When I think of Thomas Hardy, I think of pastoral scenes and depressing plot-lines (Tess of the D'Urbervilles- 'nough said). I was deeply impressed by his progressive views on women and sexuality in Tess, and having just finished Far from the Madding Crowd, I'm starting to wonder how Hardy became so forward thinking and intimately acquainted with the female experience of manipulative men.
I was dismayed when our heroine, Bathsheba Everdeen, succumbed to the charms of Sergeant Troy, but I wasn't enraged until Farmer Boldwood made his second overture toward Bathsheba. Where some authors of this time period might blame Bathsheba for her lapse in judgement early in the novel, Hardy clearly lays the blame where it is due- with Boldwood's Machiavellian behavior in trying to make Bathsheba feel like she owes him something (that something being herself).
Boldwood shows classic abusive behavior- he blames her for all his troubles, leads her to believe he will kill himself if she does not accept his proposal, and ultimately claims this is "all out of love for her." What kind of sick [redacted] finds joy in an engagement won from manipulation, leaving his "beloved" in tears and agony?
What is most interesting to me is that Boldwood is an upstanding gentleman in the community. He is perceived as a "nice guy" who is just a little too much in love. No one thinks poorly of him the way they do of Troy, but Boldwood turns out to be the most detestable villain of the novel.