Far from the Madding Crowd By Thomas Hardy Summary and Analysis Chapter 40

Summary

The woman continued on her slow way, stopping to rest from time to time and praying for strength. She counted the milestones to encourage herself to proceed. A carriage passing in the darkness lighted her face, "young in the groundwork, old in the finish; the general contours were flexuous and childlike, but the finer lineaments had begun to be sharp and thin." At a lone copsewood she paused. Groping, she selected two Y-shaped sticks and used them as crutches. These helped her to the last milestone, where she swayed, fell, lay for a while, then crawled and fell again.

A dog licked the woman's cheek. "In her reclining position she looked up to him just as . . . she had, when standing, looked up to a man." The animal, as homeless as she, withdrew a step, then returned, sensing her need. Using him as a prop, the woman slowly moved ahead. They reached a shabby building, so overgrown with ivy that it had become one of the attractions of the town. The woman managed to pull the bell before falling down.

A man emerged and went for help to get her into the building. The woman revived enough to ask for the dog. "'I stoned him away,' said the man. The little procession then moved forward — the man in front bearing the light, two bony women next, supporting between them the small and supple one. Thus they entered the house and disappeared."

Analysis

Some critics find this chapter less effective than most — citing, for example, the interrupting discourse on the manufacturer of a Swiss prosthetic device, which is compared to the woman's improvisation of a crutch. The agonies of Fanny's journey have been called melodramatic. Animal lovers protest the use of the dog, although it seems that Hardy's point was that at times animals have more humanity than people. Hardy's succinct descriptions remain effective, as in the description of the ivy-covered almshouse to which the force of "Nature, as if offended, lent a hand."

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