Mayor of Casterbridge

During my school and college days, Thomas Hardy has been one of my favorite authors. I liked all the books written by him and read all of them more than a dozen times. But the most favorite of his books has been The Mayor of Casterbridge—I must have read it more than 30 times.

About Thomas Hardy

Thomas Hardy wrote poetry and novels, though the first part of his career was devoted to the novel. At first he published anonymously, but when people became interested in his works, he began to use his own name. Like Dickens, Hardy’s novels were published in serial forms in magazines that were popular in both England and America.

His first popular novel was Under the Greenwood Tree, published in 1872. The next great novel, Far from the Madding Crowd (1874) was very popular. In addition to these larger works, Hardy published three collections of short stories and five smaller novels, all moderately successful. Before his death, he had written over 800 poems, many of them published while he was in his eighties.

About The Mayor of Casterbridge

The story is about Michael Henchard, a hay-trusser, traveling in look out for a job. He is accompanied by his wife Susan and their little daughter, Elizabeth-Jane. He finds it difficult to find employment or housing in the village. Discouraged, Michael takes liquor and becomes drunk. He believes that his marriage at a young age ruined all his chances for success. Michael hears an auction of horses, and in his drunken state he offers to sell his wife and daughter to the highest bidder.

Most of the people treat the auction as a joke, but soon a sailor offers to buy Susan and Elizabeth-Jane for five guineas, but first he makes sure that Susan is willing to go with him. Susan tries to reason with her husband, but he does not listen. She is so disgusted with Michael’s behavior that she is ready to leave with the sailor. After the auction Susan along with her daughter leaves with the sailor—after hurling her wedding-ring at Michael.

Michael wakes up—the wedding ring and the money brings the events of the evening back to him. He realizes that he was to blame for his actions, but also blames Susan for taking things too seriously. Since his excessive drinking caused the whole situation, Michael makes an oath that he will abstain from all liquor for 21 years and he sets out to search for his wife and daughter. Soon he learns that 3 people matching their descriptions have emigrated. Michael gives up the search and goes to the town of Casterbridge where he lives the life of a gentleman. He slowly becomes influential as a prosperous merchant and also becomes the mayor.

Eighteen years later, Susan and Elizabeth-Jane return in search for Michael. Elizabeth-Jane believes that Michael is a relative. Susan seeks Michael because she believes that he can help them now that the sailor (Newson) is no more. Susan comes to know that Michael is the Mayor of Casterbridge. After this part, the story talks about the ups and downs of Michael’s business and how he deals with the issues. It also talks about him courting Susan. They agree that Elizabeth-Jane must not know the truth of their relationship. Michael finally lives up to his promise, making amends to Susan by marrying her.

Susan and Elizabeth-Jane settle into their new household happily. Elizabeth-Jane flourishes in her new environment. However, her change in status and style of living does not change her mindset. Michael now longs for a deeper connection to his daughter. He wants her to take the name Henchard. Susan is hesitant, but agrees to the change if Elizabeth-Jane is ready to accept it. Susan falls sick and grows weaker by the day. She writes a letter and addresses it to Michael Henchard with a note, “Not to be opened till Elizabeth-Jane’s wedding day’’ which she locks the letter in her desk. One Sunday morning Susan dies.

A few days after Susan’s funeral, Michael and Elizabeth-Jane speak of the old times. Elizabeth-Jane repeatedly refers to Newson as her father which annoys Michael. He confesses that he is her real father, and tells her of their first marriage. Michael now asks Elizabeth-Jane if she is willing to change her last name to Henchard, to which she agrees. As Michael goes thought Susan’s desk for some papers, he comes across the letter that Susan wrote on her deathbed. The letter was not sealed very well, and as a result, the letter was already opened. So Michael reads it.

To know what happens after this, you should read this book.

Writing Style

Thomas Hardy has a way with words. You can experience Michael’s pain when he realises what he had done when he was drunk, you feel his frustrations when he hears the jibes of the townspeople and the councilmen. You love Michael for he tries to fight back against fate, makes amends for his mistakes. All these are the magic of Hardy’s words.

In all his book, Thomas Hardy has described the surroundings and happenings so well that you can actually visualize the story well as you read the novel and it is etched in your memory for ever. Also, what is visualize is almost identical to what some else visualized the scene.

 Another thing you note as you read the book is that the setting reflects the emotions of the characters. For example, in the beginning, when Michael is traveling in look out for a job, the road is surrounded by clouds of dirt and the trees are in a rotting condition.

Though the novels are slow paced because of the descriptions of the nature and the surrounding, Hardy keeps you engaged and makes you eager to see how the story will unfold. He introduces elements of suspense as he writes.

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