From Hardy's Far from the madding crowd:

Almost before he had ceased speaking, Oak was seized with a misgiving as to whose ear was the recipient of his answer. Nobody appeared, and he heard the person retreat among the bushes.

Gabriel meditated, and so deeply that he brought small furrows into his forehead by sheer force of reverie. Where the issue of an interview is as likely to be a vast change for the worse as for the better, any initial difference from expectation causes nipping sensations of failure. Oak went up to the door a little abashed: his mental rehearsal and the reality had had no common grounds of opening.

Does this of opening equal "in the beginning"? That is, the initial part of Oak's visit turned out to be not what he had imagined it would be?

I mean, is it similar to structures like

I've been a bit preoccupied with grammar of late.

  • 2
    Just to mention it, I don't understand this usage as a native U.S. speaker; it is likely archaic, since the book is 140 years old. It's a perfectly fine question, though.
    – apsillers
    Oct 23, 2014 at 18:35
  • 2
    I believe "of opening" means "in the way that they had unfolded", and so yes, his expectation and the reality turned out to be quite different. It is not a temporal meaning like "of late", i.e. lately.
    – TimR
    Oct 23, 2014 at 19:11
  • Extra credit: What does issue mean here? Apr 19, 2016 at 2:46

1 Answer 1


The participle phrase of opening is not a temporal expression like in the beginning, which would modify the preceding clause. It acts rather as a modifier on the noun grounds and names what it is that is ‘grounded’ or based. The grounds of a legal case, for instance, is the action or omission which the plaintiff complains of, and the grounds of of a belief is the evidence on which the belief is based.

(Note that the preposition for is often used in these contexts, with no difference in meaning.)

In the present case Gabriel Oak has resolved to ask Bathsheba to marry him and has contrived an occasion for visiting her. But just before he arrives at the cottage where she is living he has a very mild passage of words with an unseen person, who he realizes (after the fact) may be Bathsheba herself. As he reaches the door he becomes anxious: things are not going at all as he has planned, and it now appears that whatever scenario he has imagined—mentally rehearsed—for launching the interview with Bathsheba has been overtaken by incompatible facts. Reality and his rehearsal have no common grounds on which he may proceed to his "opening" - the beginning of the interview.

  • Yup, it appears that opening means commencement or beginning of the interview].* As apsillers alludes to, the style of English of Thomas Hardy is difficult.
    – user6951
    Oct 23, 2014 at 19:23
  • @CarSmack Is it? Hard for me to tell; my father wrote his dissertation on Hardy, and I read Hardy from a very early age. Oct 23, 2014 at 19:41
  • Here's a useful link to a similar usage in Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists Aug 1949: ...anxious to discuss any proposals ... which give hope of opening grounds of agreement in this Committee or in the Commission Oct 23, 2014 at 20:12
  • @CarSmack,StoneyB: I'm sure I remember my English teacher singling out Hardy as much more "modern" than Dickens. So we should be grateful that he'd decided we would study Far From The Madding Crowd rather than Great Expectations or whatever the alternative was. It worked for me - I made a point of looking out for all the Wessex novels over the next few years, and thoroughly enjoyed every one. Oct 23, 2014 at 20:22
  • @FumbleFingers I would rather read Casterbridge than Expectations, but even so, Hardy is not among my preferred novelists. His poetry is good.
    – user6951
    Oct 23, 2014 at 20:34

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