Study Guide

The Mayor of Casterbridge

by Thomas Hardy

The Mayor of Casterbridge Summary

Summary (Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

On a late summer afternoon in the early nineteenth century, a young farm couple with their baby arrives on foot at the village of Weydon-Priors. A fair is in progress. The couple, tired and dusty, enters a refreshment tent where the husband proceeds to get so drunk that he offers his wife and child for sale. A sailor, a stranger in the village, buys the wife, Susan, and the child, Elizabeth-Jane, for five guineas. The young woman tears off her wedding ring and throws it in her drunken husband’s face; then, carrying her child, she follows the sailor out of the tent.

When he awakes sober the next morning, Michael Henchard, the young farmer, realizes what he has done. After taking an oath not to touch liquor for twenty years, he searches many months for his wife and child. In a western seaport, he is told that three persons answering his description emigrated a short time before. He gives up his search and wanders on until he comes to the town of Casterbridge. There, he decides to seek his fortune.

The sailor, Richard Newson, convinces Susan Henchard that she has no moral obligations to the husband who sold her and her child. He marries her and moves with his new family to Canada. Later, they return to England. Eventually, Susan learns that her marriage to Newson is illegal, but before she can remedy the situation Newson is lost at sea. Susan and her attractive eighteen-year-old daughter, Elizabeth-Jane, return to Weydon-Priors. There, they hear that Henchard has gone to Casterbridge.

Henchard has become a prosperous grain merchant and the mayor of Casterbridge. When Susan and her daughter arrive in the town, they hear that Henchard has sold some bad grain to bakers and that restitution is expected. Donald Farfrae, a young Scots corn expert who is passing through Casterbridge, hears of Henchard’s predicament and tells him a method for partially restoring the grain. Farfrae so impresses Henchard and the people of the town that they prevail on him to remain. Farfrae becomes Henchard’s manager.

When Susan and Henchard meet, they decide that Susan and Elizabeth-Jane should take lodgings and that Henchard will begin to pay court to Susan. Henchard admits to young Farfrae that he has been philandering with a young woman from Jersey named Lucetta le Sueur. He asks Farfrae to meet Lucetta and prevent her from coming to Casterbridge.

Henchard and Susan are married. Elizabeth-Jane develops into a beautiful young woman for whom Donald Farfrae feels a growing attraction. Henchard wants Elizabeth-Jane to take his name, but Susan refuses his request, much to his mystification. He notices that Elizabeth-Jane does not possess any of his personal traits.

Henchard and Farfrae fall out over Henchard’s harsh treatment of a simpleminded employee. Farfrae has surpassed Henchard in popularity in Casterbridge. The break between the two men becomes complete when a country dance sponsored by Farfrae draws all the town’s populace, leaving Henchard’s competing dance unattended. Anticipating his dismissal, Farfrae sets up his own establishment but refuses to take any of Henchard’s business away from him. Henchard refuses to allow Elizabeth-Jane and Farfrae to see each other.

Henchard receives a letter from Lucetta saying she plans to pass through Casterbridge to pick up her love letters. When...

(The entire section is 1373 words.)

The Mayor of Casterbridge Summary

Chapters 1 - 2 Summary

As the novel opens, Michael Henchard and his wife, Susan, are walking toward a village in Wessex in southwestern England. Susan is carrying...

(The entire section is 249 words.)

Chapters 3 - 4 Summary

About eighteen years have passed. Susan and the sailor, Newson, lived for about twelve years in Canada and then returned to England. Susan's...

(The entire section is 247 words.)

Chapters 5 - 8 Summary

As Susan and Elizabeth-Jane arrive in Casterbridge, a crowd is gathered in front of a hotel where a fancy dinner is being held. The windows...

(The entire section is 351 words.)

Chapters 9 - 12 Summary

The next morning, Susan sends Elizabeth-Jane to Henchard's house with a note asking him to meet her. When Elizabeth-Jane arrives, she is...

(The entire section is 278 words.)

Chapters 13 - 16 Summary

Henchard provides a house and servant for Susan and Elizabeth-Jane and begins courting Susan. They are married in November of the same year....

(The entire section is 173 words.)

Chapters 17 - 20 Summary

Farfrae hints to Elizabeth-Jane that he would marry her if he had more money. He then goes into business for himself but makes a point not to...

(The entire section is 212 words.)

Chapters 21 - 26 Summary

Elizabeth-Jane asks Henchard's permission to take the companion position she has been offered, and Henchard is relieved to see her go. He is...

(The entire section is 225 words.)

Chapters 27 - 30 Summary

Henchard forces Lucetta to agree to marry him by threatening to reveal their past affair if she will not.

Henchard, though no...

(The entire section is 144 words.)

Chapters 31 - 37 Summary

Because of the revelation about his past and coincidental business losses, Henchard is ruined. He declares bankruptcy and moves to a cottage...

(The entire section is 181 words.)

Chapters 38 - 41 Summary

Henchard challenges the smaller, frailer Farfrae to a wrestling match to the death, but, when he is in a position to kill Farfrae, Henchard...

(The entire section is 115 words.)

Chapters 42 - 45 Summary

About a year later, Henchard and Elizabeth-Jane are running a small shop and making a living. Farfrae and Elizabeth-Jane begin spending time...

(The entire section is 211 words.)