Acknowledgement: This work has been brieflly summarized using the Penguin 1978 edition. Quotations are for the most part taken from that work, as are paraphrases of its commentary.
Overall Impression: A delightful and ironic portrayal of the "simple" country life, filled with rich language.
Occurs in "Wessex", SW England beginning in the 1840's. Gabriel Oak is a 28 year old shepherd and aspires to be a farmer with his own sheep. He proposes to the alluring and recently arrived Bathsheba Everdene, but she turns him down because he seems too plain and unpropertied. Disaster strikes as his flock, paid for with borrowed money, falls off an embankment due to an undisciplined sheep dog. At about the same time, she inherits her father's farm near Weatherbury. After chancing on her property during a fire and helping out, Oak is employed by her and eventually becomes the de facto supervisor on her a farm in reduced circumstances. Her neighbor, the upright Farmer Boldwood, proposes marriage to her after she sends a misleadingly enticing Valentine on a whim. Sargent Troy, an unprincipled man of questionable reputation, seduces her affections with a dazzling display of his swordsmanship and smooth talking, and they eventually wed hastily in Bath. Boldwood tries to buy him off when he learns he has returned, unaware of the marriage. Troy is not suited to run the farm and wastes money in gambling while the crops are neglected. Fanny Robin, Bathsheba's former servant, has become pregnant by Troy before the marriage and arrives in extreme poverty at the Casterbridge Union House to have her baby and to die. Troy is distraught at the death of his one true love (!) and arranges to have her buried with a headstone listing both their names. Troy and Bathsheba have by then fallen out and Troy wanders to the ocean shore and seems to have drowned, but actually is rescued by some boatmen and ends up in America. Boldwood presses Bathsheba for a date when she will marry him, much to her distress. Troy returns to perform in a travelling act at the sheep fair and is spotted by the previously fired bailiff, Benjy Pennyways. At the Christmas Eve party at Boldwood's, Troy turns up and Boldwood, now a man driven to madness by his obsession over Bathsheba, kills him with a shotgun. Bathsheba cleanses the body and maintains an overnight vigil with it, then arranges for it to be buried besides Fanny. Boldwood goes to jail. Oak at last marries Bathsheba, she now being a more sober and less lively person.