As you’ll know if you follow my Goodreads page (Sidenote: Wanna be friends?), I finished reading Thomas Hardy’s short but epic and unique Victorian novel Far from the Madding Crowd quite awhile ago. I have been waiting to post my final review of the novel, however, until I could write a comprehensive post about the recent film adaptation, starring Carey Mulligan as Bathsheba Everdene. If you’ve been keeping up with my posts and have read my last two (#1 + #2), you’ll have a good idea of what my feelings are about Bathsheba. But, I have to admit, the movie adaptation altered my views of this seemingly selfish, weak and superficial Victorian woman, and so I want to share how I believe the film did an excellent job of adapting certain moments from the novel to present Bathsheba as a much stronger and more sympathetic character.
Scene Analysis #1:
What The Novel Says…
“‘It is difficult for a woman to define her feelings in a language which is chiefly made by men to express theirs.’”
– Far from the Madding Crowd, Thomas Hardy
In the novel, Hardy gives Bathsheba leave to make an extremely profound statement in one of her conversations with Farmer Boldwood. With the increasing interest in feminism these days, it’s surprising to me that no one has latched onto this particular quote (unless they have and I’ve missed it) as a blatant representation of the struggles of women living in a largely patriarchal society. What Bathsheba says at this moment of the novel is not only true, but also poignant: she feels manipulated, constrained and weak because she is unable to express herself, her feelings and desires, adequately in a language that she feels is not hers and was not designed with her sentiments in mind. Unfortunately, despite how relevant and contemporary Bathsheba’s realization of male advantages is, the fact that Bathsheba treats Farmer Boldwood so cruelly (you can read about this in blog post #1, linked above) and is so inconsistent and cruel in her actions towards him, lessens the force of her statement a little. Although I recognized it as an interesting statement, and so quoted it on my Twitter page, I still didn’t sympathize with Bathsheba’s frustrations at the failings of her language because I was too frustrated with her in general.
What The Movie Does…
However, the film adaptation totally rectified this situation for me, or, rather, Carey Mulligan did. Her delivery of this line (word for word from the novel, might I add) was absolutely perfect. She was calm and collected, but defiant in her observation that it is in fact Boldwood who is being unfair to her. Rather than continuing to be annoyed by Bathsheba’s antics and her tendency to pass the blame in this moment, I was impressed by her composure and I believed her to be the smart, observant, strong woman that I believe Hardy intended her to be. The moment in the film was so crisp, the dialogue so clear and well-articulated, that Mulligan’s portrayal of this line really brought it to life and, I feel, encouraged the audience to sympathize with her and recognize her as a woman trapped and cloistered by her society and its difficult expectations.
Scene Analysis #2:
What The Novel Says…
“‘But you never will know,’ she murmured.
‘Because you never ask!’”
– Far from the Madding Crowd, Thomas Hardy
One of the final moments in the novel, when Bathsheba finally admits to desiring her very first suitor, the shepherd Gabriel Oak, is simple and not altogether poignant. I thought the dialogue above, between Bathsheba and Gabriel, was coy and cute, but it wasn’t the romantic declaration I was hoping for. Instead, Bathsheba urges Gabriel to ask for her hand in marriage again by insinuating that he can never know if she will say Yes or No because he refuses to ask her. This is a witty way to admit one’s love, and it is in line with Bathsheba’s general reluctance to give herself to (most) men, but to me, it felt a bit like the lack of emotion was unfair to Gabriel who had worshipped and supported Bathsheba for his whole life. Again, I was critical of Bathsheba and I wanted more from her…at least a bit more feeling and softness and less coquettish flirtation for once.
What The Movies Does…
In the movie adaptation, this scene between Bathsheba and Gabriel is absolutely BREATHTAKING! It was everything my heart wanted and the simplistic nature of the dialogue became much more beautiful and intimate in light of how it was delivered by the excellent actors. Carey Mulligan gave Bathsheba that softness I think was warranted in this final scene, and Matthias Schoenaerts was absolutely incredible as Gabriel, just so loving and tender but also dignified and respectful. I truly felt that the movie portrayed this scene in a way that gave the story finality, especially amidst the struggle and tragedy faced by the characters.
My best friend CV, who is an accomplished and very creative poet, writer and reader herself, was the one who encouraged me to pick up Far from the Madding Crowd. She admitted that she felt conflicted in her feelings toward Bathsheba, and we always discuss literature together in the hopes of arriving at some sort of profound conclusion about it. Throughout my reading, I discussed with CV many times how frustrated I was with Bathsheba, how disappointed I was that she hadn’t quite lived up to being the strong, confident heroine I was looking for. CV felt the same way, but she urged me to also watch the movie, and I’m so glad I did.
I think, and from my few conversations with CV it seems that she agrees, that Carey Mulligan makes Bathsheba into the role model she has the potential to be. Hardy absolutely created a complex, intriguing female character who is round and complicated and human. But, it is Carey Mulligan who takes Hardy’s creation and makes her into a formidable role model for contemporary women. Mulligan’s Bathsheba is warm and affectionate when her heart overwhelms her with emotion, but she is also incredibly intelligent and resourceful enough to dominate a typically male profession. She is impulsive at times, and she wants desperately to be loved and to receive society’s approval, but that is what makes her so wonderfully flawed and so like the viewer. Overall, her intentions are more pure than they seem in the novel – Mulligan allows for the viewer to sympathize with Bathsheba because she portrays her as a woman who is navigating a difficult time and is doing her absolute best to survive in the world around her.
So, my recommendation would be to definitely read Hardy’s original novel to get an insight into Bathsheba’s genuine character…and then delve into the recent film adaptation to see how a brilliant actress like Carey Mulligan makes Bathsheba’s story her own!
– Also, sidenote: if you follow me on Instagram, you’ll know that after finishing the movie, I became obsessed with Carey-as-Bathsheba’s fashion and style! Every single one of her outfits is gorgeous, and I can guarantee that my Instagram will be riddled with more pictures of her in the near future! –
Girl with a Green Heart