Far from the Madding Crowd by Thomas Hardy - Q&A with the Guide
Updated: Sep 1
An interview with Tracy Hayes, the Audrey Guide to Far from the Madding Crowd by Thomas Hardy
Can you tell us a bit about your background with Thomas Hardy, and why you love him and his writing so much?
Tracy: I actually first came to Hardy through movie adaptations of his works thirty years ago. I am originally from Australia and decades ago when I was at secondary school and then university he was not on any curriculum in Perth. I'd never heard of him until a friend and I went to the movies and saw The Woodlanders* starring Rufus Sewell. I have been in love with Hardy, and Rufus Sewell, ever since!
Years later after I had emigrated to England and was pregnant with my first child I decided to 'go back to school', having dropped out of university back in Oz. Here I was finally introduced to Hardy the writer, having studied Far From the Madding Crowd for my degree in Literature. It has remained my favourite Hardy novel ever since. I wrote my MA dissertation on Hardy, and then my PhD thesis focused on Hardy and his novels. I joined the committee of the Thomas Hardy Society organising events celebrating his life and works, as well as speaking about him at conferences and publishing essays and chapters on him. I've even appeared on TV blabbing about him. I think I am the epitome of a Hardy nerd!
2. When we first chatted, I was proposing a guide to Tess of the d'Urbevilles, but you told me you'd really rather do Far from the Madding Crowd. What is it about this book in particular that made you feel you wanted to create a guide to it and share it with the Audrey community?
Tracy: It was the first Hardy novel I ever read and it instantly became my favourite. I've lost track of how many times I have read it, and each time I find something new to ponder over and appreciate. Hardy was a painter of words and I think this truly comes across in Far From the Madding Crowd... his descriptions of nature are second to none.
His empathy with the living world, both human and non-human, is limitless. He believed in the sentience of all creatures, plants and animals included, before Darwin's book The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals proved its existence. In this novel, as in his others, trees speak to each other, we are privy to the thoughts of dogs, the pain of sheep, and his cosmological descriptions are simply breathtaking – Gabriel Oak standing under a night sky and peering at the stars, feeling the earth move incrementally underneath him – I've not read a passage like this anywhere else.
And I could go on forever about Hardy's insight into human psychology. Because of this William Boldwood is my favourite character of all time!
3. How was the process of creating the Audrey guide? And what would you tell someone who's reluctant to read Hardy (like I was... )?
Tracy: To people who think Hardy is all doom and gloom I say think again! He had a wonderfully dry wit and some of his characters and passages about them are absolutely hilarious! In this novel alone there are many moments where you can't help but laugh at the speech and manner of the Rustics, the quaint and often ridiculous things that they say – such as Joseph Poorgrass's 'multiplying eye' whenever he has a drink! Hardy makes nature come alive, he makes characters come alive. At the end of each novel, short story or poem you come away thinking 'Wow, how did he do that?'
Creating the Audrey guide to Far From the Madding Crowd was a dream come true for me. It gave me an excuse to read the novel yet again and I was able to combine my research with audio notes to point out things readers may have missed, or pondered, or simply might find interesting. It was a wonderful opportunity to be able to share my love for Hardy and this novel in particular with as many people as possible!
*Audrey edition of The Woodlanders coming soon!
Download the whole unabridged audiobook of Far from the Madding Crowd, read by Jamie Parker, with Tracy's complete chapter-by-chapter guide, exclusively on the Audrey app.
Tracy Hayes received her PhD from The Open University in 2017 with a thesis investigating masculinities in the novels of Thomas Hardy.
Having presented papers on Hardy, M.R. James and Edgar Allan Poe at numerous conferences throughout the UK, Dr Hayes has also published in various journals and contributed chapters to collections on Hardy, Relationships in Literature, the Brontës, Poe and the Gothic.
Her current research centres around representations of Gothic masculinity and the Antiquarian Gothic. She is also an English tutor for secondary school students in the UK.