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 tenour of their way.
"ELEGY WRITTEN IN A COUNTRY CHURCH-YARD" By Thomas Gray (1716-71)
The next read for The Jane Austen Tea Society in our current plan of British Victorian Authors is Far From The Madding Crowd, Hardy’s first major literary success.
Thomas Hardy was born June 2, 1840 in a small hamlet called Higher Bockhampton which is located in the southwestern English county of Dorset. His childhood was filled with a wealth of deep influences of culture and locale. From their two-storey brick and thatch cottage, Thomas Hardy naturally absorbed a love for literature from his mother, who although she had only served as a maidservant and cook loved to read Latin poets and translated French romances.
His father, a self-employed master mason and building contractor, had descended from an old Dorset family tracing back to the Isle of Jersey in the1400s and was an avid violin player who passed along his love of music to young Hardy.
Thomas Hardy’s childhood very much revolved around literature, music, the local church and life in a rustic rural setting – all of which translated into the body of work that the author became renowned for and for which he was much loved by his devoted readers.
Years ago when I was finally able to put aside the college textbooks and night times taken up with study and homework, I set out on a personal journey to read through the classics… All the ones I felt that I had missed while locked into a “school system plan” that unfortunately was a fairly Austen-free zone. Now that my reading choices were my own I delved into the Brontë sisters, Victor Hugo, Alexandre Dumas, of course – Jane Austen and… Thomas Hardy.
I didn’t lose my heart to Hardy the way I did to John Keats but his writing style totally captured my mind. His word-crafting is sublime and the wise reader will keep a dictionary handy if your love of words is equal to your love of story.
Thomas Hardy wrote six novels that were an achievement of great British literature - Far From The Madding Crowd (1874), The Return Of The Native (1878), The Mayor Of Casterbridge (1886), The Woodlanders (1887), Tess Of The d’Urbervilles (1891) and Jude The Obscure (1895).
Far From The Madding Crowd was chosen for our current read because it was a novel of several "firsts" for Hardy. Besides being his first major success it was his first novel to include his invention of Wessex. Pastoral settings figure significantly into Hardy’s works combined with the loss of a known rural security as the Industrial Age began to change lives. As a setting for his novels, Thomas Hardy resurrected the ancient medievel Anglo-Saxon kingdom name of Wessex and it was – as Hardy described it – a “partly real, party dream” country that occupied a place in the Southwest or Dorchester region of England.
Far From The Madding Crowd first appeared anonymously as a monthly serial in the Cornhill Magazine and its rich language of place and people has the acute ability to take the reader on an atmospheric journey that is full of humor and life lived close to the rural hearth and home skillfully combine with the tragedies and twists of fate that befall the common heart.
Our next High Tea and book discussion will take place on Saturday the 21st of January, 2012 at 1pm. There is plenty of time to walk the lovely path that this book offers. Don’t pass this Thomas Hardy masterpiece by and miss the experience!