Far From the Madding Crowd, by Thomas Hardy
I finished my Spin title! At first I was not any too sure about this novel; I felt that it got off to an awfully slow start, and I was at least 100 pages in before I got interested in the characters. Pretty soon, though, I couldn't wait to find out what would happen, and I read the second half much faster than the first half.
The story starts with a young farmer, Gabriel Oak, who falls in love with a beautiful neighbor girl, Bathsheba. She refuses him and leaves the area. Some time later, Gabriel loses his farm and looks for work as a shepherd, which he finds at the farm that Bathsheba has just inherited. While he works for her, two other men fall in love with her: a respectable and established neighbor, and a charming, dashing soldier. The consequences of Bathsheba's decisions reach far out, but she does at least have Gabriel quietly working for her all the while.
What interested me was the study of three different personalities who all fell for Bathsheba's beauty, but who are utterly different in every other way.
Farmer Boldwood at first seems like a perfectly good candidate for a husband, but he is obsessed; his unrelenting, self-focused desire reveals deep-seated problems. He thinks nothing of pressuring Bathsheba and manipulating her into promises no one should have to make, and he plays on her weaknesses with no regard for her as a person. He wants to possess her.
Sergeant Troy is handsome and ruthlessly charming. He too manipulates Bathsheba--without thought for her or anyone else--and he gives no thought to the future. He is careless as well as ruthless, and he doesn't even particularly want to possess her; he just can't refrain from trying to charm any pretty girl he meets, and he sees 'no' as a challenge to be overcome.
Gabriel Oak, as you can tell from his name, is worthy; but Bathsheba is not yet worthy of him and has to go through a refiner's fire of her own making to become so. Gabriel may not have a lot of social skills or charm or money, but he is honest, unassuming, and consistently concerned for others' well-being.
Since it's a Hardy novel, I figured Gabriel would die or something. But I've already written plenty of spoilers without telling you his fate. I really enjoyed this book, and since it's the third Hardy novel I've read and liked, maybe someday I'll work my way up to Jude the Obscure or something.