Far from the Madding Crowd (1874) is Thomas Hardy's fourth novel and his first major literary success. It originally appeared, anonymously, as a monthly serial in Cornhill Magazine, where it gained a wide readership; critical notices, too, were plentiful and mostly positive. Hardy revised the text extensively for the 1895 edition, and made further changes for the 1901 edition.
Gabriel Oak is an up-and-coming shepherd in the prime of life at twenty-eight years of age. With the savings of a frugal life, he has leased and stocked a sheep-farm. He falls in love with a newcomer eight years his junior, Bathsheba Everdene, a proud and somewhat vain young beauty who arrives to live with her aunt, Mrs. Hurst. She comes to like him well enough, and even saves his life once, but when he makes her an unadorned offer of marriage, she refuses; she values her independence too much and him too little. Gabriel's blunt protestations only serve to drive her to haughtiness. After a few months, she moves to Weatherbury, a village some miles off.
When next they meet, their circumstances have changed drastically. An inexperienced new sheepdog drives Gabriel's flock over a cliff, ruining him. After...