Far from the Madding Crowd

Far from the Madding Crowd Study Guide

Far From the Madding Crowd was first published in 1874. The fourth of Thomas Hardy’s novels, it marked a turning point in his career as his first major success; it was the second novel which he published under his own name (his first two publications were anonymous). In the early 1870s, Leslie Stephens (the father of author Virginia Woolf) was the editor of the Cornhill Magazine, which had a good reputation for publishing literary works. Stephens read Hardy's second novel Under the Greenwood Tree and admired it, so he tracked down the author and asked Hardy if he would be interested in writing a novel to be published in the Cornhill.

Hardy agreed, and began writing the manuscript in September 1873. As was typical for Victorian fiction, the novel was published in a series of sections (installments), with a new one appearing every month in the latest edition of the magazine. The first installment was published in January 1874, and the last in December of that same year; Hardy seems to have completed the manuscript by August 1874. The installments were accompanied by illustrations. After the commercial success of the novel, Hardy gave up his former career as an architect in order to focus full-time on writing.

Far From the Madding Crowd is also significant for being the first of Hardy's novels set in the fictional world of Wessex. Based on rural southwest England, the locations in Wessex can be identified with real towns and counties (for example, Hardy's town of Casterbridge shares distinctive features with the actual English town of Dorchester). The creation of Wessex introduces Hardy's interest in careful depiction of the rhythms of rural, agrarian life at a time when that way of life was becoming increasingly rare. Hardy’s sympathetic depiction of Fanny’s illegitimate pregnancy also signals his interest in critiquing standards of morality that condemned female sexuality; most notably, he would signal this public critique in his novel Tess of the D’Urbervilles (featuring a heroine who gives birth to an illegitimate child), which he subtitled A Pure Woman.

Hardy revised the novel heavily in 1895, and then again in 1901. The novel has been widely celebrated as a love story; for example, in 2007, it was included in the top 10 of The Guardian’s Greatest Love Stories of All Time. In 1882, Hardy wrote a stage adaption of the novel. The novel has also been adapted into film a number of times, with notable adaptations including the 1967 production starring Julie Christie, and the 2015 adaptation starring Carey Mulligan.