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The Mayor of Casterbridge
Thomas Hardy




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 "tradition."

Irving Howe, Thomas Hardy, 1967


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 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


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 acknowledged.

John Paterson, "The Mayor of Casterbridge as Tragedy," 1959 In James K. Robinson, The Mayor of Casterbridge, 1977


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

[The Mayor of Casterbridge Contents]


We wish to thank the following educators who helped us focus our Book Notes series to meet student needs and critiqued our manuscripts to provide quality materials.

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State University of New York at Stony Brook

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National Council of Teachers of English Student Guide Series
Fort Morgan, Colorado

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Mill Valley, California

Marvin J. LaHood, Professor of English
State University of New York College at Buffalo

Robert Lecker, Associate Professor of English
McGill University, Montreal, Quebec, Canada

David E. Manly, Professor of Educational Studies
State University of New York College at Geneseo

Bruce Miller, Associate Professor of Education
State University of New York at Buffalo

Frank O'Hare, Professor of English and Director of Writing
Ohio State University, Columbus, Ohio

Faith Z. Schullstrom, Member of Executive Committee
National Council of Teachers of English
Director of Curriculum and Instruction
Guilderland Central School District, New York

Mattie C. Williams, Director, Bureau of Language Arts
Chicago Public Schools, Chicago, Illinois

[The Mayor of Casterbridge Contents]



Beach, Joseph Warren. The Technique of Thomas Hardy. New York: Russell and Russell, 1922. Valuable analysis of Hardy's writing style.

Carpenter, Richard. Thomas Hardy. Boston: Twayne, 1964. An analysis of imagery in Hardy's major novels.

Drabble, Margaret, ed. The Genius of Thomas Hardy. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1976. A series of short essays on Hardy's life, art, and world.

Guerard, Albert J., ed. Hardy: A Collection of Critical Essays, Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 1963. A collection of essays on Hardy's style and major works.

Howe, Irving. Thomas Hardy. New York: Macmillan, 1967. An easy-to-read critical biography of Hardy. Chapter V, "The Struggles of Men," presents an interesting plot analysis of The Mayor of Casterbridge.

Millgate, Michael. Thomas Hardy: A Biography. New York: Random House, 1982. A thorough biography of Hardy.

Page, Norman. Thomas Hardy: The Writer and His Background. New York: St. Martin's, 1980. An up-to-date critical biography.

Pinion, F. B. A Hardy Companion. London: Macmillan, 1968. Details Hardy's life and times. Contains a directory of people and places in Hardy's life and in his writings.

Robinson, James K., ed. The Mayor of Casterbridge: An Authoritative Text/Backgrounds/Criticism. New York: W. W. Norton, 1977. A thoroughly annotated edition of the novel that also includes critical comments.

Stewart, J. I. M. Thomas Hardy: A Critical Biography. New York: Dodd, Mead, 1971. Closely analyzes each major novel.

Summer, Rosemary. Thomas Hardy: Psychologist and Novelist. New York: St. Martin's, 1981. A study of the creative and analytical aspects of Hardy's novels.

Weber, Carl J. Hardy of Wessex. Revised edition. New York: Columbia University Press, 1965. A scholarly study of Hardy's life and works.

Williams, Raymond. The English Novel from Dickens to Lawrence. New York: Oxford University Press, 1970. Chapter IV deals with Hardy. The author sees Hardy as a clear link in literary tradition between George Eliot and D. H. Lawrence.



    Desperate Remedies, 1871
    Under the Greenwood Tree, 1872
    Far from the Madding Crowd, 1874
    The Return of the Native, 1878
    The Trumpet-Major, 1880
    A Laodicean, 1881
    Two on a Tower, 1882
    The Mayor of Casterbridge, 1886
    The Woodlanders, 1887
    Tess of the D'Urbervilles, 1891
    Jude the Obscure, 1895
    The Well-Beloved, 1897


    Wessex Tales: Strange, Lively, and Commomplace, 1888
    Life's Little Ironies, 1894
    A Changed Man, The Waiting Supper, and Other Tales, 1913


    Wessex Poems and Other Verses, 1898
    Poems of the Past and Present, 1901
    The Dynasts (three parts), 1904, 1906, 1908
    Satires of Circumstance, 1914
    Late Lyrics and Earlier, 1922
    Human Shows, Far Phantasies, Songs and Trifles, 1925
    Winter Words, 1928


ECC [The Mayor of Casterbridge Contents] []

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