“ – and upon the eagle’s wings was the letter Bathsheba had sent.” Boldwood’s reaction when he receives the valentine is a very serious one. He is not the type of individual who would consider such things to be a joke; he is not a very humoured man. He believes that the nature of this valentine is deliberate, and this is where his obsession with the valentine begins. “Here the Bachelor’s gaze was continually fastening itself.” Boldwood reacts this way towards the letter because he has had little experience of relationships with women. “It was the first time in Boldwood’s life that such an event had occurred.” When Boldwood finds out that Bathsheba is the author of the valentine, (by making inquiries with Gabriel Oak), his obsessive behaviour over the valentine is transferred to Bathsheba.
Boldwood is a man of deep feelings with a sensitive and passionate nature. These passions are stirred and awoken by the valentine. He becomes so obsessed with Bathsheba that she occupies his every thought it seems to possess him. This behaviour is proven when he sees Bathsheba at the market place. “ Boldwood looked at her – not silly, critically, or understandingly, but blankly at gaze,” “ His eyes, she knew, were following her everywhere.” Bathsheba knew now that her idle joke had resulted in Boldwood noticing her, as other men did. She did not value the attention she gained as it came as the result of valentine that had neither meaning nor sincerity.
“This was a triumph; and had it come naturally, such a triumph would have been sweeter to her for this piquing delay. But it had been brought about by misdirected ingenuity, and she valued it only, as she valued an artificial flower or wax fruit.”
When they next encounter each other Boldwood sees Bathsheba in her meadow “engaged in the operation of making a lamb ‘fake’”- feed from a new mother. Boldwood, having no reason to do so, walks by, Bathsheba realises this and is not “deceived into the belief that Framer Boldwood had walked by on business or in idleness.” She admits to herself that the cause of Boldwood’s appearance was her doing. “It troubled her much to see what a great flame a little wild fire was likely to kindle.” After realising what feelings she had provoked in Boldwood, she genuinely feels guilty. Boldwood is a man who she respects too highly to deliberately tease. “Bathsheba was no schemer for marriage, nor was she deliberately a trifler-”
They meet sometime later at the sheep washing when Boldwood makes his proposal of marriage to Bathsheba. She sees that Boldwood could be the right husband for her but she is not yet ready for marriage. She enjoys the idea of marriage yet she does not love Boldwood and so tries to refuse him:
“I can do nothing. I cannot answer.”
“I may speak to you again on this subject?”
“I may think of you?”
“Yes, I suppose you may think of me.”
“And hope to obtain you?”
“No – do not hope! Let us go on.”
Boldwood’s second proposal takes place after the shearers’ supper when Boldwood and Bathsheba find themselves alone. Bathsheba regrets the pain she has caused him. Boldwood realises this and, by targeting her remorse, manages to persuade her into considering his proposal.
“I will try to love you.”
“And if I believe in any way that I shall make you a good wife I shall indeed be willing to marry you.”
“But remember this distinctly, I don’t promise yet.”
Bathsheba only considers accepting the proposal because she wants to repair the damage she has done by sending the valentine. – “She had been awestruck at her past temerity, and was struggling to make amends without thinking whether the sin quite deserved the penalty she was schooling herself to pay.” – Here Hardy suggests that Bathsheba does not deserve such a harsh punishment. She should not have to marry Boldwood in order to atone for her thoughtless behaviour. For committing a foolish act Bathsheba is prepared to sacrifice herself in marriage to Bolwood, to pay for it.