Far From the Madding Crowd is an 1874 English novel by Thomas Hardy. Though it was his fourth novel, it was his first major success, as well as the first to take place within his distinctive Wessex setting. The novel is still widely regarded as a literary classic to this day.
The story takes place in Wessex, a fictional, pastoral county of England. The protagonist is Gabriel Oak, a modest, rugged, salt-of-the-earth sheep farmer. He is smitten with Bathsheba Everdene, a beautiful, impoverished young lady who has just arrived in the area. He swiftly proposes marriage to her, a proposal which she (rather bluntly) rejects on the account that she does not love him. Later Grabriel's entire flock is destroyed, forcing him to go looking for work. He discovers that Bathsheba has inherited wealth and a substantial farm. He enters her employment as a lowly farm hand.
Bathsheba is delighted with both her newly found authority and sensation she causes wherever she goes. The only person she does not make an obvious impression on is William Boldwood, a stony faced, wealthy farmer. On Valentine's Day, she teases Boldwood with a Valentine's card. Boldwood misinterprets the card as proof of Bathsheba's true love for him. He quickly becomes obsessed with her, and yearns for her affection. Like Gabriel, he proposes to the young lady, and like Gabriel, his offer is dismissed. Gabriel protests to Bathsheba about her thoughtlessness. She fires him in retaliation, though it isn't long before she is forced to re-employ him, due to the fact that he is the only farmer capable of curing the sheep bloat that threatens her livestock.
During a night time journey, Bathsheba has a chance encounter with Sergeant Francis Troy, a dashing, handsome rogue. Though initially disliking the Sergeant, she quickly falls for his natural charm. The two elope, and on their eventual return, it is revealed that they have gotten married. Bathsheba discovers Troy is a cruel husband and a chronic gambler. He squanders her wealth, and she suspects that he has affections for another woman. The other woman is Fanny Robin, a poor, ex-lover of Troy. They were originally to be married, however Troy abandoned her when she mistakenly travelled to the wrong church on the day of their wedding. Now heavily pregnant, and with ailing health, Fanny attempts to make amends with Troy. She tragically dies during childbirth, alone in a hay farm. When Troy discovers the death, he proclaims his love for Fanny and leaves the farm. His clothes are later found discarded on a beach, and it is assumed he has committed suicide.
With Troy gone, Boldwood once again proposes to Bathsheba. Eventually, after much pleading, she agrees that after a period of six years, she will be prepared to marry him. He accepts this proviso. Troy, however, is not dead. After his disappearance, he joined a circus act, disguising his identity to the locals. When he discovers that Bathsheba and Boldwood has arranged to remarry, he drops his cover and interrupts a party being held by Boldwood. Bathsheba is astonished by his return. Boldwood, furious at the thought of losing Bathsheba, shoots Troy dead on the spot. Boldwood is consequently sentenced to death, though later his sentence is reduced to life imprisonment. Troy is buried in the same grave as Fanny.
Bathsheba, sadder and wiser, discovers that her oldest and closest friend Gabriel is planning to emigrate to America. Realising how much she has come to depend on him for emotional and physical support, she demands to know why. In an intimate scene, he reveals that he did not wish to face any more ridicule for continuing to love her. He asks her to marry him one more time and she accepts. The two have a modest but happy and secure marriage.
As is common throughout Hardy's works, there is a recurring themes of Class and luck. Characters fortunes will quickly change, resulting in a sudden switching of class status. One day, Gabriel is a sheep farmer with good prospects, the next, he is unemployed and without a penny. Bathsheba goes from impoverished to wealthy in as much time. These changes in fortune have a huge influence on the social compatibility of characters, and the determining of the "appropriateness" of their relationships.
Another prevalent theme is unrequited love. With it come a whole host of fierce passions and emotions, driving men to desperation, violence and other selfish acts. Bathsheba's male suitors tend to disregard her interests, and as such, fall foul of her sense of independence. It is only when a mutual sense of affection and respect is established, that Bathsheba and Gabriel can finally marry.