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The Mayor of Casterbridge
Thomas Hardy

THE STORY, continued


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 misdeeds.

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.


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.

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.


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.


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 incident.

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.

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.

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 novel.)

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 ascendancy.


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.


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.


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 daughter.

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.

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 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 her.

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 town.

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 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 novel.

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 Elizabeth-Jane.

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 leave.

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.


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.

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 life.

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 proper English).

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 Henchard.

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 unattractive characteristics.


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.


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 Casterbridge.

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.

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.


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 triumph.


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 Henchard?

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 listen.

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 nature.

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 figure.

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 STORY, continued


ECC [The Mayor of Casterbridge Contents] []

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