A Wanton Woman Through the Ages

A few weeks ago, I received an email from Very Short List recommending the recently released DVD of the 1967 film Far From the Madding Crowd, starring Julie Christie. VSL, a free email which recommends "one must-see gem a day," described the film as "the best adaption of Thomas Hardy's best novel."

That sent me rooting through my book shelves--I knew I'd seen a copy somewhere. Lo and behold, I found a paperback of the movie tie-in. And oh my! Sultry Julie Christie gazes from the cover, and the jacket copy is almost not safe for work:

Her rustic love-romps shook the English countryside


Bathsheba Everdene demanded a man's hopeless adoration. Provocative and completely unpredictable, she was a charming hellion who drove her lovers to all kinds of foolishness--even murder.

is Thomas Hardy's world-famous novel about a frankly amorous female, the three men who want her, and the determined one who finally tames her.

Not being one to resist a rustic love-romp, I started the book right away. But then I wondered how the book was being marketed 40 years later. I came across Signet Classic's 2002 edition (the spicy movie edition is also from Signet). Here's Hardy's tale for modern times:

There is in England no more real or typical district than Thomas Hardy's imaginary Wessex, the scattered fields and farms of which were first discovered in Far From the Madding Crowd. It is here that Gabriel Oak observes Bathsheba, the young mistress of Weatherbury Farm, fall victim to her amorous caprices. He stands by her through one marriage to a handsome, corruptly sentimental* sergeant. Selflessly altruistic, he sees her through another betrothal to her compulsive, puritanical neighbor--as unaware as she of the stroke of Fate that will affect their ultimate union.

So my question is this: Which jacket copy is more sexist? The one in which Bathsheba drives the action, demanding all sorts of foolish behavior from men? Or the one in which she is seen only through the eyes of a man, and portrayed as a victim of her own silliness. Or does calling a woman a wanton who needs to be tamed trump all?

I don't know and will have to wait until I finish the book before I can hazard a guess about what Mr. Hardy thought.

* Bonus points for anyone who can tell me what "corruptly sentimental" means.

By Rachel Hartigan Shea |  February 23, 2009; 7:00 AM ET
Previous: Five Great Books About Punk Rock | Next: Too Much 'War and Peace'?


Please email us to report offensive comments.

I give up on "corruptly sentimental." Why not toss the phrase over to The Invitational's "losers" to bat about?

Posted by: cebeling | February 23, 2009 9:06 AM

It's been years since I saw the movie or read the book. (I read the book because of the movie.) I thought Julie Christie was lovely and oh my yes, sultry. I also had the biggest crush on Terence Stamp even though he was blatantly "corruptly sentimental". I take that phrase to mean that he used seduction and romance to woo Bathsheba and violence to bring her down and put her in her place. Sort of like a frilly lacy negligee that is beautiful, but when you put it on it scratches and pinches in all the wrong places.

I think the more recent blurb is more sexist. Maybe that's because I always thought of Bathsheba as the main character and the men as secondary to her actions.

Posted by: elyrest | February 23, 2009 1:13 PM

Coincidentially, I *just finished* this book, and I don't think either blurb is correct. First of all, Bathsheba is not wanton. She loses her head a bit over Sergeant Troy, but she's not chasing men around Wessex. The second is sexist and, again, not accurate. Bathsheba doesn't go out to get men and then drop them. She wasn't in love with Gabriel, like he was with her. End of story. That Gabriel helps her out, and becomes her trusted confidante, etc. doesn't mean that she has somehow entrapped him.

Posted by: choirgirl04 | February 24, 2009 9:44 AM

The comments to this entry are closed.


© 2010 The Washington Post Company