The story starts from the description of the young shepherd named Gabriel Oak. He is serious and solid young man, always honest and persistent. These qualities quickly earn him respect amongst the fellow farmers even despite his young age. Gabriel hears the news that a young and single woman named Batsheba Everdene is moving to the neighborhood. Interested, the young shepherd steps away from his usual route with the flock to move pass Batsheba’s new house to see her and have a talk. Batsheba takes his heart immediately. Gabriel is that type of the person who loves once and stays faithful to his chosen one forever. After seeing Batsheba several times more, Gabriel visits her aunt, who is also Batsheba’s employer, and asks the woman her permission to marry Batsheba. The aunt refuses, seeing only a young, romantic and not very perspective farmer. Still, Gabriel is too persistent to be stopped by the refusal of a relative. He proposes to Batsheba herself, even against her aunt’s will, but is rejected again – Batsheba values her independence too much. Gabriel advances again and again, but the woman stays adamant. Finally, she insists in promise to never ask for her hand again, but Gabriel never really denies his dream to become Bathseba’s husband.
Several weeks later, Gabriel has a serious accident. His sheepdog loses the direction and chases the flock to the cliff, to their certain death. Now Gabriel has nothing – all his sheep perished in the incident. Desperate, the man sells his farm and goes elsewhere to seek his fortune in another place. He searches for work, but no one wants to employ him, despite all his good qualities. Once, on his way to nowhere, Gabriel sees a huge fire and sees that a big farm is burning. Lots of people are crowded around not knowing what to do. Gabriel rushes there, leads them and they manage to extinguish fire before it destroys everything on the farm. When the fire is put out, Gabriel is introduced to the veiled owner of the Weatherbury Farm (this is the name of the farm he saved). The owner says that she is in debt now and Gabriel asks if she needs a shepherd, because he is searching for a work now. After a long silence the owner agrees and takes off her veil. The mysterious woman appears to be Batsheba, who has just inherited this farm from her deceased uncle. Both she and Gabriel feel extremely uncomfortable, but he needs a job desperately, so he still stays and becomes her shepherd.
When he is going to his new place to live, Gabriel encounters a young girl, going through the woods. The girl asks if he is the new shepherd of the mistress and also asks Gabriel not to tell anyone he saw her. Gabriel promises to be silent. In the next morning, when he starts his job, he hears that one of the Batsheba’s maids is lost. Her name is Fanny Robin. Gabriel guesses that it is the name of the girl he saw yesterday. The gossips say that Fanny ran away to meet her beloved soldier, Sergeant Troy, who promised to marry her if she spent a night with him. Later the gossipers get more information.She met Sergeant Troy and fulfilled her promise, he set the date for a wedding, but there was no wedding when Fanny came to the church. Later, when she managed to find Troy again, he arrogantly said that it was a wrong church, Fanny disgraced him and made him a laughingstock, so he breaks their engagement and won’t arrange their wedding for the second time.
The farm business grows. Batsheba, who is too independent for the woman of that times, insists on managing the farm by herself. Her neighbors and even workers feel very skeptical about it, thinking that Batsheba lacks skills and her caprices and hair-triggered temperament will ruin everything. She indeed is very capricious and can change her mind in the mere moments. Though, Batsheba is smart, the advice of Gabriel (who was a farmer before) help her a lot. He knows how to be silent while not asked and never questions the competence of his employer, so Batsheba listens to his words very often. Still, she throws a tantrum several times, firing Gabriel – but immediately hiring him again, because there is no person she can put into his place.
One of Batsheba’s caprices was to send an anonymous valentine saying “Marry me” to the respectable middle-aged owner of a neighboring farm named William Boldwood. Boldwood is very old-fashioned, conservative and serious, so when he learned who is the author of the valentine he is mostly upset. But still the thoughts about that strange woman start to haunt his mind and gradually, without understanding it completely, Boldwood falls in love with his eccentric neighbor. One day, when Batsheba goes to see the process of sheep washing (that means that Gabriel is around) William comes to make her a proposal or, rather, accept hers. Gabriel has to hear their conversation and is very upset with it, though he doesn’t show it. However, Bathseba refuses, she still wants to be independent more than to have a family life. Still, both Gabriel and the rest of the workers are almost sure that Bathseba will eventually give up to his advances. William leaves, promising to come for Batsheba again.
Some times after that encounter, Sergeant Troy returns back. He is a total womanizer, handsome and skillfully playing an officer and a gentleman. Batsheba falls for him immediately. Gabriel, who knows the story of Fanny, can assume that he isn’t the right match for her and even dares to tell the enamored woman about it. Not knowing anything about Fanny’s fate, Batsheba gets enraged, thinking that Gabriel acts out of sheer envy. Her meeting with Troy enrages Boldwood and he promises to kill Troy in anger. Batsheba abandons all her business and rushes to Bath (where Troy is now) to warn him about the possible danger. While they are staying there the sergeant makes a proposal to her. Soon she accepts the proposal of Troy and they are married. The former sergeant becomes a landlord, but if Batsheba, though not having enough skills from the beginning, was a fast learner and didn’t feel ashamed to ask – Troy is too arrogant to listen to any advice. Weatherbury Farm starts to slowly slip into decay.
But only a few weeks after the marriage Troy suddenly sees his former fiancée, Fanny. She is poor, sick, abandoned and pregnant. Now the former sergeant is a married man, moreover, he is a husband of her mistress. So, despite the intense guilt, he can do nothing, just lamenting that women will be the cause of his death. Soon Fanny dies in childbirth. What is worse, Batsheba discovers what really happened and who is the father of the baby boy. Her marriage is ruined. Both Bathseba and Troy feel guilt and shame about what happened and it is almost a relief for her when her husband is nowhere to be found. Soon her workers bring to her Troy’s clothes. They found it at the seashore, where the current is very strong. It seems that Troy committed suicide, unable to cope with his grief.
Batsheba is now considered a widow and Boldwood resumes his advances. He woos her more and more persistently and finally the woman seems to be ready for the new marriage (totally ignoring Gabriel again). Boldwood throws a big Christmas party to announce their engagement, inviting everyone in the neighborhood. But there is one uninvited guest: Sergeant Troy is back from the dead. It turns out that he faked his own death, feeling that it would be better and he wouldn’t be able to be a landlord here after the story with Fanny – the enraged workers simply wouldn’t obey him. But the life without income of Weatherbury farm appeared to be harsh, so Troy decided to resurrect and claim back his wife and his farm.
It happens right after Bathseba finally said “I do” to Boldwood, who waited for it for so long. The reserved farmer just snaps and shoots Troy dead on the spot. Batsheba screams, the guests run away and William himself just goes to the nearest police station and gives up to the policemen, sincerely telling what happened to him. He is sentenced to death, but, luckily, is pardoned, because everyone including the judge thinks that the poor man was just driven mad by Batsheba’s caprices. His execution is changed to the life sentence.
Fed up with Batsheba’s misfortunes and marriages with everyone except him, Gabriel announces that he is going to leave to America forever. Suddenly she begs him to stay, realizing that he is the only person who was with her when the things were harsh and never wanted her wealth or her obedience. Gabriel agrees to stay but only if Batsheba finally marries him. The woman agrees. The story ends with vague hope that after all the tragedies they survived through together, the couple will be able to live happily ever after.