‘He would as soon as thought of carrying an odour in a net’ -Hardy, Far from the Madding Crowd


‘Yes, I suppose I should,’ said Oak, absently. He was endeavoring to catch and appreciate the sensation of being thus with her, his head upon her dress, before the event passed on into the heap of bygone things. He wished she knew his impressions; but he would as soon as thought of carrying an odour in a net as of attempting to convey the intangibilities of his feeling in the coarse meshes of language. So he remained silent.

—Thomas Hardy, Far from the Madding Crowd, Chapter III
Gabriel Oak has just been saved from carbon-monoxide poisoning in his
shepherd’s hut by Bathsheba Everdene. I love the simple metaphor of
“carrying an odour in a net.” It shows a deep appreciation for the
role of language and figure. It is such a simple metaphor, but it is
obliged to be, because it is standing for this simple feeling that he
cannot adequately describe in words. And odors, well, just reading the
book brings all kinds of wonderful country scents to mind.
In another touch of genius, Hardy plots to combine a near-death
experience, which naturally inspires a certain amount of reflection in
the participant, with the overwhelming time-stood-still sensation of
love at first sight. Gabriel hesitates with his head on Bathsheba’s
lap not only for the intimacy it portends, but for the catastrophe he
has narrowly averted.