Victorian Britain - Sample Essay
Some Victorian readers condemned Bathsheba as a ‘hussy’ who did not deserve to win Gabriel as a husband. Do you agree??? In the dictionary, a ‘hussy’ is defined as: “woman of light or worthless character; pert girl. ” This definition, though being from a modern dictionary, I do not believe describes Bathsheba at all. Her character, being far from worthless, is strong, determined and often very stubborn. At the beginning of the novel, Bathsheba is nai?? ve and childish, thinking only of herself and her immediate future. She shows this in her rejection of Gabriel Oak in the fourth chapter:
‘I hate to be thought of as men’s property in that way, though possibly I shall be had someday. ‘ She does not think of Gabriel’s feelings when she chases after him, but her own reputation. Not noticing his feelings and trying desperately to clear her name. Her lack of forward thinking is apparent and she later realises what she has done, trying to correct herself: ‘There was no harm in hurrying to correct a piece of false news that had been told you’ She is trying to excuse her rashness in chasing Gabriel up the hill. Although she meant no harm, she realises what she has done.
Bathsheba may, in this case be thought of as slightly to free willed for society’s liking, as she shows throughout the novel. However, she is merely strong willed and passionate about her beliefs: ‘It [marriage] would be very nice in one sense. People would talk about me and think I had won my battle, and I should feel triumphant and all that. But a husband… ‘ What battle Bathsheba talks about is quite radical and rebellious for the era and her lack of the want of a husband was thought of as absurd by the readers of the time.
A woman’s place was in the home, her goal being to marry as soon as possible to a wealthy man and produce many children. She was expected to play the piano, read, go to tea parties and make polite conversation with her husband’s friends. Boredom was a sign of wealth in early Victorian middle-class Britain and the more bored the lady of the house was, the wealthier and more successful the family were. Hardy must have foreseen a slight ripple in the conformity of this social requirement and put it into play in his novel.
Far From The Madding Crowd was written in 1874 prior to the women’s suffrage movement of 1897 onwards. Bathsheba would have been one of the first of its’ kind. However, in the working classes of Victorian Britain, views on marriage and women were very different. Sex before marriage was accepted and men would often not marry until the woman became with child so as not to risk marrying ‘a pig in poke’. Bathsheba, being brought up by her aunt in a farming community, would more be familiar with this method of courtship than with the middle to upper class way of thinking.
She believes in marriage for love and not for social standing or wealth: ‘”I cannot [marry you]” “But why? ” “Because I don’t love you. ” Bathsheba does have a conscience and, however unthinking she was in chasing Gabriel after his proposal, she feels guilty for her actions: ‘It seems dreadfully wrong to not have you when you feel so much. How I wish I hadn’t run after you! ‘ But Bathsheba sticks to her word of not wanting marriage and gives an acceptable but unwanted excuse to her suitor: ‘It wouldn’t do, Mr. Oak. I want somebody to tame me; I am too independent; and you would never be able to, I know.
‘ She admits to her fiery, out of sync nature and explains what kind of a suitor she is looking for. The fact that she gives reason for the rejection of her suitor defends her innocence at the charge of her being a ‘hussy’. She is honest to him and does not lie for her own good. Bathsheba’s behaviour is, however, radical at times. For example, when Gabriel watches her from behind a hedge. She lies flat on her pony’s back to ride under some low branches and proceeds to ride astride: considered an extremely unladylike way to ride suggesting actions of a sexual nature, unbecoming of a young woman.
The undoubtedly fiery spirit of Bathsheba is appreciated by her uncle who, on his deathbed, leaves his farm and it’s running in her charge. On arriving in Weatherbury, she is met by many challenges that a lesser woman, even a man, may have been defeated by. In the first few days, she catches the bailiff stealing grain and she sacks him on the spot. Undaunted, she proceeds to oversee the running of the farm single handedly, much to the shock and surprise of her workers. She uses her initiative to put her employees at ease: ‘Now, here are ten shillings in addition as a small present, as I am a newcomer.
‘ This grants her acceptance as the new young farmer and all of her workers stay loyal to her, believing that she can run the farm on her own without the help of a bailiff. Another reason, perhaps, for the accusations put against her, is the Valentine she sent to neighbouring farmer Mr. Boldwood. After a visit to the corn market- Bathsheba’s first duty as farmer, she is dismayed to find that the only man who did not look and admire her there was her neighbour and well respected farmer Mr. Boldwood. She considers the idea, egged on by her servant and companion Liddy:
‘What fun it would be to send it to the stupid old Boldwood, and how he would wonder. ‘ The idea put into her head, Bathsheba tossed a hymnbook to decide who would receive the valentine; open for little Teddy Coggan, shut for Farmer Boldwood. The book falls shut and she sends off the card with the seal ‘Marry Me’. Again, Bathsheba’s lack of forward thinking is apparent as she does not think of the consequence of her doings, she is determined that Farmer Boldwood will notice her like all the other men of the area so that she can be the centre of attention.
Again, like the time when Gabriel proposes to her and she says: ‘I shouldn’t mind being a bride at a wedding, if I could be one without having a husband. But since a woman can’t show off in that way by herself, I shan’t marry- at least yet. ‘ Bathsheba loves to be the whole centre of attention and, while Farmer Boldwood is not noticing her, she is not. She sets about to make him notice her. Sending a valentine was unheard of at the time for a middle-class Victorian lady and proposing marriage thought of as even more absurd. However, she does not realise the problems she will face as a direct result of her actions:
‘Women deprived of the company of men pine, men deprived of the company of women become stupid. ‘ Chekhov Boldwood, a confirmed bachelor, becomes infatuated with her throughout the rest of the novel, proposing marriage and not leaving her alone even when she declines: ‘I feel, Mr. Boldwood, that though I respect you much, I do not feel – what would justify me to – in accepting your offer. ‘ Again, Bathsheba declines an offer of marriage: two suitors in one year and she is married to neither. Bathsheba feels that she does not love Boldwood.
Her head is telling her to marry this man; gaining a respectable reputation, financial security, an honest, caring husband and greatly increased income due to the merging of the two farms- a practical business agreement. However, in her heart, she wants the man she described to Gabriel: a man to tame her fiery spirit. She craves excitement, unpredictability, glamour. This leads Bathsheba into troubles as she meets a man fitting these three criteria: ‘His sudden appearance was to darkness what the sound of a trumpet is to silence. ‘ On meeting Sergeant Troy, a young cavalryman, Bathsheba is immediately transfixed and thrown into lust.
After turning two men away with the coolness of a pharaoh, she becomes irritated and seemingly helpless at the close presence of this dashing young soldier. As he woos her with compliments, gifts and regular, unannounced visits, she does not consider the future of being with such a man, preferring contentment in what she believes to be love. ‘Love yields to circumstance’ Troy’s motto, says a lot about his character, though Bathsheba does not read this. Bathsheba, in her distraction, turns repeatedly to Gabriel, seeking his counsel as a trusted friend.
His honesty plays a great part throughout the whole novel, in this case, showing a different perspective on the character of the heroine: ‘I like soldiers, but this one I do not like. What is mirth to the neighbours is ruin to the woman. ‘ Gabriel is trying to tell Bathsheba of his distrust for Troy and how she should be more wise. Bathsheba’s gullibility shows again as she promptly recites a string of tails told to her by Troy to endorse his reliability. ”Tis strange what a man may do, and a woman yet think him an angel. ‘ William Makepeace Thackeray.