'Read Hardy' my sister said 5 years ago, 'I think you'll like him.' 862 books later, I finally took that advise and read my first Hardy.
This was a wonderfully well written and evocative story. Hardy transports you to a time and a place, he writes the landscape and the people so you can see them, envision them.
It's pretty hard not to like the character of Gabriel Oak; the steady, though unlucky, sheep farmer. His love is pure and he doesn't let either his emotions or circumstances change his opinions or alter his attitude.
It's equally hard to like either Boldwood or Troy. Men both ruled by passions they can't or won't control.
And Bathsheba lies somewhere in the middle, a very human character, endearing and maddening in turns. Admirable for the way she moves and works in what was (and probably still is) very much a man's world.
I can't say I actually really liked any of the characters. Gabriel was plodding, Troy a creep, Boldwood pushy and Bathsheba flighty; but altogether, they made for a fantastic story.