Far from the Madding Crowd has its genesis in a letter Hardy wrote to Leslie Stephen, the new editor of the Cornhill Magazine, in November 1872. Stephen had inquired about the possibility of a serialized story for the magazine, and Hardy replied that he had in mind "a pastoral tale which I thought of calling "Far from the Madding Crowd," in which the chief characters would be a woman-farmer, a shepherd, and a sergeant in the Dragoon Guards." Hardy began the novel during the spring of 1873, and its serialization in Cornhill began in January 1874. The novel ran for twelve monthly installments, and was published in a two-volume edition by Smith, Elder in November 1874. .
Far from the Madding Crowd was warmly received by the reading public and generously reviewed by the press. In reviewing the first installment of the novel, the Spectator's reviewer went so far as to suggest that the anonymous author might be George Eliot. Hardy himself seems not to have gained much confidence as a literary artist. Writing to his editor, Leslie Stephen, Hardy claimed "Perhaps I may have higher aims some day, and be a great stickler for the proper artistic balance of the completed work, but for the present circumstances lead me to wish merely to be considered a good hand at a serial" (Life and Work, 102). .
With the success of Far from the Madding Crowd, however, Hardy became more confident and more resistant to the classification which success brings. Although his readers wished him to continue to write pastoral idylls filled with romance and rustics, Hardy defiantly claimed that "he had not the slightest intention of writing for ever about sheepfarming, as the reading public was apparently expecting him to do, and as, in fact, they presently resented his not doing" (Life and Work, 105). His next novel, The Hand of Ethelberta, seems spatially and temporally far removed from the pastoral world of Far from the Madding Crowd.