Setting yourself on fire takes time and requires you to look inward, and focus on rubbing your internal, invisible sticks together, and this is hard when bodywashes keep calling you out. But you must ignore the song of the bodywash. You must continue to look inward, and you must find a problem you can work on your whole life, a giant, almost-unanswerable problem, to set yourself on fire about. Once you do this, people will come, they must come, to warm themselves by you.
‘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.