Hardy's first major novel tells the story of the shepherd Gabriel Oak and his long, patient devotion to Bathsheba Everdene. Bathsheba's faithless husband is murdered by a neighboring farmer, William Bellwood, who also loves her. At the end of a traumatic series of events, Bathsheba turns to Gabriel at last, valuing his honesty and integrity. Like Hardy's later novels, this one is characterized by coincidence, melodrama, and a degree of improbability. It also emphasizes the role of natural forces—the earth and the rhythms of rural life—all of which are personified in Gabriel Oak. The novel is less bleak and unforgiving than the later works, and is remarkable for its insight into the complexities of character, particularly that of the many-faceted Bathsheba.
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