Bathsheba Everdene, the heroine of the novel, is an intriguing character from the beginning of Thomas Hardy’s novel, “Far From the Madding Crowd.” Bathsheba is introduced in the first chapter along with Gabriel Oak. Though the two marry at the very end of the novel, their relationship at this stage as well as throughout most of the novel is turbulent.
Like all of Hardy’s characters, Bathsheba is inherently virtuous and is not in essence wicked. Nevertheless, she possesses characteristics which make her at times captivating while at other times abhorrent. It is these behavioral traits which cause the novel to be interesting and add new dimensions to an otherwise mundane plot.
Fundamentally, “Far From the Madding Crowd” is a romantic tragedy. Hence, a romantic novel requires a character who is attractive and whom others are vying to be with. That character is Bathsheba Everdene. From the onset of the novel, the first man who meets her, Gabriel Oak, falls in love with her.
Even Mr. Boldwood, who had previously never set his eyes upon a woman, became infatuated with her. Liddy, Bathsheba’s maidservant companion remarked about him,
“Never was such a hopeless man for a woman! He’s been courted by sixes and sevens — all the girls, gentle and simple, for miles round, have tried him.”
Foreshadowing a twisted and intriguing plot, Gabriel Oak remarks in the first chapter that though Bathsheba is beautiful, her greatest weakness is her vanity. This characteristic of hers influences many of her consequential decisions early in the novel, but soon dies away as she experiences the troubles and miseries of life.
The most memorable example of her vanity is in the first chapter when she looks herself in the mirror and blushes. This trait is further emphasized when Oak pays for her toll at the entrance of Norcombe Hill and she does not thank him.
After taking the management of her farm into her own hands, her workers express disdainfully that though she has little experience, she listens to no advice and thinks herself to be knowledge in all affairs. Henery Fray, one of workers says
“”A headstrong maid,1 that’s what she is — and won’t listen to no advice at all. Pride and vanity have ruined many a cobbler’s dog.”
Sergeant Troy, an impulsive and reckless man by nature entices Bathsheba due to this weakness of hers. As Hardy simply puts,
“He had been known to observe casually that in dealing with womankind the only alternative to flattery was cursing and swearing.
Bathsheba, as a result of the self-love of her charms, became a wretched victim to Troy’s flattery. Though her consciousness told her that Troy was a dangerous man not to be dealt with, her vanity caused her to be dazzled by him.
Ironically, Bathsheba’s marriage to Troy slowly usurped her pride. When Troy kissed Fanny Robin, the last instance of Bathsheba’s vanity was seen. On Fanny’s death, she prepared flowers for her husband’s ex-lover. On Troy’s disappearance, she agreed to marry Boldwood to whom she felt a moral obligation towards.
As a young milkmaid, Bathsheba’s wild and impulsive nature is her second most prominent characteristic. Like her pride and vanity though, this too also erodes with the passage of time. As Bathsheba grows older, she becomes more thoughtful of the consequences of her actions.
Gabriel visits her house at Norcombe Hill with the intention of asking for her hand in marriage. She is not home and her aunt comments about her,
“You see, Farmer Oak, she’s so good-looking, and an excellent scholar besides — she was going to be a governess2 once, you know, only she was too wild.
Almost as if they are prophetic3 words, her aunt’s characterization of Bathsheba is shown in the same chapter when she runs to tell Gabriel that she has no suitors but still does not want to marry him.
“Well — that IS a tale!” said Oak, with dismay.” To run after anybody like this, and then say you don’t want him!”
This characteristic is also later expressed when she, out of impulsiveness buys a valentine for one of her workers. And out of impulsiveness again, she decides to send it to Mr. Boldwood, a man of great respect and integrity. Glimpses of Bathsheba’s almost volatile nature are also brought out when she abruptly dismisses Gabriel and when she scolds her maids and her companion Liddy.
Another of Bathsheba’s prominent acts of impulsiveness is when she secretly tries to escape to Bath to warn Sergeant Troy. In the middle of the night, she obtains a horse from her stables and tries to quietly leave her farm. As Maryann, her maidservant says to herself, “A woman was out of the question in such an occupation at this hour,” because of the danger an expedition such as this posed to a woman. Bathsheba, a novice at traveling even miscalculated by a great deal the distance of the journey and time it would take her to get to Bath.
Early in the novel when Gabriel is suffocating in his hut, she, instead of becoming unnerved, throws milk unto an unconscious Gabriel and loosens his handkerchief to allow him to breathe. Months later, when Gabriel sees her as mistress of a large farm in Weatherbury, he is astonished at “the rapidity with which the unpractised girl of Norcombe had developed into the supervising and cool woman here.” Her abrupt dismissal of her bailiff, Pennyways, her decision to manage the farm herself and many other instances further enunciate this exceptional characteristic of hers.
Upon Troy’s harsh and inconsiderate words to Bathsheba, she runs away from home. Later, she realizes the folly of her act and tells her friend, Liddy that she has resolved that she will return home. Almost immediately, she starts her journey back home.
“It is only women with no pride in them who run away from their husbands. There is one position worse than that of being found dead in your husband’s house from his ill usage, and that is, to be found alive through having gone away to the house of somebody else. I’ve thought of it all this morning, and I’ve chosen my course. A runaway wife is an encumbrance to everybody, a burden to herself and a byword…”
This admirable characteristic is clearly depicted upon her husband Sergeant Troy’s death. As Hardy points out, “All the female guests were huddled aghast against the walls like sheep in a storm, and the men were bewildered as to what to do.” Bathsheba, on the other hand, was sitting upon the floor with her husband’s head in her lap. She was using a handkerchief to cover his wound and not allow the blood to flow. Upon Gabriel’s arrival, she immediately tells him to fetch a surgeon. Three hours later, when the surgeon arrives, he is astonished to see that everything has been arranged.
“It is all done, indeed, as she says,” remarked Mr. Aldritch5, in a subdued voice. “The body has been undressed and properly laid out in grave clothes. Gracious Heaven — this mere girl! She must have the nerve of a stoic6!”
Bathsheba is not a shy woman but still views her maiden purity with high regard. When Bathsheba’s personality is first introduced early in the novel, Hardy remarks about her,
“Had she been put into a low dress she would have run and thrust her head into a bush. Yet she was not a shy girl by any means; it was merely her instinct to draw the line dividing the seen from the unseen higher than they do it in towns.”
After Troy, the man she loves, kisses her, she is shocked and feels vulnerable and impure.
“That minute’s interval had brought … upon her a stroke resulting, as did that of Moses in Horeb7, in a liquid stream — here a stream of tears. She felt like one who has sinned a great sin.”
This characteristic of hers propels the plot forward in many cases. For example she tells Gabriel that she would like to have all the niceties of a marriage but does not want to have a husband. And though she regards Boldwood with high esteem, she does not want to marry him and keeps delaying the decision to do so. It is only Troy’s victimizing flattery, impulsiveness and her vanity that cause her to succumb to marriage.
Her regard for her maiden purity is associated with another desire of hers: her yearning to be independent. She tells Oak, “…nobody has got me yet as a sweetheart, instead of my having a dozen, as my aunt said; I HATE to be thought men’s property in that way, though possibly I shall be had some day.”
Like all of Hardy’s characters, Bathsheba is neither inherently evil nor possesses any malicious objective. Even Troy, the man who is deemed dangerous and untrustworthy, is not evil but rather lacks a moral compass to tell him right from wrong. The plot of “Far From the Madding Crowd” is propelled because of this characteristic of hers and often depicts scenes where Bathsheba is puzzled between morality and desires. Her decision to save Gabriel’s life, sympathize with Fanny Robin, and refusal to ignore an intruding Sergeant Troy are excellent instances of her high level of morality.
She sent her valentine to Boldwood on a whim without caring or thinking about its far-reaching effects. But after she realizes what it has done, she grieves for her mistake and tries in many ways to repent of her sin. Though she does not want to marry Boldwood, she does not want to reject him either, conscious of the fact that it was her actions which caused the love he had developed for her. She later agrees to marry him only because of this reason though every other instinct of hers tells her to do otherwise.
Bathsheba Everdene is an exemplary character in “Far From the Madding Crowd”. Though she has her faults and makes many wrong and disastrous decisions, she is always eager to correct her mistakes. Her good characteristics by far outweigh her bad ones and she is the most engaging and lovable character in the novel.