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Hardy’s use of time in “Far From The Madding Crowd” is a very important feature of the novel, which Hardy portrays very effectively. He bases a typical year around the farming year, for example sheep sheering, dipping and harvesting. Also the passing seasons represent different phases in the book and how they affect the different characters. Hardy begins the novel in mid winter, December, which is the most difficult time of the year for the farming community. This is represented by the difficulties encountered by Oak in the opening chapters of the novel.
Although he meets Bathsheba and falls for her, his love is not returned. He also comes close to death when he falls asleep by the fire in his shepherd’s hut with out first opening the ventilation slide, only to be rescued by Bathsheba. His luck hits an all time low when his sheep dogs chase all his flock over the cliff leaving him penniless and without work. All of this occurs during the bleakest winter months of December and January. By February, as the days begin to lengthen so Oak’s luck starts to improve.
He saves a burning hayrick and discovers it belongs to Bathsheba in her new role as mistress of a farm near Weatherbury. Bathsheba gives Oak a job as her shepherd. However February is still winter and in chapter 11 it is a bleak snowy night in which the “evil” Troy is introduced into the book which clearly represents what future is in store for this character. Hardy also uses specific dates for important development in his novel the first of which comes from Valentines Day on the 14th February. When Bathsheba sends a joke Valentine card to Boldwood the consequences of this action are felt up until the end of the book
Boldwood’s feelings of love for Bathsheba grow during the spring, emulating the growing season. When Boldwood proposes to Bathsheba it is the end of May and sheep washing is taking place again emphasising Hardy’s use of the rural timetable. This is repeated when Boldwood proposes for a second time at the sheep sheering supper. Troy’s second appearance in the novel coincides with the arrival of summer making it easy for lots of the action between him and Bathsheba to take place out of doors, even in the evening, for example the sword display in chapter 28.
Troy is a loud, colourful character and summer is a colourful season so Hardy has matched his character to the time of year. Troy, however turns out to be a “fair weather friend” who leaves as the summer ends and the work on the farm starts once again to get hard. In contrast, Gabriel Oak is presented as a “man for all seasons” whose loyalty to Bathsheba is constant whatever the weather or the season. In spring he rescues Bathshebas bloated sheep and in late summer he saves the harvest by covering the ricks even throughout a thunderstorm.
This same thunderstorm is used by Hardy to show the beginning of the collapse of Bathsheba’s marriage to Troy. It is almost as if Troy and the thunderstorm are the same thing, as neither of them care about how there actions will destroy the farm. As autumn progresses and the leaves wither, so Bathsheba’s relationship with Troy also withers. It takes Hardy thirty-eight chapters to cover the first ten months of this book and yet the next ten chapters cover only ten days, which shows how important these ten chapters are and how much detail Hardy is able to show.
However, the next eleven months are covered in only three chapters taking us to Christmas of the second year, with the following three chapters covering a single day, Christmas Eve. This shows how Hardy can switch his style from describing time as passing quickly to describing a lot of action in a single day. After yet another break in time chapter 55 takes the novel to the following March. Chapter 56, however, is remarkable as it describes spring, summer, August, autumn, Christmas Day and Boxing Day, meaning that it covers nine months in a single chapter.
Hardy varies his accuracy where dates and times are concerned. In some parts of the novel he is totally accurate as to when the action happens, for example chapters 13-15 give specific February dates and chapters 22, 23 and 24 all take place on June 1st. However, at the end of the novel Hardy simply says the action takes place “sometime after” Boxing Day. In total, “Far from the Madding Crowd” is presented over three years, in which the first year is described in great detail over forty nine chapters. The second year is done in a mere six chapters and the third year is covered in just three chapters.
Hardy’s use of time in Far From The Madding Crowd is a real asset to the novel as he portrays it in such away that the reader believes the story is true and did actually happen over a period of three years. His ability to focus on a particular time in the novel very specifically is superb. Then to be able to glide through a whole year in a few chapters without the reader suspecting that the novel is in fact from Hardy’s own imagination really gives the book an extra grip on our thoughts and makes the read even more satisfying.