‘A country boy with a fossilized village upbringing and a close affinity with the natural world, I was naturally drawn to Hardy, and to this story in particular with its deliberately evocative title. And I imagined the book would be a literary extension of my own rural habitat. We lived out between the sea and the fields – where horse-gear still jingled and the farmers still laid out the harvest as they had done for centuries in house-high haystacks. Hardy’s rustics were people I knew personally. In my adolescence I conducted the customary love-affair with language and literature. I mooned around country churchyards, pretending I was – not Thomas Hardy, but Thomas Gray. I loved his Elegy, written for the dead of Stoke Poges, and I had it by heart. Roaming the curving beaches and broad acres of the East Neuk of Fife, I spouted the poem aloud to an audience of seagulls and sheep, enjoying the moment when I stood among my own village tombstones and spoke the famous stanza:
Far from the madding crowd’s ignoble strife,
Their sober wishes never learned to stray;
Along the cool sequestered vale of life
They kept the noiseless tenor of their way.’
Extract from Christopher Rush’s article ‘The Great-aunt and the Author’ on Thomas Hardy’s ‘Far from the Madding Crowd’ in Issue 35 of Slightly Foxed. Illustrated by Howard Phipps’s ‘Win Green From Berwick Down’.