Thomas Hardy's novel told of a 19th Century rural England in which class distinctions and unyielding social codes surrounded his characters. They were far from the madding crowd whether they liked it or not, and got tangled in each other's problems because there was nowhere else to turn. It's not simply that Bathsheba (Julie Christie) was courted by the three men in her life, but that she was courted by ALL three men in her life.
Schlesinger seems to shy away from this kind of social approach, preferring to supply a picturesque and charming (but aimless) movie about life down on the farm. There are splendid scenes of rural life -- harvesting the grain, herding the sheep, etc. -- but in the end they don't seem to add up to a statement about Bathsheba and her society. It's as if the plot and the setting were pulling in opposite directions.
Since then the appellation which I had thought to reserve to the horizons andlandscapes of a merely realistic dream-country, has become more and morepopular as a practical definition; and the dream-country has, by degrees,solidified into a utilitarian region which people can go to, take a house in,and write to the papers from. But I ask all good and gentle readers to be sokind as to forget this, and to refuse steadfastly to believe that there are anyinhabitants of a Victorian Wessex outside the pages of this and the companionvolumes in which they were first discovered.
When the waggon had passed on, Gabriel withdrew from his point of espial, anddescending into the road, followed the vehicle to the turnpike-gate some waybeyond the bottom of the hill, where the object of his contemplation now haltedfor the payment of toll. About twenty steps still remained between him and thegate, when he heard a dispute. It was a difference concerning twopence betweenthe persons with the waggon and the man at the toll-bar.
The hill was covered on its northern side by an ancient and decaying plantationof beeches, whose upper verge formed a line over the crest, fringing its archedcurve against the sky, like a mane. To-night these trees sheltered the southernslope from the keenest blasts, which smote the wood and floundered through itwith a sound as of grumbling, or gushed over its crowning boughs in a weakenedmoan. The dry leaves in the ditch simmered and boiled in the same breezes, atongue of air occasionally ferreting out a few, and sending them spinningacross the grass. A group or two of the latest in date amongst the deadmultitude had remained till this very mid-winter time on the twigs which borethem and in falling rattled against the trunks with smart taps.
To persons standing alone on a hill during a clear midnight such as this, theroll of the world eastward is almost a palpable movement. The sensation may becaused by the panoramic glide of the stars past earthly objects, which isperceptible in a few minutes of stillness, or by the better outlook upon spacethat a hill affords, or by the wind, or by the solitude; but whatever be itsorigin, the impression of riding along is vivid and abiding. The poetry ofmotion is a phrase much in use, and to enjoy the epic form of thatgratification it is necessary to stand on a hill at a small hour of the night,and, having first expanded with a sense of difference from the mass ofcivilised mankind, who are dreamwrapt and disregardful of all such proceedingsat this time, long and quietly watch your stately progress through the stars.After such a nocturnal reconnoitre it is hard to get back to earth, and tobelieve that the consciousness of such majestic speeding is derived from a tinyhuman frame.
This venture, unaided and alone, into the paths of farming as master and not asman, with an advance of sheep not yet paid for, was a critical juncture withGabriel Oak, and he recognised his position clearly. The first movement in hisnew progress was the lambing of his ewes, and sheep having been his specialityfrom his youth, he wisely refrained from deputing the task of tending them atthis season to a hireling or a novice.
Being a man not without a frequent consciousness that there was some charm inthis life he led, he stood still after looking at the sky as a usefulinstrument, and regarded it in an appreciative spirit, as a work of artsuperlatively beautiful. For a moment he seemed impressed with the speakingloneliness of the scene, or rather with the complete abstraction from all itscompass of the sights and sounds of man. Human shapes, interferences, troubles,and joys were all as if they were not, and there seemed to be on the shadedhemisphere of the globe no sentient being save himself; he could fancy them allgone round to the sunny side.
The cow standing erect was of the Devon breed, and was encased in a tight warmhide of rich Indian red, as absolutely uniform from eyes to tail as if theanimal had been dipped in a dye of that colour, her long back beingmathematically level. The other was spotted, grey and white. Beside her Oak nownoticed a little calf about a day old, looking idiotically at the two women,which showed that it had not long been accustomed to the phenomenon ofeyesight, and often turning to the lantern, which it apparently mistook for themoon, inherited instinct having as yet had little time for correction byexperience. Between the sheep and the cows Lucina had been busy on NorcombeHill lately.
Oak, upon hearing these remarks, became more curious to observe her features,but this prospect being denied him by the hooding effect of the cloak, and byhis aërial position, he felt himself drawing upon his fancy for their details.In making even horizontal and clear inspections we colour and mould accordingto the wants within us whatever our eyes bring in. Had Gabriel been able fromthe first to get a distinct view of her countenance, his estimate of it as veryhandsome or slightly so would have been as his soul required a divinity at themoment or was ready supplied with one. Having for some time known the want of asatisfactory form to fill an increasing void within him, his position moreoveraffording the widest scope for his fancy, he painted her a beauty.
By one of those whimsical coincidences in which Nature, like a busy mother,seems to spare a moment from her unremitting labours to turn and make herchildren smile, the girl now dropped the cloak, and forth tumbled ropes ofblack hair over a red jacket. Oak knew her instantly as the heroine of theyellow waggon, myrtles, and looking-glass: prosily, as the woman who owed himtwopence.
Soon soft spirts alternating with loud spirts came in regular succession fromwithin the shed, the obvious sounds of a person milking a cow. Gabriel took thelost hat in his hand, and waited beside the path she would follow in leavingthe hill.
Gabriel meditated, and so deeply that he brought small furrows into hisforehead by sheer force of reverie. Where the issue of an interview is aslikely to be a vast change for the worse as for the better, any initialdifference from expectation causes nipping sensations of failure. Oak went upto the door a little abashed: his mental rehearsal and the reality had had nocommon grounds of opening.
Thus much for the dogs. On the further side of Norcombe Hill was a chalk-pit,from which chalk had been drawn for generations, and spread over adjacentfarms. Two hedges converged upon it in the form of a V, but without quitemeeting. The narrow opening left, which was immediately over the brow of thepit, was protected by a rough railing.
Gabriel was paler now. His eyes were more meditative, and his expression wasmore sad. He had passed through an ordeal of wretchedness which had given himmore than it had taken away. He had sunk from his modest elevation as pastoralking into the very slime-pits of Siddim; but there was left to him a dignifiedcalm he had never before known, and that indifference to fate which, though itoften makes a villain of a man, is the basis of his sublimity when it does not.And thus the abasement had been exaltation, and the loss gain.
On coming close, he found there were no horses attached to it, the spot beingapparently quite deserted. The waggon, from its position, seemed to have beenleft there for the night, for beyond about half a truss of hay which was heapedin the bottom, it was quite empty. Gabriel sat down on the shafts of thevehicle and considered his position. He calculated that he had walked a veryfair proportion of the journey; and having been on foot since daybreak, he felttempted to lie down upon the hay in the waggon instead of pushing on to thevillage of Weatherbury, and having to pay for a lodging.
Eating his last slices of bread and ham, and drinking from the bottle of ciderhe had taken the precaution to bring with him, he got into the lonely waggon.Here he spread half of the hay as a bed, and, as well as he could in thedarkness, pulled the other half over him by way of bed-clothes, coveringhimself entirely, and feeling, physically, as comfortable as ever he had beenin his life. Inward melancholy it was impossible for a man like Oak,introspective far beyond his neighbours, to banish quite, whilst conning thepresent untoward page of his history. So, thinking of his misfortunes, amorousand pastoral, he fell asleep, shepherds enjoying, in common with sailors, theprivilege of being able to summon the god instead of having to wait for him.
Two figures were dimly visible in front, sitting with their legs outside thewaggon, one of whom was driving. Gabriel soon found that this was the waggoner,and it appeared they had come from Casterbridge fair, like himself.
The fire was issuing from a long straw-stack, which was so far gone as topreclude a possibility of saving it. A rick burns differently from a house. Asthe wind blows the fire inwards, the portion in flames completely disappearslike melting sugar, and the outline is lost to the eye. However, a hay or awheat-rick, well put together, will resist combustion for a length of time, ifit begins on the outside.
Oak suddenly ceased from being a mere spectator by discovering the case to bemore serious than he had at first imagined. A scroll of smoke blew aside andrevealed to him a wheat-rick in startling juxtaposition with the decaying one,and behind this a series of others, composing the main corn produce of thefarm; so that instead of the straw-stack standing, as he had imaginedcomparatively isolated, there was a regular connection between it and theremaining stacks of the group. 781b155fdc