‘More tales come from pale lips than can enter an ear’-Thomas Hardy, Far From the Madding Crowd

She [Bathsheba] had walked nearly two miles of her journey, watching how the day was retreating, and thinking how the time of deeds was quietly melting into the time of thought, to give place in its turn to the time of prayer and sleep, when she beheld advancing over Yalbury hill the very man she sought so anxiously to elude. Boldwood was stepping on, not with that quiet tread of reserved strength which was his customary gait, in which he always seemed to be balancing two thoughts. His manner was stunned and sluggish now.

Boldwood had for the first time been awakened to woman’s privileges in tergiversation even when it involves another person’s possible blight. That Bathsheba was a firm and positive girl, far less inconsequent than her fellows, had been the very lung of his hope; for he had held that these qualities would lead her to adhere to a straight course for consistency’s sake, and accept him, though her fancy might not flood him with the iridescent hues of uncritical love. But the argument now came back as sorry gleams from a broken mirror. The discovery was no less a scourge than a surprise.

He came on looking upon the ground, and did not see Bathsheba till they were less than a stone’s throw apart.  He looked up at the sound of her pit-pat, and his changed appearance sufficiently denoted to her the depth and strength of the feelings paralyzed by her letter.

“Oh; is it you, Mr. Boldwood?” she faltered, a guilty warmth pulsing in her face.  Those who have the power of reproaching in silence may find it a means more effective than words. There are accents in the eye which are not on the tongue, and more tales come from pale lips than can enter an ear. It is both the grandeur and the pain of the remoter moods that they avoid the pathway of sound. Boldwood’s look was unanswerable.

—Thomas Hardy, Far from the Madding Crowd, Chapter  XXXI

The chapter goes on for about a dozen pages of sharp and agonizing dialogue between Bathsheba and Boldwood, but, really, just from the descriptions of the posture and stance of our two conversationalists in this excerpt we could tell exactly what’s going to happen.

Bathsheba is walking past Yarbury to visit her maid Liddy’s sister, partly in order to escape her own premises as Boldwood will be heading there to remonstrate after receiving Bathsheba’s letter stating that she cannot accept his offer of marriage. They are therefore meeting without prior arrangement on neutral ground.

What rings true to me here is how Boldwood is not saddened, or enraged, or plunged into despair by Bathsheba’s refusal of his pledge. His feelings are ‘paralyzed.’ For the rest of the book, Boldwood will be a kind of emotional paraplegic, stuck in the tragic condition of loving Bathsheba unrequitedly. Bathsheba’s mood, as illustrated by her musings over the progression of time, is reflective and centered. As our blog-enabled contemporaries put it, Bathsheba is processing.

Boldwood’s emotions, meanwhile, are beautifully limned by Hardy with a set of exquisitely mismatched metaphors: ‘the very lung of his hope,’ ‘a straight course,’ ‘the iridescent hues of uncritical love,’ and ‘sorry gleams from a broken mirror.’ His feelings are as jumbled and as out-of-cadence as his figures of speech.

One thought on “‘More tales come from pale lips than can enter an ear’-Thomas Hardy, Far From the Madding Crowd

  1. "though her fancy might not flood him with the iridescent hues of uncritical love. But the argument now came back as sorry gleams from a broken mirror."Just wow.

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