Far from the Madding Crowd was first published in 1874 and was sold out in just over two months. The critics were not quite so enthusiastic - though they all agreed on its power - and Henry James wrote: 'the only things we believe in are the sheep and the dogs'. Henry James was wrong. Far from the Madding Crowd, perhaps the best-known and most humorous of Hardy's novels even though the familiar themes of suffering and betrayal are evident, is the product of Hardy's intimate and first-hand knowledge of the attitudes, habits, inconsistencies and idiosyncrasies of rural men and women. The mainspring of the book, none the less, is Bathsheba Everdene and her three suitors. And, in portraying her caprice and wilfulness gradually crushed by bitter self-knowledge and rejection, Hardy makes his own point about sexual love. Romance, he says, should grow up 'in the interstices of a mass of hard prosaic reality.'