‘There is a breadth of vision in the free man which in the lover we vainly seek.’ –Thomas Hardy, Far from the Madding Crowd

In making this statement Boldwood’s voice revealed only too clearly a consciousness of the weakness of his position, his aims, and his method. His manner had lapsed quite from that of the firm and dignified Boldwood of former times; and such a scheme as he had now engaged in he would have condemned as childishly imbecile only a few months ago. We discern a grand force in the lover which he lacks whilst a free man; but there is a breadth of vision in the free man which in the lover we vainly seek. Where there is much bias there must be some narrowness, and love, though added emotion, is subtracted capacity. Boldwood exemplified this to an abnormal degree: he knew nothing of Fanny Robin’s circumstances or whereabouts, he knew nothing of Troy’s possibilities, yet that was what he said.

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

Consider the power of the novel, that in the space of half a thousand pages, it can bless us readers with characters to ponder over half a hundred years, or longer. Anna Karenina, from her eponymous novel, is endlessly fascinating! Consider, too, the power of reams of text to launch simpler characters toward ruin, then provide a kind of forensic meteorology on the gusting winds of their fate. In this book, Boldwood’s ship is about to splinter on the rocks of Troy’s cunning, a sad end with which we readers will soon be intimately familiar.

Farmer Boldwood is perhaps the most broadly drawn of the main characters in Far from the Madding Crowd, but the tragedy of his love for Bathsheba Everdene is the most keenly illustrated. This passage, which comes from Boldwood’s useless interview with Troy in order to get Troy to marry Fanny Robin and leave him the open road to Bathsheba’s heart, shows just how desperation, even desperate love, can be the saddest emotion of them all.

The contrast between the grand force of love and its all-too-narrow focus is something that also comes up (viewed from the other end of the telescope) in one of my favorite lines of modern poetry, from “Why Regret?” by Galway Kinnell.

Or when Casanova threw the linguine in squid ink
out the window, telling his startled companion,
“The perfected lover does not eat”?