Far From the Madding Crowd
(Penguin World Classics, 2000)

Rosemarie Morgan

Hardy never saw his manuscript version of Far From the Madding Crowd in print. Nor have his readers, until today. This edition brings into publication for the very first time Hardy's own original words just as they left his pen -- just as they appeared on his editor's desk, prior to alteration and serialisation in the Cornhill Magazine in 1874.

Customarily, manuscripts were not returned from publishing houses to such obscure authors as the anonymous creator of Far From the Madding Crowd of 1874. Consequently, it may have been inconvenient for Hardy not to have recovered his original text for making revisions to post-Cornhill editions but it was by no means unusual. What did strike Hardy as extraordinary was that it turned up, many decades later, in 1918, in the London offices of his former Cornhill publishers, Smith, Elder & Co. "How surprising that you should have found the MS," he wrote to Mrs reginald Smith, "I thought it 'pulped' ages ago. And what a good thought of yours, to send it to the Red Cross, if anybody will buy it." (See Collected Letters, V, 243-4).

But no such dignity of disinterestedness unhanded the creative act itself. Hardy was still applying revisions to the "Wessex" topography of Far From the Madding Crowd as later as 1912. And despite a certain collapse of vision in re-viewing a world now remote in memory and imagination -- a collapse most noticeable in the inconsistency of his revisions to the progressive indirection of Gabriel Oak's stature and centrality -- and despite the fact that he never had his original work to hand over the years, Hardy did endeavour to restore something of his first intentions, his intial integrity and candour, to volume editions of the novel.

The "restoration" itself was a matter of integrity. The original manuscript version, submitted for serialisation in the Cornhill -- which subsequently provided the copy-text for all later editions of Far From the Madding Crowd up until the present day -- had, after all, been severely compromised. And although he had learned much about publication politics from his editor, Leslie Stephen, in the month-by-month process of editorial criticism and censorship, Hardy never lost his fierce contempt for all forms of "tampering with natural truth," as he put it some fourteen years later in "The Profitable Reading of Fiction." Indeed, the focus of his post-Cornhill revisionary work says as much: whereas his late-century topographical revisions were purely pragmatic, now that "Wessex" had begun to emerge, by the 1890s, as a fully unified microcosmic construct, in his earlier revisions he sought, primarily, to recover the "natural truth" of his original text. His later typological revisions were largely what I would call "prophylactic", notably in the case of adjustments to Oak's loss of authority and stature (manly authority was closely associated with virility in the Victorian mind), which shrinks rather inconveniently towards the end of the novel in line with his diminishing centrality. But Hardy's very first attempts had been to restore something of Far From the Madding Crowd's original candour. It was imperative that the "things which everybody is thinking but nobody is taken up and treated frankly" -- and for Hardy this included such unmentionable "things" as female sexuality, illegitimacy and, in the case of Fanny Robbin, the moral innocence of the unmarried mother commonly outcast as a fallen woman in the world of the Victorian reader.

Leslie Stephen's first reaction to Hardy's work had been one of sheer delight. He knew nothing of Hardy's experimental if somewhat graceless polemic on class privilege entitled "The Poor Man and the Lady, A Story with no plot: containing some original verses" (1868: rejected for publication by Macmillan). Nor had he heard of the melodramatic, plot-driven Desperate Remedies (1871) which Hardy had undertaken on the advice of well-meaning publishers who had not overlooked the unquestionable literary promise in The Poor Man and the Lady while deploring its highly questionable disdain of audience, readership and market. But in coming across Hardy's second published novel, Under the Greenwood Tree (1872), Stephen was utterly charmed. Without further ado he sought out the name of its anonymous author and wrote to say that he had been filled with "great pleasure" by the "admirable" descriptions of country life -- surely such writing would please the readers of the Cornhill Magazine as much as it had pleased him? Hardy was, at that time, in the throes of completing A Pair of Blue Eyes (1873), his third published novel. He responded, even so, to Stephen's invitation to submit a story for serial publication by sketching an outline of a "pastoral tale" comprising "a young woman-farmer, a shepherd, and a sergeant of cavalry" -- a rural tale most eminently suitable, in Stephen's opinion, to a popular periodical of the Cornhill's high cultural and literary standing. Thus, with but a few rough chapters in hand, Stephen commissionmed Far From the Madding Crowd, Hardy's fourth published novel, virtually sight unseen.

Hardy was first and foremost a poet. Coventry Patmore, one of the most popular poets of the Victorian era, genuinely regretted that A Pair of Blue Eyes had not been written in verse, that "such unequalled beauty and power should not have assured themselves the immortality which would have been impressed upon them by the form of verse." The devices of rhythmical. figurative and metaphorical language, together with the strategies of symbolic action, embodiment, metonymy and so on, all came naturally to Hardy. Equally, his usages were innovative and his ideas nonconformist. Heedful of practicalities he placed himself dutifully in Stephen's hands fully prepared to meet editorial demands for more generally accepted literary forms. And where the demands related to chapter organization, story-plotting or the special needs of serialization, Hardy was more or less compliant; but where they conflicted with what he called his "higher aims" or his deep-seated iconoclasm he was apt to pay lip service to convention and a considerably heavier debt to repression. Yet, despite this spirit of compromise, his continuing and often unwitting transgression of social and moral boundaries eventually taxed his editor's patience so sorely that he simply cut and deleted as and when he saw fit, with or without the author's permission.

The transgressions were sometimes as minor as the inadvertent naming of an unmentionable item of anatomy ("buttocks"), or the inadvertent touching of bodies (Bathsheba's hand on Oak's waist), or too free a use of the Lord's name, or even a neologism here and there ("emotional," "feminality") -- which Hardy's Victorian critics were to scorn as cheap and nasty and the Oxford English Dictionary was to enter into its lexicon. Less innocuous, and more systematically purged from the manuscript by the slashing editorial pencil, were Hardy's insouciant references to female sexual desire, whether they were made lightheartedly by the rustics or in earnest by Bathsheba -- as in discussing her "wantonness" (in modern parlance, sexual playfulness) in conversation with Oak. Without the benefit of hindsight, in these instances, Stephen inferred a simple ignorance of the proprieties in this new and unused novelist (Penguin editors, without my permission, have here substituted "inexperienced" for my "unused", but given that this is Hardy's fourth published novel it is not "experience" exactly that he lacks. I would rather suggest that he is not yet "used" to the strictures of a puritanical editor).

Certainly Hardy was lax, given the literary conventions of the day which insisted on the presence of a censorious voice, or a moralising narrator, to assist in the acceptance and preservation of prevailing socio/sexual codes and values. Inclusion of these internal "censors" seems to have been anathema to Hardy. At any rate he included them on occasions too infrequent or too slight for the purposes of the novel's edification -- a moral edification that was still of paramount importance to people in high places in the 1870s. Thus it was that in a final exasperated editorial swoop Stephen excised Far From the Madding Crowd's most flagrant of all transgressions: Hardy's poignantly tender delineation in the manuscript of Fanny's last sleep with her stillborn babe in her arms.

Far From the Madding Crowd is, in many respects, the precursor to Tess of the d'Urbervilles (1891), with the role of Tess split between the trusting homespun girl (Fanny) seduced by the untrustworthy "blue-blood" (Troy), and the courageous, self-determined girl struggling to make her way in a world made by men for men, played by Bathsheba. Unlike Tess, however, Bathsheba is by birth middle-class, by education accomplished, by inclination innovative, daring and adventurous -- conversely, vulnerable, unguarded and rash. And unlike Tess, she is a farmer -- a farmer being the province of men, according to Oak and his compeers. Thus she is repeatedly subjected to judgmental views, to public scrutiny of her private life, to superstitious belief and sexual prejudice, as also to the prevailing laws of matrimony which deprive her of her property and the entitlements she had earned in her own right which are now assigned to her (thriftless) husband upon marriage. And in her complexity, in her youthful contradictory impulses, in her self-protective hauteur born of fear and insecurity, in her sexually-challenging excitement and self-unseeing recklessness, she is rarely free of male censure both within and beyond the novel.

Yet, as literary tradition has it, to be put on trial-of-conscience in this manner is the test of a monolithic consciousness. Hardy's major heroines invariably find themselves up against the trial and judgement of the dominant class in this way -- emotionally and psychologically endangered in a representative Victorian world in which the skills of self-preservation (physical, mental, intellectual, political), are devalued in women; in which premarital sexual experience ends in a woman's ruin or in compulsory marriage; in which class and sexual dominance combine to consolidate a formidable male power-threshold on which man's superior social status turns -- the power that inevitably galvanises the erotic.

Victorian women did not of course lack sexual power. But in contrast to men, social codes and practices gave recognition either to their sexual power or to their class power but very rarely both in tandem. Culturally speaking the one was doomed to arrest the other. It is not simply, though, that the male "wolf" is a creature of superior class in Hardy's world. It is also that, despite being doubly empowered by virtue of class privilege and masculine authority he still hungers after the female life-force -- the woman's secret energy and vital intelligence -- to the ugly point of feeding upon it and mutilating it.

A Pair of Blue Eyes was the first of the Wessex novels to introduce this dissonant element into a pastoral domain traditionally associated with birth and renewal -- the regenerative world of nature. Undoubtedly a vital force and, moreover, a supreme agent of that strange enchantment which inspirits the Wessex universe, Hardy's pastoral world remains, primarily, a place apart into which characters enter as if by magnetization and depart as if by expulsion, hurt and hurting, angry, injured and sad. Disillusion, deep disturbance, and often irretrievable loss follow re-entry into this particular ancestral village. For many returning natives, notably Frank Troy, Clym Yeobright, Grace Melbury, Jocelyn Pierston, and even (symbolically) the "pretender" Alec d'Urberville, such re-entry enacts a physical return to the place of origins where, in some way or another, they no longer belong.

This process of relocation and dislocation parallels, in turn, Hardy's own imaginative "return" over the years, which, in psychoanalytic terms, serves to "integrate" his own be-longing, whether it be his own loss of the past, his haunted sense of untraceable origins, or his unconscious yearning for the irrecoverable maternal abode of infancy. The interiorisation by "covering" or "inwrapping" of so many of his more significant dwellings in Far From the Madding Crowd, reinforces the idea that his Wessex construct, as a reconstruction of the world of his birthplace, imaginatively resurrects the vanished world of natal origins -- the maternal space or "enwombed" (his word) abodes from the long-lost distant past. Bathsheba's own "homestead" (IX), for example, is not only covered by velvety-soft mosses and (architecturally) faced with finely-detailed features but is also actually spoken of as a "body" almost in the same breath that it is "effaced as a distinct property." In this sense, Hardy's unerring imaginative "return" to his reconstructed place of origins renews the attempt to recreate and complete -- thus to integrate -- the configured original native state. Aesthetically and psychologically this configuration shapes the body-construct of Wessex which, itself, undergoes constant expansion and re-vision continuously throughout the twenty years of Hardy's growth as a novelist and loss of youth, as a man.

But if A Pair of Blue Eyes introduces the first of many variations on the fraught theme of relational inequity and dissonance in Hardy's novels, Far From the Madding Crowd breaks this ground fully with "Wessex" and all that it connotes in terms of a "partly real, partly dream-country" -- a country abounding with natural harmonies and riven with incongruent, disparate elements. Almost by chance, it seems, and arriving oddly late in the novel's composition during the penultimate serial instalment for November 1874, "Wessex" is invoked for the very first time (derived from ancient Anglo-Saxon kingdoms), just at the point when all the principal characters are about to converge on the very same prehistoric spot, at Greenhill, but will converge as disparate entities. They will do little more, by way of connection, than graze each other's consciousnesses. That is to say, what will become the great unifying construct of Wessex is inaugurated in this early novel at the very point when the central characters are most disunited.

Inadvertently or otherwise, the disparities are apposite. At one level Far From the Madding Crowd follows the relatively simple folkloric plot of an unconventional young woman's struggle as a farmer whose fortunes are complicated by the passions of three very different men: the loyal, dependable, straitlaced Shepherd Oak; the ascetic, repressed, obsessively-ardent Farmer Boldwood; and the "fallen" aristocrat turned rogue male, Sergeant Troy. But at another level this multilayered text offers "a high intellectual treat," as R.H.Hutton described it -- albeit, in the context, simply, of the book's learned wisdom.

Hutton was looking for enlightenment, or what Victorians would have called edification. And if Hardy's dissident moral universe did not always provide this particular philosophical comfort, his abundant array of literary, classical and biblical allusions almost certainly did. These were "high intellectual treats" indeed. Invariably thought-provoking, frequently ironised, and often delightfully picturesque, it was not necessarily the aptness of the allusion or the brilliance of the literary analogue so much as its familiarity as part of a shared cultural heritage which excited the interest and pleasure of Victorian readers. The more esoteric the allusion, the more intense the reader's bright moment of recognition; the more ironic the implications, the greater the reader's satisfaction and pleasure -- even the unschooled were familiar with bible stories and classical mythology. Therefore, at a very fundamental level of cultural familiarity, when Cainy Ball's "pore mother" -- being neither a "Scripture-read woman" nor a churchgoer -- makes a mistake at his christening and wrongly names her infant son "Cain" because she had thought "t'was Abel killed Cain" (from the Genesis story, 4:1-15), Hardy's readers would have been thoroughly entertained. Humour depends very largely upon an audience's sense of its own prior knowledge.

Such biblical allusions by unlettered folk would, in life, have been garnered from religious sermons, the rubric of Christian church services, Sunday schools, and the (current) popular bible-reading gatherings that took place in private homes.Within the Weatherbury world, Hardy's rustics mediate these dialogues at several levels, but primarily by invoking the biblical text in a seemingly knowing and edifying manner while remaining unaware that their allusions are either misbegotten or utterly irrelevant. It follows, not infrequently, that while they provide an unstoppable flow of irony and amusement within and beyond the novel, the humorous implications of these disorderly allusions cannot but help extend into the realms of satire. Cainy Ball's "Genesis" story, for example, touches subtly on what will later become an aspect of Hardy's radical iconoclasm: his satirical attack upon the rituals of organised religion. For just as Cainy's heretical name "could never be got rid of in the parish," and henceforth enforces its own mythic potency and mother-"right," and just as the village parson, who, try as he might, remains powerless to alter the consequences of his own baptismal rites, thus powerless to enforce Christianity's mythic potency, so a quietly subversive point emerges: it is no longer Cainy Ball's insouciant "heathen" mother who seems absurd in her beliefs but the self-righteous Christian pastor himself.

The allusion thus works on several levels. There is the "recognition" level: this invites readers familiar with the Genesis myth to participate in the story-telling process, to enjoy a pleasurable moment of shared assumptions, to give a nod and a wink to inside knowledge. Born of this, there is the satisfying experience of cultural fellowship. Then, at the "intellectual" level, there is the "treat," for those who are looking in that direction, of challenging those shared assumptions (notably the manner in which the Genesis story influences church dogma), which are now restored to their original narrative base not in sacred writings but in folk-culture, in oral history: the "Cain" story is retold as another "Cain" story and becomes a paradigm of the story-telling process.

This manner of assimilating religious doctrine to folk-culture, of implicitly devaluing the former in favour of the latter, of subverting Christian belief systems to pagan mythologies, and of pointing a critical finger at the Judaeo/Christian God, may be a theme which later develops more forcefully in Hardy's poetry but it remains, nevertherless, an important philosophical route to such mature Wessex novels as Tess and Jude. In Far From the Madding Crowd Hardy's allusive approaches to this theme are made, more often, with a quieter irony. A good example is Levi Everdene's rather unorthodox invocation of the Seventh Commandment (VIII), which allows him the fantasy and illicit sexual pleasure of committing adultery with his own wife (see also note 16, VIII). Alternatively, there is Hardy's direct allusion to Exodus 17:6 (see also note 4, XXVIII): here the Lord's command to Moses to strike a rock on Mount Horeb from which water will stream for the Israelites to drink, intersects, narratorially, with the intensely erotic moment of Bathsheba's first kiss with Troy which brings "upon her a stroke resulting, as did that of Moses in Horeb, in a liquid stream -- here a stream of tears."

In both cases, irony is implicit in the misapplication of sacred writings to secular matters, in the misalignment of judgemental moral decree and human sexual passion, in the clash of religious orthodoxy and cultural heterodoxy. And the remedial function of the allusion, in that it may also serve to straitjacket transgressive erotica with the strong arm of "The Word of God," remains no less ironic for the fact that it legitimises, by means of a palimpsestic reading of sacred script, the very thing it affects to indict. In effect, erotica enters through the (textual) back door, so to speak -- yet another high intellectual treat.

At another level of allusive implication, the absurdity of the comparison, most apparent in Hardy's use of mock-heroic allusions, often serves to draw the reader into a complicit relationship with the narrator and, in turn, into sympathy and affection for the character currently under scrutiny. When, for instance, the new, young mistress of the Everdene estate rather nervously and a little imperiously begins her payroll activities for the very first time, and when "the remarkable coolness of her manner" takes on the "proportionate increase of arrogance and reserve" shown by "Jove and his family" when they moved from "their cramped quarters on the peak of Olympus into the wide sky above it" (X), so the light mockery of this allusion invites the reader's indulgent smile. There is something delightfully absurd in the comparison -- the young woman-farmer rising up the social scale/the mighty Jove ascending to the stars. And the absurdity amuses, in this instance, because the twinned images fascinate by virtue of being not quite identical. Unlike the purposefully inapt relation set between Moses on Mount Horeb and Bathsheba in the Hollow of Ferns, which possesses no bewitching twinning effect, the Jovian allusion provides a recognisable analogy: the act of exaggeration makes the analogue possible.

Any form of irony which apprises its audience of circumstances, events, and situations unknown to the character, tends to empower readers to a sense of omnipotence and, consequently, to an emotional generosity and a compassion for the human struggle in perspective. Thus, where the light mockery invites a smile it also invites complicity -- not least because this is a smile Bathsheba might also laughingly share with us, in regarding her self-importance at this moment. The same could also be true of Gabriel Oak, when caught in a similar situation of petty pride. When for example, he decides never to play the flute in Bathsheba's presence because it distorts his features -- his "eyes a-staring out like a strangled man's" -- he is aligned, at this moment, with "the divine Minerva herself" who, according to mythology, invented the flute but discarded it because it distorted her features (see note 32, VIII). Although this allusion lacks Hardy's customary wit in conjuring delightfully absurd comparisons, it does halt the reader for a brief moment to focus upon Oak's conceit. This, in turn, prompts the recollection that in his first view of Bathsheba, in the looking-glass sequence, Oak had judged vanity to be an innate fault in women. Thus readers are apprised of his sexual double-standard which he could, perhaps, regard in a passing moment of good-humoured self-mockery as an innate fault in men. "Perhaps" is the key word here. And in raising a doubt or two in the reader's mind, the allusion serves the added purpose of contributing a breadth and depth of understanding to individual human characters and their situations.

Hardy's allusions, then, operate at several different levels, sometimes leavening the effect of the narrator's stance in deflating the heroic, sometimes reconciling apparent contradictions or conveying, by indirection, an incongruity of meaning, while at other times attracting readers into a complicit relation with the narrator and character in view, or simply adding a new dimension to characterisation, and at all times inviting readers into the story-telling process. But there is one further aspect worth mentioning here. This is the pictorial aspect. Very many of Hardy's allusions are, in fact, quite clearly and simply pictorial enhancers designed specifically to address the interest of the educated reader.

When, for example, in the shears-grinding scene (XX), Oak is said to stand "somewhat as Eros is represented when in the act of sharpening his arrows," the implications, aside from the sexual symbolism attached to Eros, are purely iconic, in terms of their function as visual intensifiers. It happens thus. Eros (otherwise Cupid), the boy-god of love and young son of Venus, is traditionally depicted with bow and arrow; he is said to wet with blood the grindstone on which he sharpens his arrows. This is the image depicted in a host of art works. And one of the most popular of these, in Hardy's time, was Raphael's suite of thirty-two pictures illustrating the adventures of Psyche -- the beautiful maiden loved by the boy, Eros, but visited by him only at night; forbidden to seek out his identity, Psyche one night steals a look at him while sleeping; he awakens and flees; she is then enslaved by Venus and treated most cruelly; when these trials end the lovers are wed.

So it was, that from Shakespeare's Midsummer Night's Dream (which calls up "Cupid's strongest bow"), to Rafael Mengs' painting, "Cupid Sharpening His Arrows," to the statue of Cupid stringing his bow (at the Louvre), or sleeping (Rome), or mounted on a tiger (Negroni), to the array of Cupids in literature (Horace, Ovid, Apuleius, Moliere), and to the designer-saturation of Cupids on Victorian mantlepieces, drapes, and even tableware, that, pictorially speaking, Hardy was drawing upon a shared cultural heritage of unquestionable familiarity, interest and pleasure to his Victorian contemporaries.

The same pictorial effect occurs with his allusion to "Flaxman's...Mercury" (XXXVIII). This invokes the painter, John Flaxman (1775-1826), whose engraved line drawing entitled "Mercury Conducting the Souls of the Suitors to the Infernal Region," depicts a scene from Homer's Odyssey where Mercury (messenger of the gods), is leading Penelope's suitors off to Hades. While Odysseus was absent during the Trojan War, Penelope was beseiged by many suitors; upon his return, with the help of his son, Odysseus killed them. Flaxman's drawings, engraved by William Blake, were widely admired in Hardy's day (equally, Homer), and thus provided him with a source of vivid serial images which could be instantly evoked in the minds of his contemporary readers at the drop of one brief allusion. Precursors of cinematographic images, they had the effect of "stills." In their allusive capacity they rely for their effect upon their imagistic pervasiveness within the culture -- just as, say, the Mona Lisa (from Da Vinci's painting in the Louvre to the lyrics of folk-rock to the cinematography of Monty Python), figures pervasively in twentieth century Western culture.

As in the Eros allusion where no apt analogue exists (Oak is not a boy-lover furtively pursuing sensual pleasure in the woods at night), the Flaxman set of "stills" bears only the loosest relation to Hardy's story which focusses, at this point, upon the abashed workfolk emerging from their night-drinking with Troy. The bathos inherent in the comparison introduces a mildly comic aspect, but ultimately the allusion functions in common with all others as a form of extratextual dialogue conjoining the reader to the actual process of story-making by virtue of recognising and sharing a common cultural ancestry.

In an important iconoclastic sense, then, Hardy draws upon the disparities between folklore and intellectual history, between oral and literary culture (the two "Cain" stories/the tale of Everdene's "Seventh"), in order to accentuate their historical confluence and their mutual ancestry, born not of mortal or divine events in the real world but of the human imagination. When R.H Hutton spoke of "a high intellectual treat" he was not to know, at that early point in Hardy's career, quite how intellectually inventive, or quite how iconoclastic the Wessex novels were going to become. Although, in terms of stylistics, he might well have perceived that Hardy's experimental modes of stylistic incongruity, genre-crossing and indeterminacy -- modes now commonly regarded as typical of his intellectual challenge to traditional narrative form -- were already taking shape in Far From the Madding Crowd. And among them, the newly-invented Wessex construct -- itself the embodiment of the clash between the traditional and the experimental -- was not only taking shape in this early novel but also proving to be, even in its period of gestation, conspicuously central to Hardy's pluralistic organisation.

Encompassing the fresh and verdant charm so keenly sought by Leslie Stephen, and so rhapsodised as "idyllic" by those contemporary critics looking in the same direction, "Wessex" provides a dual correspondence not only to the myth and magic of a Golden Age world but also to the "strife" which is absented from Hardy's title but re-presented in the story proper. Here, in thematic dislocation from its Golden Age origins in Thomas Gray's poem, "Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard," which begins: "Far from the madding crowd's ignoble strife," Hardy's re-presentation of strife shapes his Wessex construct in several ways. For instance, the degree to which the human dilemma of, say, relational discord, makes its impact upon the reader, depends in part upon its manifestation in nonhuman (natural world) forms. And if these dissonant nonhuman forms remain, at first sight, relatively hidden -- the lambing season arrives late, the bee-swarming (for honey-making) is irregular and unruly -- their ultimate emergency lays bare the symbiosis between human and nonhuman disorder in no uncertain terms. In the event, the least hidden of these emergencies coincides with the most public of "strife" manifestations in Bathsheba's personal life: as late summer storms, in the outside world, wreak havoc on her crops, so there is chaos on the inside as her husband wreaks havoc with her workforce, driving them drunk and insensible.

And at a broader symbolic level Hardy also places his Wessex construct at the centre of a purposeful anomaly (or anti-pastoralism), as when the verdant pastures where sheep may safely graze transform into grotesque death traps. In effect, the deadly temptation to which nature's creatures are susceptible provides a close correspondence to the grotesque incongruity of conflicting passions in human affairs and humanity's collisions of desire and self-destruction.

By implication rather than by direct correspondence, "ignoble strife" also shapes the novel's underlying philosophical forms: the irrationalism underlying human consciousness, the surreal nature of human imagination, and the absurdity of the human condition (later to feature importantly in the ontological direction of Hardy's oeuvre). The agency of this implicit correspondence is frequently the "rustic chorus," the working community at the hub of Hardy's "partly real, partly dream country." Personifying, at the evolutionary level, the incoherence and indeterminacy of the natural world and, at the existential level, the collision between the meaninglessness of existence and the needs of the human spirit, Hardy's rustics suscribe to a lopsided form of philosophical determinism as a kind of spiritual anodyne. Drawing upon belief systems from the outside world, as much to give significance to all that is incomprehensible as to give a semblance of order to all that is disorderly, they not only spout biblical sayings with all the studious piety of a Watch Committee and all the inexactitude of a Mrs Malaprop but also invoke pagan beliefs in almost the same breath. Thus local superstitions, traditional omens and ancient portents intersect with Ecclesiastes and Job providing a delightfully incongruous series of signs pointing the way, quite arbitrarily, towards Destiny -- or, at any rate, towards some kind of incoherent but controlling power to which humanity can attribute the absurdity of the world and the folly of its own actions.

In line with these exchanges Hardy also adopts a stylistic collision of modes not altogether uncommon in non-literary areas of Victorian cultural inscription. To cite a popular example: when the specific curvature of a piano leg is matched to the erotic body and correspondingly adorned with lacy fripperies we (if not Victorians) might well speak of incongruity, an outright collision of modes (public/private; esoteric/exoteric), made all the more emphatic by a contemporary fashion which de-emphasised the female leg (not to mention female undergarments) virtually to the point of disappearance. Less titillatingly, a comparable collison of modes appears with the inscription of Gothic design upon technologically-advanced works of engineering, or delicate filigreework upon hulking iron manufactures, or the festooning of the new sewage-disposal system of the 1860s, the innovative water-closet which, unlike the earlier earth-closet, sported rosebuds and lilies within its recesses.

Genre-crossing of this kind came naturally to Victorians -- possibly reflecting, in aesthetic forms, their consciousness of living in what was popularly known as the "Age of Transition" -- caught between an age already dead and another not yet born, as one contemporary put it. At any rate, in the literary sphere such genre-crossing attracted no special attention: melodrama could intersect with psychological verisimilitude within a single narrative event, extravagant symbolism could enter a naturalistic alignment, and naive sentimentality could coexist with sophisticated brutality and violence.

Even so, Hardy's own style of genre-breaking did attract negative attention. It was not his breaking of "pastoral" conventions, most noticeable in the first part of the novel where "shepherd" and "milkmaid" disappear from their original setting and reappear in different permutations of themselves (somewhat anticipating the theme of The Well-Beloved, 1897). Nor was it the incongruity of his mock-heroic touches -- that Oak, in the disagreeable and un-heroic event of losing an argument with Bathsheba might be aligned with Moses leaving the presence of Pharoah, or that in the mundane arrangement of her payroll activities Bathsheba might be aligned with the auspicious "thesmothetes," or lawmakers, of ancient Athens. These incongruities, being but the stuff of irony and amusement, delighted readers from all walks of life willing to indulge an obvious absurdity. Rather, it was, once more, a question of decorum. Class boundaries were not properly observed: Oak and the rustics got too much above themselves in the quality of their material belongings, powers of articulacy and "profane-minded familiarity with the bible." Sexual boundaries were not observed: the "good shepherd" of traditional pastorals and biblical mythologies, which Hardy subtly juxtaposes with Oak's alternative role of the ambitious, industrious, "self-improver" of modern times, proved too much for some Victorians for whom the marriage of "pastoral virtue" with insubordinate womanhood of the upcoming liberation era, clashed uncomfortably with prescribed roles and cultural forms. Bathsheba was, for Henry James, unpleasantly "coarse," for others, a shameless "hussy" and Gabriel Oak should have known better than to marry her.

The genre-crossing at this point reflects, in part, Hardy's lifelong attempt to break with the prescribed literary tradition of the happy ending and to embrace, instead, the indeterminism of its dissolution. The crossing may seem one of romance and realism, but these terminologies, being both generic and loose, are themselves already crossed. It may be more precise to speak of the kind of abstention Hardy himself understood as passing beyond, or breaking with, prevailing concepts of coherency, consonance and even consciousness itself. To his way of thinking notions of a coherent universe, or of consonance in sexual relationships, or that consciousness operates as the prime agency of understanding and knowledge, all collapse in the face of a presuppositionless philosophy. Presupposing, in this instance, that immemorial love culminates in getting-married-and-living-happily-ever-after, presupposes a consonance in sexual relationships. It also presupposes a coherency of forms, ideas, ideologies, conventions and, of course, human institutions. Moreover, in Victorian terms, it also presupposes a coherent universe. For, from the most personal and private of forms (sexual relationships), through the most public and social of forms (matrimony), to the eschatological coherency of forms essential to the presupposition that (earthly) marriages are made in a (divine) heaven, the last call is necessarily upon a fundamentally coherent universe.

Hardy abstains from framing his world with such presuppositions. And in this sense alone he crosses from traditional narrative form to something approaching the surrealistic forms of the twentieth century in which the imagination is freed from such conscious controls. In the case of breaking with the novel's "happy-ending" this becomes a freeing from the conscious controls of literary influence. Given this framework, neither the pastoral genre, even at its most idyllic and harmonious, nor the anticipated "happy-ending" romance of traditional literary genres, succeed in overriding the dissonant voices at the closure of Far From the Madding Crowd. Imagistically the "happy ending" disappears in any case from the reader's perspective. All the attentive reader is left with is a shadowy configuration of two blurred figures setting out for matrimonials obscured in gloomy mist -- and this, crowning the story's end in a concluding "wedding" chapter entitled "A Foggy Night and Morning." Likewise, as far as the narrative voice goes, the same purported "happy ending" disappears under the incongruity of utterances. The first of these intones a biblical verse speaking of a "love as strong as death" -- itself a travesty of the original which celebrates, in The Song of Solomon, a woman's lust for the male body -- while the second mocks the entire performance with Joseph Poorgrass's comically irrelevant biblical quotation from Hosea which declares it all "might have been worse."

Thus, the controls of influence are artfully abused. And, correspondingly, the incongruity of the convention, both literary and matrimonial (as "happy ending"), comes full circle with its recovery of the novel's most uncompromising comment, voiced most uncompromisingly by Frank Troy. These are the words that will later form the foundation of an important theme, for Hardy, on the denaturing, by institutionalisation, of human love relationships. But for the moment, only his non-compliant "wicked soldier-hero" may openly frame the words -- that "All romances end at marriage."


NOTES are omitted here