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CHAPTER SUMMARY AND NOTES
The whole town of Casterbridge starts talking of the affair between Farfrae and Elizabeth-Jane. Henchard takes an unusual interest in their relationship and has made it a habit to spy on them through a telescope. One day he spies Newson through the telescope. He seems he is waiting for someone, probably Elizabeth-Jane. Henchard realizes the implications of Newson's reappearance. He cannot tolerate the thought of Elizabeth-Jane despising him after she comes to know of his deception. When he returns home, Elizabeth-Jane tells him she has received an anonymous letter asking her to meet the writer. She is under the impression that the sender is a relative of Farfrae and asks Henchard if she can go. Henchard gives his permission, even though he realizes the letter is probably from Newson.
Henchard, depressed over the turn of events, tells Elizabeth-Jane of his intention to leave Casterbridge. She thinks his departure is due to her impending marriage to Farfrae and tries to dissuade him from his decision; but Henchard is resolute. His parting words to her are "don't let my sins cause 'ee to quite forget that though I loved 'ee late I loved 'ee well."
When Elizabeth-Jane goes to Farfrae's house in the evening, she finds Newson there. He tells her about Henchard's lie; she is so shocked and enraged by the news that she decides she can never forgive Henchard. To take her mind off of things, she turns her attention to the preparations for her marriage to Farfrae.
The small town cannot keep from gossiping about everyone and everything that occurs within its boundaries. In this chapter, the reader sees how the town reacts to the courtship between Farfrae and Elizabeth-Jane. Certain members, like those of the "Philosophic Party", consisting of Longways, Coney, Wills, and Buzzford express their pleasure and satisfaction at the match; others cannot understand why Farfrae would want to court the daughter of someone like Henchard.
The person who takes the keenest interest in the growing relationship between Elizabeth-Jane and Farfrae is Henchard, even spying on them through a telescope. He is less than pleased to see their love blossoming, for it means he will lose a daughter and return to a lonely existence. With Newson's re-appearance, Henchard knows he can no longer count on Elizabeth-Jane's love and approval, for he has lied about her to her own father. As a result, he decides to leave Casterbridge, even though Elizabeth- Jane objects. It moves the reader when he tells Elizabeth-Jane to remember that he loved her well.
When Henchard came to Casterbridge many years ago, he was penniless and alone. There is dramatic irony in the fact that he leaves Casterbridge in the same way. During the course of the novel, he has come full circle.
Before she comes to know of Henchard's dishonesty, Elizabeth- Jane is saddened by his departure and feels that she has caused it by her relationship with Farfrae. After she hears about his lie to Newson, she understands the real reason Henchard has left Casterbridge. She is enraged over Henchard's deception and vows never to forgive him. It is the first time in the book that Elizabeth- Jane has exhibited any emotions other than kindness or goodness; her anger is totally out of character, and the reader is made to feel it will not last long.
Newson's reappearance is hard to accept and believe. He left Casterbridge the first time without even checking to find out if Henchard's story about Elizabeth-Jane was true. If he were really interested in her, it would seem he would have found out more about her death. The reader is made to wonder why he kept looking for her and how he found out she was still alive
Despite this weakness, the main focus of this chapter remains on Henchard and his suffering. Because he has learned to sacrifice for love, the reader is made to gain a new respect for him and pity the fact that Fate plays with him so cruelly.
Henchard spends the next two months pursuing his old vocation of itinerant hay-trusser. He never goes far from Casterbridge, however, because he wants to be near Elizabeth-Jane. One day he overhears the people from a road-wagon talk about a wedding to take place in Casterbridge on Martin's Day. Henchard knows it is Elizabeth-Jane's wedding and decides to be present for the marriage. He buys a caged goldfinch for her as a wedding present.
On reaching Casterbridge, Henchard waits until evening to visit Elizabeth-Jane. When he reaches his former house, he enters through the kitchen, leaving the bird and cage under a bush outside. When Elizabeth-Jane comes face-to-face with him, there is an awkwardness in their meeting. She addresses him formally as "Mr. Henchard". She also upbraids him for his deception. Henchard does not utter a word in self-defense. He apologizes to her for intruding on such a happy occasion and promises never to trouble her again.
In this penultimate chapter, Henchard realizes the true importance of love for the first time. Working in the same menial position as when he was a young man, Henchard sees the follies of his youth. In middle age, he has only one desire -- to plead his cause to Elizabeth-Jane and regain her love. When he hears about her upcoming wedding, he decides to return to Casterbridge for the celebration. He buys her a caged goldfinch as his wedding present.
With total lack of self-confidence, Henchard enters his old house through the back door, leaving the goldfinch and its cage outside in the bushes. When he finds Elizabeth-Jane inside, there is an unpleasant meeting, for she has not forgiven him. She addresses him formally and coldly as "Mr. Henchard" and criticizes him for lying to Newson. She obviously needs more time to overcome her anger.
The meek Henchard does not try to plead his cause with Elizabeth- Jane. He fails to give her his wedding present and he promises to never bother her again. When he leaves, he is a crushed and humiliated man, a total contrast to the proud mayor that he once was.
A week after her marriage to Farfrae, Elizabeth-Jane finds the dead goldfinch. A month later, she realizes that Henchard had left it there. She is now overcome with remorse and she and Farfrae search for Henchard. They almost give up the search when they see Abel Whittle enter from a humble cottage. They follow him and are informed that Henchard had died half an hour earlier. On a crumpled piece of paper he leaves his will which states:
"That Elizabeth-Jane Farfrae be not told of my death, or made to grieve on account of me.
& that I be not buried in consecrated ground. & that no sexton be asked to toll the bell.
& that nobody is wished to see my dead body. & that no mourners walk behind me at my funeral. & that no flours be planted on my grave.
& that no man remember me. To this I put my name."
It is signed, MICHAEL HENCHARD.
Elizabeth-Jane, though filled with sorrow and remorse, respects Henchard's wishes. She spends the rest of her life in tranquillity and thankfulness.
Fate again plays a large role in the last chapter of the book. If Henchard had presented Elizabeth-Jane with the goldfinch he had purchased for her, the kind girl would probably have relented and forgiven him, as she had done several times before. Instead, Henchard leaves the bird outside in the bushes. When Elizabeth- Jane finds it dead in its cage several weeks later, she knows that the bird was a token of Henchard's repentance. She is suddenly filled with remorse and goes in search of Henchard to offer her forgiveness. Ironically, cruel fate intervenes again, for Henchard has died an hour before Elizabeth-Jane finds him.
The dead goldfinch effectively symbolizes Henchard, who was starved for love and affection and eventually dies from lack of both. At the end of the novel, Henchard is shown in a truly tragic light. He has suffered a great deal throughout the book, due to Fate and his own impulsive and arrogant ways. Although he has tried to atone for his past misdeeds, he dies a pathetic and lonely man. The irony of ironies is that Henchard would have died a much happier person had Elizabeth-Jane found him an hour or two earlier. Then he would know he was loved and had been forgiven.
Although he has many weaknesses, Hardy has portrayed Henchard as basically moral, good, and kind. Whittle remembers his generosity towards his old mother. He repays Henchard for this by nursing him during his last days. But Henchard sees no goodness in himself at the time of his death. In his will, he asks that no one bury him in sacred ground or mourn for him.
Elizabeth-Jane honors the wishes of Henchard's will and does not grieve for him or plant flowers on his grave. Instead, she lives with Farfrae in contentment and good fortune, a positive counterbalance to the dark ruin of Henchard's end. Life, however, has taught her that "happiness was but the occasional episode in a general drama of pain," a view which reflects Hardy's own pessimism about life.