Summary and Analysis
Bathsheba followed up her decision to be a good farmer by attending the corn market at Casterbridge the next day. She saw how the men bargained, using facial contortions and gesticulations, manipulating their sticks as props or as prods for livestock as if they were extensions of their hands. She stood out, completely feminine, moving between them "as a chaise among carts." She first approached farmers whom she knew and, as her confidence grew, gathered courage to address others. She had brought her sample bags of corn and was soon pouring grains into her hand with professional skill.
The impression was conveyed that she was learning her business rapidly, despite her femininity. "Strange to say of a woman in full bloom and vigour, she always allowed her interlocutors to finish their statements before rejoining with hers." But she stood firm on her pricings. The men were interested because of her pluck and admired her as much for that as for her appearance.
Only one man seemed aloof — a dignified, striking man of about forty. Because he ignored her, Bathsheba was convinced that he was unmarried. She was intrigued, and on the way home with Liddy she commented on him. Liddy did not know whom she meant. Just then a low carriage passed by with the mystery man in it, and Liddy identified him as Farmer Boldwood, whom Bathsheba had earlier refused to see. He didn't turn in greeting but rode indifferently by. The rest of the girls' trip was spent in conjecture as to the reason for his standoffishness. Had he been jilted? Was it merely that his nature was reserved? For each possibility Bathsheba offered, Liddy parroted agreement.
Obviously Hardy attended many country markets, appreciatively noting the mannerisms of the participants. Here he has preserved a bit of Wessexiana just on the verge of change.
Bathsheba's character is developing. Shy in her appearance among so many unknown men, she nonetheless stands her ground for the furtherance of her farm and makes progress in achieving the respect of her competitors.
Though it has been suggested that Hardy is somewhat antifeminist, the paragraph he devotes to Bathsheba's managerial techniques does not seem grudging. She lets the men talk, but "in arguing on prices she held to her own firmly, as was natural in a dealer, and reduced theirs persistently, as was inevitable in a woman. But there was an elasticity in her firmness which removed it from obstinacy, as there was a naïveté in her cheapening which saved it from meanness."