Exploring Thomas Hardy's Far From the Madding Crowd
Exploring Thomas Hardy's Far From the Madding Crowd

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4.5 What motivates Bathsheba to send the card to Boldwood?

Between naughty Liddy’s sense of mischief and Bathsheba feeling her nose out of joint (‘it was faintly depressing that the most valuable and dignified man in the parish should withhold his eyes’), the card is sent to Boldwood. But do you think that was in her mind from the moment that she remembered she’d bought the card, or does the decision come later? She writes the ‘rose is red’ verse on the card, gives a definitive ‘no’ to Liddy’s repeated suggestion that she send it to Boldwood, before she begins to question out loud whether Teddy really deserves it: ‘he’s rather a naughty child sometimes’. Has she been thinking of Boldwood from the moment the Bible turns, in spite of what she says to Liddy? Instead of giving readers an answer, the narrator leaves us to decipher Bathsheba’s thoughts, which are deeper and less transparent that Liddy’s. Unable to decide who to send it to, Bathsheba decides to do ‘as men do’, by tossing for it – and the book she tosses comes down shut, in Boldwood’s favour.

You might think that he narrator’s next description is very telling. Bathsheba yawns, and with ‘off-hand serenity’ addresses the valentine to Boldwood. Her attitude is designed to convey that she’s not at all bothered by what she’s doing, and what she says next is equally off-hand. But notice how she uses ‘we’ rather than ‘I’ in the speech which follows: ‘which seal shall we use? …. We’ll try this, and if it doesn’t do we’ll have another’. Although the choice of seal is entirely her own, Bathsheba manages to imply that Liddy shares responsibility. The narrator is silent about Liddy’s reaction when she reads ‘MARRY ME’, but comments directly on how ‘very idly and unreflectingly was this deed done. Of love as a spectacle Bathsheba had a fair knowledge, but of love subjectively she knew nothing’. In fact, Bathsheba seems to have reflected quite a lot on whether she should or shouldn’t send the valentine to Boldwood, but she is aware that it is a mischievous thing to do. Her pique at being ignored is the real reason, but as she does not know the man she has no idea of the effect it will have on him. The narrator’s comment ‘So very idly and unreflectingly the deed was done’ hints at the devastating chain of events that it will set in motion, while the words ‘idly and unreflectingly’ strike an unusually moral tone.

Bathsheba was right earlier in the chapter when she said she wouldn’t send the card to Boldwood as ‘He wouldn’t see any humour in it’. Liddy’s reply ‘He wouldn’t. He’d worry to death’ is a common enough exaggeration – an insignificant throw-away remark readers barely register. But if you were to re-read the novel, you might see that common turn-of-phrase exaggeration in a very different light.

The chapter ends on the narrator’s note of warning and suspense and you would have to read the Chapter XIV ‘Effect of the Letter: Sunrise’ to find out how it is received.

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