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MonkeyNotes-Far From the Madding Crowd by Thomas Hardy
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Chapter 8

Warren's Malthouse is a thatched, ivy-colored building with a stone flag floor, a large oven in the center, and a bench for the malt drinkers along one side. The old maltster has seen several generations pass in Weatherbury. When Oak enters, the assembled group of rustics, including Jan Coggan, Mark Clark, Jacob Smallbury, the shy Joseph Poorgrass, and "Henery" Fray, warmly welcomes him. The workers accept him due to the ability he has shown in skillfully and successfully fighting the fire, and the maltster recognizes Gabriel Oak as the grandson of a good friend. Oak is invited to drink from the God-forgive-me cup; however, the humble Gabriel insists on drinking from a dusty mug.

The rustics narrate funny stories, including some about Poorgrass's shyness. In turn, Gabriel questions the villagers about the farm and its mistress. He learns that Bathsheba's parents have been dead for some time, and she has recently inherited her uncle's farm. Although the villagers can tell much about the uncle, Farmer Everdene, Gabriel cannot gather much information about Bathsheba's past. He does learn that Pennyways, a none-too-honest bailiff, manages Bathsheba's farm. Gabriel then changes the subject to a discussion of the maltster's age and experience. The maltster very willingly relates his past history and judges himself to be over a hundred years old.

When the villagers notice Oak's flute, they request him to play a tune. Henery recognizes Gabriel as the man who played the flute at the fair. The villagers then praise Gabriel for being such a clever and sensible man who they are delighted to have in their group. When Laban Tall stands to leave, the group breaks up for the evening. Then Henery brings in the news of the bailiff's dismissal. Henery relates the story of how Bathsheba had caught the man with a half-bushel of barley that did not belong to him. She also discovered that five sacks had also been stolen. She had promised not to prosecute him if he left immediately. Laban Tall then returns with the news of Fanny Robin's disappearance. The villagers, with no particular fondness for Fanny, are not shocked. They believe she either committed suicide or ran away with a soldier. At the end of the chapter, Gabriel is thinking over the events of the day and decides to get his belongings from Norcombe.


Notes

The Malthouse scene in this chapter is very entertaining. The seemingly idle gossip of the villagers provides the reader with a lot of information about characters and events. The villagers are interesting because of the funny manner in which they are described, and also because they discuss matters in a comical kind of way. Hardy also mentions some strange characteristics of the individual villagers. For example, there is the pride with which the maltster speaks of his age and the bitterness with which Henery Fray criticizes his mistress and her bailiff. Hardy presents the rustics for their individual peculiarities as well as for their harmonious unity as a group.

At the end of the chapter, it is important to note that Oak is not present to hear both pieces of news that the villagers bring back to the Malthouse. The two items of news pertain to the bailiff and Fanny Robin. The first piece of information would have interested Gabriel, because he himself is aspiring for the post of bailiff. The second piece of information relates to Fanny. Gabriel could have thrown some light on the woman because he met her near the churchyard. Fanny's soldier friend is none other than Sergeant Troy himself, but his identity is not revealed now so that the reader's curiosity is kept alive.

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MonkeyNotes-Far From the Madding Crowd by Thomas Hardy

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