It’s Thursday, and we’re trying something new around here. Each week, we’ll feature one of the most highly acclaimed items in our collection, chosen from lists like the American Film Institute’s 100 Greatest American Films, The BBC’s Big Read, and School Library Journal’s Top 100 Picture Books. In addition to a quick review, we’ll make sure to include some fun tidbits about the book or movie and its creation. What can we say? We’re librarians – of course we love trivia.
This week’s selection is number 38 on the BBC’s Big Read survey.
Far From the Madding Crowd depicts the beauty and heartbreak of Victorian country life as only Thomas Hardy can do. It tells the story of Bathsheba Everdene, a beautiful young woman who inherits a farm, which she intends to run herself. At her side is her reliable shepherd, Gabriel Oak, a former farmer in reduced circumstances whose proposal Bathsheba spurns. For a hilariously condensed, but surprisingly accurate summary of the rest of the book, try this website.
Now for a few random facts:
- The title of the book is Far from the Madding Crowd, not Far from the Maddening Crowd. Be honest, at one point in your life (possibly until this very moment), you thought it was Maddening.
- Madding means “acting madly, or frenzied.” Another definition? “Maddening.” So don’t beat yourself up about it.
- The title was taken from Thomas Gray’s 1751 poem “Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard.”
Far from the madding crowd’s ignoble strife
Their sober wishes never learn’d to stray;
Along the cool sequester’d vale of life
They kept the noiseless tenor of their way.
- The title is probably ironic, since the country life that Hardy presents is far from calm and idyllic.
- In addition to multiple stage and film adaptations, the film has been adapted as a ballet, an opera, a musical, and a modernized comic strip.
- Henry James was not a fan of Far from the Madding Crowd, declaring that “everything human in the book strikes us as factitious and insubstantial; the only things we believe in are the sheep and the dogs.”
- On a related note, Gabriel Oak’s two dogs are called Young George and Old George. I find this delightful. Less delightful is the way that Young George thoroughly screws Gabriel over.
- Katniss Everdeen of Hunger Games fame was named after heroine Bathsheba Everdene. Why? Suzanne Collins has said, “The two are very different, but both struggle with knowing their hearts.
- Sergeant Francis Troy is one of the very worst men in literary history. Gabriel Oak is one of the best. That’s a fact, right?
I adore Thomas Hardy, but he’s not everyone’s cup of tea. Far from the Madding Crowd is a love story, and a surprisingly modern/feminist one at that. Just be prepared for a lot of death, suffering, and gorgeous descriptions of rural England along the way.