Far from the Madding Crowd By Thomas Hardy Summary and Analysis Chapter 20

Summary

Bathsheba, though not in love, nevertheless realized that Boldwood was an eligible bachelor. "He is so disinterested and kind to offer me all that I can desire," she thought. "Yet Farmer Boldwood," the author informs us, "whether by nature kind or the reverse to kind, did not exercise kindness here. The rarest offerings of the purest loves are but a self-indulgence, and no generosity at all." Bathsheba was not eager to be married, nor had the novelty of being a landowner begun to wear off. "Bathsheba's was an impulsive nature under a deliberative aspect. An Elizabeth in brain, and a Mary Stuart in spirit."

Next day, Bathsheba saw Gabriel grinding shears. Cainy Ball was turning the handle of Gabriel's grindstone, but Bathsheba sent him on an errand, offering to sharpen while Gabriel turned the stone. She did not do well, and Gabriel took her hands to show her the proper angle for holding the blades. Meanwhile, she attempted to find out about the men's comments on her meeting with Boldwood. Oak admitted the men had spoken of the prospect of a marriage. When she asked Gabriel to contradict them, he refused to lie for her. He told her that her conduct was unworthy of a thoughtful woman. Bathsheba became sarcastic, saying his attitude might be due to her refusal of him. To this, Gabriel replied that he had long since stopped thinking about the possibility of marrying her. He repeated that it was wrong for her to trifle with Boldwood. Angrily, Bathsheba dismissed Oak as of the end of the week.

Gabriel preferred going at once. " 'Go at once then, in Heaven's name!' said she, her eyes flashing at his, though never meeting them. 'Don't let me ever see your face any more.'" Gabriel agreed. "And he took his shears, and went away from her in placid dignity, as Moses left the presence of Pharaoh."

Analysis

Hardy has interpolated his own views on marriage motives and an intensive psychological study of Bathsheba; the chapter invites careful reading. Bathsheba resents Gabriel's frankness, after having sought it, and even more she resents his statement that he no longer wishes to marry her. The equanimity with which he accepts dismissal enrages her. We know that when Gabriel's helpfulness, on which she has come to rely, is no longer available, she will rue her rashness.

The minute detail with which Hardy draws his characters is exemplified in this passage: "It may have been a peculiarity — at any rate it was a fact — that when Bathsheba was swayed by an emotion of an earthy sort her lower lip trembled; when by a refined emotion, her upper or heavenward one. Her nether lip quivered now."

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