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  • The Valentine'S Card:Far from the Madding Crowd and the Act/Art of Moral Evaluation

In this essay I discuss the evaluative modes of Wayne Booth's controversial figure—the male mentor—attending, in particular, to the intricate mix of social and psychological insight that informs Thomas Hardy's account of the views of Gabriel Oak, the hero of Far from the Madding Crowd. Privileging character appraisal in the business of assessing the putative wrongdoing of a playful woman turns out to be compelling and problematic. For Hardy, as for Jane Austen, the act of evaluation is considered from the perspective of an ethics of equity and amity. So, has Hardy's fair-minded reader any reason to be optimistic?

To Wayne Booth it was clear, authors seek to exert control and writers like Jane Austen endeavor to satisfy this imperative through rhetorical techniques that may include the creation of a wise male figure who can be counted upon to provide the necessary guidance for flawed heroine and (naïve) reader alike. We require help "to direct our reactions," and thus throughout Austen's novel Emma, her hero and "chief corrective," Mr. Knightley, stands in the reader's mind for what Emma lacks.1 Subsequent scholars have questioned Booth's interpretation of Mr. Knightley's role and narrative status, and the subtitle of Mary Waldron's [End Page 139] influential essay—"The Confusions of Mr. Knightley"—anticipates her views on the subject.2

In a reading of Thomas Hardy's novel Far from the Madding Crowd, approvingly citing Booth's theory, Chengping Zhang goes along with the idea that we will rightly be influenced by the views of the indomitable Gabriel Oak. According to Zhang, we will discover the dire consequences for the female protagonist of her "uncontrollable bad luck," all the while accepting Oak's assessments of the difficult situations in which she finds herself. Apparently we will find it appropriate for this interfering male to censure Hardy's unconventional heroine; we can count on his "moral compass"; we will share his point of view.3 Zhang takes no notice of those critical studies that have explored the novel's complexities and hence have encouraged us to rethink our approach to this authoritative male. Rosemarie Morgan has subjected the young shepherd to a rigorous reevaluation: Hardy's male characters, she remarks, "may show individual strengths or weaknesses," but in their capacities as "moral overseer," "censor," or "watchdog," they partake "of a world of male domination bordering upon absurdity and menace, a world latently vindictive and tyrannical."4 By contrast, Joanna Devereux has argued that Oak's social, financial, and sexual fulfillment can be taken to imply that Hardy is ready to acquiesce in the patriarchal structures of his day; the novel's promise of a challenge to the bias that is a firm belief in male supremacy is not fulfilled as Oak emerges as a life-enhancing figure whose preeminence is assured.5

In this essay I propose to focus on features of moral evaluation, that critical moment in personal relations when typically an individual's moral status is up for review, and consequently her sense of self-worth may be on the line. Austen and Hardy, I suggest, share an ideal reader, a fair-minded reader who will pay attention to the disposition of a character whether he or she is being judged or is doing the judging. And she will do so because—unlike Booth's (naïve and/or misogynistic?) reader—she is as interested in the practice of equity as in the dynamics of female remodeling.6 Crucially, this liberal-minded reader shares the novels' desideratum: the aspiration that even in conditions of patriarchy, "perfect amity" (Austen's expression), or "good-fellowship" (Hardy's term), or "equality of consideration" (J. S. Mill's term) can characterize relations between the sexes. In common with their respective contemporaries Mary Wollstonecraft and Mill, Austen and Hardy held out the prospect that key features of a "higher friendship" could prevail, and [End Page 140] that marriage might enact the principle of moral equivalence between men and women.

According to Mill, Justice, the primary virtue, requires the principle of perfect equality and this admits "no power or privilege on the one side, nor disability on the other."7 Liberals repudiate the notion of female dependence and dismiss the figure of the "guardian male, the wife proprietor," who, in the words of George Gissing, "from the dawn of civilization has taken abundant care that woman should not outgrow her nonage."8 Seen from this progressive perspective, certain questions arise: What kind of male adjudication and ensuing female reformation can be justified? Is the judge an instrument of awareness? And what are the elements that generate his judgments? With regard to Far from the Madding Crowd one aspect in particular is worth bearing in mind, and that is Hardy's vision of what it means to be a socialized self: his hero may possess a sympathetic self, but he cannot be other than susceptible to the influence of the sexual politics that dominates his world. Hence the novel is interested in a moral psychology of character appraisal that is informed by an attitude of conflicted allegiance and ambivalence, of devotion and disdain and distrust. And this means that when we consider the implications of Gabriel Oak's experiences, his thought and conduct, we are also likely to have mixed feelings: we are likely to disapprove of this disapprover's mind-set and modes of judging, all the while conceding, however, that in some circumstances certain trains of thought seem irresistible. Hardy delineates the psychical mechanics of disapproval, yet wonders whether Oak has what it takes to break with his own propensities, certitudes, and prejudices. He wonders what has to happen for a change in mentality to occur.

Mr. Knightley, as we shall see, has succeeded in cultivating independence of mind. Well aware of the nature of the task he is facing, he acknowledges that Emma may well find it difficult to justify his behavior: "[I trust] that you will some time or other do me greater justice than you can do now."9 He is intervening, he claims, in order to satisfy himself that he is "proving myself your friend by very faithful counsels" (E, p. 352). It is a neat expression: the multivalence of the term "faithful" suggests that Austen perceives true friendship in this instance to involve the capacity to be simultaneously truthful (about the facts of the matter), conscientious (diligent in one's modes of enquiry), and loyal or steadfast in affection. Acting out of affect is important: the well-being of the (wrongdoing) friend cannot be discounted. But most important, the form evaluation takes should constitute a "counsel" rather than (as [End Page 141] in Oak's case) an imposition, which is, of course, none other than a species of attempted control. In fact the modes adopted by Austen's male mentor serve to introduce some of the most salient features of an issue that in both novels is framed in terms of the contentious trait of female playfulness. Austen provides us with an approach to moral evaluation that explores the matter "with care and fairness" (to adopt Locke's words).10 And we recognize that an authoritative male's merit is a function, to a large degree, of his willingness to use his "sympathetic intuition" (Mill's term) in order to understand the mind-set of a lively woman, together with his readiness to eschew the "Tenets" of the age. Authoritative males who take upon themselves the task of moral evaluation need look no further for an exemplar; this mentor is able to defy the conventions of time and place.


Reacting to Emma's put-down of Miss Bates during the ill-advised game on Box Hill (when Emma acts as the arbiter of nonsense), Mr. Knightley freely and fiercely expresses his indignation: "How could you be so unfeeling to Miss Bates?" (E, p. 351).11 His words seem to suggest that Booth might be right, and that Mr. Knightley is concerned with a lack of compassion on Emma's part. But the incipit, we realize, is a rhetorical flourish. For Reason now prevails as Mr. Knightley gets Emma to reflect on salient features of the situation and draws out crucial inferences relating to the effects of Emma's action (her "liberties of manner") on the people involved.12 Locke had argued that "in regulating their Opinions and Judgments"—rather than "taking up Principles" or "Tenets," and thereby putting his mind "into the disposal of others"—those individuals with a "Mind, which searches after Truth, and endeavors to judge right," would sift "the Matter as far as they could," and search into "all the Particulars, that they could imagine to give any light to the Question; and with the best of their Skill, cast up the account upon the whole Evidence" (Locke, 4:16:1; emphasis added). And in a Lockean manner, Mr. Knightley does consider all the particulars relating to Emma's treatment of, and relations with, Miss Bates, bringing to bear on the matter—as Locke had advised—elements that relate to his "own Knowledge, Observation, and Experience" (Locke, 4:15:4). But what is worth highlighting is a specific feature of his assessment: a most important "particular." Mr. Knightley considers the influence of Emma's situation on her state of mind; he appears to use his sympathetic [End Page 142] intuition, and thus he decides that Emma's action was the product of a transitory mental state, her "thoughtless spirits, and the pride of the moment" (E, p. 352; emphasis added). So although some readers may beg leave to differ (such as Booth, who claims that this incident shows that Emma has exhibited a character flaw), effectively Mr. Knightley defends Emma from this charge. But the essential point remains: Mr. Knightley has attempted to understand the workings of Emma's mind, the mental processes out of which her action flowed.

Equally, in Emma influential sociomoral codes are rendered impotent by the force of critical reflection. There is nothing wrong with female playfulness per se; even the kind of female playfulness that is expressed in pungent wit is acceptable, according to Mr. Knightley, when the recipient of the barb is a social equal, but allowances must be made for the more vulnerable who, like Miss Bates, rightly feel inferior and who cannot engage in repartee. Reason in Emma is victorious, and can float free from the perilous trap of sociocultural norms, and specifically those that privilege female modesty and reticence. There will be no radical remaking of character: Emma's attitude, but only her attitude (of contempt), should and will change. Of two positions open to him, Mr. Knightley chooses rather to explain than to condemn; the former is clearly his dominant concern.

That Austen is aligning her reader with her hero is an idea that will be confirmed when her heroine decides that she has been "scornful [and] ungracious," and is convinced that paying a penitential visit to Miss Bates is the right thing to do: "She would not be ashamed of the appearance of the penitence, so justly and truly hers" (E, pp. 353–54). Austen's reader can confidently take on board Mr. Knightley's critique. Although he may well be confused on occasions—as Waldron has shown—when it comes to matters of consequence Mr. Knightley can be trusted; though not, as I have suggested, for the reasons Booth has advanced. The reader can believe that at critical times fair-mindedness can regulate relations between the sexes. "Perfect amity" looks achievable.


So, has Hardy's fair-minded reader any reason to be optimistic? The first chapter, however amusing, is not promising as Hardy begins his exploration of the proclivities that come into play when Oak watches Bathsheba's antics in the cart. Oak's interpretation of Bathsheba's conduct comes most naturally with a reading of the signs: "generous [End Page 143] though he fain would have been," Oak finds that a "cynical inference" is "irresistible."13 "Irresistible" is a key word. As she takes up her mirror, Bathsheba's thoughts are the subject of Oak's thoughts, and his thoughts project "likely dramas in which men would play a [losing] part" (FFMC, pp. 54–55). For Oak, Bathsheba's gestures can be taken as indicative of her intentions, which are in keeping with her inclination to act the coquette. As a theory, it all fits so nicely together. And Hardy makes it so easy for the reader to feel that Bathsheba is being frivolous that many will fail to be impressed by the narrator's warning: the notion that Bathsheba is entertaining the idea of wreaking havoc with men's hearts can only be "conjecture."14

Bathsheba's action here is a trivial one, just as she will reckon that sending the valentine to William Boldwood is a trivial matter. But clearly presuming to judge such an act is not. Hardy reminds us that when we disapprove we can never be sure whether we have detected a malicious intention, or rather attributed it to a person; from the perspective of equity, the agent has to be deserving of our scorn or condemnation. But in a world in which men are struggling to assert control, playfulness is perceived as—or more accurately, felt to be—a disruptive or unmanageable quality in a woman. And the feeling is what counts: Oak is increasingly uncomfortable with Bathsheba's levity. "Nothing flatters our vanity more than the talent of pleasing by our wit, good humour, or any other accomplishment," claims Hume.15 Hume finds good humor agreeable and useful; hence it may even count as a virtue. (On the other hand, Hume was also a proponent of modesty in women.16) Oak may be fascinated by Bathsheba's graciousness, but her playfulness creates disquiet; it is both disagreeable and harmful—to the "old-fashioned, earnest" (FFMC, p. 72) male ego. It looks very much like a character flaw.

In fact, turning to Hume's theories on the moral sentiments, we find a framework for thinking about Hardy's concerns with regard to the link between action and character. For Hume, given our abiding interest in character, we want to trace the connections that exist between an action and the character of the actor.17 Hume admits that people can certainly act capriciously, thoughtlessly. They can also act out of character. Nevertheless it is reasonable to suppose that more often than not, actions proceed from some cause in the character that is durable or constant.18 And the moral sentiment of approval or disapproval will be appropriate insofar as the motive or intention that triggers the action can be deemed to be in keeping with a pattern of behavior that simply is characteristic of that person. Hume thus allows that there is always [End Page 144] room for doubt concerning motive or intention, but the principle of predictability holds that actions typically flow out of the predominant inclination of the agent; such an inclination will successfully govern other desires at that time.19

One aspect of the issue of moral judgment that Hardy investigates is precisely the process that can ensure the defeat of doubt. He charts the ways in which personal experience firmly lays down the foundations of certainty, even as (in chapter 1) he also suggests how insubstantial the foundations upon which such certainties rest may be. Oak's beliefs about Bathsheba's character, and in particular her propensity to act the flirt, again arise naturally out of his encounters with her. One experience is clearly especially significant: the moment (in chapter 4) when Bathsheba runs after Oak, turns down his proposal of marriage, and then laughs. Here is a woman who evidently enjoys tormenting the male of the species—what other explanation can there be? Bathsheba's playfulness is beginning to look like a dominant trait, a form of sexual assertiveness that cannot be condoned: "The only superiority in women that is tolerable to the rival sex is, as a rule, that of the unconscious kind; but a superiority which recognizes itself may sometimes please by suggesting possibilities of capture to the subordinated man," affirms the narrative voice (FFMC, p. 73).

Oak now knows what to expect from this fascinating but also frolicsome and frivolous and dangerous female. When he takes upon himself the task of adjudicating the sending of the valentine card, his achievement of a suitably detached or "general point of view"—as required by some moral theories, including Hume's—looks unlikely to happen. Unbiased feelings on Oak's part are not to be expected. It seems psychologically implausible that someone like Oak would be able to divest himself of the attitudes he has formed, that he would be able (coolly) to ask himself whether his beliefs are well-grounded.20 And indeed he does what is most natural in the circumstances: he "recognizes" the inner principles or motives that are expressed in Bathsheba's act.21 Thus, while Oak is ever more convinced that he has identified Bathsheba's pernicious inclination, the reader is given the opportunity to trace the ways in which his own attitude toward her is becoming settled in its conflict or ambivalence. For Hardy, as for Hume, "our vigilant prevailing or ruling passions are on the watch for information that feeds or strengthens them" (PS, p. 159). Oak's vigilance serves to nurture the increasingly significant attitude that is his distrust.22 [End Page 145]

Hence, although the reader's and narrator's assessments of Bathsheba's conduct when she sends the valentine card to Boldwood coincide, we should not be surprised that Oak's response is very different. Hardy has provided psychologically compelling reasons for Oak's frame of mind when he reacts to Bathsheba's action. Oak has his suspicions—and is quick to impute to Bathsheba a mind-set that Hardy has anticipated but given instead to Liddy, a maidservant who is highly amused at the prospect of being able to "worry" a recalcitrant male. In the chapter entitled "Sortes Sanctorum—The Valentine," the reader can follow the various stages of the Sunday afternoon game. She might readily assume that Bathsheba is resentful of Boldwood's apparent slight—in refusing to pay her the due to her beauty that other men have paid—and hence is narcissistically motivated to exact some kind of revenge by "leading on a man" she does not care for (FFMC, p. 186).

But close attention to the evidence provided by the text reveals the error of this supposition. Significantly, Bathsheba decides to let fate decide, though seeking to give fate a helping hand. Reckoning that the hymn book she is going to throw into the air will most likely come down open, she determines that if it does, the valentine card will go to little Teddy Coggan; if not, it will be sent to Boldwood. In short, Bathsheba is committed to playing a game; it is a source of amusement. She is not committed to tormenting Boldwood. Carelessly, she chooses the seal and attaches it, before reading the words "Marry Me" on it. "'Capital!' she exclaimed, throwing down the letter frolicsomely. 'Twould upset the solemnity of a parson and clerk too'" (FFMC, pp. 144–48). Bathsheba is indeed (post facto) diverted at the idea of Boldwood's amazement or perplexity. But her actions, though mischievous, lack malice. "Bathsheba was no schemer for marriage, nor was she deliberately a trifler with the affections of men" (p. 174; emphasis added). In fact, one consideration above all should count: Bathsheba found herself in a situation that was not of her own making. To the astonished recipient of her message she has issued "a pert injunction," and one that, seemingly, must have "an origin and a motive":

It is foreign to a mystified condition of mind to realize of the mystifier that the processes of approving a course suggested by circumstance, and of striking out a course from inner impulse, would look the same in the result. The vast difference between starting a train of events, and directing into a particular groove a series already started, is rarely apparent to the person confounded by the issue.

(FFMC, pp. 148–49; emphasis added) [End Page 146]

Bathsheba is more acted upon than actor: caught up in the mood of the moment she has "thoughtlessly," "idly" (FFMC, p. 148; emphasis added) played a game devised for her by another—her maid Liddy. The language here echoes that of chapter 1: "the whole series of [Bathsheba's] actions was so idly put forth as to make it rash to assert that intention had any part in them at all" (pp. 54–55; emphasis added). We are reminded of the early requirement to distinguish between an action that is unpremeditated and one that is informed by a vice. But how is Bathsheba's judge to know? Oak does not know. Again, all he can rely upon is "conjecture." Bluntly, rashly, naturally, Oak expresses his disapproval: Bathsheba's behavior, he claims, "is unworthy of any thoughtful, and meek, and comely woman" (p. 185).

Oak's discourse, we note, takes the form of an imposition: not to be "meek" is not to be worthy and not to be womanly, he asserts. For the unenlightened male, as Mill had remarked, one way of ensuring domination is to insist that meekness, together with submissiveness and resignation, are "an essential part of sexual attractiveness"23 or, to adapt Oak's word, comeliness. Oak's judging is informed by a naïve trust in the propriety of his own (illiberal) standards. "My opinion is (since you ask it) that you are greatly to blame for playing pranks upon a man like Mr. Boldwood, merely as a pastime. Leading on a man you don't care for is not a praiseworthy action" (FFMC, p. 186; emphasis added). Praiseworthy or blameworthy to a fair-minded reader, the mental straitjacket of the dichotomy is inappropriate given the circumstances. Boldwood's remarks show that even he gets the point of the pastime. The "fun" of the game lies in making enquiries, he says to Oak (p. 162). But Oak is convinced that women should not take liberties with a man's equanimity—not even on St. Valentine's Day. Sexual assertiveness in women is a vice, the disagreeableness of which can only be mitigated by "true loving-kindness" (p. 186).

By this time Oak looks less like the novel's moral conscience and more like the novel's socialized conscience. Hardy's concerns were hardly new; as Fonna Forman-Barzilai has explained, while Adam Smith revised his various editions of The Theory of Moral Sentiments, he thought long and hard about Hume's disturbing claim: that habit or custom is the foundation of our judgments.24 Smith realized that the socialized conscience risked "reinforcing the way of the world";25 it risked perpetuating bias, whether of the affections or of sympathy, reproducing a skewed or distorted frame of mind. For Hardy, moral evaluation may be rendered problematic not only due to the influence of gendered norms [End Page 147] of conduct but also because the individual is susceptible to false causal beliefs and to attitudes that he may not even know that he has acquired. Given that a socialized conscience can provide a would-be mentor with a most efficacious disciplinary tool, and given also the various problems involved in knowing oneself, as well as others, fair-mindedness is going to be difficult to achieve. Whether Oak is able to overcome the many obstacles to enlightenment remains to be seen.


Certainly, Hardy complicates the practice of evaluation for his reader. As the novel develops, hostility and ambivalence are expressed time and again by a chorus of voices, including (on occasion) the narrator's, toward Hardy's heroine and women in general.26 On the other hand, not only will Gabriel Oak be described as "generous and true" (FFMC, p. 313), he will appeal to those men and women who share the Victorians' appreciation of the virtue of strength of character. Remarkably, Oak also has little difficulty in freeing himself from the "spontaneous selfish passions and desires" that so worried Adam Smith. Nevertheless, although he cannot be suspected of appraising Bathsheba's conduct while in thrall to his own "selfish passions," Oak's sympathy is clearly partial or biased. He is entirely supportive of Boldwood's claims. For Hardy, in conditions of patriarchy a man's sympathetic imagination will naturally be oriented toward those who resemble him most; the strong sense of affinities and the pull of alignments that can infiltrate the mind-set of even a thoughtful and love-struck man will contribute to the kind of male solidarity that works to subdue a lively and unconventional woman, to undermine the basis of her self-presentation.

Hardy's heroine is indeed swiftly brought into line. On meeting one day with Boldwood, Bathsheba "had been awestruck at her past temerity, and was struggling to make amends, without thinking whether the sin quite deserved the penalty she was schooling herself to pay" (FFMC, p. 211). Bathsheba is "schooling herself," but only after she has been schooled in the language of "sin" by men.27 This idea of sinfulness is the language of a socialized conscience; it is part of the conventional language of decency and conformity that, functioning in the novel as a disciplinary force, can convert an intelligent woman to the male point of view, even when that perspective is inimical to her own well-being. Initially forthright in her own defense, as both Oak and Boldwood work on her sense of sinfulness, Bathsheba becomes caught up in a [End Page 148] language trap from which she cannot escape. The point is made explicitly: "Woman at the impressionable age gravitates to the larger [male] body not only in her choice of words, which is apparent every day, but even in her shades of tone and humour when the influence is great" (FFMC, p. 199). Under intense pressure from Boldwood, Bathsheba's reaction is to blame herself: "It was a wanton thing which no woman with any self-respect should have done," she asserts, before asking him to pardon her "thoughtlessness" (p. 179). Frightened by his vehemence, she again readily admits to being at fault: "O, I am wicked to have made you suffer so!" (p. 180).

Hardy, claims Devereux, stands by his male figure of authority, and ultimately Oak emerges as "a wholesome and life-affirming figure."28 Two juxtaposed conversations should give us pause, however, as to whether Hardy finally acquiesces in the politics of male superiority or, rather, whether he is resigned to its continuation. For what the novel reveals at this late stage are Oak's incompatible modes of judgment, his strikingly different attitudes; in short, his contradictoriness. When speaking with Bathsheba, he is able to respond to the reality of her life as made manifest in her emotional turmoil. He demonstrates that he is capable of directing his sympathetic imagination in her direction. But then Hardy introduces another conversation, this time with Boldwood, during which Oak slips back into his customary mode of thought, a disrespectful mode that plays to his habitual esprit de corps and that partakes of the discourses of sexual politics and the demeaning of women.

The first conversation, "an oddly confidential dialogue" that takes place between Oak and Bathsheba after the disappearance of her husband, Francis Troy, presents Oak with the opportunity to think again about Bathsheba's predicament or potential course of action with respect to Boldwood. Asked by Bathsheba whether it is in fact "right" to give a conditional promise to marry Boldwood, as he has just suggested, Oak begins by responding that her "want of love" for Boldwood "seems … the one thing that takes away the harm from such an agreement" (FFMC, pp. 415–16). Oak, we realize, again expresses the views of a socialized conscience, a conscience ready to be scandalized by the idea of a passionate relationship forming in such circumstances. And thus, he continues, a "cold-hearted agreement to oblige a man seems different somehow." However, suddenly sympathetic—it would seem—to Bathsheba's obvious distress, Oak now performs a complete volte-face. He is capable, we discover, of the authentic moral article, conscientious reflection: "The real sin, ma'am, in my mind, lies in thinking of ever [End Page 149] wedding wi' a man you don't love honest and true" (p. 416). Finally, prompted it would appear by her misery—and we can only assume that this is the trigger—Oak takes the trouble to think about what marriage would mean to Bathsheba. To the attentive reader, however unclear the psychology, Oak's discourse is nevertheless highly significant; it can be taken to signal his moral potential: his ability to change, if not language, then at least perspective. He can provide "faithful counsel."


If it has taken Oak a long time to see Bathsheba's future from her point of view, she herself has long since assimilated the views of men, and accepted the notion that she bears moral responsibility for Boldwood's well-being. That their discourses have registered profoundly is obvious in the language of her response: "O if I could only pay some heavy damages in money to him for the harm I did, and so get the sin off my soul that way. … I've been a rake" (FFMC, p. 416). The fair-minded reader has difficulty seeing what more Bathsheba could do to try to convince Oak that she truly repents, that she has accepted that the consequences of her deed were harmful. However, only a brief time later, when asked whether a woman will keep her promise to marry a man, Oak's view shocks Boldwood by its cynicism: "If it is not inconvenient to her she may" (p. 421). In effect, Oak affirms that women have no integrity, and Bathsheba is clearly no exception to this rule. It seems obvious that Oak has retrieved his moral certainties, or more precisely his prejudices. He is ready yet again to disparage the woman he loves. What Mill called the "perverting influence" of a man's sense of a woman's moral inferiority is made manifest in his judgment.29 In the dynamics of this male's moral psychology, Hardy suggests that sympathy might be egalitarian, but it is also volatile, while some attitudes are pretty resistant to radical modification.

If we take a Humean view and agree that our attitudes and emotional states or "the tendencies of our character," no less than our actions, serve as a basis for moral evaluation—however they have come to be formed—then this propensity for contempt will strike us as unacceptable, that it is a demerit.30 So can Oak address the attitude of disdain and distrust that we glimpse in his conversation with Boldwood? Austen and Hardy both raise the issue as to how overcoming deep-seated and pernicious frames of mind might be possible. In Emma, Austen suggests that defeating disdain involves a double movement of the mind: the subjugation of contempt and a freeing up of the sentiment of kindness, [End Page 150] and that activating this mechanism requires a stimulus—some kind of shock to the system. In this respect, Mr. Knightley's remonstrance is most effective. On reviewing her behavior to Miss Bates on her return from Box Hill, Emma

was vexed beyond what could have been expressed—Never had she felt so agitated, mortified, grieved, at any circumstance in her life. She was most forcibly struck. The truth of his representation there was no denying. She felt it at her heart. How could she have been so brutal, so cruel to Miss Bates!—… How could she have exposed herself to such ill opinion in any one she valued!

(E, p. 352)

Emma is aghast, and her thoughts shift from the harm she has caused Miss Bates to her concerns regarding Mr. Knightley. The stimulus to face up to and overcome her attitude of contempt is activated the moment Emma recognizes that she is in danger of losing Mr. Knightley's good opinion, at the same time that she has lost her good opinion of herself. And at this point she is determined to instigate with Miss Bates "a regular, equal, kindly intercourse" (p. 353).

In Hardy's novel a major problem is constituted by the potent influence of male complacency. Oak's certitude with regard to his interpretations of Bathsheba's behavior meets with no rigorous challenge from a critical voice. There seems to be little sign that Oak will modify what has emerged as a habitual turn of mind, his abiding belief in a woman's moral fragility and hence inferiority. He still believes in "woman's prescriptive infirmity" (FFMC, p. 54). Indeed, there seems to be no obvious reason why he should change his views: he has no incentive to reflect upon his own judgments and assumptions. His ultimate success, we discover, is achieved by means of Bathsheba's wishful thinking/seeing. For Bathsheba, Oak's constant helpfulness has been taken to represent "true friendship" (p. 455). Unaware of his disparagement and of the full extent of her own inner strength, and once more craving to believe in someone stronger and more virtuous than herself, unsurprisingly perhaps, Bathsheba fails to read Oak in all his contradictoriness. On two occasions as the novel nears closure, Bathsheba gets to define reality for the careless and/or conservative reader, and the image she creates is that of Gabriel Oak as a man of virtue who can teach her patience and a way of "enduring things" (p. 354). Oak is the man who has apparently rightly been "a mentor" to her many times (p. 457). Waldron has remarked of the marriage between Emma and Knightley that this union "holds the [End Page 151] possibility of becoming a balance of opposing but equal forces, rather than the subjection of one personality to another."31 The question is whether the same can be claimed for the marriage that takes place in Hardy's novel: does the narrative give us any grounds for optimism?

Hardy has shown that his male mentor may be willing to listen, may even be capable of seeing things from a woman's perspective, but up to the very last chapter he does not appear to change his mind-set to any significant degree. Or rather we find that Gabriel Oak is transformed but only in Bathsheba's mind: he has become the one "who had believed in her and argued on her side when all the rest of the world was against her" (FFMC, p. 454). Her appreciation of his belief in her (however ill-founded) is decisive, enabling Hardy to end his novel on a positive note—one that is very positive for Gabriel Oak. For Bathsheba's reading of Oak constitutes an essential move in his gainful trajectory, promoting a marriage that provides Hardy's male protagonist with both greater wealth and emotional fulfillment. And the reader is left, on concluding the last chapter of the novel, with a sense of his impregnable complacency; his deep satisfaction with the way things have turned out. The nature of this marriage is the subject of a few words only. It unfolds, we read, in "hard prosaic reality" and is, significantly, an example of "good-fellowship" (p. 458).

What exactly this fellowship or friendship signifies or entails is left to the reader's imagination. Perhaps the "camaraderie" the narrator discerns as hero and heroine work side by side is founded in mutual respect or Mill's "equality of consideration." Hume reckoned that family life and sexual love ("that natural appetite betwixt the sexes") would contribute to the creation of mutual trust, and perhaps it will (PS, p. 228). Perhaps Oak will come to value Bathsheba's character as much as her beauty. Whether Hardy's most successful shepherd has found a way to modify his views of a man's moral superiority remains an open question.

Valerie Wainwright
University of Florence


1. Wayne C. Booth, "Control of Distance in Jane Austen's Emma," The Rhetoric of Fiction (1961; repr., Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1983), pp. 243–66. Fiona Stafford provides an account of the importance of Booth's work in the history of criticism in her introduction to Jane Austen's "Emma": A Casebook, ed. Fiona Stafford (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007), pp. 17–18.

2. As Mary Waldron notes, all Austen's major characters are morally inconsistent, "threading their ways through conflicting courses for which there proves to be no systematic guide." See Mary Waldron, Jane Austen and the Fiction of Her Time (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001), pp. 14, 132.

3. Chengping Zhang, "Moral Luck in Thomas Hardy's Fiction," Philosophy and Literature 34, no. 1 (2010): 82–94. Zhang makes no distinction between their respective attitudes or evaluations, claiming that "we can always rely on the narrator's guidance as well as on the moral compass of the male protagonist, the upright and trustworthy Oak" (p. 87).

4. Rosemarie Morgan argues that Hardy's point of view differs substantially from Oak's. See Rosemarie Morgan, Women and Sexuality in the Novels of Thomas Hardy (1988; repr., London: Routledge, 1991), pp. 162–63.

5. Devereux claims that Hardy sets up a test for Bathsheba, not for Oak. See Joanna Devereux, Patriarchy and Its Discontents: Sexual Politics in Selected Novels and Stories of Thomas Hardy (London: Routledge, 2003), pp. 22, 33.

6. See the critique of Booth's approach in Claudia L. Johnson, Jane Austen: Women, Politics and the Novel (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1988), pp. 121–43. As Johnson notes, "Eccentricity is one of the privileges of the elite, and in this case it permits the hero and heroine to be husband and wife, yet live and rule together with the autonomy of friends" (p. 143).

7. John Stuart Mill, On Liberty and Other Writings, ed. Stefan Collini (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1989), p. 119, 160–61.

8. George Gissing, The Odd Women (1893; repr., London: Virago Press, 1980), p. 197.

9. All references to the novel are to Jane Austen, Emma, ed. Fiona Stafford (London: Penguin Books, 2003), p. 352; hereafter abbreviated E.

10. John Locke, An Essay Concerning Human Understanding, ed. Pauline Phemister (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008), 4.6.1; hereafter abbreviated Locke and cited by book, chapter, and section.

11. For a discussion of the reasons for Emma's wrongdoing, see Valerie Wainwright, "Emma's Extravagance: Jane Austen and the Character-Situation Debate," in Fictional Characters, Real Problems: The Search for Ethical Content in Literature, ed. Garry L. Hagberg (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2016), pp. 102–16.

12. Locke's criteria may be applied to his approach, so that Mr. Knightley brings to bear on his view of Emma's action his "Knowledge" (of Miss Bates's distress, her downward mobility, and Emma's previous relations with her); his "Observation" (of Emma's selfsatisfaction on being made arbiter of the game); and his "Experience" (of the way in which others can be influenced by a person's mockery and laughter).

13. Thomas Hardy, Far from the Madding Crowd, ed. Ronald Blythe (London: Penguin, 1978), p. 88; hereafter abbreviated FFMC.

14. According to Mill, some men might be able to understand a woman's mind by sympathetic intuition, but "it is safe to say that the knowledge men can acquire of women, even as they have been and are—never mind what they could be—is wretchedly incomplete and superficial, and that it always will be so until women themselves have told all that they have to tell" (Mill, On Liberty, pp. 140–42).

15. For an analysis of Hume's views regarding virtue see Rachel Cohon, Hume's Morality: Feeling and Fabrication (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008), pp. 146–47.

16. Cohon asks, "What if people of distinct times and places differ in what they find immediately agreeable?" Hume does not discuss the possibility that they might differ in what they find agreeable. Cohon, Hume's Morality, pp. 250–54, 267.

17. For a discussion of this aspect of Hume's thought, see Paul Russell, Freedom and Moral Sentiment: Hume's Way of Naturalizing Responsibility (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002), pp. 102–11.

18. See Annette C. Baier, A Progress of Sentiments: Reflections on Hume's "Treatise" (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1991), pp. 152–53; hereafter abbreviated PS.

19. See Russell, Freedom and Moral Sentiment, pp. 60-65.

20. As Amélie Oksenberg Rorty explains, Hume requires his moral evaluator to adopt the stance of a "sympathetically sensitive judicious spectator" who is able to judge the general utility or pleasure of a character, quality, or action. See Amélie Oksenberg Rorty, "From Impressions to Justice and the Virtues," in The Cambridge Companion to Hume's "Treatise," ed. Donald C. Ainslie and Annemarie Butler (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2015), p. 25.

21. On the importance to Hume's theory of "recognizing" an inner principle expressed in the other's behavior, see PS, p. 188.

22. Cohon notes that Hume became convinced that an evaluator needs to gather a great deal of information before sentiment can play its part, "and the information alters the resulting feelings." See Cohon, Hume's Morality, pp. 246–48.

23. Mill, On Liberty, p. 133.

24. Fonna Forman-Barzilai, Adam Smith and the Circles of Sympathy: Cosmopolitanism and Moral Theory (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010), p. 16.

25. In the words of Forman-Barzilai, "The vivid tension between ordinary moral experience and reflective transcendence remains productively unresolved in Smith's thought," Forman-Barzilai, Adam Smith, pp. 17, 187.

26. In one of the most striking examples, Bathsheba's attempts to adorn Fanny Robins's tomb are described in terms of "the superfluous magnanimity of a woman whose narrower instincts have brought down bitterness upon her instead of love" (FFMC, p. 381).

27. The idea of female sinfulness becomes highly significant in Hardy's subsequent work. See Valerie Wainwright, "The Magic in Mentalité: Hardy's Native Returns," Ethics and the English Novel from Austen to Forster (2007; repr., London: Routledge, 2016), pp. 143–60.

28. Devereux, Patriarchy and Its Discontents, pp. 26–29.

29. Mill, On Liberty, p. 198.

30. See Russell, Freedom and Moral Sentiment, pp. 60, 118.

31. Waldron, Jane Austen and the Fiction of Her Time, p. 133.

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