In the mid-19th, early 20th century the Victorian era brought along a change in the attitudes of men and women. Men provided the income for families and were expected to own a few acres of land, by most women, to ensure financial security for a family. Men associated with the upper-class would attract women who were more literate and well-spoken than most females, and had some wealth. Aristocratic men would own iron or coal mining industries, work as yeoman farmers, or work as solicitors or accountants. Middle-class and working-class men were not seen as ideal husbands by women in the town but were still polite and respectful, despite the lack of wealth and not boasting a good reputation.
Women felt that their ideal husband had to be a caring and romantic gentleman, who was charming and attractive in his appearance with a politeness that they felt respected by. The men were expected to have much respect for their wives and women who were unknown to them in society. Hierarchy was an influential factor for women who were scouting for potential husbands. An important characteristic of an ideal Victorian husband would be their attitude. Women preferred relaxed and calm gentlemen, rather than dashing and argumentative. The ideal husband in Victorian England would have a respectable background and a good reputation amongst the women folk and would be well-educated. Men were expected to be brave and heroic in their actions if their wives were in danger, and this would attract women as they would feel safe.
Hardy portrays Gabriel Oak as an honest, brave and protective farmer. Oak is a practical man and always acts sensibly and effectively, rather than acting logically to a situation. Oak’s character is full of exceptional skill with animals and farming, whilst being stoical and possessing and an unparalleled loyalty. He is Bathsheba’s first suitor, later the bailiff on her farm, and finally her husband at the end of the novel.
Gabriel is characterized by an incredible ability to read the natural world and control it without fighting against it. He occupies the position of a quiet observer throughout the majority of the novel, yet he knows just when to step in to save Bathsheba and others from catastrophe. Women expected to be treated with respect, but not to be flattered. Oak’s respect for women is genuine, and is chivalrous towards Bathsheba and he puts her interests before his own, by saving her ricks from the fire and the storm. This attitude would impress women. Oak feels he has a duty to protect Bathsheba and cares for her well being and safety,
‘Gabriel turned, and steadied her on her aerial perch by holding her arm.’ (P236 Ch 37) This shows he is a calm gentleman, fully complying with the Victorian ideals. He is aware when Bathsheba is in danger of suffering major, or even minor, injuries. Oak’s bravery and practicality is expressed when he saves a burning hay rick from destruction. ‘Something was on fire. … leaping down on the other side upon what he found to be ploughed soil, made across the field in the exact direction of the fire.’ (P43 Ch 6) “Stop the draught under the wheat-rick!” cried Gabriel to those nearest to him. (P45 Ch 7) “Get a tarpaulin – quick!” said Gabriel. (P45 Ch 6)
Here, Oak expresses his bravery, as he ran across the field “in the exact direction of the fire” and showing his instant determination to save Bathsheba’s ricks from complete destruction, proving he respects and cares for her. He shows his practical sense by distributing sensible orders to villagers helping him save the ricks, requesting someone to “Get a tarpaulin – quick!” (emphasizing the danger of the fire), instead of opting for the logical method of a bucket of water. But Oak shows that he has confidence in his decisions and believes they are effective. His attitude portrays an image of a stoical male, who has self-esteem but does not express his emotions when feeling irate.
Oak is a fond lover of nature, and is offended should anyone make a comment against the beauty of nature. This is evident during his discovery of a large toad humbly traveling across the path before the storm in Chapter 37. “Oak took it up, thinking it might be better to kill the creature to save it from pain; but finding it uninjured, he placed it again among the grass. He knew what this direct message from the Great Mother meant.” (P230 Ch 36)
His friendliness towards and understanding of nature and creatures show he believes that the world is not simply about mankind, but that nature should be considered as part of an environment. This type of attitude would be typical of a Victorian man who, whether being close to animals or not, would not destroy a creature if it appeared injured and evinces respect and courtesy. But Oak’s calm and stoical characteristics defy him from being a representation of ‘the Victorian man’. Men who lived during that era would become quite violent towards their wives if they did not obey orders. The harsh domestic discipline in the nineteenth century ensured that men controlled the household. If they felt angry, they would clearly show their anger. This is evident in many early-twentieth century novels and films, such as ‘Oliver Twist’, where Bill Sykes is constantly threatening his wife Nancy, who is caring towards Oliver, if she does not obey his strict orders.
The novel’s antagonist Frank Troy (a Sergeant), the victorious suitor, is a romantic character who is always giving his best efforts to impress Bathsheba Everdene. However, unlike fellow suitor Gabriel Oak, Troy is a selfish man and very self-absorbed. In many ways he is the male equivalent of Bathsheba; handsome, vain, young, and irresponsible, though he is capable of love. Early in the novel he is involved with Fanny Robin and impregnates her. At first, he plans to marry her, but when there is miscommunication about which church to meet at, he angrily refuses to marry her, and she is ruined. Troy’s character is overwhelmed by his emotions, as he is weak and easily angered and can be quite violent towards Bathsheba.
Troy appears attractive and handsome in the novel, furthering his identification as the ‘ideal man’ of the Victorian age. ‘… whilst walking beside her in a farmer’s marketing suit of unusually fashionable cut was an erect, well-made young man.’ (P244 Ch 39) Troy’s vanity is shown as here, walking with the reins and whip of his horse upon his hands. This would be typical of a Victorian man who was proud of his appearance.
Unlike Gabriel Oak, Troy does not have much respect for nature. He displays his support for modernization and emphasises how he is a well-educated city-folk. ” … I feel like new wine in an old bottle here. My notion is that sash-windows should be put throughout, and these old wainscoated walls brightened up a bit; or the oak cleared quite away, and the walls papered … I am for making this place modern.” (P224 Ch 35)
Here, Troy shows his desire to change the atmosphere in his home, and he admits that the old house urgently needs renovation. The “new wine in an old bottle” suggests that the decoration is not approved of by Troy and implies that the bottle needs a new appearance. Troy’s condescending and arrogant approach causes Hardy to portray Troy as a snob. Hardy opposed change and modernisation, which is what Troy was recommending in the quotation. Troy, being a well-educated, handsome young man would appeal to women as he complies to the Victorian ideals.