The Mayor of Casterbridge is a classic novel written by Thomas Hardy. The novel was first published in 886 under the complete title The Mayor of Casterbridge: The Life and Death of a Man of Character.
It is considered as one of the best novels written by Hardy and is particularly recognized for the complex manner in which the character of the protagonist Michael Henchard has been crafted by him.
The Mayor of Casterbridge: Summary of the Novel
The novel is set up in the fictional town of Casterbridge, a place that is deeply influenced by the town in which Hardy spent his childhood. The story opens with a dramatic scene where Henchard, the protagonist of the novel is a young man of 21 years. He is traveling with his wife Susan and infant daughter Elizabeth- Jane at night when he comes across a cheap country tavern and sells them for 5 guineas to a sailor. The next morning he wakes up with repentance and decides not to touch alcohol for the next 21 years.
The novel moves 18 years in time to the day when the sailor dies. Susan takes Elizabeth-Jane to look for Henchard and tells her that he is a relative of them. She gets to know that he is now the mayor of Casterbridge. When she reaches Casterbridge, she stays at an in with her daughter where they find a man named Donald Farfrae.
Both Elizabeth-Jane and Henchard are intrigued by him. Henchard seeks to make him a manager for his corn business because of his knowledge about the advanced technology that can help him in his business. He succeeds in doing so. On the other hand, Elizabeth-Jane takes a note from her mother to Henchard telling him that she is in Casterbridge.
They meet and decide that Henchard will woo Susan and marry her in order to legitimate their relationship and also to keep the fact that he is her real father concealed from Elizabeth-Jane.
To save his reputation, Henchard commands Farfrae to stop courting his daughter and marries Susan. However, Susan soon falls ill and tells Henchard in a letter that Elizabeth-Jane is not his daughter but that of the sailor. This annoys Henchard and he starts to misbehave with her.
Troubled by her father, Elizabeth-Jane starts living with a woman named Luchetta who has arrived in Casterbridge. Luchetta and Henchard were once involved in a romance when Susan was absent and had come to marry Henchard after knowing that his first wife is dead.
When Henchard gets to know that Elizabeth-Jane is not his daughter, he allows Farfrae to see her. One day he goes to Luchetta’s house to meet her but instead got along with Luchetta.
They get married in a secret ceremony soon. Luchetta tells Henchard about her marriage when he proposes to her again and demands that he sends her letters back. While the new manager of Henchard is taking the letters to her, a drunk mob of people in a tavern open those letters and make fun of Luchetta. She sees this and dies of remorse.
Meanwhile, Farfrae was able to start a new business and due to his innovative nature, he was able to do good. The hate of Henchard for him continued to grow, but he finds himself to Elizabeth-Jane now. She starts to live with him and also spend time with Farfrae. One day the sailor arrives asking for Elizabeth-Jane. Henchard tells him that she has died and he leaves. But, soon he returns again and instead of seeing him, Henchard decides to run away.
Elizabeth-Jane meets the sailor and he tells him about his last visit. She is heartbroken but unites with the sailor. Farfrae and Elizabeth-Jane decide to get married, but on the day of their wedding, Henchard arrives in Casterbridge. When Elizabeth-Jane sees him, she behaves coldly with him.
Sad, Henchard leaves Casterbridge again. However, Elizabeth-Jane soon feels bad for her behaviour and sets off to look for Henchard with her husband Farfrae. Unfortunately, they find him dead in the countryside. He had his will with him in which he had written that his last wish is that he is forgotten.
Important characters in The Mayor of Casterbridge
The major characters in the novel are:
Michael Henchard: The protagonist of the story and the mayor of Casterbridge.
Elizabeth-Jane: The daughter of Henchard, who later finds out that she is the daughter of Nelson.
Donald Farfrae: The major business rival of Henchard and the man whom he hated throughout.
Luchetta: The woman who is involved in a romantic affair with Henchard in his wife’s absence.
Nelson: The sailor who buys Susan and Elizabeth-Jane.
Susan: The wife of Henchard.
The Mayor of Casterbridge is a novel with an intricate plot and multiple themes interwoven into each other. Like most of the novels of Thomas Hardy, his masterpiece is also a narrative that is controlled by fate. Through the character of Henchard, Hardy projects the idea that fate is usually brutal and coincident is what dictates the life of people.
Henchard is a very complex character who always tries to keep his focus on portraying a good image for himself. However, his fate repeatedly takes him to his dark past and he is forced to give up to the will of destiny. However, Hardy provides relief through the character of Farfrae, who is everything that Henchard is not. He is able to take control over his life by maintaining a calm and rational attitude and has managed to take control of his life, instead of relying on fate.
The theme of industrialization and modernization is also a theme that has occurred many times in the novel. The advanced technical hand of Farfrae allows him to do well in business. However, Henchard is a man who is very reluctant to innovation and change. As a result, he suffers not only in his personal life but also in his business.
The Mayor of Casterbridge Film
In 2003, a cinematic adaptation of the novel was released. It was a British film that was based on the novel by Thomas Hardy. It has an IMDb rating of 7.8.