Casterbridge, where she eventually died at the gates of the workhouse she was struggling to reach. Her body, weak and thin as it was, was taken to Bathshebas house and laid there for the night, child and all. When Bathsheba eventually did discover that Troy had jilted another woman and left her holding a baby and facing a life in the gutter, she was too shocked to do anything and when she finally did talk to him, some truths about him had become apparent. She began to notice, even though she was been told before by her friends, that he had a number of vices, one of which was his gambling, something which she didnt notice until they got married.
He often borrowed money from her to spend at racehorse tracks and almost always lost. Another was his drinking problem, which led to his irresponsibility. On return to the farm as its new owner, he organised a wedding celebration at which he got himself and all the simple rest i.e. the workers drunk. As a result, it was up to Bathsheba and Gabriel to save the ricks from burning while everybody was sleeping. These showed his true nature as an inadequate husband, thinking that he didnt have to bother flirting with Bathsheba anymore now that they were married.
His final vice, and it turned out to be the most important, was his love of women. As Liddy has told Bathsheba, he was a “womaniser” who had “countless women under his thumb” and didnt care a bit about how they felt, as long as he got what he wanted, especially when it came to leaving them. It became apparent later it the novel that his one true love was indeed Fanny Robin, the girl he had left for dead. When he tried to pay back the debt he felt he owed her by buying a gravestone for her, as well as laying flowers by her graveside, the weather destroyed what he had done, leaving him to believe that because of his abandonment of her he had been damned forever, and even worse he now abandoned a second woman, his wife Bathsheba.
When he disappeared after he had been presumed dead, he did not return for at least seven months and this shows his lack of concern for Bathsheba. At one point before this, he had become bored with her, and even said this to her face, “You are nothing to me – nothing,” showing that he was not serious enough about their marriage.
The second character in the novel which I shall look at is Farmer William Boldwood who is a great contrast to Troy, a first he seemed not to care for Bathsheba at all. From the time when Boldwood had ignored her in the market-place, until he sent the Valentine card he had no interest whatsoever in Bathsheba. He was perceived as a cold, distant figure who had become cynical about women. But when the card was sent, he found himself falling wildly, and eventually madly, in love with her. He talked to Bathsheba for long periods at a time, often interrupted by a jealous Gabriel, but he was mistaken in thinking that she really did want to marry him. She discouraged him as gently as possible, her heart swelling with sympathy for the deep-natured man who spoke so simply. Bathshebas simple Valentine card joke had tragically triggered off deep and dangerous passions which neither she nor Boldwood were aware of.
She eventually told him to wait and he would tell him her answer in a month or two and before this time was up, she had come to like him and enjoy his company so much that she might possibly have married him, until Troy arrived. When he heard that this man had taken his Bathsheba away for him, he swelled with anger. He often confronted and challenged Troy, barely able to control his rage. In all he was too serious about his relationship with Bathsheba, believing that she should be his, and paying no attention to her private feelings. He was basically utterly selfish in his love for her. The intensity of his passions for her was very strange and some people feared for his mental health, especially since his grand-father was said to be a bit queer in the head.
When Bathsheba did finally become involved with Troy, Boldwood confronted Bathsheba, pleading with her to reverse her decision not to marry him, but she obstinately refused.
After Troy disappeared, being presumed dead, Boldwood saw this as his big chance to win back Bathsheba, his obsession for her reaching a peak. Up until six months before Christmas Day, he pestered her, urging her to accept that she was a widow and now free to marry him. When she said that she would think about it until the day she agreed to give her decision, he steered well clear of her, feeling that being in the way more could affect the outcome of her decision. Unknown to her, he was making secret wedding plans as if he was certain of what her decision would be, or perhaps his obsession with her would not allow there to be any other answer.
When Troy finally returned that fateful night, Boldwoods desperation for Bathsheba caused him to reach for his shotgun, his mental instability clearly showing itself. After this, Boldwood was promptly arrested, charged with murder and sentenced to death, though this sentence was later quashed on the grounds of insanity. I think that Boldwood would have made a very good husband for Bathsheba if it were not for Troys interfering causing him to feel rejected and finally cause him to lose his sanity completely.
The final suitor, Gabriel Oak, is the first person that we meet in the novel and was the first to attempt to woo Bathsheba. He started the novel as a simple shepherd, and first saw Bathsheba as she was on a wagon laden with items of furniture, and after a few brief meetings (in one of which she had saved him from suffocating in his shepherds hut), he went to her aunts house and asked her aunt if he could marry Bathsheba. Bathsheba, of course, refused as she had only known him a week or two, and this shows Gabriels bluntness and haste in dealing with affairs of the heart. He believed that he could simply ask her and then she would be his, but after his rejection he simply gave up and further public attempts to win her and for most of the rest of the story simply adoring her privately, from a distance. After she had left, an accident occurred which left him with no sheep, all of them forced off a cliff by his dog. In order to pay the money which he owed the man from whom he had purchased the sheep, Gabriel had to sell his land, leaving him with only the clothes he was wearing.
Once he had left his now ruined past, he journeyed to a hiring fair at Casterbridge, where he heard someone mention that Weatherbury, the place Bathsheba had settled, was only five or six miles away. So he left for Weatherbury, and on the way he happened to help stop a fire which was raging through some hayricks and when he asked the woman farmer if she wanted a shepherd, it turned out to be Bathsheba. At this point I think that he decided that maybe his life was reaching a high point, so he asked Bathsheba if she needed a shepherd to which she accepted. I think that he felt since he would now become more involved with Bathsheba, he may have another chance to prove to her how good her would be for her.
Careful not to put himself in a position where he could miss a job opportunity, he decided to show no romantic or emotional interest in Bathsheba for the moment, and from this point onward. Gabriel is regarded by Bathsheba as her confidant, whom she asks advice for whenever she needs it, especially about Boldwood and Troy. At several places in the novel, Gabriel does indeed become very close to Bathsheba, for example the sheep-shearing where they both worked in silence beside each other but these seem to be always interrupted in some way, mostly by Boldwood, anxious to see Bathsheba again, much to his disapproval. Though he tries to hide it and cope with it much more calmly, Gabriel is just as infatuated with Bathsheba much more so than Boldwood, the difference being that Boldwood is very persistent and demanding, Gabriel simply accepts defeat and appears to give up, though still holds a flicker of hope in his heart. He patiently waits until the time is right and until Bathsheba is ready to accept him as the husband she needs.
It is easy to see why Bathsheba rejected him when he asked to marry her, the main reason being that, in her youthful naïveté and romantic fantasies, she did not want to be tied either to him or the mundane duties of a housewife. The glamour of a wedding appeals to her, but not the life of dull domesticity which follows. A simple shepherd was not her ideal husband and she obviously wanted someone better than that. He was also very unspectacular, a simple man with simple ways who shows very little flair in the things that he does. He is also foolishly and naively presumptuous, expecting Bathsheba to say yes the instant he asks her to marry him. He thinks that the pursuit of love is a simple and straightforward affair; but in this novel he discovers the opposite is true.
At different parts in the book, Gabriel does rise out of the shadows by helping Bathsheba when no-one else will or is capable of helping. For example, the blasted sheep incident which gets him his job back and the burning ricks he and Bathsheba put out when Troy got everyone else drunk.
In conclusion, it is obvious which one of these three male suitors was right for Bathsheba and that man is Gabriel Oak, who loved her genuinely, tenderly and patiently from the moment he first saw her to the very last line of the book. He had never given up on her, had never let her be harmed in anyway and always gave her advice which was sound and right, even if she refused to accept it. In the end, Bathsheba admitted to him that if he had only been more forward then he would have been he first choice if it had even come to that.
Troy was obviously the worst possible husband for her because of his gambling, drinking and womanising vices, but mainly because he still loved Fanny Robin. Bathsheba had just been a passing fancy whom he quickly tired of. Boldwoods relationship with Bathsheba was much more genuine and acceptable at the start but tragically it became a fatal obsession for poor desperate Boldwood. Gabriels relationship with her was a lengthy one, tried and tested, totally unselfish. Bathsheba was indeed very fortunate that Gabriel was patient enough to wait until she matured enough to recognise his good qualities. As in most good stories, the best man wins in the end.