This book was my first by Thomas Hardy and I can’t say I loved it. It’s the story of Bathsheba Everdene, a strong-willed woman who runs a large farm in rural Wessex, and her three suitors, mainly Gabriel Oak. There were things that I liked about it but, on the other hand, quite a few things annoyed me and made it a hard to read book.
Because the book is set in a mostly agricultural community, Hardy does his best to describe the admittedly beautiful-sounding scenery and he certainly does it justice. I enjoyed the passages dedicated to the green fields, the woods, the little villages… but that’s not a surprise. The glorious English countryside and its seasonal changes have a large part in the book. However, I got tired of the long, detailed descriptions of farming practices, sometimes obscure ones, and this really slowed down my reading.
My main issue with the book is that I didn’t care for any of the characters. At all. Bathsheba was strong and independent and I admit it was nice to see this kind of woman in a novel written and set in the 19th century. But I also thought she was annoying and often silly. As the plot moved on, she became more and more irritating and by the end I was basically rooting against her.
Gabriel Oak I suspect was written to be the nice guy, and he was just that but, he was also boring. He was patient and stoic and capable of great love and he spent his evenings reading and praying and he was just nice. This fact also made the plot pretty predictable; I just knew that because he is the nice guy he would forgive pretty much anything and just be there for Bathsheba and take care of everything and just be nice. It’s actually a toss up who I disliked more, Bathsheba or Gabriel.
The other two main men in the book were slightly more interesting because they are more peculiar; I liked both better that Gabriel but I still was not invested in anyone’s story. I liked Troy’s character better; he was the bad boy and I found him more interesting. He saw himself clearly and he accepted his bad qualities. Boldwood was just the weird one, I mostly felt sorry for him.
I was surprised that by the end of the book what I most enjoyed was the simple people of Weatherbury and their funny conversation where they share local gossip and their opinions. At first their strong accents made me a tad tired but once I got used to them I looked forward to their little interruptions of the main story.
So, my first experience of Hardy was a bit painful and disappointing. I am willing to read some more of his works so if you have any suggestions please share them in the comments.
A little passage that I liked:
“You were nothing to me once, and I was contented; you are now nothing to me again, and how different the second nothing is from the first!”