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Free Study Guide for The Mayor of Casterbridge by Thomas Hardy-MonkeyNotes
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CHAPTER SUMMARY AND NOTES

CHAPTER 19

Summary

After Susan's death, Henchard finds himself a very lonely man. Since he needs someone to hinge his attachment to, he impulsively tells Elizabeth-Jane that he is her father and makes her write to The Casterbridge Chronicle announcing that she would call herself Elizabeth-Jane Henchard instead of Elizabeth-Jane Newson. When he goes to his room to hunt for a document that will prove his paternity, he sees dead wife's letter with the restriction "Not to be opened till Elizabeth-Jane's wedding day." Ignoring her request, Henchard opens the letter and learns that Elizabeth-Jane is, in fact, Newson's daughter, his own having died three months after she was sold. After spending a restless night wandering around Casterbridge, Henchard decides to go on with the pretense that Elizabeth-Jane is his daughter. The next morning, when Elizabeth- Jane approaches him with love, he reciprocates, but feels cheated.

Notes

This chapter again points out the lonely and brooding nature of Henchard. Since Susan is dead and Farfrae is estranged from him, he turns all of his attention on Elizabeth-Jane. Because Henchard always feels hurt whenever Elizabeth-Jane refers to Newson as "father" or speaks fondly of him, he impulsively discloses that he is really her father; he hopes the news will strengthen the bond between them. The cowardly Henchard does not reveal the ignoble facts of how he sold his wife and his daughter; he simply says that Susan and he thought each other were dead. Elizabeth-Jane is agitated by the revelation.


Henchard's desperate state is noted when he declares to his daughter, "I will be kinder to you than he was! I will do anything, if you will only look upon me as your father!" These are ironic words from a father who chose to sell his wife and daughter for five guineas. It is also ironic that shortly after he tells Elizabeth- Jane that he is her real father, he finds out, from Susan's letter, that she is really Newson's daughter. Desperate to cling to her, he hides this information from Elizabeth-Jane.

At this point in the novel, some curious things are cleared up. The reader now understands, as does Henchard, Susan's opposition to Elizabeth-Jane's name being changed, why her hair is lighter, and why she tried to unite Elizabeth-Jane and Farfrae in marriage before her death. What is worth noting here is the hand of Fate in the development of the plot. Granted it was Henchard's loneliness and impulsiveness that made him tell Elizabeth-Jane he was her father, but had he not wanted to get some documents to prove his paternity, he would not have rummaged in his drawers. It is chance that puts Susan's letter in his hands at this particular moment. Fate, combined with Henchard's lack of respect for his dead wife's wishes, is responsible for his misery, now as well as in the future. Susan had hoped by the time Elizabeth-Jane married, Henchard would have developed a deep, abiding affection for her that would remain unchanged, regardless of her revelation. Fate, however, wills otherwise for, as Hardy comments, "Misery taught him (Henchard) nothing more than defiant endurance of it."

A splendidly gloomy picture of the scornful aspects of Casterbridge and its surroundings is described in this chapter; it is intended to be symbolic of Henchard's Mood. Though the reader pities his plight, Henchard is viewed as a proud and foolish man; his misfortunes are partially due to his own shortcomings. His taciturn nature stands in the way of his being loving toward his stepdaughter, bringing greater misery on himself.

CHAPTER 20

Summary

Henchard continues to act cold towards Elizabeth-Jane, and this soon gives way to openly admonishing her about trifles, such as her use of local slang, her consideration towards the servants, and her carefully wrought handwriting. When Henchard discovers that Elizabeth-Jane had worked in the Three Mariner's as a maid and served Farfrae, it is the last straw. He totally shuts her out. Elizabeth-Jane thinks the sudden change in Henchard's attitude towards her is due to her lack of education, and she resolves to read voraciously.

Elizabeth-Jane finds solace in visiting her mother's grave. One such morning she comes across an unknown woman, whose kindness makes Elizabeth-Jane open her heart to her. She is overjoyed when the stranger offers to take her into her house as her companion.

Henchard is angry when he learns that he is not to be chosen as an alderman after his term as mayor ends. To add to his bitterness, Farfrae is likely to become a member of the council. Now Henchard regrets his jealous folly in forbidding Farfrae from courting Elizabeth-Jane. He feels she could be taken off his hands and heart if Farfrae married her. He immediately dispatches a note to Farfrae telling him he no longer objects to his paying attention to her.

Notes

Though the reader pities Henchard for his miserable life, he must be criticized for the way he always finds fault with Elizabeth-Jane, ignoring her intrinsic goodness. He increasingly judges her behavior as being unbecoming for a woman in her public position; ironically, his power as a political figure in town is slowly diminishing, not because of his daughter, but because of his own personality. His term as Mayor is about to end, and he will not be elected as an alderman. Instead, Farfrae will probably serve on the town council. Although Henchard is still jealous about this rival, he writes Farfrae a note and tells him he has permission to continue his courtship of Elizabeth-Jane. Henchard thinks that if Farfrae marries her, he will be out from under the burden of caring for her.

Elizabeth-Jane has no idea why Henchard's attitude towards her changes drastically and blames it on herself. She tries to improve her shortcomings, and laboriously studies Latin and other subjects to improve her level of education; still she cannot seem to gain Henchard's approval. Her consideration for the servants only ignites his wrath. Because she feels miserable about her situation, this silent, lovely, unloved girl makes an utter stranger her confidante and agrees to become her companion. The introduction of this strange woman adds a touch of mystery to the novel. The reader wonders who she is, why she is so willing to befriend Elizabeth-Jane, and why she does not openly condemn Henchard's unreasonable behavior. She does, however, judge Henchard correctly as "a hot tempered man - a little proud - perhaps ambitions; but not a bad man." The reader is intrigued by her personal knowledge of Henchard.

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