This has to be my favorite of all Thomas Hardy's many classic works. "Far from the Madding Crowd" was published in 1874 when the novelist was 34 years old. It is one of the earliest works of English literature I can think of which has a fully rounded, fully independent, fully human female protagonist. Bathsheba Everdene runs a farm, is only semi-aware of her own extraordinary beauty, and is pursued by three very different men throughout the course of the book.
"Far from the Madding Crowd" may, in some sense, be the model for every cheapo drugstore romance novel ever written, but it is a classic for the very simple and very good reason that it transcends the genre it may have helped to start. Bathsheba's trials, in love and elsewhere, are completely realized, with terrific detail. Hardy has a powerful understanding of human nature and makes each of the characters both deep and broad, both simple and complex, both good and filled with fault. The result is a story with many characters, each of whom is as full-blooded and human as a reader could hope. It's a book which bears reading again and again, as each new reading shows the reader new detail and new depth not previously seen. A more three-dimensional character study may not exist in novel form--and the beauty of it is that all this terrific character examination is done against the backdrop of a wonderful plot as well. You really couldn't ask for a more richly satisfying novel.