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The title of Thomas Hardy's novel Far From the Madding Crowd presumably comes from this famous phrase in Thomas Gray's poem "Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard", but I can't really see the connection between these two pieces of literature. Of course both are set in rural England, but pretty much all of Hardy's stories are set in his beloved "Wessex", so why title this one in particular after a famous poem about the English countryside?

Why is Hardy's novel entitled so, and how does it connect to Gray's poem?

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Far From the Madding Crowd largely takes place in the countryside, and the literal meaning of the title, a place far away from the crazed/wild crowd, evokes an atmosphere of calm and tranquillity. This was partly a reaction of Hardy's on account of the birth of industrialisation around the time of writing, when the English countryside was a refuge from the noise and smog of the new industries. Hardy admired the simple way of life of farm and country labourers, which can be seen in the character Gabriel Oak, who embodied this ideal of man's close connection with the natural world. (reference) Gray's idyllic-toned poem possesses vivid countryside imagery, not unlike that in Hardy's own poem "The Darkling Thrush" and supports the peaceful effect Hardy wished the title to allude to. Additionally, Far From the Madding Crowd was Hardy's first real success in novel writing and was made famous through his evocative images of country life as well as being the first time in his literary works in which he introduced his Wessex. As a result, perhaps by mirroring the English countryside, he made his Wessex more familiar to contemporary readers. (reference)

The other part is that it is thought to contain an aspect of literary irony in that "Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard" is not similar to Far From the Madding Crowd. Writer and literary journalist, Lucasta Miller, highlights the contrasts between the idealised quiet and serenity in Gray's poem and in Far From the Madding Crowd, Hardy

"disrupts the idyll, and not just by introducing the sound and fury of an extreme plot ... he is out to subvert his readers' complacency".

Although the novel's title claims otherwise, the turbulent affairs with her three suitors may mean that Bathsheba is in fact in the madding crowd rather than far from it. The abusive Sergeant Troy embodies this especially as Bathsheba almost destroys her life by involving herself with him. By juxtaposing the title with the inner workings of the novel, Hardy is created a literary 'joke' out of an otherwise sincere work.

  • Good point that it was his first major Wessex novel. That somewhat lessens my argument that it must be more than just the English-countryside connection. Could you add a source for your quoted text from Miller? – Rand al'Thor Aug 29 '18 at 14:55
  • @Randal'Thor Sure, its from her original article in the Guardian. – Fabjaja Aug 29 '18 at 15:01
  • Thanks, that was an interesting read (which has actually given me more questions to ask about FFtMC!) By the way, I greatly enjoyed the 2015 film adaptation - it's made me a lasting fan of Carey Mulligan :-) – Rand al'Thor Aug 29 '18 at 15:15
  • @Randal'Thor Great! Haven't watched it myself yet, so have to do that sometime. – Fabjaja Aug 29 '18 at 15:22

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