Sometimes you really can't go home again.
Jude the Obscure is one of my most treasured reading experiences, and I can say without a shadow of a doubt that it's one of my favorite books. Naturally, I thought it was safe to assume that Thomas Hardy could not disappoint once I revisited him.
I was wrong. Far From the Madding Crowd was written some twenty years previous to Jude, which is notable as being the last novel he ever wrote thanks to a public backlash, and now perhaps I can better imagine why this occurred. Madding Crowd is a deeply conventional work, not even merely in comparison. It hardly seems possible that the same author wrote both works. Where Jude is calculated and dark, Madding Crowd is meandering and melodramatic. You care what happens in Jude; before the ending of Madding Crowd, you'll wish Bathsheba would not have encouraged three such disparate men into loving her and by a dizzying number of coincidences ended up right back where she started, at the side of Gabriel Oak.
Where Jude is depressingly realistic, Madding Crowd is depressingly artificial. I find it appalling that the literary establishment would even keep the memory of the book alive. Jude represents genius, where Madding Crowd exhibits tedium. What else do I have to say? I would now tend to avoid any further reading from Hardy as if he had contracted the plague. For this author, it's enough to know he had one great book in him. Even if it was twenty years earlier and he had different sensibilities and was consciously playing to the public, it's just disappointing to know that Hardy had so little inspiration in him at this point. Like Melville, perhaps the more he indulged himself, the better he got, and that's all I really need to know.
To reiterate, it is Madding Crowd that ought to be obscure.
Fun fact! Bathsheba goes through a number of last names in the book (Troy, Boldwood, Oak), but her original surname is Everdeen. And that's where The Hunger Games got it from.