BARRON'S BOOK NOTES
THE MAYOR OF CASTERBRIDGE
^^^^^^^^^^THOMAS HARDY: THE AUTHOR AND HIS TIMES
In 1896, following more than 20 years as one of the most popular and most
criticized novelists in England, Thomas Hardy announced that he would not
write another novel as long as he lived. He kept his word. He refused to
give in to critics who had attacked his works as being overly pessimistic
and peopled with immoral characters.
Looking back at Hardy's novels today, it is hard to imagine that they
sparked such violent responses from Victorian critics. Yet the attacks on
Hardy's last two major novels, Tess of the D'Urbervilles and Jude the
Obscure, were particularly fierce. Many libraries banned Jude from their
shelves, and one bishop announced that the book was so indecent that he
had thrown it into a fire. Hardy responded that the bishop had probably
burned the book because he couldn't burn its author.
From his appearance and personality, Thomas Hardy would seem an unlikely
man to provoke such controversy. He was small, quiet, and shy. He was a
country person rather than a city person, and the characters of his
novels have a realistic, earthy quality about them.
Hardy spent only a small part of his life in London. Instead, he built a
house in Dorchester, not far from his birthplace in Upper Bockhampton.
While the house was being built, Hardy and his wife lived in Dorchester,
and there he wrote The Mayor of Casterbridge. Dorchester is clearly the
model for Casterbridge. The careful descriptions of the buildings and
roads of Casterbridge in the novel are a product of Hardy's many walks
Nearly all of Hardy's important novels and stories are set in the
agricultural areas or towns of Dorset in Southwest England near
Dorchester, the region Hardy called "Wessex." This was the area in which
he grew up in the mid-1800s. In Hardy's time, Dorset was still a rural
and unsophisticated area inhabited by rustic and superstitious people.
For Hardy, Wessex was an ideal location for him to present a world in
which nature plays a key role, people work hard for their living, and
fate has a strong hold over human life. Hardy's series of works set in
the area are known as the "Wessex Novels." Some of the best known of
these Wessex novels are: Far from the Madding Crowd, The Return of the
Native, Tess of the D'Urbervilles, Jude the Obscure, and The Mayor of
The Mayor of Casterbridge is the least typical of these novels because of
its focus on town rather than rural life and because of the concentration
on one character. Yet Casterbridge is clearly a Wessex town, caught in
the past and just awakening to nineteenth-century social change. And
Michael Henchard is certainly a Wessex character, attempting to deal with
Hardy was born in Upper Bockhampton on June 2, 1840, and wrote most of
his important novels between 1870 and 1895. Yet, as in many of his
novels, the action of The Mayor of Casterbridge occurs between the years
1830 and 1850. During Hardy's lifetime, British cities were growing and
England was rapidly becoming industrialized. However, he chose to write
about the rural, preindustrial England of his father's era.
Why did Hardy concentrate on the past? There are several possible
reasons. For one thing, he was concerned more with rural than urban
customs. England of the 1830s and 1840s was a simpler place in which to
live than England of the 1880s. Hardy was not a social critic like
Charles Dickens. He wasn't out to change the way people of his time
lived. Instead, he wanted to show that important elements of human life
are timeless. He once said that what is essential in life is that which
is repeated. By linking the past and the present in his novels, he hoped
to demonstrate those aspects of human morality that are repeated in
generation after generation. By looking at life in a nonindustrial
setting rather than in a complicated city, he could view the essential
elements of human existence.
Hardy's father was a master mason, which meant the Hardy family was
middle class. At age 16, Hardy was apprenticed to an architect whose
specialty was the restoration of churches. During his apprenticeship,
Hardy developed a greater respect for the simplicities of country life
and its traditional institutions and architecture. This appreciation is
obvious in the careful descriptions of architectural structures in The
Mayor of Casterbridge.
When he was 22, Hardy left Dorchester for London. There he began writing
essays and poetry, studying Greek tragedy, and reading modern philosophy.
He stayed in London for four years but was never really happy there. In
1867, he returned home to continue restoring churches and to begin his
literary career in earnest. His first novel, The Poor Man and the Lady,
was never published but played an important part in Hardy's career
nevertheless. It satirized the trivial nature of London life in contrast
with the simple honesty of the country. George Meredith, a major writer
of the period, didn't like the book very much and suggested that Hardy
give up satire and write more popular, well-plotted novels. Hardy took
Meredith's advice. His next novel, Desperate Remedies, was published in
1871 and was only a modest success. But Hardy soon followed with the
first three Wessex novels. The third, Far from the Madding Crowd, earned
Hardy fame and enough money to marry and become a full-time writer.
Between 1871 and 1897, Hardy published 14 novels and three volumes of
short stories. The novels became progressively darker and more
pessimistic over time as Hardy showed characters increasingly dominated
by fate and by guilt over their misdeeds. Far from the Madding Crowd (an
early novel) ends on a happy note, with Bathsheba finally marrying the
right man, Gabriel Oak. The Mayor of Casterbridge (a middle novel) ends
on a calm note, with Elizabeth-Jane marrying Farfrae and living a
peaceful, if dull, life. Jude the Obscure (his last important novel) ends
on a totally bleak note, with Jude Fawley's life completely shattered.
Hardy's work was very popular, but it was also often attacked by critics.
They were shocked by the earthiness of some of the characters and by the
sense of hopelessness within the environment. Hardy found himself having
to change some of his characterizations or some of the scenes in his
novels in order to please publishers of magazines serializing his works,
his readers, or his critics. Making these changes annoyed him. Finally,
when the criticism became too intense, he chose to stop writing novels
entirely. From 1897 until his death on January 11, 1928, in Dorchester,
Hardy wrote poetry and stories exclusively. He published more than 800
poems, the most famous of which was The Dynasts, a long epic poem about
the Napoleonic Wars.
Hardy also had a severe critic inside his own home--his wife. Emma Hardy
was the niece of an archdeacon in the church of England. As such, she
considered herself socially superior to her husband. At first their
marriage was happy, but it deteriorated. For one thing, she never liked
living in Dorchester and wanted to stay in London. She was also ambitious
and wanted Hardy to be more ambitious as well. Some readers wonder if
Hardy's pessimistic outlook in his novels may have been influenced by his
Hardy may have felt strong links to the past but he was also a writer of
his time. Like many Victorian writers, Hardy was troubled by a dwindling
of his religious faith. He had carefully read the writings of Charles
Darwin and other scientists and had lost some of his belief that a
controlling force governed the universe. This loss of faith is reflected
in the bleakness of the landscape in Wessex and the harshness of the fate
that plagues many of Hardy's major characters.
Hardy's novels also reflect Victorian realism. They are filled not with
knights and other Romantic characters, but with real people encountering
their own weaknesses and trials. Yet for all their realism, there is also
a certain sensational quality in Hardy's novels. Most of his books were
serialized in magazines before being published as books. Magazine readers
demanded a carefully developed plot and at least one major event, such as
a crime, murder, seduction, or desertion, in every episode. Hardy was
sometimes annoyed by having to "overplot" his books, but he didn't really
care that much in the long run. He felt that his novel writing was "mere
journeywork" and not art. He reserved his true artistry for his poetry.
Hardy's novels are still popular today largely because of their qualities
and themes that seem particularly modern. It was these themes that caused
much of Hardy's problems with his critics. His works are deeply
psychological, filled with misguided love, and closely concerned with the
thoughts and feelings of women. All of Hardy's major works deal with
unhappy relationships and several with divorce. Tess (of Tess of the
D'Urbervilles) and Jude (of Jude the Obscure) are both seduced by the
"wrong" mates. Because of her seduction, Tess becomes the victim of
sexual double standards and is deserted by a husband whom we might label
a "male chauvinist." Jude's ill-fated marriage fails, and he contemplates
suicide. Eustacia Vye (of The Return of the Native) drowns or commits
suicide as she attempts to rendezvous with her lover. Michael Henchard
(of The Mayor of Casterbridge) deserts his family and can never quite
escape the psychological guilt that plagues him throughout the rest of
his life. Hardy's critics were shocked by what they regarded as
wantonness and pessimism, but most modern readers are more surprised by
how contemporary Hardy's themes and characters seem.
The Mayor of Casterbridge brings together all of the elements of Hardy's
style, thinking, and background. It is episodic, filled with coincidences
and sensational events, yet carefully plotted. Its characters are real
people who demonstrate human weaknesses. Fate, rather than God, dominates
the environment and directs the action. Architecture and artifacts are
carefully examined. Yet this novel, more than any of Hardy's books, deals
with the attempt of one human being to control his own life. In that
sense, The Mayor of Casterbridge makes the most positive statement about
the power of human personality of all of Hardy's work.
^^^^^^^^^^THE MAYOR OF CASTERBRIDGE: THE PLOT
It is Fair Day in the large Wessex village of Weydon-Priors. Michael
Henchard, a young hay-trusser looking for work, enters the village with
his wife and infant daughter. Seeking refreshment, the three go into a
tent where an old woman is selling furmity, a liquid pudding made of
boiled wheat, eggs, sugar, and spices. Henchard consumes too many bowls
of furmity spiked with rum. Feeling confined by his marriage and spurred
by drunkenness, Henchard threatens to auction his family. The auction
begins as a kind of cruel joke, but Susan Henchard in anger retaliates by
leaving with a sailor who makes the highest bid. Henchard regrets his
rash act the next day, but he is unable to find his family. He vows not
to drink again for 21 years, his present age.
Exactly eighteen years pass. Susan and her daughter Elizabeth-Jane come
back to the fair, seeking news about Henchard. The sailor has been lost
at sea, and Susan is returning to her "rightful" husband. At the infamous
furmity tent, they learn Henchard has moved to Casterbridge, where he has
become a prosperous grain merchant and even mayor. When Henchard learns
that his family has returned, he is determined to right his old wrong. He
devises a plan for courting and marrying Susan again, and for adopting
A young Scotsman named Donald Farfrae enters Casterbridge on the same day
as do Susan and Elizabeth-Jane. Henchard takes an instant liking to the
total stranger and convinces Farfrae to stay on in Casterbridge as his
right-hand man. Henchard even confides to Farfrae the two greatest
secrets of his life: the sale of his wife and the affair he has had with
a Jersey woman, Lucetta, whose reputation has been destroyed by the
affair. Henchard is perplexed about how to make amends to both women.
Henchard remarries Susan, who dies soon afterward, leaving behind a
letter to be opened on Elizabeth-Jane's wedding day. Henchard
nevertheless reads the letter and learns that his real daughter died in
infancy and that the present Elizabeth-Jane is actually Susan and the
sailor's daughter. Henchard immediately cools toward Elizabeth-Jane.
Henchard also grows jealous of Farfrae's rising influence in both
Henchard's business and in Casterbridge. The two men quarrel and Henchard
fires Farfrae, who then sets up a successful competing grain business.
Henchard begins rash speculation in wheat in an effort to wipe out
Farfrae, but he fails miserably in the attempt. Henchard is rapidly going
Soon after Susan's death, Lucetta Templeman, Henchard's former paramour,
comes to Casterbridge to marry Henchard. In order to provide Henchard
with a respectable reason for visiting her, Lucetta suggests that
Elizabeth-Jane move in with her. Henchard tries to force Lucetta to marry
him, but she is unwilling. She has fallen in love with Farfrae and soon
Henchard's business and love life are failing; his social position in
Casterbridge is also eroding. The final blow comes when the woman who ran
the furmity tent in Weydon-Priors is arrested in Casterbridge. When she
spitefully reveals Henchard's infamous auctioning of his wife and child,
Henchard surprisingly admits his guilt. The news, which is harmful to
Henchard's reputation, rapidly travels through the town. Henchard is soon
bankrupt and forced by his poverty to become Farfrae's employee.
Henchard's 21-year abstinence also ends, and he begins drinking heavily
again. He moves to the poorest section of town.
Farfrae and Lucetta buy Henchard's old house and furniture. The Scotsman
then completes his displacement of Henchard by becoming mayor of
Casterbridge. Later, Henchard challenges Farfrae to a fight to the death.
Henchard is on the verge of winning when he comes to his senses and gives
As the mayor's wife, Lucetta becomes the stylish and important woman she
has longed to be. But she fears her secret affair with Henchard, if
revealed, might destroy her marriage to Farfrae. She begs Henchard to
return the damning letters she had written him years before. Henchard
finds the letters in his old house and reads some of them to Farfrae. He
intends to reveal their author as well but relents at the last minute.
Later, he asks Jopp, a former employee, to deliver the letters to
Lucetta. Henchard doesn't realize Jopp hates both him and Lucetta. Jopp
shares the letters with some of the lowlife of the town. Excited by the
scandal, these people plan a "skimmity-ride"--a mock parade to ridicule
adulterers through the town to shame Henchard and Lucetta. Lucetta sees
herself paraded in effigy, and the shock kills her.
Henchard reconciles with Elizabeth-Jane, who continues to believe
Henchard is her father. He sees his final chance for happiness crumbling,
however, when Elizabeth-Jane's real father, the sailor Newson, comes to
Casterbridge to find his daughter. Out of affection for Susan, Newson
reveals that he pretended to be lost at sea so that Susan, who hated
their relationship, could return freely to Henchard. Henchard lies to the
sailor, telling him Elizabeth-Jane died soon after her mother's death.
Newson leaves, but Henchard worries that the sailor might return to
During the following year, Henchard's life becomes fairly settled. He
lives with Elizabeth-Jane and runs a small seed store. Farfrae begins
courting Elizabeth-Jane, and the two plan to marry. Then the sailor
returns, and Henchard flees Casterbridge.
Henchard appears at Elizabeth-Jane and Farfrae's wedding to deliver a
present. Elizabeth-Jane spurns him, and Henchard sees that Newson has
taken over as father of the bride--a role Henchard can never play. He
leaves Casterbridge broken-hearted. A few days later, Elizabeth-Jane
discovers Henchard's present, a bird in a cage. The unattended bird has
died of starvation. Touched, she and Farfrae go in search of Henchard.
Too late, they learn he has just died in the hovel where he had been
living with the humblest of his former employees. The young couple read
Henchard's pitiful will, in which Henchard asks that no one remember him.
^^^^^^^^^^THE MAYOR OF CASTERBRIDGE: MICHAEL HENCHARD
The Mayor of Casterbridge is almost completely dominated by one
character--Michael Henchard, the itinerant hay-trusser who becomes mayor
of a Wessex town. Even when Henchard is not present, the other characters
always seem to be talking about him or wondering how to deal with him. He
is larger than life, as are his successes and failures.
As you read The Mayor of Casterbridge, you are likely to be impressed by
Michael Henchard, but you may have trouble deciding whether you admire,
loathe, pity, or condemn him. Some readers see Henchard as a victim of a
fickle fate, while others feel that he deserves all of the anguish he has
to endure in the course of the novel. Henchard has a special moral code
all his own.
Hardy subtitles the novel, "A Story of a Man of Character." What do you
think he means by the word character? One noted critic, Irving Howe,
states that character "indicates energy and pride of personal being." The
word character also implies consistency. Those three terms--energy,
pride, and consistency--clearly summarize Michael Henchard.
Henchard's energy is amazing. You might think of him as a billiard ball
in constant motion. He is a man of action. He rushes headlong, bounding
from one impetuous act to another. He may regret an action, such as
auctioning his family, but he never tries to take back anything he has
done. Instead, he may do something else, equally rash, in order to make
amends for his first action. For example, he readily takes Susan back
into his life and just as readily admits his guilt when he is confronted
by the furmity woman.
Pride is another major character trait of Michael Henchard. His personal
pride separates him from the other people around him. It is at the core
of his successes as well as his failures.
Hardy points out Henchard's pride throughout the novel, starting with his
initial description of the main character on page 1. Henchard's walk is
that of a skilled countryman--not that of a general laborer--and "in the
turn and plant of each foot there was, further, a dogged and cynical
indifference personal to himself..."
Henchard's combination of energy and pride results in his becoming a
prosperous merchant and the town leader. However, the combination also
proves self-destructive. He is driven to outdo Farfrae, and this leads to
the breakup of their friendship and partnership, and, ultimately, to
Henchard's bankruptcy. He cannot accept the truth of Elizabeth-Jane's
parentage, and he becomes estranged from her as well. In addition, he
cannot comfortably allow Lucetta to marry another man.
Consistency is another major character trait of Michael Henchard. He is
always the same man. His wife Susan points out this consistency several
times as she and Elizabeth-Jane seek their "distant kin." In Chapter IX,
she says, "He was always so." Do you think Henchard's consistency is an
admirable trait? Henchard tells people exactly what he thinks of them,
and they know exactly what to expect of him. Yet his inflexibility makes
him an almost impossible person to live and work with.
Hardy leaves a major question about Henchard for you to answer: Is he a
villain who commits evil acts, or is he a pawn of fate? Does he deserve
the terrible end that he suffers? Hardy seems to admire Henchard, but he
does not allow Henchard to find peace and happiness.
^^^^^^^^^^THE MAYOR OF CASTERBRIDGE: SUSAN HENCHARD
Susan Henchard's personality contrasts with her husband's. While he is
active, she is passive. He is certain and enthusiastic; she is confused
and bitter. In Chapter II, Hardy describes Susan as being a fatalist. She
is resigned to whatever life brings her--even being auctioned off to
another man whom she accepts as her new mate. Susan's actions add a
fatalistic tone to the whole novel. Yet what happens to her influences
much of the action of the novel. Hardy also uses the word "mobility" to
describe Susan. She is a moveable person, physically and emotionally. She
does not live for herself. Most of her actions are motivated by the
desire to help her surviving daughter. She leaves with the sailor in
hopes of finding a better life for Elizabeth-Jane, and she returns to
Henchard in hopes of helping the second Elizabeth-Jane get ahead in life.
Hardy purposefully only sketches Susan for you. She is undeveloped as a
character. If she were stronger, she might draw your attention away from
Michael Henchard. Think about it. Do you feel real sympathy for what
happens to Susan?
Yet, when Susan does act or make decisions, she unwittingly influences
many of the major events. She leads the family into the furmity tent. She
accepts the auction, rather than fighting for her rights as Henchard's
wife. She reminds the furmity woman of the auction and of Henchard's
whereabouts. She leaves behind the poorly sealed note that reveals
Elizabeth-Jane's parentage. She even gives both girls the same name,
which adds to Henchard's confusion. Susan Henchard may be a minor
character but she has major influence in this novel.
^^^^^^^^^^THE MAYOR OF CASTERBRIDGE: ELIZABETH-JANE NEWSON
Elizabeth-Jane is the embodiment of a proper young woman. She is
reserved, innocent, and polite. You may think that some of her views,
particularly those she expresses early in the book, are a little prim.
For example, she is concerned about Susan's talking with the furmity
woman and is shy in approaching Farfrae. By Victorian standards, however,
Elizabeth-Jane should be concerned with acting properly at all times. She
must live up to her status as a mayor's daughter.
Elizabeth-Jane becomes a more interesting and more fully realized
character as the book progresses. As the only person in the novel who
grows and changes, she works very hard at educating herself academically
and socially. She is always trying to improve herself. At the beginning,
Elizabeth-Jane may seem to be a prig or a naive small-town girl, but she
grows into a gentle, kind-hearted woman. She never becomes cynical. She
can even forgive Henchard for his lies to her. Elizabeth-Jane is also the
only character who seems to express warm feelings, even love, toward
others. Susan and Farfrae are stoical; Henchard and Lucetta are
overemotional. One question you will have to answer for yourself is
whether Elizabeth-Jane is really a heroine.
Does her emergence in a position of strength at the end of the book show
that she has actively grown or passively survived?
Elizabeth-Jane touches all the other main characters in the novel. First,
as a child, then friend, and later, wife. She serves as a sounding-board
for the others. Elizabeth-Jane is a listener and confidante, offering
protection and advice. She also acts as an outside observer for you. You
learn a great deal about Henchard, Susan, Lucetta, and Farfrae from
Elizabeth-Jane's interaction with them, and their reaction to her.
^^^^^^^^^^THE MAYOR OF CASTERBRIDGE: DONALD FARFRAE
While Michael Henchard represents energy in the novel, Donald Farfrae
represents reason. He thinks more than he feels. He has a sharp business
mind and writes every transaction in ledger books. Henchard makes deals
with handshakes; Farfrae makes them with contracts. Henchard uses brawn
and personality; he even challenges Farfrae to a fight to the death.
Farfrae uses intelligence and logic. Notice the difference in the way the
two men feel toward each other. Henchard's emotions toward Farfrae are
strong ones that range from love to anger to hatred to jealousy.
Farfrae's feelings about Henchard are mild ones that range from respect
to friendship to annoyance to pity to mild indifference.
Farfrae's courtships of both Lucetta and Elizabeth-Jane don't show much
depth, either. Notice how quickly he turns against Lucetta when he learns
of her affair with Henchard and how rapidly he forgets her and moves on
to a new relationship with Elizabeth-Jane.
You may have mixed feelings about Farfrae. He is admirable in his basic
honesty and good will. These qualities win him the respect of most of the
people--rich and poor alike--in Casterbridge. But he is also callous in
his disregard of Henchard's feelings. He appropriates everything of
Henchard's, even his house and furniture, and goes so far as to paint his
own name over Henchard's on the signpost when he takes over Henchard's
business. Farfrae is successful, but is he the "man of character" that
Henchard is? Henchard is always colorful, even in utter defeat; Farfrae
is usually drab. Yet Farfrae survives at the end, and Henchard doesn't.
Whom do you think Hardy admires more? Whom do you admire more?
^^^^^^^^^^THE MAYOR OF CASTERBRIDGE: LUCETTA TEMPLEMAN (LE SUEUR)
Throughout the novel, Lucetta seems to play the role of "the other
woman." She has an affair with Henchard while he is still technically
married to Susan, then she marries Farfrae instead of accepting
Henchard's offer to clear her reputation. Lucetta may have changed her
name to the properly English Templeman, but Hardy lets you know that she
is French at heart. To British readers, her Frenchness implied sensuality
and possibly even moral looseness. In Chapter XXII, Hardy writes, "She
had arrived at Casterbridge as a Bath lady [a proper Englishwoman], and
there were obvious reasons why Jersey [where she was condemned as a loose
woman], should drop out of her life." But it never does.
Lucetta is flighty and at times conniving. She is also the one character
in the novel who feels sexual passion. This sexuality makes her a more
interesting character, but it also gets her into trouble. Her rapid
romance with Farfrae contrasts greatly with Elizabeth-Jane's slow-
building relationship with him. Lucetta is as impulsive as Henchard and
even more emotional. Why else would she suffer a stroke at seeing herself
paraded in effigy in the skimmity-ride?
Like Henchard, Lucetta is also self-destructive. Notice, for example, the
letters that she writes to Henchard or her meetings with him after she
has married Farfrae.
Lucetta also has a snobbish streak that brings her trouble. She wants to
be the great lady of Casterbridge. Her attitude causes Joshua Jopp,
Henchard's fired grain manager (see below), to want to destroy her and
leads the townspeople to enjoy humiliating her.
^^^^^^^^^^THE MAYOR OF CASTERBRIDGE: RICHARD NEWSON
Newson, the sailor who buys Susan and her daughter at the auction in the
furmity tent, appears only at the beginning and end of the novel. In each
instance, he helps point out glaring weaknesses in Henchard's character.
His dealings with Henchard bring out the mayor's self-indulgent side.
Each of Newson's appearances also marks a downward turning point in
Hardy never develops Newson's character fully. His role seems mainly to
serve as a contrast with Henchard. Newson's willingness to "disappear" so
that Susan can find peace of mind shows his kindness and sensitivity.
Elizabeth-Jane's loving feelings for him confirm these characteristics.
He is also jolly and forgiving, two qualities Henchard doesn't possess.
Some readers feel that Newson's reappearance at the end of the novel,
after having been deceived by Henchard ten months before, is too much of
a coincidence, a convenient opportunity for Hardy to finally push
Henchard out of the way. Think about this criticism. Decide if you think
Newson's return helps to give the novel a fitting ending or one that is
^^^^^^^^^^THE MAYOR OF CASTERBRIDGE: JOSHUA JOPP
Joshua Jopp is an almost standard villain, the type of character who
often appears in a Dickens novel. Feeling that he has been wronged by
Henchard and put down by Lucetta, he bears grudges toward both. Jopp is a
poisonous influence on the action of the novel. Like a rat, he appears
most often at night or in dark places. He directly causes Lucetta's
destruction by helping to instigate the skimmity-ride. When Henchard
moves in with Jopp, their association symbolizes Henchard's tremendous
^^^^^^^^^^THE MAYOR OF CASTERBRIDGE: MRS. GOODENOUGH, THE FURMITY WOMAN
The furmity woman appears four times in The Mayor of Casterbridge--twice
in Weydon-Priors, first playing a major role in the auction, and then, 18
years later, giving Susan the message that leads her [Susan] to
Casterbridge. Mrs. Goodenough again appears twice in Casterbridge, where
she both reveals Henchard's "crime" and participates in the skimmity-
ride. Each time you see her, the furmity woman's appearance and fortunes
seem to have deteriorated further. She goes from mistress of the furmity
tent to tender of an outdoor pot, to town vagrant. Although her fall is
in direct contrast to Henchard's rise, in the end, she helps to bring him
down to her level. Mrs. Goodenough seems to fill a role as Henchard's
conscience and an instrument of his self-destruction. Perhaps that is the
reason for her name. She reveals to Henchard that he is not always good
^^^^^^^^^^THE MAYOR OF CASTERBRIDGE: ABEL WHITTLE
Abel Whittle makes two brief, but significant appearances. First, he is
the subject of Henchard's verbal abuse and humiliation when he
continually fails to arrive at work on time. Henchard's almost cruel
treatment of Whittle seems to mark a turning point in Henchard's business
fortunes. The second time, Whittle acts as Henchard's companion in his
final days and announces the former mayor's death.
Whittle is a simple man but a faithful one. He stays with Henchard at the
end because of the latter's kindnesses toward Whittle's mother. His first
name is significant also. As Abel, his companionship helps Henchard
recognize his own "Cainness." (Remember that Cain, in the Bible, became
an outcast after killing his brother Abel. Henchard's association with
Abel emphasizes Henchard's alienation from the rest of Casterbridge
society.) Abel's surname, Whittle, seems to refer to the whittling down
of Henchard's fortunes. In the end, only Abel Whittle, the lowliest of
the people of Casterbridge, is left to remember and mourn the man who was
once the most powerful person in the town.
^^^^^^^^^^THE MAYOR OF CASTERBRIDGE: THE TOWN CHORUS
Several minor characters appear in The Mayor of Casterbridge, filling you
in on past events and giving the common people's impression of their
leaders. These people--such as Mother Cuxsom, Nance Mockridge,
Christopher Coney, and Solomon Longways stand outside the windows of the
hotel, drink in the Three Mariners Inn, or gather in the side streets of
the town. They serve as a kind of Greek chorus in the novel. [In Greek
dramas a group of actors appeared on stage to comment on the action and
fill in plot details.] The town chorus here maintains the traditions and
superstitions of Wessex life. Significantly, they are the only true
Wessex citizens in the novel. All of the other characters are outsiders
who have immigrated into the region.
^^^^^^^^^^THE MAYOR OF CASTERBRIDGE: SETTING
Most of the action of The Mayor of Casterbridge takes place inside
Casterbridge, the largest town in Hardy's Wessex. Hardy focuses carefully
on the architecture and the historic nature of the town. As is typical in
a Hardy novel, the landscape almost takes on a life of its own.
Casterbridge itself seems to be a character in the novel. It has moods
and emotions and a magnetic appeal that affects the other characters.
Notice, for example, Hardy's first description of the town as Susan and
Elizabeth-Jane enter in Chapter IV:
The lamplights now glimmered through the engirdling trees, conveying a
sense of great snugness and comfort inside, and rendering at the same
time the unlighted country without country without strangely solitary and
vacant in aspect, considering its nearness to life.
Casterbridge is part Roman, part Wessex, and part Dorchester. It is a
place of ancient artifacts, rustic customs (including skimmity-rides),
and early nineteenth-century architecture and life-styles. Casterbridge
is a traditional place preparing uncomfortably for industrialization and
Hardy, who was an architect, provides a very detailed look at the
bridges, roads, buildings, inns, marketplace, and surrounding areas of
the town. As you read The Mayor of Casterbridge, pay careful attention to
the way Hardy describes the different landmarks. For example, he points
out cracking paint or worn paths to symbolize deterioration, and he
interplays images of light and darkness to add to the gothic (haunting)
character of many of the locations. Each landmark seems to have a
symbolic function. Bridges are for contemplation of one's turns of
fortune. Inns are for gatherings of social classes. Houses are for
looking out onto the town (High-Place Hall), for enclosing one in high
status (Henchard's house, later occupied by Farfrae and Lucetta), or for
locking one away from the world (Jopp's cottage).
In only the first two and last two chapters of the novel does the action
occur outside Casterbridge. These chapters concern the auction that
begins Henchard's troubles and the death that ends them. In the first two
and last two chapters, Henchard is a restless wanderer. In these prologue
and epilogue sections of the book, Hardy shows the bleakness of the
Wessex landscape and its magnetic power as well. Once people enter
Wessex, they are seldom able to leave or stay away for good.
^^^^^^^^^^THE MAYOR OF CASTERBRIDGE: THEMES
Hardy develops several themes in The Mayor of Casterbridge. Some are
related to the story of Michael Henchard himself. Others are related to
Hardy's sense of history or of literary tradition.
1. THE SIN OF HUBRIS
Like many of the great tragic heroes in literature, Michael Henchard
suffers from excessive pride. The Greeks called this sin hubris. Hubris
involves a combination of excessive pride, ambition, and self-confidence.
In a sense, a tragic hero creates his own sense of morality that may run
counter to the basic moral rules of the society. The punishment for
hubris is often a slow and painful death, in which the hero must first be
stripped of personal possessions and public favor.
Hardy illustrates Henchard's excessive pride throughout the novel, from
his blaming liquor for his having sold his wife, to his concealing the
real reason behind his oath of abstinence, to his refusing to take the
loss in the sale of the bad wheat, to his "buying back" Susan with five
guineas, to his lies to Elizabeth-Jane and Newson. Ironically, even the
will he leaves shows his pride. He asks to be forgotten completely rather
than be remembered as a man who had flaws.
Because of his hubris, Henchard loses his wealth, his social position,
and his chances at being loved. He leaves Casterbridge dressed as a hay-
trusser, just as he was when he first entered the town.
2. THE WORKING OF FATE
Hardy came from a religious background, and his architectural career was
spent in restoring churches. He admired the security of Christian faith.
Yet he was also drawn to the writings of Charles Darwin and Herbert
Spencer about evolution and religious skepticism. He eventually began to
doubt his own faith. Without a God controlling the universe, he felt,
people had no spiritual force to rely on for comfort or to "blame" for
their problems. Hardy grew to believe that what happened to people was
determined by fate; people could not really overcome fate. Thus, what
seem to be coincidences that occur in one's life (and numerous
coincidences plague Michael Henchard in The Mayor of Casterbridge) are
actually events controlled by an unknown, and often uncaring, outside
force. In his poem "Hap," Hardy refers to such forces as "purblind
doomsters" who just as easily strew "blisses about my pilgrimage as
pain." This dominance of fate creates a sense of emptiness or loneliness
in Hardy's Wessex. Surviving in Wessex involves learning to accept one's
fate and living within it, something Henchard never learns how to do.
Fate plays a major role in The Mayor of Casterbridge. Henchard thinks he
is in control of his life, but he is unable to avoid matters that lead to
turning points in his life--a furmity woman who laces her concoction with
rum, a long-lost wife who wanders back into his life, a poorly sealed
letter that reveals his true daughter's death, the arrest of the furmity
woman in Casterbridge, the poorly closed packet of letters, the
appearances of Newson. Henchard's indomitable belief that he can somehow
overcome his fate makes him stand out as a special person. He has a
nobility that cannot be totally destroyed. But his ultimate failure may
be a sign of Hardy's own sense of depression over the loss of religious
Closely related to the dominance of a malevolent fate in the novel is the
feeling of pessimism that is evident throughout. Hardy conveys this sense
of pessimism in two ways--through images and through characterization.
Look for repeated images of rain and darkness in the book. They nearly
always accompany downturns in Henchard's fortunes. Also notice how
Henchard's appearance and feelings of self-worth deteriorate as he is
punished for his hubris. Increasingly, he begins to doubt his own
strength as he regards the world with greater pessimism.
As readers, we also grow increasingly pessimistic about the ability of a
person--even a strong man such as Henchard--to succeed in this world.
Survival is the best a person can hope for. And survival doesn't mean
real joy or happiness, as Hardy notes in the final two pages of the book;
it means finding a "latitude of calm weather."
4. TRADITION VS. MODERNIZATION
In Hardy's lifetime, England was rapidly becoming industrialized. Hardy
felt that something important was being lost through modernization.
That's why he set most of his novels in preindustrial times and in an
In The Mayor of Casterbridge, Henchard represents the traditional ways of
working and doing business. He makes deals with handshakes and bases
business deals on hunches or prophesies. Farfrae, on the other hand,
represents modern methods. He introduces technology to the town and keeps
careful business records.
Much of the novel is built around the contrasting attitudes and actions
of Henchard and Farfrae. Through his focus on the two men, Hardy makes
the major social statement of his book. Farfrae, the man of technology
and modern business methods, displaces Henchard, the man of tradition and
superstition. Farfrae's name tells you a lot about him. He is a free man
from far away, bringing distant and free ideas into a tradition-locked
area of England. In much the same way, the Industrial Age is rapidly
taking over in Wessex and in all England, replacing the traditional
agricultural society of the past centuries.
5. PARALLELS TO THE STORY OF SAUL AND DAVID
The interaction between Henchard and Farfrae strongly echoes the biblical
story of Saul and David. Saul is the outsider who becomes king of Israel
and whose major characteristics are pride and jealousy. Music soothes him
over his moments of bad temper. He is a man of brawn who does not always
think clearly before he acts. David, the musician, begins as Saul's
comforter and eventually replaces him as king. He is a man of creativity
and reason. Notice how these characteristics compare to those of Henchard
and Farfrae. For example, look at the role that music plays in the novel.
Farfrae is a brilliant singer, and Henchard is drawn to music. Also, note
Henchard's bullying attitudes (especially toward Farfrae) and contrast
them with Farfrae's more sensitive approach.
The story of Saul and David also symbolizes the replacement of the old
order by the new. By utilizing biblical images, Hardy once again shows
the conflict between tradition and modernization.
6. ILLUSION VS. REALITY
Nearly all of the main characters in The Mayor of Casterbridge put on a
front. As readers, we know or suspect their true identities, and we wait
for the truth to surface. Hardy presents many hints that foreshadow the
reality behind the illusions. As you read, you might want to see how good
a detective you are. Jot down any hints of illusions that you see and
your suspicions about the truth. Then see how many of your suspicions are
Hardy also interplays illusion and reality in his description of the
skimmity-ride. Lucetta narrates the scene, and the events seem to take
place more in her head than on the street below her window. Reread that
scene carefully. Can you explain why the paraders just seem to disappear
into thin air?
^^^^^^^^^^THE MAYOR OF CASTERBRIDGE: STYLE
The style of The Mayor of Casterbridge is clear and descriptive. The
sentences are generally carefully developed. At times Hardy's language
seems almost poetic (and, indeed, Hardy thought of himself primarily as a
poet). Hardy, the poet, is clearly at work in his first extended
description of Elizabeth-Jane in Chapter IV:
The sun shone in at the door upon the young woman's head and hair, which
was worn loose, so that the rays streamed into its depths as into a hazel
copse. Her face, though somewhat wan and incomplete, possessed the raw
materials of beauty in a promising degree. There was an under-
handsomeness in it, struggling to reveal itself through the provisional
curves of immaturity, and the casual disfigurements that resulted from
the straitened circumstances of their lives. She was handsome in bone,
hardly as yet handsome in the flesh.
Look at the repetition of 's' sounds that give the description softness
and 'h' sounds that give it strength. (This repetition of sounds is known
as alliteration.) Hardy wants you to know that Elizabeth-Jane is a
mixture of these two qualities. Her later actions will bear out this
Sometimes Hardy's language may seem old fashioned or wordy, but that is
how Victorian authors often wrote. Note, for example, Hardy's explanation
of Farfrae's business successes (from Chapter XVII):
Whether it were that his Northern energy was an overmastering force among
the easy-going Wessex worthies, or whether it was sheer luck, the fact
remained that whatever he touched he prospered in. Like Jacob in Padan-
Aram, he would no sooner humbly limit himself to the ringstraked-and-
spotted exceptions of trade than the ringstraked-and-spotted would
multiply and prevail.
This passage may seem wordy or archaic to you, but notice Hardy's
craftsmanship in using repetition, imagery, and allusion.
Hardy relies heavily on images and symbolism in his writing. Many times
in The Mayor of Casterbridge he uses rain to add a pessimistic feeling to
Henchard's actions. He also creates an ominous feeling by presenting some
of the pivotal events in Henchard's downfall in nighttime shadows or in
darkened rooms. In addition, Hardy uses animal images in his descriptions
of Henchard and Farfrae. Hardy shows Henchard changing from "raging bull"
to "fangless" lion and caged bird. Through extended metaphor, Hardy shows
Farfrae acting as a powerful male animal laying claim to and taking over
the territory of the former dominant male.
One interesting aspect of Hardy's style is his use of conversation and
dialect. You can learn a great deal about characters, including their
social status, from the way they speak. For example, Henchard's
conversation generally consists of short sentences strung tightly
together. He talks as quickly and as impulsively as he acts. Farfrae
speaks precisely, illustrating his correctness. Farfrae's Scottish
dialect also illustrates his foreignness. He is the new man on the Wessex
scene. (Note the conversations between Henchard and Farfrae in Chapters
VII and XII.) Elizabeth-Jane's speech pattern becomes increasingly
refined as her character develops. The members of the town chorus show
how unrefined they are by the colloquial quality of their rural dialect.
^^^^^^^^^^THE MAYOR OF CASTERBRIDGE: POINT OF VIEW
The Mayor of Casterbridge is written from the point of view of a third-
person omniscient narrator. As an outside, all-knowing observer, the
narrator can jump through time as he chronicles Henchard's rise and fall,
as well as reveal the private thoughts of each character. He can also
anticipate or review actions or speeches. He can even make value
judgments, which he often does.
Note, for example, the following passage from Chapter IV, in which the
narrator comments on Susan Henchard's actions and motives, briefly
mentions the thoughts of another character, and makes some value
judgments of his own.
But Susan Henchard's fear of losing her dearly loved daughter's heart by
a revelation had little to do with any sense of wrong-doing on her own
part. Her simplicity--the original ground of Henchard's contempt for her-
-had allowed her to live on in the conviction that Newson had acquired a
morally real and justifiable right to her by his purchase--though the
exact bearings and legal limits of that right were vague. It may seem
strange to sophisticated minds that a young matron could believe in the
seriousness of such a transfer; and were there not numerous other
instances of that same belief the thing might scarcely be credited.
The narrator is not the only observer who comments on the action of the
novel. Hardy often places two characters on the scene at one time, with a
third character (usually Elizabeth-Jane) observing from a place "off-
stage." Think of Henchard and Farfrae talking in the inn while Susan
overhears them (Chapters VII and VIII), or of Henchard's contemplating
pushing Farfrae from the hay-loft while Elizabeth-Jane silently watches
the scene (Chapter XXXIII). Do you think this technique gives you a
closer "insider's" view of the action, or does it seem distracting to
you? Hardy controls your observation of the action by linking you with
the outside observer.
^^^^^^^^^^THE MAYOR OF CASTERBRIDGE: FORM AND STRUCTURE
The story line of The Mayor of Casterbridge consists of plot twists,
coincidences, echoes, and a series of minor and major climaxes.
Throughout, Hardy deals with time in interesting or unusual ways. He can
take several chapters to cover the events of a single day or whisk
through six months in a single paragraph. He even leaps completely over a
period of nearly 20 years and lets you in on the events of those years
little by little as the major characters reflect on the past.
Because The Mayor of Casterbridge was originally serialized in 20
magazine issues, the narrative is episodic. You might want to think of
the book as a script for a television series. (In Hardy's time, books and
magazines provided entertainment similar to television in our time.)
Hardy puts just enough suspense at the end of one episode to make you
want to read the next episode. That's just what a television writer does
to make sure you'll be there for the next show. Look for the elements
that connect one episode to another or lay the groundwork for future
The Mayor of Casterbridge may be divided into five sections:
1. Chapters I and II--the auction and oath
2. Chapters III-XIX--from Susan's return until her death
3. Chapters XX-XXX--from Lucetta's entrance until her marriage to Farfrae
4. Chapters XXXI-XL--from Henchard's bankruptcy until Lucetta's death
5. Chapters XLI-XLV--from Newson's appearance until Henchard's death
Each section develops an important link to Henchard's downfall. Each part
opens with Henchard asserting the strength of his character and ends with
Henchard's strength being undercut. At the end of section 1, Henchard has
lost all contact with his family. At the end of section 2, he learns the
truth about Elizabeth-Jane. At the end of section 3, he has admitted his
guilt and lost public favor. At the end of section 4, he grieves over
Lucetta's death and learns of Newson's arrival. At the end of section 5,
he has died unremembered.
You might think of the plot in terms of five descending lines, marking
the downward movements in Henchard's fortunes.
^^^^^^^^^^THE MAYOR OF CASTERBRIDGE: THE STORY
The chapter titles you will see in this section are not Thomas Hardy's.
They have been inserted to summarize a major focus of each chapter and to
help you follow the unwinding of the complex plot of The Mayor of
^^^^^^^^^^THE MAYOR OF CASTERBRIDGE: CHAPTER I: THE AUCTION
The first chapter of The Mayor of Casterbridge is one of the most
surprising opening chapters in literature. A man, feeling encumbered by
his wife, auctions her off to a total stranger and begins a new and (for
a time) highly successful life. The opening will certainly command your
The carefully paced and dramatic events of Chapter I give you a strong
hint that you are going to be following the life of an energetic and
impetuous man, and also a man of questionable moral character. Two
questions you will probably ask yourself as the chapter ends are: Will
Henchard escape punishment for his moral "crime"? and How will he be
punished in the end? By provoking these questions in your mind, Hardy has
aroused your interest.
Chapter I is noteworthy not only for its plot but also for its
craftsmanship. Every word and every image are carefully chosen. Pay close
attention to the descriptions of the characters and to the imagery that
Hardy uses. Notice the echoes of the horse auction in the auction of
Susan Henchard. Think about the bird flying through the furmity tent.
Note Henchard's temper and Susan's passive acceptance of her sale.
As the book opens, three people--a husband, a wife, and an infant
daughter--are entering the large Wessex village of Weydon-Priors. The man
is an unemployed hay-trusser, a skilled farm worker. He and his wife are
walking together physically, but they are mentally far apart. Hardy
emphasizes this mental separation by describing the "perfect silence"
between the husband and wife, and the fact that the wife "enjoyed no
society whatever" from having her husband alongside her. You also learn
that this distance between the couple is not a new thing. No recent
incident has separated them. Instead, their alienation from each other is
clearly a natural part of their relationship. As Hardy notes, they have a
"stale familiarity" about them. Recognizing the type of relationship that
Michael and Susan Henchard have with each other will help you understand
why he auctions her later in this chapter, why she agrees to leave with
the sailor after the auction, and what kind of marriage they will have
when she returns to him later in the novel.
Take note of Hardy's first descriptions of the Henchards. He refers to
them as "the man," "the woman," "the wife," and "the couple." They have
no names yet. It is as if Hardy wants you to feel a sense of distance
from them. Yet, from the first, the man is clearly the more interesting
character. His features are sharply etched, and his walk is distinctive.
The woman, on the other hand, has no real distinguishing features. She is
somewhat pretty, if the sunlight strikes her in a certain way. Hardy
describes her face as having a "mobility" about it. As you will see,
mobility is an apt word to describe Susan. She allows herself to be moved
from place to place and from man to man. Michael Henchard is an active
person, characterized by his unflagging energy. Susan Henchard is a
passive individual, almost a pawn.
The landscape also reflects a sense of alienation. The vegetation has
turned from green to blackened-green, and the leaves are "doomed," on
their way to eventual winter death. There is dust everywhere, and only
one weak bird is singing a "trite" song. Yet the landscape is also
ageless. Readers, like the Henchards, have entered Wessex, a region
bounded by tradition and superstition and still untouched by technology
and other aspects of the modern world.
NOTE: NATURE IN THE NOVEL Even though most of the action in The Mayor of
Casterbridge occurs in town settings, the countryside plays an important
role in the novel, and Hardy uses natural images for symbolic effect.
Weydon-Priors and Casterbridge are surrounded (almost imprisoned, it
seems) by the countryside. Note, for example, Hardy's description in
Chapter IV of the wall of trees that serves as the boundary of
Casterbridge. These natural settings aren't beautiful or gentle; they are
cold and threatening. Also note Hardy's symbolic use of horses in this
chapter (Susan is auctioned like a horse) and his having a bird sail
freely through the furmity tent while Susan is being "bound over" to
another man. The bird is an important symbol. Henchard thinks that
selling his wife will make him as free as the bird. (At the end of the
book, he will see himself as a caged bird, rather than as a free one.)
The travelers meet a turnip-hoer as they enter the village. He tells them
that they will find no work or housing in Weydon-Priors. There is,
however, a fair going on. The turnip-hoer says that the real business of
the fair day, the auctioning of animals, has already been completed. Only
a few inferior animals remain for sale. However, the peasant's words will
soon ring false. One more major business transaction will soon take
NOTE: FAIR DAYS Dorset, in which Hardy grew up and upon which he modeled
Wessex, was a traditional farming area. People there lived by an
agricultural calendar. Fairs and festivals marked the beginning or end of
seasons, and, as such, occurred at set times. That the novel opens on a
fair day, then, has a special significance. The date of the auction will
be clearly set on the Wessex calendar.
The travelers decide to look for refreshment. The man wants to enter a
tent in which beer and hard cider is being sold, but his wife directs
them instead into the furmity tent, where the puddings are sold. The wife
obviously knows that her husband has trouble holding his liquor.
Ironically, in trying to avoid a problem, the woman precipitates a series
of events that will change all their lives. As always in a Hardy novel,
fate will soon take charge.
The woman who runs the furmity tent illegally spikes the pudding with
rum. Michael Henchard drinks four basins (bowls) and becomes increasingly
drunk and quarrelsome. He begins to reflect on the major problem in his
life--the family that he feels is restraining him from success.
At that moment, an auctioneer outside the furmity tent is selling the
last of the horses. His calls unconsciously trigger a desire in Henchard
to sell his family to the highest bidder. Quickly and loudly, he begins
his auction. For the first time, you see the impulsiveness that will
always characterize Michael Henchard. The crowd in the furmity tent
thinks Henchard is joking at first, but he becomes increasingly serious,
as does his wife. Susan Henchard is obviously used to her husband's
drunken outbursts. She tries to calm him at first. Then she, too, becomes
annoyed as he continues the auction. Finally, she declares that she would
welcome being sold. "Her present owner is not at all to her liking," she
says. This statement reveals a lot about Susan. She obviously sees
herself as a possession to be owned by a man.
A sailor bids five guineas (about $25 in Hardy's time) for Susan, and the
deal is soon completed. Susan and the child leave with the sailor.
During the auction, the action has been fast-paced. Hardy continues to
build the mood with lean sentences and very short paragraphs. Following
the auction, however, Hardy slows the narrative pace with two long
paragraphs--one dealing with the peacefulness of nature outside the
furmity tent, and the other with Michael Henchard's falling asleep inside
the tent. The contrasting calmness of these two paragraphs against what
follows helps make the infamous auction scene even more disturbing to
The auction is the key event of The Mayor of Casterbridge. It underlies
the tragic events that follow. Yet it has all happened so quickly, and so
early, in the novel. You can see that a Hardy novel doesn't build slowly
toward a climax. It pounds away with one dramatic event after another.
^^^^^^^^^^THE MAYOR OF CASTERBRIDGE: CHAPTER II: THE OATH
The next morning, Michael Henchard awakens in the furmity tent, only
vaguely remembering what happened there the previous evening. He spots
Susan's wedding ring on the floor, then discovers the sailor's money in
his pocket. As his memory returns, he begins talking aloud to himself.
Henchard is obviously upset. He feels a series of emotions but,
strangely, not shame. Hardy describes Henchard as having a "gloomy
curiosity" and a sense of revitalization as he faces the new day. He is
"surprised and nettled" that Susan has left with the sailor, and he
worries that he might have identified himself while drunk the night
before, but is soon relieved to learn that no one knows him. Initial
annoyance with Susan quickly builds to anger. How could she have taken
him so literally? Then he remembers her passivity. Therefore, he must be
responsible for what happened.
NOTE: ONE MODEL FOR HENCHARD Thomas Hardy's maternal grandfather, George
Hand, was a laborer who drank heavily and eventually died of consumption
(tuberculosis). Hardy's mother told him many stories about his
grandfather's drunkenness, and Hardy wove her descriptions into his
characterizations of the two heavy and tragic drinkers in his novels--
Henchard and Jude Fawley of Jude the Obscure.
Henchard takes two steps to correct the situation, both ineffectual. He
goes unobserved to the village church and takes a solemn oath not to
drink again for 21 years (he is only 21 now). Then he begins looking for
Susan, although he knows neither the sailor's name nor his hometown.
However, Henchard's pride and shame keep him from revealing the true
story behind his family's disappearance. Had he done so, people might
have been more willing to help him. In any case, after several months he
gives up the search and moves on to Casterbridge.
The second chapter contrasts sharply with the first. It is much shorter
and less dramatic. Yet it reveals even more about Henchard's character:
He acts quickly and often makes errors. He sometimes regrets his
mistakes, but his way of handling them is not to undo what he has done
but to take a new course of action.
He relies more on instinct than on thought. His instincts have led him to
rid himself of his family and to find his way to Casterbridge. Both of
these deeds will play important roles in his subsequent success and his
NOTE: THE PROLOGUE SECTION The first two chapters are separate from the
rest of the novel in terms of time, place, style, and development. They
serve as a prologue section. The prologue introduces several of the main
characters and presents core events that will underlie much of the later
action, As you read the first two chapters, think about why Hardy sets
them off from the rest of the novel. Why doesn't he begin the book in
Casterbridge in the 1840s and flash back to the earlier events in Weydon-
Priors? There are several possible reasons. Which of the following
explanations seems most logical to you? One is that Hardy wants the
auction in Chapter I to stand out from the rest of the book. It's the key
event in both Michael Henchard's rise and fall. Secondly, Hardy wants to
shock you and capture your interest immediately. A third reason is that
Hardy wants to draw you into the world of Wessex and separate you from
your own time and place. What a strange place this is, you may think, in
which a man can sell his family and no one seems to be very upset about
it! A final reason is that Hardy's focus is on the destructive nature of
Henchard's character and his powerlessness to overcome his fate. He does
not want you to see Henchard first as a man of power and influence. You
know that Henchard is doomed long before he recognizes this fact.
^^^^^^^^^^THE MAYOR OF CASTERBRIDGE: CHAPTER III: SUSAN'S SEARCH FOR
Chapter III opens the second section of The Mayor of Casterbridge. You
might call this chapter "Echoes, Contrasts, and Coincidences." In the
first paragraph, Hardy includes several echoes of Chapter I. The scene is
again the dusty road leading to Weydon-Priors. The leaves are turning
brown once more. And strangers are once again entering the village. The
strangers are Susan Henchard and her daughter Elizabeth-Jane, a girl of
The echoes continue. The two women arrive in the village on Fair Day. In
fact, they have come to the village exactly 18 years after the auction.
They even head toward the place where furmity is being sold.
While he is echoing the past, Hardy also presents numerous contrasts.
Eighteen years have made quite a difference. The village and the fair are
considerably run down now. The furmity woman no longer has a tent. She
serves her brew, now "thin slop" instead of "rich concoction," from a pot
over an open fire outdoors. Yet she still spikes it illegally with rum.
The most intriguing contrast lies in Susan Henchard's reason for
returning to Weydon-Priors. She first arrived there with Michael Henchard
and left with Richard Newson, the sailor. Now Newson has been lost at
sea, and Susan is looking for Michael Henchard. Does she intend to resume
her marriage with Henchard?
Elizabeth-Jane asks her mother why they have come to this place and
learns that her mother first met "father"--Newson--here. Susan tells her
they have returned to the village to try to locate their kin, Michael
Henchard, who is related to them "by marriage." As Susan approaches the
furmity woman, her daughter wonders why she wants to talk to someone as
unrespectable as the old hag. Elizabeth-Jane's comments illustrate both
her primness and her lack of memory about the past.
Susan's conversation with Mrs. Goodenough, the furmity woman, brings out
some amazing coincidences. Mrs. Goodenough still remembers the infamous
auction. She even recalls an old message from Michael Henchard to his
former wife. He told Mrs. Goodenough 17 years ago that if she should ever
see Susan again, to tell her that he had moved to Casterbridge. Do all of
these coincidences seem a little too contrived? They are typical in a
Hardy novel, and they sometimes annoy readers. Yet these coincidences
keep the story moving along smoothly.
NOTE: THE IMPORTANCE OF COINCIDENCES AND FORESHADOWING Since many of
Hardy's novels were first serialized in magazines, he needed various
devices to tie the episodes together and keep his readers in suspense.
The use of coincidences was one of these devices. Hardy's use of
coincidence also adds to the fatalistic nature of the plot. The
coincidences seem to show that Henchard can't escape his fate.
In Chapter III, Hardy also illustrates his technique of foreshadowing
future events. Look carefully at his description of Elizabeth-Jane at the
beginning of this chapter, and at Susan's statement to her daughter about
their relationship to Michael Henchard. Harry describes the girl as being
"about eighteen," as being "Susan Henchard's grown-up daughter," and as
never having been known by Henchard. Hardy is planting clues in your mind
about the characters that won't be explained until later. He is also
provoking you into reading further.
^^^^^^^^^^THE MAYOR OF CASTERBRIDGE: CHAPTER IV: ENTERING CASTERBRIDGE
In Chapter IV, Hardy begins to fill you in on what has happened to Susan
Henchard since the auction. Susan has kept her past a secret from
Elizabeth-Jane, fearing that her daughter might be upset by the truth
behind Susan's relationship with the sailor, Newson. Susan had moved with
the sailor to Canada, then back to England. More and more, Susan doubted
the morality of her life with Newson. He understood and arranged,
conveniently, to become lost at sea.
Free of one problem, Susan still has another--how to help Elizabeth-Jane
make her way in the world. Susan decides that finding Henchard might help
resolve all her problems. She will return to her proper husband. Henchard
might have become successful enough to help Elizabeth-Jane. In addition,
he might help Susan decide how to tell the girl about the past.
The two women enter Casterbridge on a Friday evening. Elizabeth-Jane is
struck by how old-fashioned the town appears.
NOTE: THE PRIMITIVE NATURE OF CASTERBRIDGE In his descriptions of
Casterbridge, Hardy emphasizes the old-fashioned, almost primitive,
nature of the town. Casterbridge is imprisoned by trees and often cloaked
in darkness. It is similar to the dark, foreboding castles in many horror
or suspense stories.
Susan and Elizabeth-Jane overhear a conversation between two men in which
the name "Henchard" is mentioned. Elizabeth-Jane wants to run after the
men, but Susan stops her because she wants to make "private inquiries."
She implies that Henchard might be a criminal or a debtor, but she
probably fears that he has either remarried or has risen to heights too
high for his modest former family.
The two also meet a woman who complains about how bad the bread in
Casterbridge has become. She attributes the problem to spoiled wheat sold
by the cornfactor. (In England, wheat is called "corn," and what we know
as "corn" is called "maize.") In the next chapter, you will learn that
the cornfactor is in fact Michael Henchard. The bad wheat he has sold to
the town millers marks the first downturn in his career since his move to
Casterbridge. Hardy once again presents a coincidence. Susan Henchard re-
enters Michael Henchard's life just as his fortune is reversing.
^^^^^^^^^^THE MAYOR OF CASTERBRIDGE: CHAPTER V: DISCOVERING THE MAYOR
In Chapter IV, Hardy introduced the landscape of Casterbridge. In this
chapter, he introduces its people. Why do you think he shows you the town
in this manner?
As the chapter opens, the town band playing outside the King's Arms Hotel
attracts Susan and her daughter. The most important town leaders are
dining inside the hotel, and many of the minor townspeople are gathered
across the street where they can observe the proceedings. Susan asks
Elizabeth-Jane to converse with some of the townspeople so as to find out
more about Henchard.
NOTE: THE TOWN CHORUS In many of his books, Hardy employs a chorus of
minor characters to fill in some of the past events not explained in his
narration. Greek dramatists often used this technique as did William
Shakespeare. The chorus provides you with a good sense of local color and
a special perspective on the important people or events in the book. In
this chapter, the words and actions of the chorus reveal some very
interesting information about Henchard. He is a mysterious character (you
know more about him than the townspeople do). Henchard is clearly
powerful, but he is also vulnerable if pushed. And the people in
Casterbridge know how to push him.
Elizabeth-Jane learns that Henchard is the mayor of the town. Susan
overhears the same information. Both women are surprised, but they react
very differently to the news. Elizabeth-Jane is impressed and interested,
while Susan is nervous and overwhelmed. She says, "Now I only want to go-
-pass away--die." Why do you think Susan reacts this way? Here are three
possible reasons. For one thing, Susan is probably concerned that she and
Henchard are no longer equals. He may not want to help the two women and
thus in some way acknowledge his humble beginnings. For another, Susan
has noticed that the Mayor has a hard, unforgiving look. He may think of
Susan as a threat to his position and react in hostility toward her and
her daughter. A third possibility is that Susan may be a little envious
that Henchard has become so prosperous since ridding himself of her.
Which reason seems most logical to you?
While Susan reflects on the surprising news, Elizabeth-Jane learns more
about Henchard by listening to the gossipy townspeople. She hears about
Henchard's 21-year oath, and that he has only two more years before he
can resume drinking alcohol. Elizabeth-Jane also learns that the Mayor is
a widower who "lost" his wife. The gossipers next turn to the subject of
the bad wheat that Henchard has sold to the town bakers. Soon, the same
complaint begins in the hotel dining room where one of the tradesmen
questions Henchard, another guest, about the poor bread. Outside the open
windows, the people join in the questioning. Henchard's famous temper is
aroused. He blames the weather and the fact that he needs a good manager
for his business. Pressed about whether he will replace the bad wheat,
Henchard replies, "If anybody will tell me how to make grown wheat into
wholesome wheat I'll take it back. But it can't be done."
Henchard's words are prophetic. He will spend much of the rest of the
novel trying to undo what he has already done.
^^^^^^^^^^THE MAYOR OF CASTERBRIDGE: CHAPTER VI: A MYSTERIOUS STRANGER
Another new character enters Casterbridge in this chapter. As you will
see, each new character has a significant effect on the plot and on
Michael Henchard's life. This character, Donald Farfrae, enters on a note
of mystery and magic.
As Henchard tells the tradesmen in the hotel dining room that it is
impossible for him to replace the bad wheat, he is overheard by a young
stranger standing just outside the dining room windows. The tall young
man hastily jots down a note on some paper, asking the waiter standing in
the doorway to take the note to the Mayor. He also asks (in a strong
brogue) the waiter to suggest a moderately priced hotel, thus revealing
his Scottish frugality. The waiter points out the Three Mariners down the
Elizabeth-Jane has been observing all this, even noticing the Mayor's
reaction to the young man's note. Henchard's mood changes to excitement.
Elizabeth-Jane turns to her mother and suggests that they also find a
room at the Three Mariners. The two women leave just as Henchard emerges
from the King's Arms to question the waiter about the sender of the note.
They just miss each other. Learning that the stranger has gone to the
Three Mariners, Henchard makes his way there as well.
NOTE: HARDY'S NARRATIVE STYLE This scene illustrates some interesting
aspects of Hardy's narrative style. Notice that he maintains tight
control over the action. He moves characters around like actors on a
stage. The characters narrowly miss bumping into each other, and the
suspense builds. You have probably been wondering when Henchard will meet
his former family again, and how they will react to each other. Hardy
makes you wait a little longer before you see this confrontation. He will
also make you wait to find out more about the mysterious stranger.
Hardy next presents a careful description of the architecture of the
Three Mariners. Remember that he started out as an architect and has a
special feeling for the traditional structures in Casterbridge. In his
description, Hardy also points out the deterioration of the hotel's
signboard, for want of a skilled painter. He seems to lament the loss of
tradition as modernization takes over the town.
^^^^^^^^^^THE MAYOR OF CASTERBRIDGE: CHAPTER VII: HENCHARD MEETS FARFRAE
The focus shifts back to Susan and Elizabeth-Jane. They are inside the
Three Mariners, and Susan is concerned that they can't afford to stay
there. Elizabeth-Jane decides to work for their room and board. She is
instructed to bring the Scotsman his dinner and studies his appearance
briefly, but he doesn't even notice her. Then she brings dinner to her
mother. Coincidentally, the two women are staying in the room next to the
Scotsman's. Together, they overhear a conversation between Henchard and
NOTE: HARDY'S USE OF OUTSIDE OBSERVERS One interesting stylistic device
that Hardy uses is to let you view the action through the eyes or ears of
characters outside the action. (This technique is discussed earlier in
the Point of View section.) The town chorus is one example of outside
observers who comment on the action. Here, you see another example.
Hardy's technique serves both to distance you from the action and also to
let you see how other characters are affected by what is being heard or
seen. Thus, you know more about what is happening than does any one
character, although your viewpoint may be slightly biased at the same
The stranger says that his name is Donald Farfrae and that he is on his
way to America. He and Henchard discuss the contents of Farfrae's note:
Farfrae's claim that he has a technique for curing bad wheat. The young
man demonstrates the technique to Henchard, who is impressed, and offers
Farfrae a job. Farfrae refuses but says Henchard can have the secret
remedy for nothing.
Henchard's tone toward Farfrae quickly changes from businesslike to
personal. He says the stranger reminds him of his dead brother. He
refuses a drink and tells Farfrae about his oath, confiding that a
shameful deed is behind the oath. The two men soon part.
Henchard's impulsive and trusting nature is clearly shown in this scene.
He quickly allows his emotions to control him. Typically, he offers
Farfrae a job that had already been promised to someone else. He also
shows that he suffers from loneliness and shame. Farfrae, on the other
hand, is aloof and quietly reasonable. He weighs his words carefully
before he speaks. Fate is also at work. By coming to the Three Mariners,
Henchard has started a series of events that will soon be beyond his
^^^^^^^^^^THE MAYOR OF CASTERBRIDGE: CHAPTER VIII: FARFRAE, THE SINGER
Hardy shifts your attention back to Susan and Elizabeth-Jane, so you can
see the effect the overheard conversation has had on them. Susan's face
is "strangely bright" when she learns that Henchard still feels shame
about having auctioned his family.
Meanwhile, Elizabeth-Jane clears away Farfrae's dishes and becomes an
outside observer, watching Farfrae join the other hotel guests in the
sitting-room where he sings a song about Scotland.
NOTE: THE ROLE OF MUSIC IN THE NOVEL Many of Hardy's early memories were
tied to music. Both his father and grandfather were church musicians, and
Hardy also played the fiddle at dances in his youth. The family often
gathered to play songs and ballads. Music made Hardy think of family and
tradition. There are numerous references to music in The Mayor of
Casterbridge, and Henchard's saga can indeed be viewed as a kind of
ballad in its chronicling the rise and tragic fall of a common man.
Hardy also uses music to relate the story of Henchard and Farfrae to that
of Saul and David in the Bible. Remember that David's harp playing was
the only thing able to soothe Saul's temper. (See the "Themes" section of
this guide and later chapter analyses for more about this connection.)
Farfrae's lonely song about Scotland draws an emotional response from all
the listeners, including Henchard, who hears the song while standing
outside the hotel, and Elizabeth-Jane, who is clearly attracted to
Hardy concludes the chapter by quickly flashing through the thoughts of
Susan, Elizabeth-Jane, and Henchard. Susan is worried that Elizabeth-Jane
may have belittled herself in Henchard's eyes by acting as a serving
maid. He may not want to help her get ahead now. Elizabeth-Jane thinks
about Farfrae. Henchard, moved by the music, reflects on his loneliness.
The only person who doesn't seem emotionally affected in any way is
Farfrae. Despite the haunting quality of his singing, he seems just as
aloof as he did in his conversation with Henchard. Farfrae is clearly
different from the others in Casterbridge. Yet he is quickly able to win
the others over to him. This special quality will prove important later
on in the novel. He is also quite the opposite of Henchard. Farfrae
blends with the common people, while Henchard keeps himself apart. Notice
how Farfrae sings openly among the townspeople, while Henchard addresses
them through a window.
^^^^^^^^^^THE MAYOR OF CASTERBRIDGE: CHAPTER IX: FARFRAE JOINS WITH
The next morning, Henchard again presses Farfrae to stay and work for
him. Farfrae tells Henchard he is definitely leaving, but his responses
indicate some wavering. Sadly, Elizabeth-Jane watches the two men walk
The girl turns toward her mother, who is thinking about Henchard. Susan
comments on the consistency of Henchard's character. She says he was
always a warm person, but we haven't seen much previous evidence of this
trait. Susan is wishfully hoping that she and her daughter might receive
a warm reception from Henchard. Seeing some of Henchard's wagons loaded
with hay (a sign of prosperity), she resolves to approach her former
husband for Elizabeth-Jane's sake.
Susan decides to send Elizabeth-Jane to Henchard with a message that a
sailor's widow is in town. This will give Henchard time to consider
whether he will see Susan. She hopes that Henchard's loneliness and sense
of guilt will move him to take them back. Take a close look at Susan's
comments here. Think about how they illustrate her self-effacing nature.
She will let Henchard decide if, when, and where he wants to meet them.
She even instructs Elizabeth-Jane to tell Henchard that her mother knows
she has no claim upon the Mayor. But Susan has a very real claim, doesn't
she? Hardy describes Susan as a "poor forgiving woman," but she seems
almost unconvincingly humble and unconfident.
As Elizabeth-Jane walks up High Street, Hardy gives you a tour of
Casterbridge through Elizabeth-Jane's eyes. Note that it is market day in
Casterbridge, a fact that closely parallels that long-ago fair day in
Weydon-Priors when Susan and her baby were auctioned. Hardy emphasizes
this connection by describing the rows of horses for sale--just as they
were in Weydon-Priors.
NOTE: THE CHARACTER OF CASTERBRIDGE In his descriptions of Casterbridge
in this chapter and in Chapter IV, Hardy quickly points out the non-urban
character of the town. "Casterbridge was the complement of rural life
around; not its urban opposite," he writes, adding that the town lived by
agriculture. Casterbridge is a working-class town, a place of labor and
tradition. Remember that Hardy came from a working-class background and
shunned London society, choosing to live in Dorchester instead. The
agricultural nature of Casterbridge may explain why a former hay-trusser
was able to rise to mayor. It also shows that the fall from mayor back to
hay-trusser may not be such a long one, nor so far away.
Elizabeth-Jane enters Henchard's store-yard, but he is not there.
Instead, to her surprise, she encounters Farfrae. Hardy then breaks away
from the narrative to explain why Farfrae is in the yard.
This brief flashback serves two functions for Hardy. It allows him to
keep you in suspense a little longer about Henchard's reaction to meeting
his former family, and it also keeps you wondering how Elizabeth-Jane and
Farfrae will react to each other. Will they, indeed, be a match?
^^^^^^^^^^THE MAYOR OF CASTERBRIDGE: CHAPTER X: ELIZABETH-JANE AND
Henchard opens his office door to admit Elizabeth-Jane, but another man
jumps in front of her. He announces that he is the new manager, Joshua
Jopp, the man who Henchard had at first thought Farfrae was. Jopp has
come to claim his new job, but he learns that the position is already
filled. Angry and disappointed, he leaves. The scene is abrupt and
mysterious. Knowing Hardy's technique of foreshadowing, you are. probably
wondering what kind of threat the angry Jopp might pose to Henchard later
Finally, Elizabeth-Jane says that she wants to speak to Henchard "not on
business." She then delivers her mother's message. Henchard is shocked to
learn about Susan, but he immediately concentrates on the girl instead.
He asks if she is Susan's daughter and what her name is. When she says,
"Elizabeth-Jane Newson," Henchard feels certain that the girl doesn't
know about the auction nor the identity of her real father. He invites
Elizabeth-Jane into his home.
Henchard begins a note to Susan. He stops to ask the girl how well off
she and her mother are, and he seems genuinely concerned. Noticing
Elizabeth-Jane's "respectable" but old-fashioned clothes, he encloses
five guineas with the note. The amount is significant. It is the sum that
Newson paid for Susan and her daughter.
Elizabeth-Jane delivers the note to Susan, describing her meeting with
Henchard. The note contains Henchard's request that he and Susan meet
secretly at a place called The Ring. Susan matches Henchard's secrecy by
not revealing the details of the note to Elizabeth-Jane. Susan quietly
pockets the enclosed five guineas, indicating that she is willing to be
^^^^^^^^^^THE MAYOR OF CASTERBRIDGE: CHAPTER XI: THE REUNION
Having symbolically bought Susan back, Henchard determines to make amends
for having sold her in the first place. Is Henchard sincerely remorseful,
or does he once again show his pride by believing he can erase the past?
At the end of this chapter, see if you feel more positive or more
negative about Henchard than you did before.
The place Henchard has chosen to meet Susan is an old Roman amphitheatre,
known as The Ring. Hardy notes it is not a place for happy meetings.
Furtive appointments are held in The Ring. Hardy describes it as
desolate, decaying, a place of violence, where bloody incidents have
NOTE: ROMANS IN DORSET Hardy was fascinated by the history of Dorset,
particularly the Roman occupation in the first through third centuries.
Many times in the novel he alludes to the Roman influence still alive in
Casterbridge. Hardy himself found some Roman artifacts when workmen were
excavating the land for his new house, Max Gate, in Dorchester. Three
skeletons of Roman soldiers were also found there. The Roman amphitheatre
was known as Maumbury Rings and was located just south of the town of
Henchard has chosen The Ring because he feels he can't be observed there.
He is concerned with maintaining proper appearances. He and Susan meet in
the middle of the arena. What do you think is the significance of this?
Does their meeting seem like a gladiatorial encounter?
Henchard first admits apologetically that he no longer drinks. Although
he feels guilty, he doesn't blame himself; he blames his drinking for his
wrongdoing, much as he did when he first took his solemn oath.
Henchard asks Susan why she kept silent from him for so long and learns
that she considered herself bound to Newson by the auction. She also
wanted to conceal her shameful past from Elizabeth-Jane. They agree that
it is important to continue to keep the girl, as well as the townspeople,
ignorant of their former marriage. Henchard develops a plan in which he
will set Susan and Elizabeth-Jane up in a cottage, woo Susan, remarry
her, and adopt the girl. It is all very businesslike--there is no mention
of love. Susan, ever adaptable, agrees to the plan for her daughter's
As they part, Henchard asks Susan if she forgives him. She mumbles an
indistinct reply, and Henchard comments, "Never mind--all in good time.
Judge me by my future works." Once again, Henchard rushes headlong into
the future, trying to atone for past wrongs with present actions. He
seems repentant, but do you think he has really changed, or has he just
found a convenient way to relieve his guilt feelings?
^^^^^^^^^^THE MAYOR OF CASTERBRIDGE: CHAPTER XII: HENCHARD CONFIDES IN
Hardy is now ready to sow the seeds for the most significant conflict in
the novel--that between Henchard and Farfrae and the philosophies each
embodies. Hardy begins this conflict rather innocently with a
conversation between the two men. Look carefully at this conversation. As
you read, make a simple chart on which to note contrasting
characteristics of the two men. Add to your chart as you read. This can
be an excellent source for preparing to write papers or to take tests on
The Mayor of Casterbridge.
The action begins when Henchard returns home from his meeting with Susan
and notices that Farfrae is still "overhauling" the books. He admires
Farfrae's meticulousness but pities him at the same time for his
concentration on petty details. He considers himself above details.
Henchard persuades Farfrae to stop working, inviting him to dinner.
After dinner, Henchard confides the two most important secrets in his
life to Farfrae and asks the young man's advice. He tells Farfrae about
the auction and Susan's recent return. When Farfrae suggests that
Henchard make amends by again living with his former wife, Henchard
reveals his second secret--he has also had an affair with a woman on the
island of Jersey, a relationship that ruined her reputation. He planned
to marry her to make things right, but Susan's reappearance will prevent
him from doing so.
Henchard is characteristically expansive and emotional in recounting his
troubles, while Farfrae is characteristically unemotional and logical in
his advice. He suggests that Henchard write the Jersey woman, explaining
the facts and wishing her well. Henchard feels he must enclose some money
in the letter.
Henchard mentions one more problem: should he tell his daughter the
truth? Farfrae says yes, but Henchard vehemently disagrees, ending their
discussion. Interestingly, Hardy describes the conversation as an
"interview." Even very personal exchanges become businesslike when
Henchard and Farfrae are involved.
Are you surprised that Henchard shares his deeply hidden secrets with an
almost total stranger? Or is this kind of impulsive act consistent with
his character? Henchard has tightly embraced Farfrae, though neither man
really understands the other. The discussion between the two men raises
some questions in your mind. Will Henchard regret sharing his secrets?
Will Farfrae maintain the secrecy? Who is the Jersey woman and what other
complications will she bring to the plot?
^^^^^^^^^^THE MAYOR OF CASTERBRIDGE: CHAPTER XIII: COURTSHIP AND MARRIAGE
Once he has installed Susan and Elizabeth-Jane in their cottage, Henchard
begins courting Susan. Henchard enjoys tricking Elizabeth-Jane, but Susan
is unhappy with this deception. Henchard soon suggests that they set a
wedding date. Susan feels a little overwhelmed by Henchard's affluence
and the trouble he has gone to, but Henchard is determined to make amends
for the past.
Rumors soon begin flying around Casterbridge about the couple--the
energetic and class-conscious mayor and the pale, humble woman whom the
boys in the town dub "The Ghost." Henchard is undeterred by the gossip.
He is driven not by love but by the desire to make amends to Susan, to
provide a home for his daughter, and to punish himself for his past
NOTE: HENCHARD'S SELF-PUNISHMENT URGE Throughout the novel, Henchard
seems to have a subconscious need to punish himself. His sense of guilt
drives him to actions that may threaten him later. For example, had he
never left a message for Susan with the furmity woman, Susan might never
have found him, and his fortunes might have been very different. He
unconsciously wanted Susan to find him, forcing him to make amends. Do
you think he also wants the townspeople to look down on him for marrying
beneath his social class? Status is important to Henchard, and
purposefully choosing to lose status by marrying Susan is certainly an
example of Henchard's self-punishment. Or do you think Henchard feels it
more important to make amends to Susan? As you continue reading, consider
Henchard's motives for committing other acts that lead to his downfall.
While the couple is being married inside the church, the town chorus
gathers outside--as before--to provide a special perspective. Once again,
Hardy uses outside observers to study a key event. Some in the crowd
wonder why Henchard waited so long to get so little in a wife. Others,
knowing Henchard's temper, see a "bluebeardy look" about him and predict
that the marriage may prove disastrous in the long run. Still others feel
Henchard is a good catch for any woman, particularly one like Susan.
These comments create an unsettling atmosphere around an event that is
supposed to bring peace into the lives of the Henchard family. Hardy
seems to foreshadow more trouble.
^^^^^^^^^^THE MAYOR OF CASTERBRIDGE: CHAPTER XIV: MAKING PLANS FOR
Susan and Elizabeth-Jane now live in Henchard's house. Henchard treats
his old/new wife with great kindness but without affection. "He was as
kind to her as a man, mayor, and churchwarden could possibly be," Hardy
writes. But Henchard doesn't treat her as most husbands or lovers might.
While Susan finds kindness and comfort in her new home, Elizabeth-Jane
sees a whole new world opening up for her. In the second paragraph, Hardy
describes the changes in Elizabeth-Jane. He shows how she has improved
materially, physically, and emotionally. The order of the description
seems very Henchard-like: money comes first, then leads to other things.
Hardy is quick to point out, however, that money has not really changed
the girl's personality. She believes her good fortune might quickly
disappear if she tempts Providence by flaunting her new-found affluence.
In this respect, she contrasts sharply with Henchard.
NOTE: THE NOVEL AS FABLE Hardy sometimes weaves the qualities of a fable
into The Mayor of Casterbridge. He makes the book seem a symbolic tale
with a moral message. Notice how the first sentence of the novel,
beginning "One evening of late summer...", resembles the standard story
opening "Once upon a time..." In this chapter, Hardy prepares you for a
moral message that will build as the book progresses. He appears to be
saying that the way to endure in this world is to be moderate in your
actions and desires. If you reach for too much too quickly, you may soon
come toppling down. Consider the fable of the tortoise and the hare. Its
moral is, "Slow and steady wins the race." Henchard is a little like the
hare, rushing ahead, ridiculing his opponents and refusing to recognize
any limitations. Elizabeth-Jane and Farfrae are more like the tortoise.
They move ahead slowly but surely to success, while Henchard, like the
hare, is doomed to failure in the long run.
Henchard studies his daughter carefully and begins to doubt her identity.
He asks Susan if the girl's hair wasn't darker as a child. Susan is
startled by the question and uneasily evades it. Once again, Hardy hints
that things may not be as they seem. Henchard's doubts drive him to ask
Elizabeth-Jane to take his name instead of Newson's. Henchard wants to
make certain she is legally, if not emotionally, his daughter. Susan
objects to this request at first, but finally agrees to ask the girl.
Privately, however, she discourages her daughter from making the change.
The issue is dropped but you may begin to wonder at this point if
Elizabeth-Jane really is Henchard's child.
One day, Elizabeth-Jane receives a note asking her to come to a granary.
She thinks she is being summoned to help with Henchard's business.
However, she sees only Farfrae at the granary. They meet and talk,
discovering that each has been sent a similar mysterious note. Together
they wait for whomever sent the note to appear and solve the mystery. But
no one arrives. The two talk for a few minutes, and then part. An unseen
matchmaker seems to be at work again.
^^^^^^^^^^THE MAYOR OF CASTERBRIDGE: CHAPTER XV: HENCHARD AND FARFRAE
Chapter XV deals with two separate themes. The first is Elizabeth-Jane's
physical attractiveness and rising popularity. Although she is rapidly
becoming the town beauty she remains as modest as ever. The second theme
concerns a slowly building rift between Henchard and Farfrae. Farfrae's
ability to ingratiate himself with the common people of Casterbridge--as
he demonstrated earlier at the Three Mariners--increases the Scotsman's
popularity while at the same time arousing Henchard's jealousy. What
thread do both themes share?
Some interesting elements of Hardy's style are evident at the beginning
of Chapter XV. As Chapter XIV ended, your attention was drawn to
Elizabeth-Jane as she left Farfrae. There was also a hint of romance.
Hardy opens Chapter XV with a description of Elizabeth-Jane's developing
beauty and Farfrae's rising romantic interest in her. Notice the smooth
transition from the action at the end of the previous chapter.
Hardy continues building transitions. In order to shift your attention
from Elizabeth-Jane to Henchard and Farfrae in this chapter, he has the
girl view the two men through her window. Hardy resembles a movie
director, panning the cameras across the set. Once he has your attention
fixed on the next important scene--the faltering relationship between
Henchard and Farfrae--he moves the camera in for a close-up. What other
examples of smooth transitions and "camera panning" have you found?
An unlikely third character plays an important role in the rift between
Henchard and Farfrae. He is a village simpleton named Abel Whittle, who
finds it very difficult to get to work on time. Henchard gives him an
ultimatum and issues a stern threat against him if he is late once more.
When Abel is missing the next morning, Henchard goes to his house and
rouses him from bed. He forces the man to come to work without his
breeches on. When Abel tells Farfrae that he will kill himself out of
embarrassment, Farfrae sends him home for his pants. Henchard and Farfrae
have a public confrontation over the matter, and Henchard is hurt by what
he regards as Farfrae's disloyalty to him. Later, Farfrae discovers that
Henchard is not completely cold-hearted. He had supplied Abel's poor
mother with coal and snuff without charge during the previous winter.
Henchard broods over several other incidents involving Farfrae, who he
feels has displaced him in the eyes of the common townspeople. In the
end, however, his positive feelings for Farfrae win out over his
jealousy. As the chapter ends, the two men are friends again, though
Henchard regrets having confided his most important secrets to Farfrae.
^^^^^^^^^^THE MAYOR OF CASTERBRIDGE: CHAPTER XVI: HENCHARD AND FARFRAE
Henchard becomes increasingly polite and reserved in his manner toward
Farfrae. They are still business partners but no longer friends. Finally,
their partnership ends over what others would consider a trivial
Both men begin planning holiday celebrations, with Henchard believing
that as Mayor, he should be able to outdo Farfrae. Henchard advertises an
elaborate fair, complete with contests and athletic events, while Farfrae
plans a modest celebration inside a tent. Henchard is certain he will win
out over his nemesis at last.
The holiday arrives with heavy rains. Henchard's games are rained out and
his booth collapses. Even after the rains stop, no one comes to
Henchard's celebration. Instead, they go to Farfrae's tent, which has
been erected so as to protect the people from wind and rain. Even Susan
and Elizabeth-Jane are there.
NOTE: SYMBOLIC RAIN The holiday rains mark the third time that Hardy has
introduced rain into the plot of the novel. Rain fell when Henchard and
Susan were remarried. Farfrae and Elizabeth-Jane were also caught in the
rain. Now rain leads to Henchard's ridicule. In the next chapter, Hardy
says that Henchard walks "stormfully" past Farfrae whenever they meet. In
Chapter XXVI, the predicted rains that never arrive mark Henchard's total
collapse in business. Each incidence of rain symbolizes a downward turn
in Henchard's fortunes and a rise in Farfrae's. In Wessex, even nature
conspires to punish those who would tempt fate.
Henchard stands among the crowd and overhears talk about how much better
Farfrae's holiday celebration was than his own. There is also gossip
about how Farfrae has saved Henchard's business by introducing modern
methods--"ciphering and mensuration"--instead of the old-fashioned chalk
strokes and measurements that Henchard has always used.
Henchard resents the praise that Farfrae seems to receive at his
(Henchard's) expense. He goes into the pavilion and sees Farfrae dancing
with Elizabeth-Jane. Henchard ignores her and begins a snide attack on
his partner. When some of the town leaders mention how clever Farfrae is
and predict that he will soon be number one in the business, Henchard
says they are wrong because Farfrae is leaving his employ. Farfrae
quietly accepts his dismissal.
Henchard regrets his rashness the next day. Once again, however, he will
not be able to undo what he has done. Farfrae is now determined to start
a competing business.
NOTE: HENCHARD'S PSYCHOLOGICAL DRIVES Henchard's overreaction to the
celebration fiasco is certainly consistent with his character. He has a
very deep need to succeed. Remember, he even auctioned his family because
he felt they were preventing him from succeeding. Henchard has become
successful by acting on instinct and by using tried-and-true business
methods. For the first time, his instincts and traditional approaches are
failing him. Farfrae's reason and modern thinking are taking over.
Henchard's reactions are also very much like those of Saul. His fits of
jealousy lead to brooding and then to self-destructive actions. (See the
"Themes" section of this guide for more on the Saul/David theme in the
As you can see, the rained-out celebration isn't a trivial incident after
all. It reinforces Henchard's loss of control and signals Farfrae's
^^^^^^^^^^THE MAYOR OF CASTERBRIDGE: CHAPTER XVII: THE COMPETITION BEGINS
While Henchard, Farfrae, and the other town leaders have been arguing,
Elizabeth-Jane has been left alone in the pavilion. She wonders if she
has offended anyone by dancing with Farfrae. She leaves, walking homeward
in a depressed mood. Farfrae overtakes her, saying he wishes he could
have danced with her again. The two continue talking, and Farfrae hints
that he would like to ask her a special question soon. Do you think he
means a marriage proposal? Elizabeth-Jane is not sure what he means, but
she starts to behave like a young woman in love. She catches herself in
what she thinks is her folly, and disapproves of her "immoderate"
behavior. Once again, she is nervous about tempting fate.
The focus shifts to Henchard and Farfrae. Henchard is hurt that Farfrae
has taken him literally and has left the business. He is even more upset
when he learns that Farfrae has established his own (competing) grain
business. How can a friend act this way, Henchard asks the other town
leaders. They don't seem particularly interested in his problem. In fact,
they no longer seem at all interested in the Mayor for any reason.
Henchard's influence is waning.
Hardy links both themes in the chapter by arranging for Henchard to tell
Elizabeth-Jane that he no longer wants her to see Farfrae. He even
reiterates the point in a letter he sends to Farfrae. The letter
illustrates Henchard's lack of finesse. What might Henchard have done if
he was craftier?
Farfrae opens his business, which grows as Henchard's continues to
falter. Farfrae's rise and Henchard's decline underscore Hardy's
continuing theme of modernization displacing traditionalism in
Casterbridge, Wessex, and all of England.
^^^^^^^^^^THE MAYOR OF CASTERBRIDGE: CHAPTER XVIII: SUSAN DIES
Susan becomes very ill and is dying. In an interesting stroke of irony,
Henchard at the same time receives a letter from the other woman in his
life, Lucetta. She is the woman from Jersey with whom he has had the
affair, which he revealed earlier to Farfrae. Lucetta writes that she now
fully understands why Henchard couldn't marry her before, and she asks
that Henchard return all of the letters she had written him in the heat
of passion and anger. She suggests that Henchard give them to her in
person when she passes through Casterbridge the following week.
On reading the letter, Henchard feels another pang of guilt and vows that
he will marry Lucetta should he ever be in a position to do so. Packing
up her letters, Henchard waits for her on the appointed evening, but
Lucetta never arrives. Henchard feels relieved. Do you think he's glad
that Lucetta hasn't appeared because she might complicate his life
further, or is he happy that his relationship with her hasn't been ended?
What evidence can you offer in support of your opinion?
Before she dies, Susan does two things: she writes a letter to Henchard
with instructions that he is not to open it until Elizabeth-Jane's
wedding day; then she has a private word with her daughter. The talk
solves one of the novel's mysteries. Susan identifies herself as the
person who sent the notes to Elizabeth-Jane and Farfrae, hoping they
might fall in love and eventually marry. The letter, however, opens up a
new mystery. What secret does it contain?
The next morning Susan dies. Hardy has members of the town chorus comment
on her death. The townspeople discuss Susan's final request that the
pennies used to close her eyes be buried with her. (Traditionally, the
British put pennies on a dead person's eyes to hold them closed.) This
request is later violated when one of the townspeople, Christopher Coney,
digs up the pennies and spends them at the Three Mariners. Even in death,
Susan is unable to have her own way.
^^^^^^^^^^THE MAYOR OF CASTERBRIDGE: CHAPTER XIX: A SECRET IS REVEALED
Three weeks after Susan's death, Henchard and Elizabeth-Jane have a talk.
Henchard feels very lonely. He no longer has a wife or a close friend. He
now feels he doesn't really have a daughter either because she doesn't
know that he is her true father. Henchard decides to tell Elizabeth-Jane
the truth--or at least part of it. He says that Susan and he were once
married and thought each other dead, which is why Susan married Newson.
Henchard tells her he is her real father and later asks the girl if she
will now agree to change her name to his. Elizabeth-Jane says yes but
wonders why her mother didn't wish her to make the change. Henchard
attributes it to Susan's whim.
Henchard decides to look for some proof to present to Elizabeth-Jane. He
comes across the letter that he is not supposed to open until Elizabeth-
Jane's wedding day. Susan's letter is poorly sealed, however, and
Henchard feels little need to heed her request. The letter contains the
worst possible news: Susan reveals that their own Elizabeth-Jane died in
infancy. The girl who now lives with him is really Susan and Newson's
Henchard is devastated. He begins to wonder if he is not a prisoner of a
fickle fate. He walks through some of the darkest recesses of
Casterbridge. Although Hardy has never shown you this somber side of the
town before, you will see it many more times as the novel progresses.
NOTE: LIGHT AND DARK IMAGES Chapter XIX focuses on a series of light and
dark images. This interplay of light and darkness parallels Henchard's
emotions, which change from bright excitement to dark brooding as the
chapter progresses. First, Henchard and Elizabeth-Jane sit by the fire
with the candles unlit. "Acrobatic flames" from the fire emphasize the
shapes in the sitting room. Later, Henchard offers to bring over a bright
light so that Elizabeth-Jane can write out the name-change advertisement
for the local newspaper, but she says the firelight is sufficient. Later,
after reading Susan's letter, Henchard carries a shaded light into
Elizabeth-Jane's room to study her appearance while she sleeps. He
notices that her features are fair while his are dark. Then Henchard
walks through the dark regions of Casterbridge. Even the morning sun
promises no light for Henchard. He sees his great plans crumbling into
dark "dust and ashes." How do all of these images make you feel? Do they
vividly symbolize Henchard's feelings of entrapment by guilt and fate?
Until now, the sun has been shining on Henchard--in fact, it has shone
since the morning after the auction (see the first sentence of Chapter
II). From now on, his life will be clouded by darkness and dark images.
The following morning (after his walk), Elizabeth-Jane takes Henchard's
arm at breakfast and calls him "Father." It should be a glorious moment
for Henchard, but he feels miserable, as dark and dry as dust and ashes.
This chapter ends the second section of the plot of The Mayor of
Casterbridge. This segment has chronicled Michael Henchard's personal
life from the happiness of reunion with his family, through to the
development of a close friendship with Farfrae, to the depths of loss of
each through death, argument, or simply fate.
^^^^^^^^^^THE MAYOR OF CASTERBRIDGE: CHAPTER XX: ANOTHER STRANGER ARRIVES
The arrival of another stranger marks the opening of the third section of
the novel. Hardy doesn't reveal the person's identity for a few chapters
more. Do you think he is trying to pique your interest or does he have
another reason for not identifying the newcomer?
This chapter and the next add to the fable or fairy-tale atmosphere (see
note in Chapter XIV discussion) that Hardy weaves into the novel. As
Elizabeth-Jane suffers bitter and unwarranted attacks from her "wicked
step-father," an apparent fairy godmother or good witch arrives to rescue
Elizabeth-Jane is surprised by Henchard's cold and even belligerent
treatment of her. Henchard makes a particular point of criticizing the
colloquial expressions she uses, commenting that she sounds too lower
class to be a mayor's daughter. As you have seen before, Henchard is very
concerned with other people's thoughts about him and his family. He is
obviously so self-conscious about his own simple background that he even
worries whether his daughter's speech will reveal his humble beginnings.
Henchard's concern with appearance now contrasts sharply with his lack of
concern about background while courting Susan (see Chapter XIII). At that
time, his sense of guilt overrode his snobbery. He feels no such guilt
about Elizabeth-Jane--particularly since she isn't his flesh and blood.
The democratic Elizabeth-Jane does many things that Henchard considers
"social crimes," but which you probably admire. Like most of us today,
she does many of the household tasks herself, rather than burden the
servants. She even provides refreshments for Nance Mockridge, one of the
women who works in the yard. In a voice loud enough for the worker to
overhear, Henchard chides Elizabeth-Jane about serving Nance: "Ye'll
disgrace me to the dust!" This outburst seems to echo the same image of
dust and despair that appeared at the end of the last chapter. Nance
replies in anger that the girl has waited on others worse than she, and
then tells Henchard that Elizabeth-Jane was a serving-maid at the Three
Mariners. Henchard is sure the incident will ruin his reputation in the
At this point, everything seems to be going wrong for Elizabeth-Jane. She
keeps trying to improve herself by both reading and carefully watching
her speech pattern. But her father appears to continue disliking her. She
notes that his attitude began, ironically, directly after she agreed to
take his name. Also, Farfrae seems to be ignoring her. She doesn't know
about Henchard's letter to the Scotsman demanding that the two young
people not meet, nor has she anyone with whom she can share her concerns.
Elizabeth-Jane thus turns everything in on herself.
One day while walking toward her mother's grave, Elizabeth-Jane spots a
beautifully dressed young woman reading the inscription on Susan's
tombstone. Hardy's use of mystery to advance the plot is evident again.
Who can this woman be? From her dress and appearance, she is clearly not
a Casterbridge woman. Why is she interested in Susan's grave? Could this
be Henchard's "other woman"?
Elizabeth-Jane comes home and accidentally slips a rustic word into her
friendly greeting to Henchard. He angrily attacks her. Henchard is sure
that the girl's acting as a serving-maid in the Three Mariners is the
reason he has been overlooked for a vacancy on the list of town aldermen
now that his term as mayor has ended. Deciding that she must leave his
house, he writes to Farfrae, inviting the Scotsman to court the girl.
The next day, Elizabeth-Jane returns in depression to her mother's grave.
Again she sees the strange lady, who begins questioning her about her
father's treatment of her. The woman seems to take Henchard's side,
saying that although he appears hot-tempered and ambitious, he is not a
bad man. Her assessment of Henchard is fairly accurate. Do you think that
she already knows him? Once again, you have a hint that the beautiful
stranger might be Lucetta. The woman tells Elizabeth-Jane that she is
moving to Casterbridge today and invites the girl to move in with her as
her companion. Elizabeth-Jane's eyes gleam with excitement.
^^^^^^^^^^THE MAYOR OF CASTERBRIDGE: CHAPTER XXI: ELIZABETH-JANE MOVES
The same afternoon, Elizabeth-Jane goes into town where she overhears
many of the local merchants talking about the beautiful lady and her new
home, High-Place Hall. Elizabeth-Jane walks to the house at nightfall and
studies it. You see the structure through her eyes.
Hardy the architect is at work again here. He carefully describes High-
Place Hall: It is dignified but not aristocratic. One townsperson notes
cryptically that "Blood built it, and wealth enjoys it." This statement
and the rest of Hardy's description of the structure fits the sense of
mystery and strong emotion that he has been trying to create throughout
The sense of mystery is enhanced when Elizabeth-Jane sees a stranger
approaching the house from an alleyway. Because she hides, she doesn't
realize that the stranger is Henchard. Henchard enters but obviously
doesn't stay long, since he arrives home only a few minutes after
Noting how coldly Henchard treats her, Elizabeth-Jane decides this is the
time to leave. Broaching the subject of moving to Henchard, she is
relieved when he agrees. Elizabeth-Jane and the beautiful stranger begin
making plans together, and a few days later, Elizabeth-Jane is ready to
Henchard is shocked to discover that Elizabeth-Jane is leaving him so
quickly. He goes to her room for the first time and sees her books and
maps, evidence of her efforts to improve herself. He tries to apologize
and convince Elizabeth-Jane to stay, but she has already made up her
mind. When Henchard learns that she is moving into High-Place Hall, he is
almost paralyzed by shock. For perhaps the first time in the novel,
Henchard seems totally out of control. Notice how his stance changes
quickly from toughness to gentleness to speechlessness on the last page
of the chapter. Too late he recognizes that he is losing something--or
someone--important. His life is caught in a downward spiral that will
continue for the rest of the novel. You might also note that it is
raining when Elizabeth-Jane decides to move. Once again, Hardy uses rain
to symbolize a decline in Henchard's fortunes.
^^^^^^^^^^THE MAYOR OF CASTERBRIDGE: CHAPTER XXII: A BATTLE OF WILLS
Hardy presents a brief flashback to explain Henchard's mysterious visit
to High-Place Hall. Remember that he has used this stylistic technique
several times earlier in the novel. The night before, Henchard received a
note from Lucetta telling him of her intention to move to Casterbridge to
be near him. She writes that she knows about the death of his wife and
hopes he is now ready to keep his promise to marry her and rescue her
reputation. She hopes to see him within a day or two.
NOTE: THE WOMEN OF THE NOVEL Lucetta is the third important female
character to appear in the novel. Her letter reveals how different she is
from Susan and Elizabeth-Jane. Lucetta is energetic and strong-willed--
very similar to Henchard himself. She also seems slightly malicious and
conceited, as shown in her analysis of Susan as an uncomplaining sufferer
and intellectually weak person (though "not an imbecile"). She clearly
won't let Henchard dominate her as he has dominated Susan and Elizabeth-
Jane. You begin to wonder how Lucetta's arrival will change Henchard's
In his concentration on women in his novels, Hardy was an unusual writer
for his times. His strong interest in women may have inspired later
writers, particularly D. H. Lawrence. On the whole, Hardy's female
characters are his most memorable. Yet none of the women in The Mayor of
Casterbridge achieves the stature of some of his other major women--
Bathsheba Everdine in Far from the Madding Crowd, Eustacia Vye in The
Return of the Native, Tess Durbeyfield in Tess of the D'Urbervilles, and
Sue Bridehead in Jude the Obscure. Each is a type. For example, Susan is
the long-suffering, passive woman who marries the wrong man. Elizabeth-
Jane is the young innocent moving into proper womanhood. Lucetta is the
sensual, emotional woman seeking social status.
After receiving Lucetta's note, Henchard goes to High-Place Hall to visit
her. He fails to see her because he doesn't realize that she has changed
her surname from Le Sueur to Templeman (that is, from sensual French to
In a second letter the next day, Lucetta clarifies the reason for her
change of name and explains why she has invited Elizabeth-Jane to move in
with her. The girl's presence when Henchard visits Lucetta will satisfy
propriety and formalize their relationship. Henchard admires Lucetta's
wiles and sets out to see her at once, feeling mixed emotions toward her.
What he doesn't expect, however, is her strong will. She refuses to see
him that evening, but asks him to return the next day. Henchard, deciding
that two people can play Lucetta's game, resolves to put her off for a
while as well. Have you ever played that game with someone you cared for?
What were the results?
Meanwhile, Lucetta and Elizabeth-Jane become acquainted. Both spend a lot
of time looking out the large picture window of the house. Elizabeth-Jane
notices Farfrae among the trees outside, while Lucetta watches for
NOTE: LUCETTA'S WINDOW All of Casterbridge life seems to pass in front
of the window in High-Place Hall. For Lucetta, the window clearly
symbolizes her need to place herself above the rest of the town (note
that her house is named High-Place). She has pretensions of being a great
lady. For shy, withdrawn, Elizabeth-Jane, the window serves as protection
from the real world. She can watch and observe others without becoming
too involved. The openness and central location of High-Place Hall
contrasts strongly against the closeness and isolation of Henchard's
house, where he separates himself from the town. Significantly, Farfrae
and Lucetta will eventually take over Henchard's house. When they do,
they too will become isolated and aloof--with tragic results for Lucetta.
When Elizabeth-Jane tells Lucetta that she believes her father has turned
against her, Lucetta decides that her plans have gone awry. Elizabeth-
Jane's presence is keeping Henchard away, rather than encouraging him to
visit. Lucetta dispatches her on an errand to the museum, sending a
message by servant to Henchard, asking him to visit her right away. She
instructs her servants to admit her gentleman caller as soon as he
arrives. A man comes to see her, and she rushes impetuously to greet him,
but it isn't Henchard.
What complications do you think Lucetta will create? From the first, she
is a disruptive influence. Even before coming to Casterbridge, she is the
source of Henchard's unease. Once there, Lucetta encourages Henchard's
daughter to leave his house. Now she is playing more games with him.
Later, she will cause an even greater rift between Henchard and Farfrae.
Even though she has been wronged by Henchard, some readers feel she is
most unsympathetic. They see her as pretentious and devious two very
^^^^^^^^^^THE MAYOR OF CASTERBRIDGE: CHAPTER XXIII: A NEW ROMANTIC
The unexpected visitor turns out to be Donald Farfrae, who has come to
see Elizabeth-Jane. Lucetta covers her mistake with a blush. She is
coquettish. Farfrae, on the other hand, is formal.
Lucetta is immediately attracted to the young Scotsman. She sees
qualities in him that remind her of a musical instrument. (Remember,
Hardy often links Farfrae with music and with the biblical musician
David.) As they make small talk, Lucetta chats about loneliness while
Farfrae discusses his business ventures. The mutual flirtation continues.
Together they watch from Lucetta's window and comment on the view it
gives of Casterbridge life.
Meanwhile, a farmer standing in the area below the window states that he
was supposed to meet Farfrae now. The Scotsman tells Lucetta, "I quite
forgot the engagement." This seems to apply to Lucetta as well. Intrigued
by Farfrae, she has quite forgotten her engagement to Henchard.
Farfrae leaves after promising to return soon. Henchard then arrives in
response to Lucetta's latest note. Asserting his will, he adds that he is
in a hurry. Lucetta responds by claiming she has a headache and therefore
won't detain the Mayor. When Elizabeth-Jane returns, Lucetta greets her
warmly. She now wants the girl to stay, hoping this will keep Henchard
away from High-Place Hall.
This confrontation with Lucetta is the second battle of wills that
Henchard has had to fight recently. The first was when he rashly fired
Farfrae. That Henchard has lost both battles, and at the same time lost
two close friends, illustrates his loss of control over the events and
people in his life.
^^^^^^^^^^THE MAYOR OF CASTERBRIDGE: CHAPTER XXIV: THE WOMEN DISCUSS THE
Elizabeth-Jane settles comfortably into High-Place Hall. She particularly
likes the view of the marketplace that the window provides. She and
Lucetta make certain to be home on market days so that each can glimpse
Farfrae at work.
One Saturday morning, the two women put on new dresses and look out the
window. They see a curious modern farm machine. Lucetta says the machine
seems to be an "agricultural piano." The music image immediately links
the new machine to Farfrae. As if on cue, Farfrae appears and walks
around the contraption. Both women examine the machine more closely. Then
Henchard appears, greeting Elizabeth-Jane in a "thunderous" way (another
rain image or an example of Henchard's lack of finesse?). Henchard
belittles the machine and begins to ridicule Farfrae for bringing it to
The women hear a man humming from the machine, called a seed-drill. Each
recognizes the hummer as Farfrae. Note how Hardy introduces Henchard with
thunder and Farfrae with music. He is emphasizing their relation to the
story of Saul and David through these images, as well as indicating the
two men's responses to the new machine. Farfrae explains the advantages
of the seed-drill to the women.
NOTE: MODERNIZATION COMES TO CASTERBRIDGE Hardy uses the seed-drill to
symbolize how modern methods are slowly replacing traditional ones in
Wessex. Farfrae is linked with the machine and therefore with
modernization while Henchard's criticism identifies him with the old
ways. Farfrae will rapidly replace Henchard as well. Farfrae welcomes the
machine for business reasons: it is economical, and it is popular in the
more up-to-date areas of England. Elizabeth-Jane laments how the machine
will end the "romance of the sower" in Wessex. Hardy seems to be saying
that modernization is inevitable and costs dearly.
The meeting with Farfrae and Henchard leads the two women later to begin
a serious discussion of women and respectability. Elizabeth-Jane says she
has shadows in her life, and Lucetta hints that she has her own shadows.
Lucetta adds that women are sometimes placed in strange positions in the
eyes of the world, through no fault of their own. She is secretly
worrying about the love letters that Henchard hasn't yet returned to her.
Lucetta's comment demonstrates what many readers consider to be Hardy's
feelings about the position of women in nineteenth-century England. In
nearly all of Hardy's novels, women characters confront reputation-
ruining difficulties caused by the actions of men toward them. Even more
than men, Victorian women are bound by society's stringent rules. Hardy's
women characters are often strong and independent, but they are seldom
allowed to live their lives freely.
Based on Lucetta's words about and actions toward Farfrae, Elizabeth
begins to suspect that Lucetta is interested in the Scotsman. A few days
later, Lucetta decides to confide in Elizabeth-Jane. She tells her about
an unnamed woman who became intimate with a man who could not marry her.
They stayed apart for a long time, until the obstacle to their marriage
was removed. The woman, however, had by this time met another man whom
she liked better. What should the woman do, Lucetta asks Elizabeth, who
declines to answer, recognizing that the story is really about Lucetta.
You might notice the parallels between this discussion and the one that
Henchard and Farfrae had much earlier (Chapter XII) about Henchard's
problems with women. Hardy is showing that men and women face similar
problems and have similar emotions. Does this seem a modern way of
thinking? Yet Henchard was much more open than Lucetta, and Farfrae was
much quicker to give advice than is Elizabeth-Jane. Do you think Hardy is
contrasting the characters of these four people or the quality of their
relationships in these parallel scenes, or does he perhaps think women
are more secretive and less willing to assert themselves than men are?
Reread the earlier scene to help you decide.
^^^^^^^^^^THE MAYOR OF CASTERBRIDGE: CHAPTER XXV: LUCETTA MAKES HER
In the next two chapters, Lucetta becomes the focal point of love on the
part of both Farfrae and Henchard. Elizabeth-Jane becomes a bystander.
First, Farfrae visits High-Place Hall. He indicates that he has come to
see both women, but he has eyes only for Lucetta. Elizabeth-Jane
stoically accepts this fact. Fate seems to be against her again.
Henchard's passion for Lucetta is also aroused by her lack of interest in
him. He realizes that being cool toward her will not win her over; he
must go on the offensive. Thus, he calls on Lucetta. Impressed by the
richness of the house and its furnishings, he feels, for the first time
in many years, like a rough, unsophisticated laborer. This drives him to
be more aggressive than he had planned. He almost demands that Lucetta
accept his proposal--in order to rescue her fallen reputation.
Indignant, Lucetta replies that Henchard only cares about the past and
Jersey. "I am English!" she exclaims. She is no longer a Le Sueur, but is
now a Templeman. She believes that by changing her name, she can change
her past as well. She has clearly not learned the most important lesson
of the novel: people cannot change their fate. Your reading of the novel
tells you that something bad might happen to her in the end because of
her immoderate attitude.
At that moment, Lucetta observes Farfrae riding by outside her window.
Henchard doesn't see his rival or note the loving expression in Lucetta's
eyes. Angry and confused, he leaves the house. After he has gone, Lucetta
makes up her mind. She will love Farfrae and not be a slave to her past.
Is she right in renouncing her commitment to Henchard?
For the rest of the chapter, Hardy shifts the focus to Elizabeth-Jane as
she observes Lucetta and the two suitors. Her quiet acceptance of losing
Farfrae contrasts sharply with Lucetta's decision to tempt fate by
starting a relationship with a new man instead of the one who can restore
her reputation. You might think of the fable of the tortoise and the hare
again. Like the hare, Lucetta races ahead but is doomed to failure in the
end. Like the tortoise, Elizabeth-Jane will survive and ultimately
^^^^^^^^^^THE MAYOR OF CASTERBRIDGE: CHAPTER XXVI: COMPETING IN LOVE AND
You might call Chapter XXVI "The weather chapter." Hardy turns to images
of nature and weather to emphasize the downward movement of Henchard's
fortunes. The chapter begins on "one fine spring morning" and proceeds to
a period of heavy rainfall, an encounter with a mysterious weather-
prophet, and a period of unexpected fair weather that helps to ruin
Henchard. Remember that Hardy has linked Henchard with rain several times
earlier in the novel. He builds on that connection here.
Henchard meets Farfrae on the fine spring morning. He asks if the
Scotsman remembers his story of the second woman in his past. Henchard
says the story has a new chapter. He has asked the woman to marry him,
but she has refused. Farfrae replies that Henchard therefore no longer
has an obligation to her. The two men part, with Henchard now reassured
that Farfrae is not his conscious rival for Lucetta's affections. Yet he
still suspects that he has a rival. This encounter also tells you that
Farfrae is ignorant of Lucetta's "shady" past. How do you think the
proper Scotsman might feel if he knew about Lucetta's affair with
The love rivalry comes to a head soon afterwards. Henchard visits Lucetta
and Elizabeth-Jane when Farfrae arrives. The four sit stiffly at the
table. Lucetta offers more bread, and the two men grab the same slice,
tearing it in two. Remember that bread is an important symbol for
Henchard, the wheat merchant. In your opinion, what does Farfrae's
tearing of the bread mean?
Uncertain of how to beat Farfrae in love, Henchard decides to destroy him
in business. He hires Joshua Jopp as his new grain manager. Remember,
Jopp had earlier lost his job to Farfrae. Look carefully at Hardy's
description of Jopp. It is filled with images of darkness and evil. Jopp
looks a little like a Halloween scarecrow, appropriately colored green
for envy. Having lived in Jersey, Jopp hints that he knows the truth
about Lucetta and Henchard. Jopp of course wants to destroy Farfrae, who
stole his job. Henchard's call to Jopp for help can only inject negative
consequences into Henchard's rivalry with Farfrae. Elizabeth-Jane
recognizes Jopp's potential for evil and warns Henchard, but he won't
Harvest season approaches, and the weather in Casterbridge turns
unfavorable. Heavy rains and floods may come. Henchard and Jopp both
believe the weather will remain bad. To confirm this, Henchard decides to
consult a weather-prophet.
Henchard's visit to the weather-prophet resembles a scene from a horror
movie. It is raining heavily when he arrives. (Rain marks most of
Henchard's low points in the novel.) The prophet, Fall (note the
symbolism of his name), answers Henchard's knock, greeting him by name,
even though Henchard is disguised. Fall even has a place set for Henchard
at the table, but the Mayor declines to eat. He is uneasy. The prophet
forecasts heavy rain throughout the harvest season.
Hardy has several reasons for introducing the weather-prophet. For one
thing, he wants to show the superstitious nature of Henchard and the
people of Casterbridge. Even in its position as an urban center,
Casterbridge is still a rustic place with antiquated customs. For
another, Hardy wants to emphasize Henchard's desperate frame of mind. In
previous years, Henchard has arrogantly trusted his own judgment and has
never resorted to occult help. He is desperate now and fearful. Note
Hardy's use of words such as "lonely," "solitary," "shrouded," and
"suffering" as Henchard approaches the seer's cottage. The words
emphasize Henchard's agitated state of mind. Hardy's third purpose is to
provide important literary allusions that illustrate Henchard's tragic
NOTE: A CLASSIC ALLUSION Henchard's visit to the weather-prophet links
the Mayor with a classic tragic hero, Saul. Hardy's account closely
parallels the biblical story of Saul's visit to the witch of Endor (I
Samuel 28). Saul, too, was seeking advice from supernatural sources on
the eve of a major battle. He disguised himself, was recognized, and was
offered food. The witch called forth the spirit of Samuel, who prophesied
Saul's death in battle and his displacement as king by David. Similarly,
Henchard seeks advice before his major battle with Farfrae. The advice of
the weather-prophet turns out to be wrong, but it is just as damning to
him as was Samuel's prediction to Saul. Henchard and Farfrae have been
linked to Saul and David several times before in The Mayor of
Casterbridge. Hardy's audience would have recognized the allusion here
and its foreshadowing of Henchard's displacement by Farfrae, the David
Using the prophet's prediction, Henchard buys as much wheat as possible.
He is sure that a poor harvest will inflate prices and make him rich.
Instead, the rains stop, prices fall, and Henchard must sell his
overstock at a great loss. He is even forced to mortgage much of his
property. Farfrae commiserates with Henchard about his loss, but his
rival's sympathy serves only to anger Henchard. He takes out that anger
on Jopp, as usual blaming someone else for his losses. He fires Jopp, who
warns Henchard, "You'll be sorry for this, sir; sorry as a man can be!"
^^^^^^^^^^THE MAYOR OF CASTERBRIDGE: CHAPTER XXVII: HENCHARD DEMANDS A
Farfrae and Henchard's rivalry becomes more intense. Even the men who
work for the two are caught up in the battle. One day, wagons belonging
to each company collide. Henchard's man is at fault, but he won't admit
it. Henchard arrives on the scene and berates Farfrae's man. Lucetta and
Elizabeth-Jane, having witnessed the accident from their window, rush out
to tell Henchard that his man was responsible. The workman defends
himself by referring to Lucetta as a "typical" woman who is attracted to
Farfrae. Henchard quickly silences the man by claiming that he is
Lucetta's suitor. Lucetta responds by leaving the scene without comment.
Later, Henchard, spying on Lucetta, overhears Lucetta and Farfrae declare
their love for each other. He follows Lucetta back to her home and barges
in without knocking, demanding to know why she won't marry him. When she
balks, he threatens to reveal their affair ("in common fairness to other
men," particularly Farfrae) if she doesn't promise before a witness to
Lucetta resigns herself to his demand. Henchard is aware of her
unwillingness, but he doesn't care. Elizabeth-Jane is summoned to act as
witness. Lucetta makes the promise, then faints. Elizabeth-Jane tries to
talk Henchard out of his plan, but he refuses, at the same time reminding
her that she is now free to pursue Farfrae. Ignoring the suggestion,
Elizabeth-Jane wonders what kind of hold Henchard has over Lucetta.
^^^^^^^^^^THE MAYOR OF CASTERBRIDGE: CHAPTER XXVIII: HENCHARD'S PAST IS
The next morning, Henchard serves as justice of the peace and hears the
case of a woman arrested for vagrancy and indecent behavior. Seeing the
woman, Henchard believes he may know her, but isn't certain. (With this,
Hardy prepares you for another of the novel's many significant
coincidences.) Henchard asks if the woman has anything to say for
herself. She begins a story about a wife and child auctioned by the
husband in her furmity tent at Weydon-Priors fair nearly 20 years
earlier. She accuses Henchard of being that man, and says he is no better
than she. Henchard's past has come back to haunt him. He finds himself
being judged while he is serving as judge.
The town leaders at the court discount the woman's story but, Henchard
admits that it is true. He could easily have denied it and saved his
reputation. Why do you think he chose not to do so? As Henchard leaves
the town hall, he finds himself surrounded by a large crowd of the town's
lower-class people. Notice how different this meeting is from the last
time Henchard was observed by the townspeople in the King's Arms (Chapter
V). He has been symbolically driven from his lofty place (what the
furmity woman has called his "great big chair"). Within a few chapters,
he will fall so far as to live among these people.
The news of Henchard's past spreads quickly throughout Casterbridge and
reaches Lucetta. She is overwhelmed by it. Can she really marry such a
terrible man? She decides to go away for a few days, and tells Elizabeth-
Jane, who hasn't yet heard the news. Henchard comes to call while Lucetta
is away. On one of his visits, he learns that she has returned but is out
for a walk.
^^^^^^^^^^THE MAYOR OF CASTERBRIDGE: CHAPTER XXIX: A SECRET MARRIAGE
Elizabeth-Jane goes to meet Lucetta on her walk, and the two women are
attacked by a ferocious bull. They run into a barn but the bull follows.
Suddenly a man appears, turning the bull away from the women. It is
Henchard. Elizabeth-Jane leaves Henchard and Lucetta together and walks
Henchard tells Lucetta he has reconsidered the promise he forced from
her, adding that for her sake he is willing to postpone their wedding for
a year or two. Lucetta instead offers to pay him for saving her from the
bull. Lucetta's offer of money seems to echo Henchard's offer to Lucetta
in his long-ago letter in which he informed her that he could not marry
her because of the return of Susan. Their roles have now reversed.
Henchard refuses Lucetta's offer, telling her he believes his creditors
might give him more time to pay his debts if they thought he might marry
the wealthy Miss Lucetta Templeman. Lucetta refuses, revealing that
Henchard's principal creditor has already witnessed her marriage to
Farfrae earlier in the week.
NOTE: MONEY AND MARRIAGE This chapter marks the second time that money
has been closely linked to escape from marriage. Both times, money has
been offered to Henchard. This time he refuses to accept it, not because
he has learned from his experience with Susan, but because he realizes
the money would not help him pay off all his financial and moral debts.
You have already seen that to Henchard, marriage is more of an obligation
(like a business transaction) than a personal relationship. He has
reaffirmed this notion by his suggestion that they announce their
betrothal in order to help him escape the wrath of his creditors.
Lucetta, on the other hand, believes that money can buy her romantic
happiness by helping her escape from Henchard and possess Farfrae. Both
characters are deluded and will suffer for their delusions.
Henchard is shocked. Lucetta cites his past scandal as one of the major
reasons she has broken her promise. Henchard doesn't even see the irony
in Lucetta's breaking of her marriage pledge to him, just as he had once
broken his marriage pledge to her.
Lucetta's comment at the end of the chapter, "I'll help you pay off your
debt," reflects this irony. Henchard's current suffering is a symbolic
pay-off of his debt to Susan and the community for his earlier breach of
morality when he auctioned his family.
In reaction to Lucetta's news, Henchard dismisses her with the threat
that he will tell Lucetta's new husband, Farfrae, about her earlier
affair with him.
^^^^^^^^^^THE MAYOR OF CASTERBRIDGE: CHAPTER XXX: ELIZABETH-JANE'S
As Farfrae moves into High-Place Hall, Lucetta realizes that she hasn't
yet told Elizabeth-Jane about her marriage. She doesn't suspect
Elizabeth-Jane's feelings for Farfrae. When Lucetta speaks to the girl in
her room, she learns that although Elizabeth-Jane has heard the wedding
bells ringing, she doesn't know who has been married.
NOTE: ELIZABETH-JANE: INNOCENT OR PRUDISH? Elizabeth-Jane always seems
lost in a strange private world in which rumor or speculation never
enter. Otherwise, how can you explain her not guessing about Lucetta's
marriage, not hearing about the furmity woman's accusation of Henchard,
or not figuring out the link between Henchard and Lucetta? Hardy seems to
emphasize the girl's innocence, but his portrayal isn't very convincing.
In Elizabeth-Jane's responses to Lucetta, she also appears prudish. Do
you think Hardy wants you to feel positively or negatively about
Elizabeth-Jane? Her plight constantly arouses your sympathy, but her
attitude is hard to understand. Much of the rest of the novel focuses on
her future. Follow Hardy's descriptions carefully to see if her character
develops and grows.
Lucetta and Elizabeth-Jane discuss Lucetta's story about the two men in
"her friend's" past. Elizabeth-Jane says the friend is obligated to marry
the first man even though she loves the second, that she should marry the
first man or remain single. Elizabeth-Jane's response seems similar to
Farfrae's in Chapter XII, when he recommended that Henchard simply
disregard the second woman because of his obligation to the first.
Neither Farfrae nor Elizabeth-Jane are romantics. Farfrae takes a matter-
of-fact approach to relationships, as does Elizabeth-Jane.
When Lucetta reveals that she has married Farfrae instead of Henchard,
Elizabeth-Jane determines to leave the house at once. She is upset both
by Lucetta's "improper" behavior and by her own failure to win Farfrae.
She moves to a house across the street from Henchard's and thinks about
This chapter marks the end of the third major section of the novel. The
section began with Lucetta's arrival in Casterbridge to marry Henchard
and ends with her marrying Farfrae. Henchard has started to pay for his
past sins. He is inexorably losing his position to Farfrae. Old ways and
old people are being turned out, and new ways and new people are taking
over. Nearly all of the loose ends in Henchard's life have been accounted
for. Only one lie, Elizabeth-Jane's true parentage, remains to be
^^^^^^^^^^THE MAYOR OF CASTERBRIDGE: CHAPTER XXXI: HENCHARD GOES BANKRUPT
Following the furmity woman's courtroom revelation, Henchard experiences
a rapid financial collapse. At the same time, his social life and self-
esteem also collapse. "He passed the ridge of prosperity and honour, and
began to descend rapidly on the other side." Used to conducting business
with a handshake and strong eye contact, he now seldom looks up from the
ground when he meets people. Several business setbacks have forced him to
the edge of bankruptcy.
Henchard is summoned to a meeting of his creditors. When all of his
assets have been seized, he even offers to turn over his gold watch and
the money in his pocketbook. The creditors refuse the offer but praise
Henchard for his honesty. Nevertheless, he sells the watch and uses the
money to pay off one small creditor. He clearly wants to convince himself
that he pays his debts. Are you impressed by his actions here?
Elizabeth-Jane feels sorry for Henchard and wants him to know that she
still believes in him and forgives him for his behavior toward her, but
he refuses to see her. Henchard has moved into the slum area of town. He
occupies a few rooms in Jopp's cottage. This move seems to be another
example of Henchard's urge to punish himself. He has isolated himself
from the powerful people in the town and has made himself dependent on
someone he neither respects nor likes. He refuses to see anyone,
Meanwhile, Elizabeth-Jane notes that Farfrae has had his name painted
over Henchard's on the gateway to Henchard's former business. Abel
Whittle says that the new boss pays a little less than the old one but
doesn't strike fear into the hearts of the workers.
NOTE: ABEL WHITTLE'S ROLE Abel Whittle appears several times in the
novel, always at a critical moment in Henchard's downfall. Perhaps that
is why Hardy names him "Whittle." Abel may be dim-witted, but he has the
same type of innate wisdom as the fool in Shakespeare's King Lear. Here,
Abel tells Elizabeth-Jane, "For what's all the world if your heart is in
a larry (commotion), Miss Henchet?" The statement seems to fit Henchard's
situation as well. Abel will resemble Lear's fool again at the novel's
Elizabeth-Jane's sympathy contrasts sharply with Farfrae's apparent
callousness toward Henchard. Farfrae doesn't let his feelings interfere
with business matters. He rushes in to take over Henchard's business and
even cuts the salaries of his workers. The new order is taking over in
^^^^^^^^^^THE MAYOR OF CASTERBRIDGE: CHAPTER XXXII: THE TABLES ARE TURNED
Having moved Henchard to the poor side of town, Hardy begins to focus on
the people and places in that district. He points out two bridges in the
area. One is frequented by the lowest characters in the town, such as
Jopp and the members of the town chorus. The other is often visited by
failures who are contemplating suicide. Henchard goes to the latter
bridge, where Jopp seeks him out. Ever vengeful, Jopp tells Henchard that
Farfrae and Lucetta have moved into his former house and have even bought
his old furniture at auction. "Surely he'll buy my body and soul
likewise!" Henchard says.
The landscape turns symbolically blacker as Farfrae drives up to see
Henchard. Farfrae says he has heard that Henchard intends to move away,
urging him to stay, much as Henchard had urged Farfrae long ago. He
invites Henchard to move in with Lucetta and him, but Henchard refuses.
Farfrae mentions the furniture he has bought and offers Henchard his pick
of it. Henchard is moved and wonders aloud if he has wronged Farfrae in
some way and is therefore suffering now because of his past sins.
Elizabeth-Jane hears that Henchard is sick and comes to nurse him. With
her help, he recovers quickly. Being reunited with Elizabeth-Jane seems
to turn the clock back in Henchard's mind. He applies for a job as a
journeyman hay-trusser in Farfrae's yard.
Henchard hears that his rival may soon become Mayor of Casterbridge. He
begins counting the days until he is released from his oath against
drinking. The expiration of the oath seems to symbolize for Henchard a
return to his old self. He doesn't realize that he must pay further for
^^^^^^^^^^THE MAYOR OF CASTERBRIDGE: CHAPTER XXXIII: HENCHARD'S
This chapter opens in the Three Mariners Inn. Early in the novel, Hardy
contrasted the King's Arms with the Three Mariners. High-class business
people dine and drink at the King's Arms; the laboring people patronize
the Three Mariners. Henchard has left the King's Arms and the gentry for
good after the furmity woman's revelation. Now he drinks with the lower
classes at the Three Mariners.
One Sunday, Henchard joins the regulars as they drink and sing psalms.
Henchard spots Farfrae and his new bride, Lucetta, walking outside with
members of the upper church (that is, the upper classes). Henchard
searches for the perfect psalm to match his mood: Psalm 109. This bitter
psalm calls for the death and destruction of a man and his family--
exactly what has happened to Henchard. The choir members at first balk at
singing the psalm, but Henchard bullies them into it. They are later
regretful when Henchard reveals he has directed the psalm at Farfrae.
Noting Henchard's agitated state, Elizabeth-Jane leads her father home.
She decides to watch both men closely.
A few days later, Lucetta encounters Henchard. She is surprised to see
him. He acts snidely toward her. That afternoon, she sends a note to
Henchard, demanding that he show her more respect. Lucetta's habit of
putting her feelings into writing is unwise. Remember, she has written
numerous love letters to Henchard that he never returned. What if he
should decide to use her letters against her? He contemplates using this
note but throws it into the fire. Henchard may be bitter, but he isn't a
Meanwhile, Elizabeth-Jane continues to observe Henchard and Farfrae.
(Note that Hardy once again uses an outside observer to relay the action
to you.) One afternoon, she notices Farfrae in the hay-loft. Unnoticed,
Henchard is a few steps behind him. Henchard raises his hand as if to
push Farfrae down, but he stops. Henchard obviously isn't a murderer,
either. What do you think stops him from destroying Farfrae and Lucetta?
Is Hardy showing fate at work or Henchard's "character"? Henchard is a
paradoxical mixture of powerlessness and power. This combination
frightens Elizabeth-Jane, who decides to warn Farfrae.
^^^^^^^^^^THE MAYOR OF CASTERBRIDGE: CHAPTER XXXIV: OPENING THE LETTERS
In the previous chapter, Hardy introduced two important ideas: First,
Henchard's desire to destroy Farfrae and Lucetta, and second, Lucetta's
tendency to put her feelings into letters that can be used against her.
Hardy develops these ideas in this chapter.
As the chapter opens, Elizabeth-Jane warns Farfrae about Henchard.
Farfrae doesn't believe her at first. "But we are quite friendly," he
says. Farfrae is oblivious to the fact that by taking over the older
man's house and business and hiring him as a common worker, he may have
deeply hurt Henchard's pride. Once again Hardy shows Farfrae's lack of
feeling and his insensitivity to Henchard.
Other businessmen in the town support Elizabeth-Jane's warning, however.
They convince Farfrae to abandon the idea of establishing a fund to set
up Henchard in his own small business. Henchard mistakenly believes
Farfrae is behind the withdrawal, and feels even more bitter toward him.
Farfrae tells Lucetta about Henchard's hostility, and she becomes
alarmed. She tries to talk Farfrae into moving away, and he seems
agreeable. Just then, however, a member of the town council arrives to
tell Farfrae that the current mayor has just died, and to ask if Farfrae
will become mayor. Farfrae agrees. Again fate has intervened.
Fearing that Henchard, in his hatred toward Farfrae, might expose her
secret, Lucetta seeks out Henchard, begging him to return her letters. He
puts her off. Later, he remembers that the letters are still in the safe
in his former home. This memory brings "a grotesque grin" to Henchard's
The next night, Henchard comes to retrieve the letters from Farfrae.
Henchard states that they were written by the second woman in the story
he had told Farfrae long before. Farfrae asks what has happened to the
woman, and Henchard replies that she "married well." He begins reading
the letters aloud to Farfrae. Their passion reminds Farfrae a little of
Lucetta, but he attributes the similarity to the fact that all women are
alike. At first, Henchard planned to identify the signature on the
letters, as a final blow, but he loses his nerve.
Hardy has created a series of cruel ironies and coincidences along with
the incident with the letters. If Lucetta had known the letters were in
her own safe all along, she could have destroyed them. If Farfrae had not
prevented Henchard from leaving town by hiring him, Henchard would not be
in a position to possibly destroy the relationship between Farfrae and
Lucetta. If Farfrae had not moved into Henchard's old house, the letters
might have been thrown out.
^^^^^^^^^^THE MAYOR OF CASTERBRIDGE: CHAPTER XXXV: LUCETTA'S REACTION
As is common in The Mayor of Casterbridge, the conversation between
Henchard and Farfrae is overheard by an outside observer, Lucetta. She is
almost paralyzed with fear. Later, she is relieved to find that Farfrae
still doesn't know that she wrote the letters. She debates telling him
the truth, but instead decides to retrieve the letters.
Characteristically, she writes another self-incriminating note to
Henchard and sets up an even more dangerous meeting at The Ring, the
Roman amphitheatre where Henchard originally met Susan when she returned
to Casterbridge. Henchard is moved by Lucetta's pleas, and promises to
return the letters to her. At the same time, he warns her to tell Farfrae
the truth soon.
While Henchard may have seemed vengeful or weak at the end of the last
chapter, he impresses you as being sensitive in his meeting with Lucetta.
He is clearly the kind of man who can inspire passionate love letters. In
this respect, he contrasts sharply with Farfrae once again. Ask yourself
why Lucetta has chosen Farfrae over Henchard. Possibly Lucetta Le Sueur,
the French woman, would have chosen Henchard, but Lucetta Templeman, the
English woman, would rather have the wealth and position that marriage to
Farfrae promises. She, too, is tempting fate and hiding behind a new
identity, just as Henchard has. From what you have seen so far, it's fair
to say that her ambition may prove disastrous.
^^^^^^^^^^THE MAYOR OF CASTERBRIDGE: CHAPTER XXXVI: JOPP GETS THE LETTERS
Hardy makes sure that you are aware of Henchard's warning to Lucetta at
the end of the previous chapter. He then develops that situation by
introducing the evil Jopp at the beginning of the following chapter.
Although Henchard may not be a blackmailer, Jopp is. He asks Lucetta to
convince her husband to give him a job. He also mentions that he knew her
in Jersey. Jopp becomes even more of a threat later in the chapter when
Henchard foolishly hands him the packet of letters to deliver to Lucetta.
Jopp quickly discovers the nature of the poorly sealed packet, then stops
for a quick drink at an inn in Mixen Lane, the poorest part of town,
before heading to Farfrae's house with the package.
Hardy gives you a detailed description of Mixen Lane and its inhabitants.
Notice all the images of darkness, pain, and destruction.
Coaxed by the others at the inn, Jopp opens the packet of letters and
begins reading them. The listeners show mock horror at hearing that the
proper Mrs. Farfrae has had an affair. They decide to sponsor a skimmity-
ride through the town. This ancient custom is a parade to ridicule
NOTE: THE SIGNIFICANCE OF MIXEN LANE By having Jopp stop in Mixen Lane
with the letters, Hardy has symbolically sunk Henchard and Lucetta's
affair to the depth it may deserve. In the unforgiving hands and minds of
the lowest elements in the town, the affair becomes more sordid than
passionate. Like Henchard, Lucetta is concerned about her social
position. It is significant that both are brought down by those who want
to show that Henchard and Lucetta are no better than they. Sponsoring the
skimmity-ride is a perfect way for members of the town chorus to
Now a new character appears on the scene. Throughout the novel, you have
seen that new characters have helped introduce new twists in the plot.
The unnamed character is too well dressed for Mixen Lane, but he stops
for a drink anyway, even contributing a coin to help pay for the
The next morning, Jopp brings the letters to Lucetta, who burns them
immediately. She believes that the episode of the letters is finished and
that her reputation is safe, but you should know better.
^^^^^^^^^^THE MAYOR OF CASTERBRIDGE: CHAPTER XXXVII: HENCHARD'S ROYAL
Henchard, the man of pride, has very little pride left. But he is still
not able to admit his downfall as this chapter begins. He appears before
the town council in the same grand clothes he wore as Mayor to ask that
he be permitted to participate in a forthcoming celebration being planned
for a visit by a member of the Royal Family. His clothes are now sadly
tattered, as is Henchard's reputation, and he is told that he can be a
spectator but not a participant. "If ye are included, why not others,"
Mayor Farfrae says. Henchard replies, "I have a particular reason for
wanting to assist at the ceremony." Why do you think the event is so
important to him? He is risking what little pride is left simply by
appearing before the council. Perhaps the historical significance of the
Royal visit is important to him. He still wants to be a part of
Casterbridge's history. Perhaps he can't stand the idea of being a
spectator rather than a participant. Being passive is not part of his
character. Or perhaps he just wants to be seen again, to have a place in
the public eye. "I'll welcome his Royal Highness, or nobody shall!" he
declares. Wearing the clothes he wore as Mayor seems to emphasize his
desire to maintain his former position in the town.
Henchard makes certain he is seen at the celebration. As the Prince's
carriage approaches, Henchard steps in front of it. Wearing a bright
ribbon and carrying a homemade flag, Henchard attempts to shake hands
with the Prince.
Lucetta is aghast at the sight. Henchard has ruined her most glorious
hour as the Mayor's wife. Elizabeth-Jane is terrified and incredulous.
Farfrae, annoyed, pushes Henchard out of the way. Although Henchard is
angry at Farfrae's treatment of him, he walks away, more defeated and
bitter. The proper ladies in the crowd discuss Henchard's relation to
Farfrae, much to Lucetta's annoyance.
Finally, Hardy turns to the members of the town chorus for their
comments. They mention how uppity Farfrae has become and what a "lady of
quality" his wife is. Now they are even more determined to carry out the
skimmity-ride and humiliate Lucetta. The ride is planned for that very
evening. There will be an upper-class spectacle and a lower-class
spectacle on the same day in Casterbridge.
Hardy gives Jopp the final word in the chapter, thus sounding an ominous
^^^^^^^^^^THE MAYOR OF CASTERBRIDGE: CHAPTER XXXVIII: HENCHARD FIGHTS
Jopp's evil presence carries over to this chapter. He encounters Henchard
and inflames Henchard's already seething case against both Farfrae and
Lucetta. Henchard decides that he must confront Farfrae. In Farfrae's
barn, Henchard challenges the new mayor to a wrestling match to the
death. Saying that he is the stronger man, Henchard ties one hand behind
his back to make the fight fair. Henchard seems to be a curious mixture
of bully and fair fighter. The battle is over quickly. Henchard forces
Farfrae to the edge of the loft and is about to push him to his death. He
cannot do it, however. This marks the third time that Henchard has
stopped himself from destroying Farfrae or Lucetta.
NOTE: HENCHARD'S ANIMAL CHARACTERISTICS At different points in the
novel, Henchard is compared to a series of animals--from a raging bull to
a fangless lion. There is a certain animal quality about his unbridled
energy. In this chapter, Henchard decides to fight Farfrae to show that
he is a "real man"; however, the fight shows him to be more of an animal.
In many ways, the rivalry between Henchard and Farfrae parallels the
rivalry of two male animals fighting over territory and mates. Henchard
was there first, but the newcomer has presented a serious and eventually
successful challenge. Henchard loses and considers finding a new
territory, but instead he remains and becomes domesticated. "Henchard had
become in measure broken in," Hardy states earlier. The fight in the barn
also parallels Henchard's earlier encounter with the bull. Farfrae
wrenches Henchard's arm much as Henchard had wrenched the bull's neck.
Once the fight has ended and Henchard has stopped short of killing his
opponent, he hides himself shamefully in the barn "in a crouching
attitude, unusual for a man...".
He leaves the barn in shame, realizing that even his physical (animal)
strength, upon which his pride has been based, has not been enough to
help him triumph over his "enemies" or his fate. He begins walking toward
the bridge of failures again. There he hears, but doesn't heed, the
beginnings of the skimmity-ride.
^^^^^^^^^^THE MAYOR OF CASTERBRIDGE: CHAPTER XXXIX: THE SKIMMITY-RIDE
Hardy has built up your anticipation of the skimmity-ride for several
chapters. Now it finally occurs. First, like a movie director, Hardy
places all the principals. He has already shown that Henchard is out of
the way at the bridge of failures. Next, he has Farfrae receive an
anonymous note that directs him to leave town. Finally, he places Lucetta
near the window in her house where she will be sure to see the event.
After all, Lucetta is the one who will probably be most affected by the
ridicule of the skimmity-ride.
The marchers proceed through town, banging drums and tambourines and
carrying two stuffed figures--effigies of Henchard and Lucetta. Lucetta,
hearing several maids describing the figures, is drawn to the window to
see the parade. "It's me," she says. Her quick confession seems very
similar to Henchard's when he was confronted in court by the furmity
Elizabeth-Jane rushes into Lucetta's room and tries to pull her away from
the window, but the damage has been done. Lucetta is certain that Farfrae
will see the effigies and know of her unfaithfulness. She collapses in an
epileptic seizure. Since Lucetta is pregnant, the doctor fears it may
prove fatal. He says that Farfrae must be sent for at once. Since
epileptics usually have a history of such seizures, do you feel it a
weakness in the novel that Hardy has not indicated previously that
Lucetta is epileptic?
Several town leaders try to stop the skimmity-ride. They insist that the
town constables should find and stop the participants. Carrying out a
half-hearted and unsuccessful search near Farfrae's house and in Mixen
Lane, the constables soon give up.
One of the most interesting points about the much discussed skimmity-ride
is that you never really see it. Neither do most of the people in the
town. One maid even says, "There--I shan't see it, after all!" You hear
about the parade from the different maids and from Lucetta who insists "I
will see it!" and "Donald will see it!" Then it seems to simply
disappear. The town leaders and constables keep searching for concrete
evidence of the spectacle, but they can't find any. Farfrae, for whose
sake the parade has been planned, isn't even in town when it occurs. In
some ways, the skimmity-ride seems to be more in Lucetta's mind than
elsewhere. It surfaces all her guilt and fear. Perhaps this is why she is
so affected by the procession that ridicules her past affair.
^^^^^^^^^^THE MAYOR OF CASTERBRIDGE: CHAPTER XL: LUCETTA DIES
Throughout this section of the novel, Hardy has pushed Henchard from the
center of action in Casterbridge to the outer edges. As the section
opened (Chapter XXXI), Henchard had moved to Jopp's cottage on the poor
side of town. He began drinking at the Three Mariners rather than at the
King's Arms. He estranged himself further from Farfrae and Lucetta. He
even brought ridicule upon himself by his behavior when the Prince
As if to emphasize the distance that has come between Henchard and the
other characters, Hardy presents the action in this chapter through
Henchard's eyes. Henchard has become an outsider, observing the action
rather than playing an active role.
Henchard leaves the bridge of failures and enters the town just as the
skimmity-ride is ending. Looking for Elizabeth-Jane, he goes to Farfrae's
house. He tells the people at Farfrae's house, who are searching for
Farfrae, that the new mayor has changed his earlier plans and has gone in
the opposite direction. Remember that he overheard Farfrae's plans while
perched in the loft. The others don't believe him because, as Hardy
notes, "He had lost his good name." Henchard decides to find Farfrae
When Henchard catches up with his former friend and rival, he addresses
him humbly as "Mr. Farfrae." But Farfrae is suspicious. He thinks
Henchard wants to trick him into an ambush and kill him. Henchard becomes
desperate. Hardy uses words such as "implored" and "deprecated" to
describe Henchard's behavior and point out his ineffectualness. Farfrae
ignores Henchard's insistence that something is wrong at Farfrae's house.
Henchard returns to town where he curses himself as being "a less
scrupulous Job," a man who has lost even his own self-respect. The
reference to Job, the biblical character who suffered terribly and lost
everything as a test of his faith in God, shows clearly Henchard's sunken
Henchard sees Elizabeth-Jane at Farfrae's house and learns that Lucetta
is near death. Noticing Elizabeth-Jane's warm look toward him while they
conversed, Henchard sees a "pin-point of light" for the first time in the
evening's darkness. He begins to wonder hopefully if he can learn to love
her as his own daughter. With that thought in mind, he returns to Jopp's
cottage. There Henchard learns that a sea-captain has called on him. Who
can the mystery man be? Remember, only one other sailor has appeared in
the novel--Newson. Just as Henchard is thinking of finding a daughter's
love in Elizabeth-Jane, will her real father return to take her away from
him? Perhaps Henchard truly is a Job figure, doomed to constant suffering
for his sins.
Farfrae returns, but he is too late. Lucetta dies during the night. As
this fourth section of the novel ends, another of Henchard's women has
died and the third may be taken away from him momentarily. He is lonelier
^^^^^^^^^^THE MAYOR OF CASTERBRIDGE: CHAPTER XLI: LIES AND LONELINESS
At the end of the previous chapter, Henchard was cloaked in darkness and
desolation. As this chapter opens, he sits by a fire in his cottage, and
his face "brightens" when he sees Elizabeth-Jane. Having reached the
depths of despair, he seems to sense in Elizabeth-Jane a reason for
A stranger then knocks on Henchard's door. Now you know that the man in
Mixen Lane and the visitor yesterday is Newson. When Henchard learns the
man's identity, he looks down at the floor, like a shamed dog. He seldom
looks up for the rest of their conversation. Newson has come to inquire
about his daughter. Henchard tells him "doggedly" that Elizabeth-Jane is
dead. Newson replies, "Then what's the use of my money to me?" There is
irony in this statement, for in a sense, Newson's money triggered all of
Henchard's troubles, when it was used to purchase Susan.
Accepting Henchard's explanation, the sailor leaves, his shadow passing
before Henchard's window, symbolically darkening the brightness that had
flickered there before. Henchard is amazed by his own lying. He is also
worried. He had half expected Newson to catch him in the lie and is
certain the man will return to curse him and take Elizabeth-Jane away for
good. He makes a half-hearted attempt to find Newson, just as he had done
after selling his wife and daughter. Rationalizing, he tells himself he
may have been justified in lying to Newson. He "speciously argues" that
he is more of a father to the girl than Newson.
NOTE: HENCHARD'S CONTINUING HUBRIS Henchard's lying to Newson and
subsequent justification of his lie are further illustrations of his
destructive pride or hubris. See the discussion of hubris in the "Themes"
section of this study guide. He may have been severely damaged by the
events of the past year, but he is still not fully repentant. Henchard is
not being punished merely for selling his family; he has continually
tempted fate with his excessive pride. The images of brightness at the
beginning of this chapter illustrate the return of Henchard's pride and
self-esteem. Hardy is setting him up for "the big fall." Watch how images
of darkness and death begin to envelop him in this chapter and in the
remainder of the novel.
Henchard and Elizabeth-Jane have a warm conversation, but he is plagued
by the thought of Newson's return. The thought plunges Henchard into a
"leaden gloom." He goes for a walk, crosses a bridge, and looks into the
waters below. He sees what he thinks is a body--his own body! What
Henchard actually sees is the effigy that had been paraded in the
skimmity-ride through town the day before. It is a curious psychological
moment. Henchard, the observer in the last chapter, is now detached even
from himself. Symbolically, he is dead. Henchard brings Elizabeth-Jane to
see the figure. She confirms that it is his effigy. Realizing that
Henchard is in a suicidal frame of mind, she decides to move in with him
to protect him. Interestingly, if Henchard had not seen the effigy, he
might have jumped into the water and killed himself. The skimmity-ride
killed Lucetta, but one of the effigies used in the procession saved
As the chapter ends, Henchard optimistically believes that a kind fate
now watches over him. "And yet it seems that even I be in Somebody's
hand," he states. Henchard's false hopes reflect the theme of barrenness
that Hardy's religious skepticism led him to develop in the novel.
Henchard's "Somebody" isn't a forgiving God; it is a more frightening and
^^^^^^^^^^THE MAYOR OF CASTERBRIDGE: CHAPTER XLII: A NEW ROMANCE BEGINS
A period of relative calm settles over the lives of the main characters.
Henchard and Elizabeth-Jane are living together as father and daughter,
and Henchard is running a small seed business purchased for him by
Farfrae and the town council. Farfrae has decided not to punish the
perpetrators of the skimmity-ride. Because Lucetta confessed her past
affair to him on her deathbed, he feels only minimal grief at her death.
Farfrae's sense of propriety does not allow him to accept any impropriety
in his wife.
Henchard now resumes his role as the observer in the novel. A budding
romance develops between Elizabeth-Jane and Farfrae. This romance
troubles Henchard for two reasons: he doesn't want to lose Elizabeth-Jane
to anyone, and he especially can't stand the idea of his enemy winning
her hand. Nevertheless, he uncharacteristically refrains from
intervening. Fear of loneliness has made the once-forceful Henchard hold
his jealousy in check. He wants to retain the love of his "daughter." For
a fleeting moment, he contemplates revealing Elizabeth-Jane's true
parentage thus causing the proper Farfrae to forsake her, but he fears
the knowledge would drive her into Newson's arms instead of his.
^^^^^^^^^^THE MAYOR OF CASTERBRIDGE: CHAPTER XLIII: NEWSON RETURNS:
As the romance between Farfrae and Elizabeth-Jane blossoms into an
engagement, Henchard's self-esteem sinks lower and lower. He sees himself
as a "fangless lion," a very different image from the "raging bull" he
has been compared to earlier.
When through his telescope he sees Newson approaching the town, Henchard
knows that his relationship with Elizabeth-Jane is doomed. He returns
home and learns from Elizabeth-Jane that a stranger wants to meet with
her. Sadly, Henchard tells her to see the man, adding that he is going to
leave Casterbridge--not because of her impending marriage but to allow
the two of them (Henchard and Elizabeth-Jane) to lead separate lives.
Henchard asks her to remember him always. He still has some pride left;
later, he will have none.
Elizabeth-Jane is reunited with Newson that evening at Farfrae's. She
learns that Henchard kept her true parentage a secret and sent Newson
away with a lie. Elizabeth-Jane bitterly remembers her last promise to
Henchard. Then she, Newson, and Farfrae turn their thoughts to the
^^^^^^^^^^THE MAYOR OF CASTERBRIDGE: CHAPTER XLIV: THE WANDERER RETURNS
The last two chapters of The Mayor of Casterbridge form an epilogue, much
as the first two chapters served as a prologue. Henchard, once again a
wandering hay-trusser, returns to Weydon-Priors. He seems to be trying to
retrace his history. Hardy notes that externally there was nothing to
stop Henchard from starting all over again and achieving "higher" things,
but internally his life is empty. Yet his thoughts are still on
Elizabeth-Jane and Casterbridge.
When he learns from some passersby that Farfrae is soon to marry, he
decides to return to Casterbridge for the wedding. Henchard buys a new
suit and searches for a wedding present, choosing a caged gold finch. The
caged bird, like Henchard himself, is imprisoned by fate.
Henchard arrives at the wedding. He leaves the bird outside and enters
the house. He hears music and observes dancing. It pains him to see that
Elizabeth-Jane's dancing partner is Newson, who has resumed his role as
father. Hardy presents a series of dark images at this point to
illustrate Henchard's feelings. Finally, Elizabeth-Jane greets him,
addressing him coldly and formally as "Mr. Henchard." She tells him
bitterly that she can no longer love him. Henchard is too devastated with
pain and self-loathing to defend himself. He leaves the house, promising
never to trouble her again.
Although Hardy included this chapter in his serialization, he omitted it
from the first edition of the novel. He included it in later editions,
however, because of popular demand. The chapter has a strange sense to
it. Henchard seems like a wounded bird, making one last attempt at flight
before dying. Some readers feel the chapter is useful because it
emphasizes Henchard's total isolation from the community: life will
continue comfortably in Casterbridge, and Elizabeth-Jane and Farfrae will
be happy, without Henchard. This sets the stage for Henchard's last
request in the final chapter. Other readers feel that Hardy overdoes his
debasement of Henchard, and that Chapter XLIV adds nothing new.
^^^^^^^^^^THE MAYOR OF CASTERBRIDGE: CHAPTER XLV: HENCHARD'S WILL
In the novel's final chapter, Henchard, a wanderer again, roams onto
Egdon Heath where he is later followed by Elizabeth-Jane and Farfrae. The
Heath is a timeless place, and a man's history means very little within
it. It is a fitting setting for the end of Henchard's struggles.
NOTE: Egdon Heath is best known to Hardy's readers as the setting (and,
in some ways, one of the leading characters) of The Return of the Native.
Eustacia Vye, the main character of that novel, feels trapped by the
Heath and never manages to escape its hold. Eventually, it plays a part
in her death, or suicide. For Hardy, Egdon Heath--bleak and barren, large
and lifeless--measures the endurance and insignificance of people.
Henchard is drawn to the Heath by Elizabeth-Jane's rejection of him.
Elizabeth-Jane and Farfrae are drawn there by the discovery of the bird
cage in which Henchard had brought his wedding present. The bird had died
of starvation without uttering a sound. Just as its caged existence
symbolized Henchard's feelings of imprisonment and isolation, the bird's
death also symbolizes the lack of love in Henchard's life. Elizabeth-Jane
is moved by the present, which she considers Henchard's repentance, and
she is determined to find him again.
At first unable to find Henchard, Farfrae and Elizabeth-Jane are about to
turn back. Then they see Abel Whittle in the distance. They follow him to
a cabin where he tells them that Henchard has died moments before. They
find it strange that Abel has remained with Henchard. After all, Henchard
often abused Abel unmercifully when he worked for Henchard. Abel explains
that he has stayed with Henchard because of the way Henchard cared for
Abel's mother when she was dying. Other, more symbolic, reasons also
explain his presence. For one thing, Henchard left Casterbridge as an
outcast, feeling like Cain. Having Abel beside him emphasizes his link to
Cain. Abel also seems a bit like the wise fool, thus linking Henchard
with King Lear as well. Finally, having to depend on Abel demonstrates
that the once-great Henchard has in the end sunk lower than the most
common workman. His pride has been destroyed. He has been punished for
Henchard leaves a tragic will pinned to the head of his bed. He asks that
he be neither mourned nor remembered--particularly by Elizabeth-Jane. He
seems to be releasing her from the promise he had extracted from her when
he first left Casterbridge. Elizabeth-Jane and Farfrae decide to abide by
the terms of the will. What does the will suggest about Henchard's view
of his life? Would you judge him as harshly as he does himself?
The final paragraphs of the novel are devoted to a brief presentation of
Elizabeth-Jane's future life, one filled with calmness and moderation,
but not necessarily happiness. There is a certain melancholy tone to the
ending. The hare has lost the race, and the tortoise has won. But the
scene seems devoid of the energy that Henchard represented. Hardy seems
to say that in the fallen, fate-dominated world of the novel, people are
meant to endure, but not to rise too high.
^^^^^^^^^^THE MAYOR OF CASTERBRIDGE: GLOSSARY
ADULLAM Cave in which David hid from Saul.
AUSTERLITZ Battle which Napoleon won in 1805 at great cost.
BALLAD SHEET Large page printed on only one side.
BANDED Bound by a pledge.
BE JOWNED Be damned.
BELLEPHERON Blameless Greek hero shunned by the gods for killing the
BLUEBEARDY Like the mythical villain who killed a series of wives.
BRICK-NOGGING Brickwork built between two wooden frames.
BRUCKLE Shady or unreliable.
BUTTER-FIRKINS Small wooden butter casks.
CAPHARNAUM Troubled time, after a tumultuous town in which Jesus
CARREFOUR Square or plaza.
CASTERBRIDGE Fictitious name for Dorchester.
CATHEAD Overhanging beam at the opening of a loft.
CHASSEZ DECHASSEZ MOVEMENT Dance steps to the left and right.
ETOUDERIE French for "thoughtlessness."
FELLOE Rim or segment of a wheel.
FELO DE SE Legal term for suicide.
FIELD FLAGONS Harvest jugs.
FURMITY Liquid pudding made of milk, boiled wheat, eggs, sugar, and
GABERLUNZIE Licensed beggar in Scotland.
GO SNACKS WI' Be married to.
HADRIAN'S SOLDIERY Members of Roman Emperor Hadrian's army who occupied
Britain during A.D. 119-138.
HORSE-DRILL Planting machine that drops seeds and fertilizer into holes.
JOSEPHUS Flavius Josephus (37-93), historian of the Jews.
JOTUNS Giants of Norse mythology.
KEACORN Gullet or windpipe.
KITS, CROUDS, HUMSTRUMS, SERPENTS Musical instruments.
LARRY Alarum or commotion.
LEERY Low or depressed.
LOCUS STANDI Latin term for "place to stand" or "position."
MARTINMAS SUMMER Late mild weather on Martinmas, November 11.
NATHAN TONES Words spoken reproachfully, in the way the prophet Nathan
reproached King David for sinning with Bathsheba.
PARI PASSU Latin for "simultaneously."
PETTY SESSIONS Court presided over by a justice of the peace.
PLIM Swell or become bloated.
PORT-BREDY Fictitious name for Bridport.
QUARTERS Quarter ton measures.
RECEIVED THE EDUCATION OF ACHILLES Had no formal education.
RUMMERS Large drinking glasses.
SKIMMITY-RIDE OR SKIMMINGTON Mock procession in which effigies of
adulterers were paraded through a town.
SNIFF AND SNAFF Small talk.
SOCKED Sighed loudly.
SOI DISANT French expression meaning "self-styled."
SOLICITUS TIMOR Latin term for "anxious fear."
SPENCER Short jacket worn by women.
STEELYARDS Balance used for weighing grain.
STEEPED Conceited or haughty.
SWINGLES Cudgels used by poachers.
SWIPES Watered-down beer.
TAILING Light or inferior grain that is removed in processing.
THIMBLE-RIGGERS Con artists.
TOAD-BAGS Bags with live toads inside, worn by superstitious people to
change their moods.
TURMIT-HEAD Turnip-head or fool.
TWANKING Whining or complaining.
VICTORINE Fur neckpiece.
WAMBLING Stumbling or tottering.
WEYDON-PRIORS Fictitious name for Wayhill in Hampshire.
WIMBLE Instrument for twisting bands around hay.
WITHY Made of willow branches.
YARDS OF CLAY Long tobacco pipes.
^^^^^^^^^^THE MAYOR OF CASTERBRIDGE: ON HARDY'S PURPOSE
Who, comparing the ways of Henchard and Farfrae, will easily choose
between them? Certainly not Hardy. He is too canny, too reflective for an
unambiguous stand, and his first loyalty is neither to Henchard nor
Farfrae but the larger community of Wessex. Hardy's feelings may go out
to Henchard but his mind is partly with Farfrae. He knows that in
important respects the Scotsman will help bring a better life to
Casterbridge, even if a life less vivid and integral. Yet he also
recognizes that the narrowing of opportunity for men like Henchard
represents a loss in social strength. In his own intuitive and "poetic"
way Hardy works toward an attitude of mature complexity, registering
gains and losses, transcending the fixed positions of "progress" and
-Irving Howe, Thomas Hardy, 1967
^^^^^^^^^^THE MAYOR OF CASTERBRIDGE: ON HENCHARD
Yet although this relentless decline of Henchard's is (as we take its
meaning) what unifies the book, Henchard still stands above the others in
psychic virtue. In the conventional sense, he is both less moral than
them and more so. He is violent and a liar and in one sense intensely
selfish, but his generosity is true magnanimity, and he has reserves of
affection and humility that they quite lack. The essential is something
else though: that his whole nature, good or bad, is centered upon a deep
source of vital energy.... Farfrae prospers through skill which the new
mode of life has impersonally taught him; Henchard is able to struggle
on, though defeated, because not of what he has learnt but of what he is.
He blocks out something like the full contour of the human being.
-John Holloway, The Charted Mirror:
Literary and Critical Essays, 1960
^^^^^^^^^^THE MAYOR OF CASTERBRIDGE: ON PLOT TECHNIQUES
The reader's breath is almost taken away by the succession of surprising
turns of the kind so much prized in a certain kind of romance, and now
become the staple of the movies. Everything is so disposed that the story
shall never lag, that never shall there be a failure of good things for
the lover of movement and novelty.... The specialty of The Mayor of
Casterbridge, and what makes its close affinity to the movie, is the
large provision of scenes of violent and surprising action making their
appeal directly to the sense of sight.... The device of the overheard
conversation is also a favorite one in the movies, it gives such scope
for that study of facial expression which is so important a feature of
movie art. Consider, for example, the picture that Henchard makes as he
listens to the love-making of Farfrae and Lucetta, or later to that of
Farfrae and Elizabeth...
-Joseph Warren Beach,
The Technique of Thomas Hardy, 1922
^^^^^^^^^^THE MAYOR OF CASTERBRIDGE: ON THEME
Founding itself upon an ancient psychology, The Mayor of Casterbridge
celebrates, first of all, the subordination of the passions that link man
with nature to the reason that unites him with God. It is Henchard's
tragedy that, like Lear and Othello, he reverses and destroys this order.
For when he sells his wife to a sailor for five guineas in violation of
the profoundest moral tact, it is at a moment when, under the spell of
the furmity-woman, he has allowed the passions to distort and deform the
reason. Indeed, the surrender to passion responsible for the original
crime will, in spite of his heroic resolution to give up drinking for
[twenty-one] years, repeat itself in those sudden angers and indignations
that alienate Farfrae, Elizabeth, and Lucetta, among others, and
eventually deprive him of the ordinary consolations of love and
friendship. The precarious balance between reason and passion will be
reestablished only at the very end when, thoroughly scourged and
chastised, all passion spent, Henchard is displaced by the Farfraes and
Elizabeths in whose persons the claims of reason are piously
-John Paterson, "The Mayor of Casterbridge as Tragedy," 1959
In James K. Robinson, The Mayor of Casterbridge, 1977
^^^^^^^^^^THE MAYOR OF CASTERBRIDGE: ON HARDY'S VIEW OF THE PAST
Because he could always call up so clearly the dark as well as the more
cheerful aspects of his early experience, Hardy in his mature years was
rarely tempted to indulge in indiscriminate nostalgia for the past. He
was always deeply conscious, however, of the process of change itself and
of the many relics, good and bad, of earlier days and ways which were
constantly being swept away.... Hardy, in fact, was born just in time to
catch a last glimpse of that English rural life which, especially in so
conservative a county, had existed largely undisturbed from medieval
times until the onset of the new forces--population expansion,
urbanization, railways, cheap printing, cheap food imports, enclosures,
agricultural mechanization and depression, pressures and opportunities
for migration and emigration--which so swiftly and radically impinged
upon it in the middle of the nineteenth century.
-Michael Millgate, Thomas Hardy: A Biography, 1982