Wessex In Literature: Far From The Madding Crowd

Far From The Madding Crowd (1874) is a seminal moment in the identity of Wessex as a region. Thomas Hardy was not the first author to mention the name Wessex in a modern context, William Barnes and Charles Kingsley had already beaten him to it, but he was the first to popularise it. "The appellation which I had thought to reserve to the horizons and landscapes of a merely realistic dream-country, has become more and more popular as a practical definition; and the dream-country has, by degrees, solidified into a utilitarian region which people can go to, take a house in, and write to the papers from", Hardy observed in his Preface to the 1895 edition of the novel.

In the first edition, there is but a single reference to Wessex, but later revisions increased its use. Hardy had always been a regional writer, but giving his "partly-real, partly-dream country" a name rooted in English history solidified it in the public consciousness. Hardy's literary Wessex expanded over the course of his career from basically a synonym for Dorset, to a six-county region that was still continuing to expand when his final novel, Jude The Obscure (1895) apparently included Christminster (Oxford) within its bounds.

The plot concerns Bathsheba Everdene and her three suitors, her neighbour William Boldwood, the faithful shepherd Gabriel Oak, and the flash Sergeant Troy. The novel was notable for its social realism, depicting the harsh lives of the rural poor in Victorian England. It had been adapted for film at least three times, the first being a lost silent version made in 1915. Hardy himself adapted it for the stage in 1879, and it has formed the basis of a ballet, a musical and a 1998 ITV mini-series. In addition, Suzanne Collins borrowed the surname Everdene for her heroine Katniss in her Hunger Games series of young adult novels, and Posy Simmons updated the plot to the present day for her 2007 graphic novel Tamara Drewe, which was itself fimed in 2010.

Far From The Madding Crowd remains as popular now as it was when it was first published nearly 150 years ago. It planted a seed that has grown into today's Wessex movement, and for that, we can all give thanks.

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