“[Bathsheba’s father] would box the boys’ ears, if they laughed in church, till they could hardly stand upright, and do other deeds of piety common to the saintly inclined.”

Far from the Madding Crowd p. 56

“Deeds of piety”: for Joseph Poorgrass, the rod is indeed a pious instrument—or the hand aptly applied. What do we make of the man who will box the boys’ ears to keep them from laughing in church—which seems hardly a sin; though, self-control is certainly a virtue to learn. The remedy to the impropriety seems to smack of impropriety itself. Is violence in church better than laughter? 

The narrative before this quote shifts the camera a bit as we see Bathsheba’s father deal with his own sin: a desire to cheat on his wife. He didn’t submit to someone boxing his ears, but instead he resorted to some creative sanctification: he got his wife to take off her wedding ring and called her by her maiden name. This moved his simple mind to think of her as his sweetheart, which led to them being “a perfect example of mutel love.”

What do we make of this man? Could someone have said, “Mr. Everdene, why don’t you apply some of that creativity to those laughing children?” Both he and the boys lacked self-control. The solution: farce for the former, force for the latter. The mystery of sanctification! How we try to help it along in ourselves and others. I think we are all a little like Mr. Everdene: usually harsher on others’ seeming failures than our own actual ones. 

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