Far from the Madding Crowd By Thomas Hardy Summary and Analysis Chapter 23

Summary

"For the shearing-supper a long table was placed on the grass-plot beside the house, the end of the table being thrust over the sill of the wide parlour window and a foot or two into the room. Miss Everdene sat inside the window, facing down the table. She was thus at the head without mingling with the men.

Bathsheba was sparkling. She invited Gabriel to occupy the vacant seat at the opposite end of the table, only to ask him to move again when Boldwood appeared, apologizing for his lateness.

After supper, Coggan began singing folksongs. When it was Poorgrass's turn, he was a bit in his cups and stalled at first. Then he rendered a composition of his own. Young Coggan became convulsed with laughter, and his father had to send him off. Tranquility restored, others sang, and "the sun went down in an ochreous mist: but they sat and talked on, and grew as merry as the gods in Homer's heaven."

Suddenly Gabriel noticed that Boldwood was missing from the place of honor. As Liddy brought candles, he saw him within the parlor, sitting close to Bathsheba. The guests asked Bathsheba to sing "The Banks of Allan Water." After a moment's consideration, Bathsheba assented, beckoning to Gabriel "to accompany her on his flute." Boldwood sang the bass "in his customary profound voice." Bathsheba then wished everyone good night.

Boldwood closed the sash and the shutters but remained inside to propose once again. After some hesitation, Bathsheba said, "I have every reason to hope that at the end of the five or six weeks . . . that you say that you are going to be away from home, I shall be able to promise to be your wife." Boldwood withdrew with a serene smile. Bathsheba still had qualms: "To have brought all this about her ears was terrible; but after a while the situation was not without a fearful joy. The facility with which even the most timid women sometimes acquire a relish for the dreadful when that is amalgamated with a little triumph, is marvellous."

Analysis

Hardy offers still another lovely old country custom in his depiction of the farm supper: the crosscurrents of feeling; the power of song, effecting a momentary calm over ruffled spirits; the maintenance of individuality within the group — these are things that Hardy expresses very well.

A verse of the song Bathsheba sings foreshadows future developments in the plot:

For his bride a soldier sought her,
And a winning tongue had he
On the banks of Allan Water
None was gay as she!

At present, though, it appears that Bathsheba will ultimately accept Boldwood.

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