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What Does the Saying "Far from the Madding Crowd" Mean?

By Angela Farrer
Updated May 23, 2024
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The saying "far from the madding crowd" originates from the novel of the same name that Thomas Hardy wrote and published in 1874. The basic theme of the novel centers on a group of characters struggling to make quiet and content lives in spite of their emotion-driven and impulsive decisions. Some literary analysts claim that Hardy may have titled his novel with a touch of irony as a result. The title Far From the Madding Crowd is believed to draw inspiration from three different poems published previously, and the phrase is generally accepted as synonymous with any tranquil countryside location and way of life.

The first possible literary inspiration for the phrase "far from the madding crowd" can be found in an Edmund Spenser poem that he published in 1579. The line of interest references a "madding mynde" in the style of written English that was prevalent at the time. Another line of poetry that Hardy may have used as a starting point is William Drummond's "Farre from the madding Worldlings hoarse discords," which first appeared in 1614. These words possibly suggest a more complete picture of a quiet life away from the worldly bustle and rush of city living.

Thomas Grey's "Elegy Written Contained by a Country Churchyard" is an additional poem often cited as a reference for Thomas Hardy's initial idea for Far From the Madding Crowd. Scholars often suggest that Grey and Hardy both placed a high degree of value on pastoral country life as the ideal place for self-examination and introspective thought. Since Hardy wrote this novel during a time when the Victorian era was facing changes due to the Industrial Revolution, his writing might have reflected underlying concern that this kind of tranquil life may have been under a threat from this type of modernization.

Modern readers of Hardy's novel often focus on the term "madding" as a deviation from the more contemporary word "maddening" and speculate on its exact definition that would have been the most accurate during Hardy's lifetime. Some liken the word to mean "frenetic" as it relates to person's actions or thoughts. Others believe it is more closely tied to anger, but whether it actually means becoming angry or being on the receiving end of someone else's anger is somewhat open to debate among critics and literary analysts. The difference in this phrasing of "far from the madding crowd" also reflects the rate of change within the English language over a few centuries.

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