Far from the Madding Crowd: Bathsheba’s Bower

Thomas Hardy created a fictional land called Wessex based on much of his observations of south-western England, particularly from around his home town. Far from the Madding Crowd mostly takes place in the fictional town, Weatherbury, which is based on Puddletown, Dorset. Hardy drew on much of the real-world for his setting, and Bathsheba’s house is no exception. He styled it after the Waterston Manor in Dorchester. The house is first described in the passage below, and the editor notes that due to Hardy’s architectural knowledge, the description is “professionally correct.”

For our viewing pleasure, I include pictures of the current Waterston Manor as well as the houses used as Bathsheba’s manor for the 1967 movie and the 2015 movie. All three are located in Dorset.
By daylight, the bower of Oak’s new-found mistress, Bathsheba Everdene, presented itself as a hoary building, of the early stage of Classic Renaissance as regards its architecture, and of a proportion which told at a glance that, as is so frequently the case, it had once been the manorial hall upon a small estate around it, now altogether effaced as a distinct property, and merged in the vast tract of a non-resident landlord, which comprised several such modest demesnes.
Fluted pilasters, worked from the solid stone, decorated its front, and above the roof the chimneys were panelled or columnar, some coped gables with finials and like features still retaining traces of their Gothic extraction. Soft brown mosses, like faded velveteen, formed cushions upon the stone tiling, and tufts of the houseleek or sengreen sprouted from the eaves of the low surrounding buildings. A gravel walk leading from the door to the road in front was encrusted at the sides with more moss – here it was a silver-green variety, the nut-brown of the gravel being visible to the width of only a foot or two in the centre. This circumstance, and the generally sleepy air of the whole prospect here, together with the animated and contrasting state of the reverse facade, suggested to the imagination that on the adaptation of the building for farming purposes the vital principles of the house had turned round inside its body to face the other way.
  • Classic Renaissance architecture: the Renaissance architectural period (14th to 17th century roughly) followed the Greek architecture movement in Europe (hence the “Gothic extraction” still noted in the house). It draws from classical architecture, think ancient Greeks and Romans, and generally emphasizes symmetry, regularity, order, and well-proportioned, geometric parts. Also common are
    semi-circular arches, half-domes, and the like.
  • Fluted pilasters: pilasters are decorative details meant to look like a supporting column but do not actually offer bear weight. (A little confusingly, they can be extrusions from columns which actually are bearing weight.) Fluted refers to the ridges along the length of the pilaster.
  • Coped gables: Gable roofs (shaped like an inverted letter V) appear in both Gothic and Greek architecture. Coped means covered.
  • Finials: Finials are decorative elements placed at the top or end (many curtain rods can have finials) of something.

    coped gable with finial and fluted Corinthian pilasters

  • Gothic architecture: Elements of Gothic architecture include flying buttresses, a strong emphasis on verticality (pointed arches, spires, and towers all draw the eye upward), abundance of interior light, and symbology embedded within the ornamental details. Gothic architecture was typically applied to important, formal buildings, such as cathedrals, and thus implies a sort of grandeur and gravity must have existed in Bathsheba’s estate.

The Waterston Manor: original inspiration

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The Bloxworth House: 1967 film

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The Mapperton House: 2015 film

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Which do you like best? How do the film locations compare to the original description?

  • More on the Waterston house here. Images are sourced from this blog.
  • Bloxworth real estate info (and picture source) is here, though will likely be taken down sooner rather than later. The house sold in 2014 for four million euros.
  • The Mapperton House website is here. They have house tours and garden access, a shop and cafe, and can host your wedding.

Artists in Far from the Madding Crowd

Thomas Hardy references a few artists in Far From the Madding Crowd and seems particularly influenced by those in the Dutch Golden age. The Golden age, which spanned the 17th century, paralleled the Baroque movement going on around much of Europe but favored realistic details over idealistic styling. In this time, many believed there was a hierarchy to paintings, listed here in descending order:

  • history paintings
  • portrait paintings
  • genre paintings
  • landscape paintings
  • still life paintings

The Dutch Golden Age saw numerous paintings produced in the “lower” groups. It is fitting that Hardy, who spends much of the novel describing the natural world surrounding his characters and developing his land of Wessex, would mostly reference the landscape artists of this time.

“but the grey, after years of sun and rain, had been scorched and washed out of the more prominent locks, leaving them of a reddish-brown, as if the blue component of the grey had faded, like the indigo from the same kind of colour in Turner’s pictures.”

J M W Turner (1775 – 1851) is an English Romanticist landscape painter. Like Hardy, he had a beginning in architecture. Turner is called “the painter of light” and is well known for his maritime scenes. He is also credited with elevating landscape paintings to the same status of historical paintings in his time. Despite the fact that more durable pigments existed at the time, Turner used paint materials that looked pleasing when freshly applied but faded very quickly, which Hardy may have been alluding to in the quote above.

Goldau and Fishermen at Sea

“The beauty her features might have lacked in form was amply made up for by perfection of hue, which at this winter-time was the softened ruddiness on a surface of high rotundity that we meet with in a Terburg or a Gerard Douw; and, like the presentations of those great colourists, it was a face which kept well back from the boundary between comeliness and the ideal.”

Gerard Terburg (also ter Borch) (1617 – 81) is a Dutch painter in Dutch Golden age known for his genre scenes and work with cloth textures. Gerard Douw (also Gerrit Dou) (1613 – 75) is another Dutch painter who lived in the Dutch Golden age. He was a pupil of the renowned Rembrandt and is known for his genre scenes and use of trompe l’oeil and strong chiaroscuro to create 3D forms. (For non-art people like myself, trompe l’oeil is French for “deceive the eye” and refers to creating the optical illusion that the subjects painted exist in 3D by using perspective. Chiaroscuro refers to the technique of using strong contrasts between light and dark tones to create 3D forms via highlights and shadows).

Lady at her Toilette (Terburg) and Girl Chopping Onions (Douw).

“The rain had quite ceased, and the sun was shining through the green, brown, and yellow leaves, now sparkling and varnished by the raindrops to the brightness of similar effects in the landscapes of Ruysdael and Hobbema, and full of all those infinite beauties that arise from the union of water and colour with high lights.”

Jacob van Ruisdael (Ruysdael) (1628 – 82) and Meyndert Hobbema (also Meindert) (1639 – 1709) are both Dutch landscape painters in the Golden age. Hobbema was actually a pupil of Ruisdael, who was considered the landscapist of his time. Ruisdael comes from a family of painters (his father, uncle, and cousin were painters as well). Nearly 700 paintings have been attributed to Ruisdael (though it is difficult to be sure when he and his family all signed using their last names), and his works went on to influence many following movements including the American Hudson River School. Both Ruisdael and Hobbema are known for their extraordinarily detailed portrayals of natural forms.

Landscape with Dune and Small Waterfall (Ruisdael) and Marshy Wood (Hobbema)

“The strange luminous semi-opacities of fine autumn afternoons and eves intensified into Rembrandt effects; the few yellow sunbeams which came through holes and divisions in the canvas, and spirted like jets of gold-dust across the dusky blue atmosphere of haze pervading the tent, until they alighted on inner surfaces of cloth opposite, and shone like little lamps suspended there.”

Rembrandt (1606 – 1669) (also a Dutch painter in the golden age) is the most well known artist that Hardy references. Unlike the other painters on this list, Rembrandt’s works span across all types of paintings, not only landscapes. Known for his use of chiaroscuro, he is sometimes called the King of Shadows.

Philosopher in Meditation and Landscape with a Stone Bridge