StudySmarter: Study help & AI tools
4.5 • +22k Ratings
More than 22 Million Downloads
Free
|
|
The Mayor of Casterbridge

The Mayor of Casterbridge (1886) by English novelist Thomas Hardy (1840-1928) was written in the middle of his greatest period as a novelist. Although frequently overshadowed by some of his other great works, including Tess of the d'Urbervilles (1891) and Jude the Obscure (1895), The Mayor of Casterbridge brims with invention and wit.

Mockup Schule Mockup Schule

Explore our app and discover over 50 million learning materials for free.

The Mayor of Casterbridge

Illustration

Lerne mit deinen Freunden und bleibe auf dem richtigen Kurs mit deinen persönlichen Lernstatistiken

Jetzt kostenlos anmelden

Nie wieder prokastinieren mit unseren Lernerinnerungen.

Jetzt kostenlos anmelden
Illustration

The Mayor of Casterbridge (1886) by English novelist Thomas Hardy (1840-1928) was written in the middle of his greatest period as a novelist. Although frequently overshadowed by some of his other great works, including Tess of the d'Urbervilles (1891) and Jude the Obscure (1895), The Mayor of Casterbridge brims with invention and wit.

Thomas Hardy and The Mayor of Casterbridge

The novel, The Mayor of Casterbridge, was first serialized in a London periodical called The Graphic, from January to May, 1886. It takes place in a fictional and rural location in England, called Casterbridge. The Mayor of Casterbridge is perhaps one of the wilder and stranger books that falls under the umbrella of Victorian literature. After all, a book that begins with a man selling off his wife and child to a stranger is worth a read, isn't it?

Victorian literature (1837-1901) is a literary era noted as beginning after the passage of the Reform Bill, or in 1837 with the accession of Queen Victoria, and ending with the death of Queen Victoria in 1901. Victorian literature dealt with the pressing economic, social, political, religious, and intellectual issues of the times.

The Mayor of Casterbridge, Queen Victoria statue, StudySmarterThe statue featured here is of Queen Victoria, whose death marked the end of the Victorian era. Pixabay.

During his career as a serial novelist, Thomas Hardy was often conflicted about the stresses of having to meet strict deadlines, captivate an audience, and remain true to the craft and characters within his novels. He feared that he might be sacrificing "the proper artistic balance of the completed work" for the sake of pleasing a vast audience.1 Desiring to reach a balance between the sensationalism the public wanted and verisimilitude, Hardy aimed to distort his fiction just enough to reveal an artistic truth about ordinary life and rural existence. Hardy released the final book version of The Mayor of Casterbridge in 1886.

Verisimilitude is the appearance of being true or real.

Thomas Hardy was an architect by trade. His father, a stonemason, inspired his interest in the architectural arts. At 16 years old, he began an apprenticeship with architect John Hicks in Dorchester and began his career focused mainly on the restoration of churches. Hardy designed his own house in Dorset, called Max Gate, where he lived with his wife, Emma. This location is where he wrote The Mayor of Casterbridge and is only two miles from his birthplace.

The Mayor of Casterbridge, Thomas Hardy's home, StudySmarterThomas Hardy's home, Max Gate, was designed by the novelist himself. Wikimedia.

The Mayor of Casterbridge Genre

As an English author of the Naturalism movement, Thomas Hardy is known for his brilliant ability to depict a specific sense of place. Categorized as one of Hardy's "Wessex" novels, The Mayor of Casterbridge depicts the daily life of rural England in fictional Casterbridge. Wessex is also one of Hardy's fabrications—an invented area based on the real Dorset—just as Casterbridge is the fictitious name representing Dorchester, where Hardy grew up.

Naturalism is a mode of fiction developed by a group of writers, including French novelist Émile Zola and American novelist Frank Norris. Naturalism uses scientific principles and an objective perspective to observe daily life. The end of the naturalistic novel is typically tragic in the sense that the protagonist doesn't necessarily die (as in the classical definition of a tragedy), but loses the struggle against the self, the circumstances, their enemies, or society.

Realism, in literature and the arts, is the detailed, accurate, and authentic representation of nature or contemporary life.

The subtitle of The Mayor of Casterbridge, "A Story of a Man of Character" clues us into another genre into which the novel can be categorized. Focused primarily on the protagonist Michael Henchard and his development and personal motivations, The Mayor of Casterbridge can be considered psychological fiction. Psychological fiction is defined as a narrative genre that examines the reasons behind a character's behavior. These reasons propel the plot forward and explain the story and inevitable outcome.

The Mayor of Casterbridge, a visual representation of psychology, StudySmarterPsychological realism focuses on the internal motivations and mind of a character. Pixabay.

The Mayor of Casterbridge Summary

The Mayor of Casterbridge is the tale of protagonist Michael Henchard. It begins with the character as a young man, angry and drunk, selling his wife Susan and their child, Elizabeth-Jane, at a county fair to a sailor named Newson. Eighteen years later, with information that Newson has been lost at sea, Susan and Elizabeth-Jane return to the village of Weydon-Priors, where they were sold, to learn that Henchard is now in the town of Casterbridge.

They arrive at Casterbridge and learn that Henchard has now become the mayor and is one of the wealthiest men in Casterbridge. Out of a sense of guilt and obligation, Henchard courts Susan and remarries her hoping he will be able to recognize Elizabeth-Jane as his legitimate daughter. Elizabeth-Jane is under the impression that her father is Newson. Henchard also hires a man named Donald Farfrae as his business manager.

Susan becomes "too ill to leave her room" (Chapter 18), despite Henchard enlisting the town's "richest, busiest doctor" (Chapter 18) to see to her. In the midst of this, Henchard receives a letter from Jersey, from a former romantic acquaintance named Lucetta Templeman. She is passing through Casterbridge and requests he meet her to return letters and trinkets. He goes as instructed, but does not find her. As Susan is weakening, she requests a pen and paper. She writes a letter to Henchard, her husband, seals it with wax, and demands it not be opened until Elizabeth-Jane's wedding day.

Meanwhile, Donald Farfrae has become Henchard's business enemy after Henchard fired him out of jealousy. Donald Farfrae opens his own business. He and Lucetta coincidentally meet and feel an immediate attraction to one another. After a short time, they marry. Susan's ailing health gets the best of her and she passes. Weeks after Susan's death and in a fit of loneliness, after being abandoned by his past romantic love (Lucetta), and estranged from his old business manager, Henchard reveals to Elizabeth-Jane that he is her father—not Richard Newson.

He convinces Elizabeth-Jane to take his last name, and she reluctantly agrees but feels as though she is "doing a wrong" toward the man she has always known as her father (Chapter 19).

Henchard happens upon the letter Susan wrote before dying, and opens it despite the written request to wait until Elizabeth-Jane's marriage. From the letter, he learns that his biological daughter had died "three months" after he sold them, and the living Elizabeth-Jane is the sailor Richard Newson's actual daughter (Chapter 19). Upon learning this, Henchard "looked out at the night as a fiend" and felt as though this revelation was payment for past wrong-doings.

The Mayor of Casterbridge, a handwritten letter, StudySmarterIn a handwritten letter, Susan reveals that Henchard's biological daughter died three months after he sold them, and the living Elizabeth-Jane is the rightful daughter of Richard Newson, the sailor who bought them. Pexels.

Michael Henchard's luck continues in a downward spiral as his planned successor for mayor dies and Farfrae assumes the role. Then, a beggar woman, who is the sole living being aware of Henchard's secret sale of his wife and daughter years ago, is arrested in Casterbridge for wandering and being homeless. She reveals his secret, and nearly simultaneously Henchard must file for bankruptcy and work for Farfrae to make a living.

Read the following excerpt from The Mayor of Casterbridge, Chapter 20:

The sharp reprimand was not lost upon her, and in time it came to pass that for "fay" she said "succeed"; that she no longer spoke of "dumbledores" but of "humble bees"; no longer said of young men and women that they "walked together," but that they were "engaged"; that she grew to talk of "greggles" as "wild hyacinths"; that when she had not slept she did not quaintly tell the servants next morning that she had been "hag-rid," but that she had "suffered from indigestion."

J.K. Rowling borrows from The Mayor of Casterbridge the names of two characters in her Harry Potter (1997) novels. "Dumbledore", the name Rowling uses for the master of Harry's school, means "bumblebees". "Hag-rid," who is the Keeper of the Keys and Grounds in the Harry Potter novels, means "indigestion."

The Mayor of Casterbridge, a person holding a Harry Potter book, StudySmarterThe regional dialect used by the character Elizabeth-Jane in The Mayor of Casterbridge inspired the names of two characters in the Harry Potter novels. Pexels.

Lucetta's old letters to Henchard are discovered by Michael Henchard's bitter ex-employee, Jopp. He shares the information with the town, and they plan a "skimmity-ride" to shame both Lucetta and Henchard (Chapter 36). Their likenesses are paraded through the town in effigy, tied together on the back of a donkey. Upon seeing the effigy, Lucetta falls and convulses from the shock, "in the paroxysms of an epileptic seizure" (Chapter 39). She dies from the shock soon after.

A skimmity-ride, also known as a charivari or skimmington ride, was a European and North American folk custom where a mock procession was staged by villagers to shame individuals. Typically used models or sculptures of people were used to ridicule them.

Henchard moves to the poorest area of the town, where he lives in solitude with visits from Elizabeth-Jane to comfort him. In what seems like a final blow to a man that has suffered the sieges of fate, Newson returns in search of Elizabeth-Jane. Henchard lies, saying she has died, but his lie is discovered and Elizabeth-Jane angrily turns on him.

Farfrae courts Elizabeth-Jane, and the two are married, with Richard Newson taking his place as Elizabeth-Jane's father. Henchard takes the gift of a caged goldfinch to the couple on their wedding day, but is dismissed by Elizabeth-Jane. Henchard then dies in an abandoned hut. Elizabeth-Jane and Donald Farfrae read and honor Henchard's will, which he scribbled on a piece of crumpled paper. It decreed that "no man remember [him]" (Chapter 45).

The Mayor of Casterbridge, a goldfinch, StudySmarterHenchard gifts Elizabeth-Jane a caged goldfinch on her wedding day. Pexels.

The Mayor of Casterbridge Important Characters

Here are the central characters to know from Hardy's The Mayor of Casterbridge.

Character

Description

Michael Henchard

Henchard is the protagonist of the novel and the Mayor of Casterbridge. Henchard tries to make amends for the wrongs he committed in his youth, but his tendency to constantly live life looking back throws his life into upheaval and leads to his social, emotional, financial, and physical demise.

Susan

Susan is Michael Henchard's wife, who is sold off to Richard Newson at the start of the novel. She is described as meek and simple, but proves herself to be shrewd.

Elizabeth-Jane

Elizabeth-Jane is the true daughter of Susan and Richard Newson. She is at first believed to be the biological child of Henchard, whom he sold at a fair when she was an infant.

Donald Farfrae

He becomes Elizabeth-Jane's husband. He is a likable character that is even-tempered, genial, and the business rival of Henchard. He also functions as a foil to Henchard.

Richard Newson

The kind sailor who buys Susan and Elizabeth-Jane. He is Elizabeth-Jane's true biological father.

Jopp

He is a scorned ex-employee of Henchard.

Lucetta

She is Henchard's ex-lover and Farfrae's first wife. She stands as a foil to the level-headed Elizabeth-Jane.

A foil character is one who serves to highlight the traits of the protagonist (or another central character) by serving as a sharp contrast.

The Mayor of Casterbridge Literary Devices

The Mayor of Casterbridge is a tale full of twists and turns with a tone that is both tragic and dramatic. Hardy accomplishes this by using diction, flashback, and visual imagery to portray Henchard's internal motivations and the actions of the story.

Diction

Diction is the meticulous word choice authors and poets use to help communicate tone, establish the mood, and reveal unique traits of characters in poetry and prose.

Her husband regarded the paper as if it were a window-pane through which he saw for miles. His lips twitched, and he seemed to compress his frame, as if to bear better. His usual habit was not to consider whether destiny were hard upon him or not—the shape of his ideals in cases of affliction being simply a moody “I am to suffer, I perceive.” “This much scourging, then, it is for me.” But now through his passionate head there stormed this thought—that the blasting disclosure was what he had deserved." (Chapter 19)

Hardy's diction in this passage from Chapter 19 takes Henchard's abstract emotions and uses concrete diction to attempt to explain his discomfort and shock upon discovering that Elizabeth-Jane is not his daughter. The concrete diction creates a tense mood with the description of his lip twitching, and it mirrors Henchard's increasingly unnerved mental state. The reader then sees his realization that he is "to suffer", and these panicked and self-deprecating emotions, expressed with the concept of "scourging", are what he deserves. Further, we can see additional concrete diction with the term "stormed" to describe Henchard's accelerated train of thought that ultimately leaves him discouraged.

Flashback

A flashback is a literary device that is a narrative or scene that represents events that happened before the time of the action taking place. They can be communicated as memories, dreams, or confessions by characters.

A hundred times she had been upon the point of telling her daughter Elizabeth-Jane the true story of her life, the tragical crisis of which had been the transaction at Weydon Fair, when she was not much older than the girl now beside her. But she had refrained." (Chapter 4)

In Chapter 4 Hardy uses a flashback to express Susan's internal motivations. This literary device allows the narration to continue uninterrupted, but still reveals crucial details to propel the narrative forward. The reader simultaneously understands Susan's motives for keeping her past a secret and can sympathize with her.

Visual Imagery

Imagery is vivid description that appeals to any of the five senses. Visual imagery appeals to the reader's sense of sight and is usually laden with details expressing color, shape, size, and evokes a mental image.

Elizabeth-Jane now entered, and stood before the master of the premises. His dark pupils—which always seemed to have a red spark of light in them, though this could hardly be a physical fact—turned indifferently round under his dark brows until they rested on her figure." (Chapter 10)

Henchard is dark, intense, and evil here. These images support his core character traits and reveal his current mental status.

The Mayor of Casterbridge Analysis

The Mayor of Casterbridge is perhaps one of Thomas Hardy's more unified works. This is a vast feat, considering his writing, including the Mayor of Casterbridge, were often serialized and created in sections for consumption by the masses. Take a look at some of the symbols in The Mayor of Casterbridge for closer analysis.

The Caged Goldfinch in The Mayor of Casterbridge

Perhaps one of the strongest symbols in the novel is the goldfinch Henchard takes to Elizabeth-Jane on her wedding day at the end of the novel. The finch is housed in a literal cage, set aside, and forgotten. It is found days later, dead, having starved. It is a representation of Henchard himself, who is forgotten and cast aside at the end of the tale. Like the finch, he suffers in seclusion and is in a figurative prison of his own making. Also like the caged bird, he starves to death, lacking the things which he most needed: food, love, and respect.

The Color Red in The Mayor of Casterbridge

The color red is used over and over again by Hardy to describe Michael Henchard. His eyes have "spark" of red (Chapter 10), and even his home, one of the best in town, was a "dull red" (Chapter 9). Red, a color traditionally associated with passion, anger, and shame, is intrinsically connected to Henchard throughout the novel. Signifying his inability to control his emotions, his impulsive fits of rage, and the shame he carries from his past, the color red is repeatedly painted on his face for all to see.

The Ring in The Mayor of Casterbridge

The ring in Casterbridge is an amphitheater that sits just outside of town. It is the area where Henchard is reunited with Susan, his wife whom he sold years ago. It is the location where he is to meet Lucetta, the woman he vowed to marry. The ring's shape is a symbol itself of an everlasting loop, and for a husband and wife, it's an unbreakable bond. The ring is representative of a cycle, and in this case, a cycle with two women Henchard has wronged. His cycle continues on in the story as he again wrongs another woman, Elizabeth-Jane, through his treatment of her and with his lie to Richard Newson. Henchard is unable to break his cycle of mistreatment of women, and he repeats his past mistakes by robbing women of their sovereignty over their own lives and choices. Henchard is forever stuck in a loop, which he can only escape in death.

The Mayor of Casterbridge Theme

The overarching theme in The Mayor of Casterbridge is the naturalist philosophy that humankind is a pawn in life and cannot escape the pulls of heredity, environment, and base instinct. The protagonist, Michael Henchard, is a man of humble beginnings who makes a catastrophic and impulsive decision based on his situation. This decision, no matter how successful he becomes in life, is the deciding factor and an influence on the rest of his decisions and leads to his demise.

His initial act, to sell his wife and child, is based on impulse, anger, and irritation. The more he tries to atone for his past wrong-doings, the further into despair he falls. Henchard is the epitome of a tragic character. His tragic flaw is his temper that plagues his relationships and pushes those who he cared for, and who may have cared for him, away. He dies in isolation.

A tragic flaw is a literary device that represents a character's dominant trait that causes their demise from which they cannot escape. Can you think of any other tragic flaws in Victorian literature?

The Mayor of Casterbridge - Key takeaways

  • The Mayor of Casterbridge is a novel written by Naturalist author Thomas Hardy.
  • It is an example of psychological fiction that uses realism to present an authentic depiction of characters and events.
  • The overarching theme in The Mayor of Casterbridge is the naturalist philosophy that humankind is a pawn in life and cannot escape the pulls of heredity, environment, and base instinct.
  • Hardy employs several key literary devices, including diction, flashback, and visual imagery to clearly depict the events, help readers visualize the story, and communicate key traits of the characters.
  • Thomas Hardy used his life experience growing up in Dorchester to inform his portrayal of Casterbridge.

References

  1. Lawrence Jones. “‘A Good Hand at Serial’: Thomas Hardy and the Serialization of ‘Far From the Madding Crowd.’” Studies in the Novel, 1978.

Frequently Asked Questions about The Mayor of Casterbridge

The Mayor of Casterbridge is about the protagonist Michael Henchard and his inability to escape his past wrongdoings or control his anger and basic emotions. 

The name of the Mayor of Casterbridge is Michael Henchard.

The overall tone of The Mayor of Casterbridge is tragic and histrionic. 

The Mayor of Casterbridge was written by Thomas Hardy. 

Thomas Hardy wrote The Mayor of Casterbridge to explore what makes a man of character, as indicated in his subtitle. 

Join over 22 million students in learning with our StudySmarter App

The first learning app that truly has everything you need to ace your exams in one place

  • Flashcards & Quizzes
  • AI Study Assistant
  • Study Planner
  • Mock-Exams
  • Smart Note-Taking
Join over 22 million students in learning with our StudySmarter App Join over 22 million students in learning with our StudySmarter App

Sign up to highlight and take notes. It’s 100% free.

Start learning with StudySmarter, the only learning app you need.

Sign up now for free
Illustration

Entdecke Lernmaterial in der StudySmarter-App