Ironically enough, much of the drama in Thomas Hardy’s Victorian novel Far from the Madding Crowd arises because of a simple Valentine. With that in mind, I’m writing my weekly #JNGReads post today, as a sort of warning to anyone who may be thinking of sending out cheeky, nonchalant Valentine’s Day cards tomorrow. Because, in the words of Thomas Hardy, you may never know…
…“what a great flame a little wildfire [is] likely to kindle.”
– Far from the Madding Crowd, Thomas Hardy
Basically this novel focuses on a young woman, Bathsheba Everdene, who wants every man she encounters to fall in love with her. I’m probably going to be ranting about this story and the movie adaptation for many posts to come, but at its most rudimentary level, the plot is obsessed with a woman who wants to be wanted.
I don’t necessarily blame her – we all want to feel coveted, desired, and appreciated. But, Bathsheba Everdene will unfortunately stop at nothing to make sure that all the men she meets become obsessed with her, and this has lasting consequences both for herself as well as for these men who are nothing but kind and devoted to her.
So what does this have to do with Valentine’s Day? Well, Bathsheba’s main target is Farmer Boldwood, the owner of a neighbouring property. Bathsheba is confused and vexed when Farmer Boldwood doesn’t pay her any special attention, and so she decides (after some prompting from her friend Liddy) to send Boldwood a Valentine’s Day card with the words “Marry me” written in her handwriting. Naturally, when Boldwood receives this Valentine, he does some sleuthing to figure out who wrote it, and once he discovers that Bathsheba is behind it, he falls madly (and I do mean MADly) in love with her. He believes that she has genuine feelings for him, which is no surprise given the evidence he has in front of him, and so he basically gives up his entire life, all his ambition and success, to try to win her.
But, Bathsheba was joking the entire time, and the reader knows this. She has no intention of marrying Boldwood, and she doesn’t even particularly like him. She just wants to make him like her, and she goes to such extreme and hurtful lengths to be noticed. It truly made no sense to me for her to be doing this (I guess I’m not superficial or cruel enough!), and I was not at all surprised when this little prank of hers backfired big time. The rest of the novel is full of confusion, misunderstanding, tragedy and heartbreak, all because Bathsheba thought it would be funny to play this one, seemingly inconsequential, joke.
Now, I didn’t absolutely despise Bathsheba – I actually grew to understand her and pity her a bit. But, I just could not justify this action whatsoever, no matter how hard I tried. There was no purpose to the Valentine, and it caused A LOT more harm than good. Coincidentally, I was reading all this just days before Valentine’s Day, and it made me think just how easy it is to play with people emotions, to manipulate them, and just how dangerous a supposedly fun and lighthearted celebration like Valentine’s Day can be.
With that in mind, when I walked into my office building yesterday and saw a wonderfully wrapped Valentine’s Day gift on my desk, I was startled. What were the chances that Bathsheba could jump out of the pages of Hardy’s novel and deliver a Valentine to me?
As it turns out, the delicious treats were from my boss, who remembered the numerous times I told her how much I love candy, but I decided to play my own little, Bathshebian prank with the gift. I told my boyfriend, SS, that it seemed to be a gift from a secret admirer. I told him that my boss had no idea where it came from, and I constructed a story about how some entirely fictitious man in my office must’ve put it on my desk, and must be harbouring a secret affection for me. Never mind that this man’s description closely resembled that of Farmer Boldwood – SS had no idea, and he became slightly enraged and angry about this whole turn of events. I let him be jealous for about 15 minutes, and then revealed that it was a gift from my boss the entire time. But, for those 15 minutes, I felt truly terrible! It didn’t seem right to be using such a sweet gesture and exploiting such a lovely custom just to get a reaction from a man. Sure, I don’t mind when SS is a little jealous and protective on my behalf, but it felt wrong to trick him into feeling that way – it felt dishonest and mean-spirited…
…two emotions that I don’t think Bathsheba would recognize in her own actions. I don’t think she felt remorse for what she did to Boldwood at all. Sure, there’s evidence to suggest that she might’ve felt regret when things got complicated and out of her control, since Hardy writes that…
…“a resolution to avoid evil is seldom framed till the evil is so far advanced as to make avoidance impossible.” – Far from the Madding Crowd, Thomas Hardy
But other than that I don’t think Bathsheba recognized that her prank was horrible at any point in the novel. She is too likely to have forgotten about it altogether and diminished its cruelty by saying it was all a joke. But emotions aren’t that funny, to be honest – feelings are meant to be valued and prized, not toyed with. Love isn’t a game, or at least, it shouldn’t be, if done properly!
So, here’s a warning from a Hopeless Romantic: be careful who you send your Valentine’s messages to tomorrow! Do things with real feeling, with true emotion, and you’ll be fine – but do things out of jealousy or nonchalantly, and you may run into more problems that you ever could’ve imagined!
Keep the love true everyone!
Girl with a Green Heart