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The Mayor of Casterbridge
Thomas Hardy


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 Casterbridge.


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 attention.

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.

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 place.

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 you.

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 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.

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 eventual downfall.

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.


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 about 18.

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.

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.


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.

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.


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.

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.


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 street.

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.

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 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 the Scotsman.

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 time.

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 control.


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.

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 Farfrae.

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 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 away together.

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.

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?


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 on.

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 bought again.


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 occurred.

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 Dorchester.

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 sake.

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?


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 STORY, continued


ECC [The Mayor of Casterbridge Contents] []

© Copyright 1985 by Barron's Educational Series, Inc.
Electronically Enhanced Text © Copyright 1993, World Library, Inc.
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