This is a story about one so-called independent woman Bathsheba Everdene (who seems incredibly dependent if you think about it), her three male admirers and her propensity for poor judgement. When we first meet her, she is a beautiful but high-spirited young woman with no fortune to her name. To top it all, she saves the life of Gabriel Oak when he falls asleep in his hut and almost dies of smoke inhalation. When Gabriel asks her to reveal her name, she challenges him to find it out for himself. Upon learning her name, he visits her aunt to ask if he can court Bathsheba but is informed she has many lovers. This woman then runs after him to declare her aunt lied about her. Suddenly the conversation takes a turn to discuss a marital union between them because Gabriel assumes she must be interested but she assures him that she does not love him. He, the silly fool, spends the rest of his life devoted to her while she indulges in all manner of follies.
Gabriel Oak happens to be a poor shepherd who loses his farm after an accident befalls all of his sheep due because of a rookie dog that misdirects them to fall off a cliff. Once this happens, he seeks new employment in the town of Weatherbury. It is not going too well for him until one day he helps fend off fire from a farmhouse. It turns out Bathsheba is the mistress as she inherited it from a deceased uncle. She offers him work as a shepherd.
Meanwhile she sends off a Valentine with the words Marry Me to neighbor Farmer Boldwood as a joke. The duped farmer takes this jest seriously and he becomes a relentless and persistent suitor much to her annoyance. He is also refused the offer of marriage he makes to Bathsheba because she does not love him. But he does get her to say she will reconsider her refusal.
On that night, she meets the third and most despicable of her three admirers. He is a handsome soldier known as Sergeant Troy. What Bathsheba does not know is that he impregnated a local servant girl called Fanny Robinson who had gone missing. She embraces his suggestion of marriage.
When Fanny returns, Troy arranges a time to meet her; he loves Fanny. Bathsheba comes to realise she has made terrible decisions. Fanny, overworked and exhausted, dies in childbirth on her way to meet Troy. Embarrassed and ashamed by his actions, Troy fakes a suicide and joins a performing circus.
Meanwhile Farmer Boldwood makes the best of his adversary’s ‘death’ by resuming his courtship. His repeated persistence secures him a result when he gets Bathsheba to promise she will marry him in six years if her missing husband does not return. Unfortunately, Troy chooses that night to reappear after hearing she is prospering. Enraged by his intrusion, poor Boldwood has his revenge by shooting Troy. This leads to a jail sentence for the misused farmer for whom you can’t help but feel sorry.
Finally there is an opportunity for hard-working and faithful Gabriel who has become a flourishing bailiff to reunite with Bathsheba and his devotion to her is rewarded when she finally says yes.
For a male, Thomas Hardy, the author of this work is very intuitive about how the female mind works. It’s a shame he did not dabble in relationship counselling. I believe he would have done very well. Even if Gabriel finds happiness with this undeserving trollop of a woman, it is a bit of a sting she rejected him when he lacked any money and accepted him when he had it.