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Thomas Hardy’s fifty-seven chapter pastoral novel, Far From the Madding Crowd, endeavors to catalog love identifying all of its varied forms in hopes of distinguishing between selfish and selfless love. Using rhapsodic prose, elevated diction, and a succinct writing style, Hardy beautifully identifies distinct models of love to which he ultimately leaves to the audience to assess and label. The most assiduous and perceptive reader might even juxtapose Plato’s theories on love, written about two thousand years prior, and Hardy’s pastoral opus together to find several overlapping models. Hardy depicts three disparately dissimilar suitors, Gabriel Oak, Farmer William Boldwood, and Sergeant Francis Troy, in pursuit of one comely dame, Bathsheba Everdene. Through his masterful use of diction, prose, and style, Hardy concisely portrays Bathsheba’s varying suitors and their traits, sequentially identifying several of love’s deviating patterns and ultimately enlightening the readers on love’s to main forms.
Farmer Boldwood’s character marks the introduction of the second division. Boldwood possessed a selfish affection for Bathsheba, obsessing himself with only her beauty and elegance. He exhibited his love in outwardly expressing his jealousy, often making impossible demands of Bathsheba. “‘I feel that I do,’ said Bathsheba; ‘that is, if you demand it. But I am a changed woman-an unhappy woman-and not-not–” (347). This exchange between Bathsheba and Boldwood demonstrates how despite her obvious discontentment with her situation, he ignores her and continues to press her in order to achieve his desired goals. He does not want to tame her, rather own her beauty, brandishing it as a trophy for all to see. Paradoxically, Hardy’s portrait of Boldwood foreshadowed the outcome of his love for Bathsheba: “The phases of Boldwood’s life were ordinary enough, but his was not an ordinary natureâ€¦.If an emotion possessed him at all, it ruled him; a feeling not mastering him was entirely latent. Stagnant or rapid, it was never slow. He was always hit mortally, or he was missed” (118). Boldwood’s obsessive love, synonymous with Plato’s mania or “smothering love,” supplemented by his originally deranged nature subsequently consumed him (Thomassie 8). Plato distinguishes, and Hardy affirms, Boldwood’s love as being “trademark of ‘Fatal Attraction love'”, a “possessive, dependent, [and] jealous love” (Thomassie 8). Hardy’s depiction of Boldwood’s mania towards Bathsheba directly contrasts Gabriel’s agape.
Likewise, Sergeant Troy’s love of and marriage with Bathsheba was selfish in nature. Troy never loved Bathsheba. He tricked her into marriage, wanting to be with her only because she was beautiful and because he could. Similar to Boldwood, Troy wanted to brandish her as a prize, a token of a true womanizer. During their marriage, Troy was often insensitive and shallowly indifferent towards Bathsheba, frequently spewing harsh words at her:
“Ah! don’t taunt me, madam. This woman is more to me, dead as she is, than ever you were, or are, or can be. If Satan had not tempted me with that face of yours, and those cursed coquetries, I should have married her. I never had another thought until you came in my way. Would to God that I had; but it is all too late! I deserve to live in torment for this!” (281).
Hardy dyes Troy in dishonest colors directly contrasting him with the righteous Gabriel. “â€¦Troy’s deformities lay deep down from a woman’s vision, whilst his embellishments were upon the very surface; thus contrasting with homely Oak, whose defects were patent to the blindest, and whose virtues were as metals in a mine” (180). Furthermore, Plato’s “flirtatious, teasing love” ludis abridges Hardy’s portrayal of Troy’s selfish love (Thomassie 6). Ludis, “a fleeting type of quick romance,” epitomizes Troy’s ideas of love and romance, which he believes to end with marriage. Troy’s portrait of ludis joins Boldwood’s negative mania and together they clash with Oak’s agape.
The novel’s conflicting theme of selfless love versus selfish love is epitomized in Hardy’s portraits of Bathsheba’s suitors. Gabriel’s agape reflect his sincere love and desire to please Bathsheba. Boldwood’s mania mirrors his greedy desires of having a comely dame at his right hand. Troy’s ludis symbolizes his game-like perception of love and romance affirming his status as a womanizer. Ultimately, these portraits serve as Hardy’s conjectures on love, highlighting that Hardy believes in the success of a selfless love guided by fate.
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