The novel builds toward its climax in Chapter 52, appropriately named "Converging Courses." Hardy divides the chapter into seven sections, charting the activities of Boldwood, Bathsheba, Gabriel, and Troy as they prepare for and attend Boldwood's Christmas Eve party.
The party is talked about all over Weatherbury, largely because it is so unusual for Boldwood to give a party. He has decorated his long hall meticulously, but, we are told, "In spite of all this, the spirit of revelry was wanting in the atmosphere of the house"; Boldwood is not a natural host.
Bathsheba is dressing for the party. She tells Liddy, "I am foolishly agitated: I am the cause of the party, and that upsets me!" She decides to continue to wear her mourning and dress in black for the festivities.
Boldwood, too, is dressing and has given an inordinate amount of attention to his clothes, hiring a tailor to alter everything. Gabriel visits him and Boldwood asks for his assistance in tying his tie. He asks, "'Does a woman keep her promise, Gabriel?'" and Gabriel answers, "If it is not inconvenient to her she may.'" Gabriel warns him not to build too much on promises, and it is clear that Boldwood harbors fear of Bathsheba's refusal; he is highly agitated.
We also see Troy and Pennyways as they prepare to go to Boldwood's party. Troy asks Pennyways about Bathsheba's relationships with Boldwood and Gabriel. Troy finally sets off for the party in disguise, thinking that Bathsheba is on the verge of marrying Boldwood. He plans to arrive at nine.
Now we are shown Boldwood at his farm again, as he offers Gabriel a larger part of the farm's profits, saying that he hopes to retire from the management altogether. Boldwood says he knows Gabriel loves Bathsheba and says he believes he has won the competition for Bathsheba, in part, because of Gabriel's "goodness of heart." As the guests arrive, Boldwood shows "feverish anxiety."
The climax of the novel comes in Chapter 53. The villagers gather outside Boldwood's house, whispering that Troy has been seen that day in Casterbridge. The night is "dark as a hedge." Boldwood is waiting desperately for Bathsheba, and the workers overhear him say, "Oh my darling, my darling, why do you keep me in suspense like this?" Bathsheba arrives, and the workers try to decide whether to tell Boldwood about Troy. Then, they spot his face at the window. After an hour, Bathsheba prepares for departure, and Boldwood finds her alone in the parlor. He pressures her and she agrees to "give the promise, if I must." Boldwood finally presses her to take a ring, persuading her to wear it for just that night, and she begins to cry. He is almost violent in his firmness, and she is "beaten into non-resistance." Just then, a stranger is announced, and in front of the whole party, Troy announces, "Bathsheba, I am come for you!" She does not move.
He reaches out to pull her toward him, but she shrinks back; her dread irritates Troy, who seizes her arm violently; she screams. The sound of the scream is followed by a deafening bang: Boldwood has shot Troy dead. He is about to shoot himself, as well, when a worker stops him. Boldwood leaves the hall.
In the next chapter, we learn that Boldwood has turned himself in at the Casterbridge prison, while Bathsheba has tended to Troy and called for a surgeon. Troy, however, is dead.
Months later, in March, Boldwood's trial occurs. The onlookers learn that Boldwood had prepared a set of ladies' dresses in expensive fabrics in a closet in his home and several sets of jewelry in packages labeled "Bathsheba Boldwood." Boldwood is sentenced to death by hanging. However, the residents of Weatherbury are convinced that Boldwood is not "morally responsible" for his actions, and Gabriel sends a petition to the Home Secretary requesting a reconsideration of the sentence. Finally, on the eve of his execution the news comes that he has been pardoned and given "confinement during Her Majesty's pleasure" instead.
Troy is buried in the same grave as Fanny Robin. Bathsheba's spirits slowly revive as the spring turns to summer. One day, as she is visiting the grave, she sees Gabriel singing in the church choir. He joins her at the grave and tells her that he intends to leave Weatherbury. Upset, she begs him to stay, but he will not. When she receives his official final notice as bailiff, she cries and decides to visit him at his cottage. He invites her in and explains that one of his motivations for leaving are the rumors going around the village about a romance between the two of them. After some confusion, Bathsheba admits that she has come "courting him" and the two agree to marry.
The last chapter portrays the quiet wedding of Gabriel and Bathsheba. After the wedding, the two dine at the farm, and all the men of the village gather to sing and play for them.
The tension builds through the use of the villagers' comments about Troy, just as in a Greek tragedy in which the conflicts about to be unleashed are commented on by the chorus. They alone know what the reader knows--that Troy is alive and may turn up at the party. Yet also like the reader, they are powerless to intervene. The villagers articulate all the fears the readers have about how Boldwood and Bathsheba will react to Troy's presence. The tension they instill makes the somewhat melodramatic climax--Boldwood's murder of Troy--more plausible. Knowing how deeply Boldwood hopes that Troy's death will allow him to possess Bathsheba, we understand his urge to kill Troy.
The scene-by-scene structure of Chapter 52 contributes to this dramatic suspense, as we imagine three separate sets of people each about to come together and each deeply anxious, wondering how it will all be resolved. Notice that Gabriel fulfills his classic role of the intelligent, sensible observer, who does not take part in the action.
The final chapters serve to release this tension and to make sense of what has happened. Boldwood's trial looks back upon all the recent events and causes the readers to develop sympathy for his misdeed so that we, like the villagers, may forgive him. Similarly, by burying Troy with Fanny, Bathsheba shows acceptance of their previous bonds to each other. In the wake of these three ruined lives, only Gabriel and Bathsheba remain.
Bathsheba's trip to Gabriel's cottage is the final instance of the series of intimate discussions about marriage the two have from the very outset of the novel, beginning with Gabriel's first proposal. In the previous scenes, Bathsheba has been hurt when Gabriel has not confessed his devotion to her. Here, finally, she is driven to admit her own love for him. This time, she is the one who introduces the notion of their marrying.
Hardy is careful to show that the love that Gabriel and Bathsheba share is not the passion of a first love but a sadder and wiser connection. In the final scene, Jan Coggan makes a joke, and the narrator tells us, "Then Oak laughed, and Bathsheba smiled (for she never laughed readily now), and their friends turned to go." While the ending is ostensibly a happy one, that happiness is tempered by all that has happened.
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