I just completed re-reading Hardy's Far From the Madding Crowd, and just fell in love with it all over again! The first time I read the novel was last summer (Summer 2009) as a serialized group read with one of my groups on Shelfari.com. I loved it the first time through, but realized that I could probably find even more in it with a careful re-reading. I most certainly did.
It really is a beautiful novel, and so very well written with an engaging plot. The novel is loaded with allusion, much of it biblical; and even the character's names -- Bathsheba Everdene, Gabriel Oak, Farmer Boldwood, Fanny Robin, and Sergeant Frank Troy -- evoke comparisons to vivid images, scenes from Nature, or historical or mythological personages.
Hardy's ability to inextricably link the pastoral landscape of his fictional Wessex countryside with the emotions and thoughts of his characters is remarkable. As in The Return of the Native and the landscape of the Egdon Heath, Hardy makes the rolling hills, woodlands, hay fields and sheep pastures surrounding Weatherbury as much a primary protagonist and character in the novel as the human characters themselves. His prose associated with the placement and movement of the novel's human players within this landscape becomes almost lyrical and poetic; and as I am sure he intended, reflects his interpretation and representation of a time and place in southwestern England that was important to him, but is part of that heritage of what it means to be 'English.'
The story of the romantic 'square' involving Gabriel Oak, Bathsheba Everdene, Farmer Boldwood, and Frank Troy is a tale that resonates in each of us. We can relate, at different times, to the motives and actions of each as they pirouette through their dance of Life and Love against the pastoral backdrop of the farms and sheep paddocks of Weatherbury. This is the Nature of Hardy's beloved Wessex.
Like a hound on the trail, make sure to follow Hardy's use of the color 'scarlet' and 'red' through the novel. Read and experience Hardy's use of Fate, Chance, Change, and Irony working their primeval magics upon the landscape and human actors in this great play of Life. Far From the Madding Crowd is truly a timeless work from one of the Victorian period's great authors. With no qualms whatsoever, I give this novel 5/5 stars!