Comparing Editions of “Far from the Madding Crowd”

I recently read Thomas Hardy’s Far from the Madding Crowd. Because the text of the editions vary, and because I wanted to read more about the book, I borrowed two other editions from the library and picked up yet another used. I thought it might be useful to share the pros and cons I found of each edition. Keep in mind I’m not a formal scholar, but an auto-didactic home reader; these are impressions of the whole book, not rigorous reviews.

The New York Public Library collector’s edition Far from the Madding Crowd is a lovely small hardcover with a dust jacket. Included are all illustrations by Helen Paterson from the original serial publication, as well as photos of Hardy and hand-written pieces by him and Virginia Woolf, whose father, Leslie Stephen, was Hardy’s editor. It has a well-written introduction but does not specify which edition this volume was based on, or who wrote the introduction and the notes, such as this cranky one on Michael Millgate’s 1971 Thomas Hardy: His Career as a Novelist:

Still the single best study of Hardy’s fiction, written with clarity and grace, back in those ancient days, well before postmodernism began to motor through “the text,” which one Hardy deconstructor has rather alarmingly described as “a fissured, riven, deranged, unstable linguistic terrain.”

If this edition had notes, foot- or end-, I would have appreciated it. There are many archaic, rustic terms and Biblical and mythical references. I wished for more information, so read the notes from other editions.

The Norton Critical Edition Far from the Madding Crowd has a brief forward, followed by the novel with footnotes. After the novel are nearly 200 pages of background and criticism. I appreciated reading excerpts from several authors about many aspects of the book, but wished for a more edited selection. As an object, the book has no charm in form or feel. It felt like something I would only buy if I had to.

The Modern Library Far from the Madding Crowd is a trade paperback with a good but brief introduction by Margaret Drabble. Notes are at the end, by chapter and a reading group guide is included. Reasonably priced, this would be a good selection for a book group.

The Penguin Classics Far From the Madding Crowd has a very different text from the other three, which were based on later editions of the novel that had been much edited by Hardy. The Penguin edition contains a version of the original manuscript prior to its being edited (some would say, censored) and published as a serial; note the capital F in From in the Penguin title (me, rolling my eyes.) The Penguin is a substantively different edition than what most readers are familiar with–ones edited by Hardy later in life. I compared one of the key chapters (42). While there was much edited out in the other editions, I felt the later version was more suspenseful and less mawkish than the original. It has endnotes and a glossary, as well as a good introduction, but this seems for scholars and completists more than the average reader.

An interesting oops: I reserved a copy of Far from the Madding Crowd from the Oxford Bookworms series, hoping it would be a student version of the Oxford World Classics series, which I like. Instead, it’s an illustrated re-telling, probably intended for kids who don’t want to read the actual book.

I have not seen a copy from my favorite series, the Oxford World Classics Far from the Madding Crowd, but suspect this would be like the Modern Library edition–a good edition, introduction and set of notes.

There is a well-regarded film version, Far from the Madding Crowd (1967) starring Julie Christie, and a Masterpiece Theater Far from the Madding Crowd (1998).

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