Far from the Madding Crowd HTML version

In reprinting this story for a new edition I am reminded that it was in the chapters
of "Far from the Madding Crowd" as they appeared month by month in a popular
magazine, that I first ventured to adopt the word "Wessex" from the pages of
early English history, and give it a fictitious significance as the existing name of
the district once included in that extinct kingdom. The series of novels I projected
being mainly of the kind called local, they seemed to require a territorial definition
of some sort to lend unity to their scene. Finding that the area of a single country
did not afford a canvas large enough for this purpose, and that there were
objections to an invented name, I disinterred the old one. The press and the
public were kind enough to welcome the fanciful plan, and willingly joined me in
the anachronism of imagining a Wessex population living under Queen Victoria; -
- a modern Wessex of railways, the penny post, mowing and reaping machines,
union workhouses, lucifer matches, labourers who could read and write, and
National school children. But I believe I am correct in stating that, until the
existence of this contemporaneous Wessex was announced in the present story,
in 1874, it had never been heard of, and that the expression, "a Wessex peasant"
or "a Wessex custom" would theretofore have been taken to refer to nothing later
in date than the Norman Conquest.
I did not anticipate that this application of the word to a modern use would extend
outside the chapters of my own chronicles. But the name was soon taken up
elsewhere as a local designation. The first to do so was the now defunct
Examiner, which, in the impression bearing date July 15, 1876, entitled one of its
articles "The Wessex Labourer," the article turning out to be no dissertation on
farming during the Heptarchy, but on the modern peasant of the south-west
counties, and his presentation in these stories.
Since then the appellation which I had thought to reserve to the horizons and
landscapes of a merely realistic dream- country, has become more and more
popular as a practical definition; and the dream-country has, by degrees,
solidified into a utilitarian region which people can go to, take a house in, and
write to the papers from. But I ask all good and gentle readers to be so kind as to
forget this, and to refuse steadfastly to believe that there are any inhabitants of a
Victorian Wessex outside the pages of this and the companion volumes in which
they were first discovered.
Moreover, the village called Weatherbury, wherein the scenes of the present
story of the series are for the most part laid, would perhaps be hardly discernible
by the explorer, without help, in any existing place nowadays; though at the time,
comparatively recent, at which the tale was written, a sufficient reality to meet the
descriptions, both of backgrounds and personages, might have been traced
easily enough. The church remains, by great good fortune, unrestored and intact,
and a few of the old houses; but the ancient malt-house, which was formerly so
characteristic of the parish, has been pulled down these twenty years; also most
of the thatched and dormered cottages that were once lifeholds. The game of
prisoner's base, which not so long ago seemed to enjoy a perennial vitality in
front of the worn-out stocks, may, so far as I can say, be entirely unknown to the