‘She was of the stuff of which great men’s mothers are made.’ –Thomas Hardy, Far from the Madding Crowd

Deeds of endurance, which seem ordinary in philosophy, are rare in conduct, and Bathsheba was astonishing all around her now, for her philosophy was her conduct, and she seldom thought practicable what she did not practise. She was of the stuff of which great men’s mothers are made. She was indispensable to high generation, hated at tea parties, feared in shops, and loved at crises. Troy recumbent in his wife’s lap formed now the sole spectacle in the middle of the spacious room.

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

This is one of the best-known Thomas Hardy quotes out there. Generally everyone loves a mother, and everyone loves finding something to say about a mother. I happen to see it as a little bit of damning-with-faint-praise: accomplish all this and the most you achieve is to have a future president or poet laureate slip from your womb? (Quick, can you name Barack Obama’s mother?)

Bathsheba is attending a Christmas party at Boldwood’s, when all of a sudden her presumed-dead husband appears and shatters Boldwood’s chances of marrying Bathsheba on the rebound. So Boldwood, taking his cues from R. Kelly’s Trapped in the Closet videos (or the Jimmie Rodgers–popularized ‘Frankie and Johnny’ song), does what any insane admirer would do and shoots his rival dead.

Somehow, in this one episode, Hardy manages to unite Bathsheba’s earthy practicality in love—as expressed in her reluctance to dally with the affectionate male gaze—with her earthy practicality as a small business–woman. She is the all-practical All-Star here, combining her unquenched affection for Troy with sure steps to save his quickly waning life.

It’s confusing, therefore, that Hardy then sets out to diminish her with the mother simile. Is it that her power over the narrative has reached such a point that he needs to undercut her authority in order to bring the book to a close?

Wrapping paper wrap-up

I wanted to share with you this nice piece of traditional Norwegian
wrapping paper that came with Peg, who you met a couple days ago on
the blog here. What I like about this is the absence of the roly-poly
bearded Santa guy who would be featured on American paper; instead we
have red-capped elves delivering presents and some kind of
cool-looking yak pulling the sleigh.

 (Aside: the red cap or Phrygian cap, is a symbol of liberty dating
back to the ancient Greeks, who would give them to freed slaves. When
the Nazis invaded Norway, they banned traditional red-cap imagery and
illustrators instead turned to alternately colored caps.)

 The other cool thing about the paper is the green-coated fellow who’s
shoveling snow. Hunched over his shovel, having cleared a 50-meter
path all the way from the front door to the road, he pauses for a
break only to encounter some sugar-intoxicated goateed elf careening
down the lane, cackling madly and tossing wrapped packages hither and
thither. His expression says it all: “Jul be back next year, I don’t
doubt it.”