The Farming Body in Thomas Hardy’s Far From the Madding Crowd“
This paper discusses the state of the Victorian agricultural body as assessed and represented in Victorian literature and culture. Examining mid-nineteenth century periodical articles on English farmers and the mid- and late-century legislative reform movements in the military and agricultural sectors, I first demonstrate how Victorians re-configured the English agricultural body in juxtaposition to the military body within the discourse of Victorian heroism. Focusing on issues around the two groups’ class, gender, and socio-economic status and on their overlapping roles in national and individual protection, I argue that the Victorian agricultural body worked as a central site to address both cultural anxieties and expectations about the condition of English society in times of national insecurity, brought on by intense international military and economic rivalries. I read Thomas Hardy’s Far from the Madding Crowd“ (1874) as a novel that reflects such contemporary concerns, arguing that Hardy explores the precarious position of the English agricultural body, positioning it as superior to the military hero. I suggest that Hardy in this novel envisions the English agriculturist, despite his susceptibility to changes in his surroundings, as an important Victorian economic body and an ideal heroic model that contributes to the emotional, economic, and moral regeneration of the English nation. Through farming protagonists who take control of both monetary and emotional currencies of agrarian society, Hardy provides a forward-looking vision of English farming life that embraces both stability and progress.