Fragrant Fictions #1 - Far from the Madding Crowd
The first in an irregular series that pairs the house’s fragrances with good reads.
At this time of year when temperatures rise and many of us take a bit of time out, lovers of a good read look forward to the "me time" delights of chucking a meaty book into their travel bags or simply kicking back in the garden with a cooling jug of lemonade and enjoying a good read in the shade of a tree during balmy evenings that don’t get dark until late.
One of only two of our fragrances named for a novel (both by nose Miguel Matos, incidentally) this is one the house’s fragrances most suited to long, hot summer days (and nights). Far from the Madding Crowd is one of our S.Baker Collection of eau de parfums that look foremost to freshness. Think of the light, clean qualities of historic eau de cologne traditions, but here realised with the luxury of an eau de parfum concentration.
Far from the Madding Crowd is a very light yet complex eau de parfum. It instantly whirls you off to Hardy’s world of intense emotions played out against a pastoral backdrop that is simultaneously exquisitely beautiful and cruelly unforgiving. Succulent plum and black cassis lure with an almost biblical promise of forbidden pleasure. Sun-drenched heliotrope and jasmine conjure up the unique pleasures of warm evenings. Cedar and oakmoss entice with the cooling shade on the edge of meadows—perhaps a place to hide a not entirely respectable amorous rendezvous. And then there is that hint of the animalic; an officer’s uniform not without a hint of the sweat of combat…
Breathe in the countryside
Heliotrope, a less widely used perfume note, is central in this fragrance, its starting point. The flower, which grows alongside ancient roads in many parts of the world, takes its name from an Ancient Greek myth. It is one of the species that follows the sun’s passage through the sky, turning always to face our solar system's star, evoking the tragic tale of Klytie, a nymph who loved the sun god Helios and was transformed into a flower when he forsook her for another, eternally following his daily journey through the heavens…
But, the other notes beautifully blended in this fragrance—deciduous fruits, herbs, woods and deep earthy notes—pull it inexorably towards the pastoral world of 19th-century English novelist Thomas Hardy. It is named for his novel specifically because in it you find a world evoking the heady, hazy aroma of meadows, the lazy indulgence of a summer picnic beneath the shade of willow trees on the banks of a slow moving river or the exhilaration of a secret meeting with a lover playing out in the privacy of the woods.
‘Far from the Madding Crowd’ was Hardy’s fourth novel, published in 1874 and his first real literary hit. In many ways it explores themes that reoccur in Hardy’s oeuvre. The heroine Bathsheba Everdene works hard to command the respect of the rough-and-tumble local rural community in Wessex as a woman running a farm she inherits after an unexpected windfall. She is a woman working hard to be a respected farmer at a time when agriculture was entirely dominated by men.
There are three men in her life: William Boldwood, a mature prosperous farmer whose hopes of love she inadvertently ignites with a playful Valentine's; Sergeant Francis "Frank" Troy, a dashing army officer who later proves to be a bit of a cad; and Gabriel Oak, a meek and mild shepherd who has been in love with Bathsheba ever since their youth, when he had prospects and she had none in sight.
A singular writer
As with a number of Hardy’s works, this is a novel that explores the choices women of his era make where marriage and love are concerned, sometimes with dire consequences. One of the things that was remarkable about Hardy compared with his contemporaries is that his observations of women’s choices in love come without the moralising and dire punitive indictments inflicted on fictional women by other contemporaneous writers. Hardy is overtly conscious that whatever choices women made in Victorian England, it was from a very limited and restrictive menu unless they were prepared to risk ruin and unfair judgement.
Hardy's women characters often make such "unwise" choices, sometimes resulting in tragedy, other times less so. But, whether highlighting their plight or rejoicing in their happiness, there is something in his writing that conveys the sense of a man who, unusually for his day, actually likes and admires women. This is almost certainly one of the reasons that Hardy was noted for his loyal readership of women in his time and beyond.
“By one of those whimsical coincidences in which Nature, like a busy mother, seems to spare a moment from her unremitting labours to turn and make her children smile, the girl now dropped the cloak, and forth tumbled ropes of black hair over a red jacket. Oak knew her instantly as the heroine of the yellow wagon, myrtles, and looking-glass: prosily, as the woman who owed him twopence.”—Thomas Hardy, ‘Far From the Madding Crowd’
Sure, there’s no doubt that Bathsheba is Hardy’s own ideal woman and it’s not hard to work out the character with whom he most self-identifies. But, without going as far as a plot spoiler, let’s just say that the final outcome won’t have you peevish and irritated: it ends on a suitably, if slightly insecure, note of summer romantic optimism.
If you’re of a literary bent, you'll almost certainly enjoy Stephan Matthew’s review of this fragrance that we think gets to the (sharp edged) heart of the matter.