Hardy is not my favorite author, because most of his characters are unrelatable. I don’t just mean that I don’t know what it feels like to be a shepherd (though this is true), but because the emotions and reactions to situations were so disconnected to what I would do.
This problem is particularly evident in the beautiful Bathsheba Everdene, who vacillates from being the clever, strong woman of means that every man adores, to a weak, undecided, irrational servant of her own emotions. It was as if the character of Bathsheba took on a life of her own against Hardy’s will, and he felt the need to inflict all the negative stereotypes of women on her in order to control her. The problem with this characterization is it isn’t stable. Hardy tries to have it both ways: he makes a great assertive character, someone who is loveable because she is strong and independent and fiery, in order to make it believable that all these men would fall in love with her. But then he turns around and makes her needy, passive, compliant, so that she isn’t completely “out of their league”. Because face it, all three men are boring compared to Bathsheba.
I get that in real life, people are contradictory. Emotions are unstable, so that one day a person might be calm and collected, the next impulsive and irrational. Hardy uses this emotional instability and chocks it up to Bathsheba being a woman, as if men were exempt from such pendulous mood swings. But even if Bathsheba were bipolar in some way, that doesn’t explain how she could be a good businesswoman, running her farm (albeit with Gabriel Oak’s help) on her own, and then suddenly she’s crumbling with self-doubt and submission.
As I said, in real life, people are contradictory. But in books, authors are not allowed this one piece of verisimilitude. Characters, as opposed to flesh and blood human beings, must stay within certain parameters of that characterization. The Spunky Woman Of Means is not allowed to blend with the Wishy-Washy Damsel. An A-Type personality like hers doesn’t suddenly become a B-type without Author Interference on a major scale. In this way, just as novelists simplify the world in general, distilling it into words composed of a mere 26 letters, they also have to compress humanity into set stereotypes.