Summary and Analysis
To while away Sunday afternoon, Bathsheba and the chatterbox Liddy, who, "like a little brook, though shallow was always rippling," practice an old superstition: divining one's future husband by consulting the Bible with a key. Bathsheba turned to the Book of Ruth and, reading, she was a bit abashed. "It was Wisdom in the abstract facing Folly in the concrete." After they went through the ritual with the key and Bible, Liddy asked of whom Bathsheba had been thinking, surmising that her mistress's mind might have been on Boldwood, as her own had been. She was sure that everyone in the church had focused attention on Bathsheba except Boldwood, who sat in the same line of pews. Bathsheba seemed unperturbed by this. As the girls chatted, she recalled having bought a valentine for little Teddy Coggan and proceeded to inscribe it with a verse. Liddy prodded her into sending it to Boldwood instead. Whatever her reason, Bathsheba did address it to the farmer, and from her supply of seals she selected one that said, "Marry me."
"So very idly and unreflectingly was this deed done. Of love as a spectacle Bathsheba had a fair knowledge; but of love subjectively she knew nothing."
In four short pages, two giddy girls carry out a silly act that will avalanche into a tragedy. Liddy ("her presence had not so much weight as to tax thought, and yet enough to exercise it") misleads Bathsheba, while her mistress, "bounding from her seat with that total disregard of consistency which can be indulged in towards a dependent," acted on her maid's idle suggestion. Hardy has, in addition, shown us old country customs and, not for the first time, has suggested that women can be guilty of somewhat unpredictable behavior.