I just recently read Far from the Madding Crowd, by Thomas Hardy, and, as far as I can tell, it has one unforgivable flaw–it just isn’t as good as the movie based on it.
I can’t exactly bring myself to talk only of the book without mentioning the movie, but since this is a book review and not a comparison of the book and the movie, I’ll content with this:
I watched the movie first (the 2015 version, with Carey Mulligan and Matthias Schoenaerts), and the main reason I liked it is because of Mr. Oak, who is the human manifestation of everything good and right in the world. I, therefore, had reasonably astronomic expectations of him going into the book. The book didn’t exactly deliver, and I’m left with a bland sense of having been cheated by a person who isn’t what I thought he was, and who doesn’t even exist.
Alright. With that off my chest, I can now talk about the book.
(Small spoilers ahead. Nothing major–just small plot points, like who proposes to whom, and what their answer is. Nothing big.)
The novel itself is interesting enough, if you don’t mind long descriptions of the landscape and machinery of the time period, and if you like to read page-long ramblings of minor characters that contribute little or nothing to the plot or development of the book.
Also, Mr. Hardy seems determined to spend more time detailing the two uncomfortable and unsuccessful relationships in the book than he spends creating the one that all his readers are reading the book for.
It’s just a little anti-climactic and unromantic for what I think is supposed to be a romance novel.
Call me a teenage girl.
The heroine of the book is one of those people that you don’t really approve of but are forced to root for, either out of obligation to the protagonist or because she’s being mistreated by someone you hate more.
It took me about half the book to not dislike her.
That being said, she does develop into a character that merits empathy–or at least pity. She ends up falling in love (unwillingly) with a slimy man with a mustache (which would be excusable if he also had a beard, but he doesn’t) who steals a lot from her, figuratively and literally.
And then she has to deal with a certifiably insane man who’s obsessed with her.
But this is after she’s been a twit, slighted said crazy person (thereby causing him to fall in love with her), and denied the only man in the novel who’s really worth anything at all, so I also think she’s brought it on herself.
She’s a compelling character, I’ll give her that. I just can’t decide if I like her.
This poor man would be fine if Bathsheba would just keep her little vanity-covered nose out of everything.
But she doesn’t, and she drives him crazy. Literally.
He doesn’t pay any attention to her in the beginning. He’s a business-man, and he doesn’t care about anything but business. And that’s fine.
Injured by his refusal to think that she’s beautiful and amazing, Bathsheba promptly sends him a flirtatious valentine, leads him on for a little while, and then denies him when he proposes. Or maybe she denies him and then leads him on.
I don’t actually remember.
In any case, this is why I don’t like her.
Except that right after all this, Sergeant Troy happens, and then I have to pity her.
This is the aforementioned character who only exists to make us pity Bathsheba.
The one with the inexcusable mustache.
Also he’s greedy, manipulative, childish, and cruel, and he ruins one woman’s life and makes a strong attempt at ruining another’s.
But the mustache is the worst thing.
I know I said I wouldn’t talk about the movie anymore, but I can’t help it.
In the movie, Mr. Oak is, to quote Jane Bennet, “just what a young man ought to be.” He’s kind, humble, and wise. He has a sort of unshakable loyalty to the girl he loves, but he’s never weak. He works for her, protects her, and advises her, but he doesn’t follow behind her like a dog on the leash. He respects her, and he commands her respect.
Also, he’s played by Matthias Schoenaerts, who looks like a mix between Viggo Mortensen and Apollo, the god of light.
His only flaw is that he falls for Bathsheba, who is sometimes just the worst.
Comparatively, the Mr. Oak of the book is a major let-down. There are aspects of his character that are still strong and noble, but he has the dog-on-the-leash problem, as evident in this excerpt:
“His dog waited for his meals in a way so like that in which Oak waited for [Bathsheba]’s presence, that the farmer was quite struck with the resemblance, felt it lowering, and would not look at the dog.”
Hardy literally compares him to a dog.
Basically, he has a kind of doting weakness that I can’t really stand, even though I think Hardy’s intention was for Oak to be a strong character. And in places, he really is–at times, he displays an admirable strength of character.
That weakness, though, always seems to pop back up.
So really, I think the movie portrayed Hardy’s character than Hardy did.
The basic message of this post is this: you can read the book if you want to, but you really might as well just watch the movie.
I don’t often say that about literature, but there it is.