Analysis of Thomas Hardy’s Treatment of Rural Life in "Far From the Madding Crowd"

Born and brought up in the country of Doressetshire, the heart and soul of Wessex, Hardy had a thorough and accurate knowledge of the life and the people – in every details of the landscape, meadow, wood, hill, dale and of the vocation of his farmers, shepherds, woodlanders, dairyman and the dairymaid. Being absorbed in the Wessex history, tradition and folklore, his Far From The Madding Crowd excels in rural features, life, customs habits, manners, language etc of Weather bury, Caster bridge, Norcombe etc.

First, we get in it a detailed account of the rural occupations followed by the country people. Farming and the rearing of sheep are their principal occupations. Both Bathsheba and Boldwood have farming land, and at the same time, own flocks of sheep. Farming involves the rearing of crops like wheat and barley, and the harvesting of these crops. Rearing of sheep involves tending the sheep, ensuring safe delivery in the lambing season, sheep washing, sheep shearing etc. Gabriel Oak was originally a shepherd though he has now turned a farmer. Later on he has to serve as a shepherd and then as a bailiff to Boldwood as well as to Bathsheba. Oak’s duties as a bailiff are to supervise the work connected with farming and the tending to sheep. He is himself a very skilled shepherd, an adept not only in handling sheep during the lambing season and in shearing them, but also in performing a delicate operation on the sheep when they are poisoned, for instance, by grazing in a field of young clover.

Thomas Hardy
Haymaking is another rustic occupation, an occupation in which Sergeant Troy also takes a part just for fun. Hiving of bees too is one of the essential occupations of the country people, an occupation in which Bathsheba has sufficient skill. Hardy gives us very vivid and detailed pictures of the country workers engaged in these occupations. These descriptions show Hardy’s minute and careful observation of country life. The pictures given by him of sheep – shearing, sheep washing, hiving the bees, harvesting, haymaking etc. are very realistic and elaborate.

Hardy does not omits the various fairs held in the country. Every Saturday was a market day in Casterbridge and Farmers do gather in the market place to transact business. In these Saturdays, there is business discussion, bargaining, selling of crops etc. Boldwood and Bathsheba also attend the auctions. Again, a gathering known as the hiring fair took place annually in the town. All kinds of laborers assemble at the fair in order to seek, employment in various capacities. Agricultural laborers, carters, Waggoner’s, thatches, bailiffs – none is missing in these fairs.

The annual sheep fair at Greenhill is most picturesque. Different kinds and different breeds-horned sheep and hornless sheep, blue flocks and red flocks, buff flocks and brown flocks, even green and salmon tinted flocks are assembled. Each flock was looked after by its dog as well as by its shepherd. During the fair, brisk buying and selling took place. If shepherds come from far distance, the buyers too cover a long distance.

Hardy further elaborates the recreations and entertainments of the rustic people. There is a reference to a game know as prisoners Base, and to the shearing supper given by the owner of a farm to the workers at the end of the shearing. Similarly, there is a reference to the supper and dance held to mark the end of the harvesting. Sometimes a farmer might give a Christmas party like the one given by farmer Boldwood, though he gave this party for a special reason.

Barring there seasonal entertainments, there is gossip and drinking like the pastoral tradition. The workers of Bathsheba for instance, gossip informally and drank freely at their free hours at the local Malthouse – Talking of miscellaneous subject, of their ancestors, of each other, of their employers and betters, of births, of matrimonial alliances, of death, of every little parcels of lives. All of their rustic talks unrolls unconscious droll humors. With their peculiarities, eccentricities drink addictions and dullness Joseph Progress, Mark Clark, Jan Coggan, the old Maltster are living in our drawing rooms.

With all the artistry of marry making, harmless boastfulness, and grotesque humor, the rustics in the novel give us a magic spell of pastoral elegance. All of these country festivals, fairs, vocations and vacations really set us far away from the madding stuff of city life to the peaceful domain of pastoral exuberance.