These three men are Farmer William Boldwood, owner of the farm adjacent to Bathsheba’s, Gabriel Oak, bankrupt farmer who becomes Bathsheba’s shepherd, and later, bailiff, and Sergeant Francis Troy, a young soldier. All three of these men want to conquer Bathsheba’s independence, though all three claim that it is in the name of love. Yet Love means different things to each of these suitors. To Gabriel, love means putting Bathsheba first and being faithful and loyal to her; to Boldwood love means satisfying his obsession and his own needs and to Troy love means using Bathsheba. He wants to enjoy her physically and spend her money.
First it is a challenge, then a desire for her body and finally her money which motivates him. Initially with Gabriel Bathsheba some girlish qualities are well depicted. For example when she was edging around the holly bush when Gabriel proposed to her, “Miss Everdene. Will you marry me? ” She is very flirtatious, “But I suppose you are thinking you would like to kiss it? You may if you want to. ” Bathsheba is very immature and not serious. This is shown when she tells Gabriel that she wants a marriage so that she can have her name put in the paper, but that she does not want a husband!
She is a headstrong employer, as she likes to dictate to Gabriel and all the other employees. Bathsheba also has an ambivalent attitude: she does not love Gabriel but she doesn’t like it if she feels that he no longer loves her. This is a little perverse. Bathsheba is no longer an object of affection, Gabriel wins her respect. Boldwood sees the best and worst of Bathsheba’s womanliness. He sees her flirtatiousness the caprice of the valentine but he also sees Bathsheba’s good points. Bathsheba sent the letter to Boldwood on impulse; she did not what the consequences of this act would be, “So very idly and unrelentingly was this deed done.
Of love as a spectacle Bathsheba had a fair knowledge; but of love subjectively she knew nothing. ” Here Hardy is suggesting that Bathsheba, like all women, is governed by an unthinking impulse. She has the intelligence to reason things out but too often allows impulsive behaviour to override it – hence the valentine and her ill -advised marriage to Troy because she was (as she confessed to Oak) “jealous and distracted”. Hardy calls this kind of behaviour “womanly impulse”. Bathsheba’s good points are her strength: after the inanity of the valentine Boldwood sees that she has enough conscience and principle to stand by it.
Few women would trouble themselves with this, “she had a strong feeling that, having been the one who began the game, she ought in honesty to accept the consequences. Still the reluctance remained. She said in the same breath that it would be ungenerous not to marry Boldwood, and that she couldn’t do it to save her life. ” Bathsheba is a girl of strong moral beliefs. She knew that she must make the forfeit and say that she will marry him. She was prepared to live a life of self – sacrifice. However, with Troy, a new aspect of Bathsheba is revealed.
We learn that she has strong passionate sexual desires. The unusualness of Hardy’s treatment of this at this time in history was astounding. Victorians could not believe that Hardy found it acceptable for women to have sexual desires. They also would not believe that he then treated this with sympathy. Troy, to show his feelings to Bathsheba performs the sword – play in the hollow amidst the ferns. This scene contains phallic symbolism. This is Hardy’s way of getting around the conventions of the time. At the beginning of the novel Bathsheba said, “I need someone to tame me. ”
Here Bathsheba was boasting that she is a strong woman. The irony is that she did not mean what she said but Troy got the better of her. Troy has power over her because of the physical attraction, “I love you better than she did: kiss me too, Frank – kiss me! You will, Frank, kiss me too! ” Bathsheba is being tamed by Troy, “He turned to Fanny then. ‘ But never mind, darling,’ he said; ‘in the sight of heaven you are my very wife. ‘” and “‘You are nothing to me – nothing. ‘ Said Troy heartlessly. ‘ A ceremony before a priest doesn’t make a marriage. I am not morally yours. ‘”
At this point Bathsheba has been truly tamed and beaten into submission. Troy’s power over Bathsheba is her love and physical attraction for him. On the night of revelation over Fanny’s coffin there is a sympathetic description of Bathsheba’s suffering. Bathsheba was so horrified by what Frank had said that she could not bear to stay in the house. She left the house and spent the night in a damp, wet and cold swamp. If the dog is a symbol for Fanny, a “caged leopard” is the symbol for Bathsheba. A leopard (Bathsheba) is meant to be free and it is wrong for one to be caged up.
It is morally wrong just like it is morally wrong for Troy to trap Bathsheba in a marriage only for lust and money. Bathsheba shows great desperation at being conquered and she realises the full force of being tamed. She has lost her independence to a man whom she knows is not worthy of her. Bathsheba was proud of her chastity and she thought that she was superior to other girls, who were silly for men and willing to submit to them, “a certain degradation in renouncing the simplicity of a maiden existence to become the humble half of an indifferent matrimonial whole. “”
At the end of the novel we wonder whether it is triumph or defeat for Bathsheba. Bathsheba likes Gabriel but unlike Boldwood and Troy she learns to cope with suffering and to profit from it. Bathsheba grows up in this novel and in the course of the novel she encounters much pain and suffering. For example she experiences long months of loneliness when Troy has gone away and when he died. During these times she simply stayed in her room. By the end of the novel Bathsheba is very different from the beginning. She becomes a more serious, thoughtful and caring girl. She has to learn to swallow her pride and tell Gabriel that she wants him.
Bathsheba is rewarded with a good man and a good marriage, which is built on friendship, trust and extensive knowledge of each other, including the best and worst of each other’s character. Hardy’s point is that they know each other in a practical way as they are work partners and so they can trust each other. They can depend on each other and have the security that Bathsheba needs, “This good -fellowship – camaraderie – usually occurring through similarity of pursuits, is unfortunately seldom superadded to love between the sexes, because men and women associate, not in their labours, but in their pleasures merely ……
that loves which many waters cannot quench, nor the floods drown, beside which the passion usually called by the name is evanescent as steam. ” Bathsheba’s marriage is a good marriage as there are no illusions and romantic notions. In Victorian times a woman status depended on her marriage, this shows us that luck is in Bathsheba’s way. On the other hand there is something inescapably sad. She only smiles, she does not laugh now.
Bathsheba is truly in a traditional role now: she is dependent on a man (Gabriel), she has long since lost interest, in the farm which she used to check each night and she takes no part in the farms running. Hardy’s words point towards Bathsheba in triumph but the mood points towards Bathsheba in defeat. Still, for all that, Hardy is remarkable in his treatment of women, his understanding, compassion, respect and equality for the most part. But perhaps the implications of the final ambiguous image show him a Victorian at heart. Bathsheba has a lightweight personality and is lucky indeed to have won Gabriel.