Once upon a time, I fell in love with a book.
In one of the earliest chapters, there is a line that I continue to find breathtakingly beautiful. I have since committed it to memory:
The sky was clear, remarkably clear, and the twinkling of all the stars seemed to be but throbs of one body, timed by a common pulse.The imagery of that line continues to amaze and entrance me. When I read it, I am suddenly thrust into the scene, gazing up at the stars in awe. The idea that the night sky had a pulse, and was therefore alive somehow, struck something deep inside of me. To this day I continue to find a simple joy in gazing up at the stars on a clear night and trying to find that “common pulse.”
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Hardy’s background as a poet really shines through in this particular line of prose. The meter of the sentence makes it sound almost like a poem or a sonnet. I find it rather difficult now not to read the line aloud, because it seems to lose some of its beauty when kept in silence. The sounds of the words themselves seem to flow together, with Hardy’s use of open, round vowel sounds and fluid consonants like “l” and “m” and “s.”
The narrator’s tone throughout the entire novel is one that reminds me of a grandfather telling a story to his grandchildren. The language, though very descriptive and poetic, has elements of humor tossed in. The novel feels very friendly and easy to relate to. For instance, when the main character, Gabriel Oak, is falling asleep, Hardy describes it this way: "In about the time a person unaccustomed to bodily labor would have decided upon which side to lie, Farmer Oak was asleep."
To me, this line made Gabriel Oak a very relatable character and poked fun at the upper class. Those people “unaccustomed to bodily labor” are so picky, deciding which side to lie on to fall asleep at night. Gabriel, on the other hand, doesn’t seem to care in the slightest, and falls asleep very quickly. I feel connected to him somehow through this description of him, because I, too, have come home after a long day of work and fallen asleep almost instantly. I know through my connection to the character that he is a hard-working young man, and I admire him for that.
Hardy’s choice of names for each of his main characters intrigues me. Our leading man is called Gabriel, a Biblical name that isn’t uncommon. Gabriel is the name of an angel, and I can’t help but apply that imagery to the character in Far From the Madding Crowd. Gabriel Oak is kind, considerate, patient, watchful, spiritual, and almost angelic himself. His name lends to that image. Then there’s the leading lady of the story, Bathsheba Everdene. I’ve often had friends giggle at the sound of her name, because they remember the lady from the Bible with that same name, who seduced King David by bathing on the roof and ended up losing her husband because of it. Bathsheba, like her Biblical counterpart, is very beautiful, and even leads along several characters in the novel with that beauty. She, too, loses her husband to a jealous suitor. Her story is tragic, but she is redeemed in the end, and that’s one of the reasons I love this book so much.
I love that Hardy sends this message that infatuation is not love throughout the entire novel. When Bathsheba professes her love of Sargent Troy, the man who flattered her, she says “Love is misery for women always.” I always wondered why it was that Hardy had Bathsheba say such a thing. She was supposed to be blissfully in love, wasn’t she? Why would she say that she is miserable and in the same breath say that she was in love with Troy? It didn’t seem to make any sense. But now, after reading this novel several times over, I find that she says this because her idea of love does cause misery. Infatuation without real love does eventually lead to misery.
My favorite part of the entire novel is the end, when Bathsheba realizes that Gabriel is the only person who has been there through all of her trials, and falls in love with him. At the end of the novel, Hardy explains the necessity of camaraderie and fellowship in a relationship:
Where, however, happy circumstance permits its development, the compounded feeling proves itself to be the only love which is strong as death – that love which many waters cannot quench, nor the floods drown, beside which the passion usually called by the name is evanescent as steam.The word “evanescent,” means “temporary” or “short-lived.” I think that imagery and choice of words is absolutely beautiful. Hardy is saying that true love is not temporary passion, it is based out of deep, abiding friendship. It’s a beautiful message to send to people everywhere, and I think it is the main reason that I keep coming back to this novel.