Thursday, 13 September 2012

Woman in red: Hardy's glorious Bathsheba

the book:

Far From the Madding Crowd by Thomas Hardy

published 1874  chapter 1










The girl on the summit of the load sat motionless, surrounded by tables and chairs with their legs upwards, backed by an oak settle, and ornamented in front by pots of geraniums, myrtles, and cactuses, together with a caged canary — all probably from the windows of the house just vacated. The handsome girl waited for some time idly in her place, and the only sound heard in the stillness was the hopping of the canary up and down the perches of its prison. Then she looked attentively downwards… at an oblong package tied in paper. She turned her head to learn if the waggoner were coming. He was not yet in sight; and her eyes crept back to the package, her thoughts seeming to run upon what was inside it. At length she drew the article into her lap, and untied the paper covering; a small swing looking-glass was disclosed, in which she proceeded to survey herself attentively. She parted her lips and smiled.

It was a fine morning, and the sun lighted up to a scarlet glow the crimson jacket she wore, and painted a soft lustre upon her bright face and dark hair….What possessed her to indulge in such a performance in the sight of the sparrows, blackbirds, and unperceived farmer who were alone its spectators, — whether the smile began as a factitious one, to test her capacity in that art, — nobody knows; it ended certainly in a real smile. She blushed at herself, and seeing her reflection blush, blushed the more.


observations: What a fabulous introduction to Bathsheba Everdene. Hardy himself may have had a soft spot for the ‘pure maid’ Tess, but surely everyone else prefers the wicked but glorious Bathsheba. And apart from her and Tess, can you name any other Hardy heroine? To an older generation, Julie Christie epitomized her in the 1967 film – so it is a slight surprise to find she is so very much not blonde. In the Penguin edition the word ‘black’ replaces dark here, but all other editions seem to agree on dark - a couple of chapters later she is described as having 'ropes of black hair.'

The watching Gabriel Oak notices that she doesn’t primp or fiddle with her appearance, there is nothing to correct, she just gazes at herself.

Posy Simmonds took this story and modernized it in the graphic novel Tamara Drewe, which then became a
live-action film in 2010 – both excellent.

Links up with: Another woman in a red coat looking in a mirror
here, and this one has her mirror to hand. Julie Christie starred in the film of this book too. A Thomas Hardy poem features here.

The picture is by the Polish painter Anna Bilinska-Bohdanowitz and can be found on
Wikimedia Commons.

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