‘Not mannish, but so almighty womanish that ‘tis getting on that way.’ -Hardy, Far from the Madding Crowd

‘And, dear miss, you won’t harry me and storm at me, will you? because you seem to swell so tall as a lion then, and it frightens me! Do you know, I fancy you would be a match for any man when you are in one o’ your takings.’

‘Never! do you?’ said Bathsheba, slightly laughing, though somewhat seriously alarmed by this Amazonian picture of herself. ‘I hope I am not a bold sort of maid—mannish?’ she continued with some anxiety. ‘Oh no, not mannish; but so almighty womanish that ‘tis getting on that way sometimes. Ah! miss,’ she said, after having drawn her breath very sadly in and sent it very sadly out, ‘I wish I had half your failing that way. ‘Tis a great protection to a poor maid in these illegit’mate days!’

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

This excerpt is just right for one of those middle-school language-arts exercises, where you put all the adjectives that mean the same as “mannish” in one column, and all the synonyms for “womanish” in another column, and all the words that the students might venture to use to describe Bathsheba in a third, and pretty soon the bell rings, and the class is left with a bunch of new words to describe what they already know.

In a private chat with Liddy, her maid, Bathsheba is furiously squashing gossip about her and Sergeant Troy, about whom her other servant, Maryann, has earlier declaimed, “He is a wild scamp now, and you are right to hate him.”

Part of the joy of reading Far from the Madding Crowd is admiring how Bathsheba, though in the strictest sense she’s alone in the world, creates a family of sorts around her, despite the varying motives of her entourage. Hardy’s chapter-after-chapter focus on the natural world and the folkways of Wessex makes it apparent that his characters belong in Wessex, their native habitat. And like all such creatures of their context, his characters can express a wider bloom of variation in their comportment and conduct because they have a place to belong. Bathsheba’s “almighty womanishness” fits right in to the landscape, traditional roles be thrown aside.

We city-dwellers, in contrast, are the ones who are obliged to conform because we belong nowhere in particular.


6 thoughts on “‘Not mannish, but so almighty womanish that ‘tis getting on that way.’ -Hardy, Far from the Madding Crowd

  1. I’ve noticed that too, though I never could have expressed it as you have. It’s impossible to be eccentric when you have to justify your existence anew every day.

  2. Thank you for the compliment! A lot of people come at the book with from a "What's wrong with Bathsheba?" perspective. I've noticed that Bathsheba's fitting in to society is not something that Hardy touches on very closely. The book takes her position as farm boss quite naturally and focuses the attention on her romantic travails.

  3. I should read the book again. I don’t recall if I had the impression that Hardy was implying that her troubles arose out of her trying to assume a "man’s role" (a theme I particularly despise, for obvious reasons). I have read that Hardy liked to record all the strange happenings he read in the news, so a female farmer probably suited him just fine.I think she does have a mean streak, though. Reminds me of the volatile Miss Vye.

  4. ‘Volatile’ is a good word. <a href="http://sn.im/fftmc10">Tomorrow's quote</a> talks about how she changes her mind about Boldwood, to his dismay. A lot of times women are expected to go along with the program, even if the program doesn’t really work for them. Bathsheba abjures this behavior, <i>voilà</i> ‘womanish’ in its truest meaning.

  5. hmmm whoa interesting:: within community, eccentricity-from-the-norm is accepted, because the human person is known for themself… as opposed to in the city [or in a non-community?], the only way that you can be known to most others is by your presentation, so presenting yourself ‘normally’ is the only way to not alienate the people around you…interesting, because the classic narrative is that people leave the smaller communities where they are not accepted for their eccentricity (too artsy, too smart, too gay, too weird…) to come to the city where they can find a community where they will belong. then maybe jonathan’s last two sentences still apply, between the community-in-the-city and the city-of-strangers….awesome stuff to think about!

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