‘She had never taken kindly to the idea of marriage in the abstract’ –Thomas Hardy, Far from the Madding Crowd

Until she had met Troy, Bathsheba had been proud of her position as a woman; it had been a glory to her to know that her lips had been touched by no man’s on earth—that her waist had never been encircled by a lover’s arm. She hated herself now. In those earlier days she had always nourished a secret contempt for girls who were the slaves of the first goodlooking young fellow who should choose to salute them. She had never taken kindly to the idea of marriage in the abstract as did the majority of women she saw about her.…That she had never, by look, word, or sign, encouraged a man to approach her—that she had felt herself sufficient to herself, and had in the independence of her girlish heart fancied there was a certain degradation in renouncing the simplicity of a maiden existence to become the humbler half of an indifferent matrimonial whole—were facts now bitterly remembered. Oh, if she had never stooped to folly of this kind, respectable as it was, and could only stand again, as she had stood on the hill at Norcombe, and dare Troy or any other man to pollute a hair of her head by his interference!

—Thomas Hardy, Far from the Madding Crowd, Chapter XLI

Bathsheba Everdene is the most puzzling character in Far from the Madding Crowd, but with this passage, Thomas Hardy really clarifies her motivations. Too bad it arrives forty-odd chapters into the book, but if one’s read this far, it comes as a well-deserved prize to find this little cribsheet stuck between the pages.

Bathsheba and Troy, her husband, have been quarreling over his previous relationship with the ill-starred Fanny Robin, and this passage brings to the fore her regret over marrying at all.

I love self-sufficient people, but reading about them is always a lot more interesting than meeting them, because it’s so hard to find common ground on which to converse. Bathsheba in this passage bemoans the loss of her self-possession and how she has degraded herself through marriage. It’s a pretty revolutionary stance to take, and I think this is why it only comes after we’ve read two-thirds of the book: it would make no sense if we had not already gotten to know Miss Everdene, both through her prior steadfastness against marriage and her latterly regretted indulgence of it.

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