I first read FAR FROM THE MADDING CROWD nearly 50 years ago. It was part of the curriculum when I was a senior in high school. I found Hardy, unlike other Victorians like Sir Walter Scott, very readable. It is set in the southwest part of England, beautifully lush farm country. Hardy called in Wessex (He was actually born in Dorset, where CROWD was filmed.)
Hardy started life as an architect but turned to fiction later in life. Despite the quality of his work, he abandoned fiction and wrote poetry for the last three decades of his life. As in CROWD, his characters seem governed by social convention and fate.
TESS OF THE D'UBERVILLES has been filmed seven times, the best being Roman Polanski's version with Nastasia Kinski, and the MAYOR OF CASTERBRIDGE three, the best being the 1979 Masterpiece Theater miniseries with Alan Bates. The fifth version of CROWD is in pre-production now, adapted by Robert Benton to the American West with Cate Blanchett. I'm glad they're not going to try to remake the 1967 version, which with Nicholas Roeg's photography, Frederic Rafael's adaptation, Richard Rodney Bennet's evocative score, and John Schlesinger's superb direction is a masterpice of Victoriana.
Other notable Hardy novels are JUDE, THE OBSCURE and THE RETURN OF THE NATIVE.