What is a summary of The Mayor Casterbridge?

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The Mayor of Casterbridge offers an insight into the wayward life of its protagonist, Michael Henchard. The fictional city of Casterbridge provides a picture of Dorchester in the 19th century. In a moment clouded by drunken stupor, Michael puts up his wife Susan and his baby for auction at a fair. A passing sailor "buys" Susan and they subsequently live as husband and wife. Wife-selling was a recognized practice in 19th century Britain before marriage laws were reformed in 1857, to make divorce more accessible. The novel reads against the backdrop of this socio-legal landscape.

When the horror of his deeds strikes him, Michael decides to redeem himself. He rises up the social, political and economic echelons to become the mayor of Casterbridge. Caught in the coils of his flawed and vengeful nature, he eventually loses his wealth and social position. He is compelled to work as a lowly employee for Farfrae, his young protégé, who dominates the corn trade and becomes the new mayor of Casterbridge.

In the Mayor of Casterbridge, Thomas Hardy tells the extraordinary story of a tragic hero and his fall from grace.

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This novel is, in its essence, a story about one central character and the various vicissitudes that befall him in his life. Michael Henchard is this character, and we follow his life from his first drunken act of selling his wife and their daughter to a sailor. The majority of the novel occurs abotu twenty years after this youthful indiscretion, when this sailor is lost at sea and Henchard's original wife and daughter re-find Michael and enter his life once more. In the interim, Henchard has become a successful businessman and the mayor of Casterbridge. However, this success is only shown to be temporary, as the arrival of Donald Farfrae, who becomes Henchard's business manager, shows. Farfrae favours a very different methodology of doing business, which stands in complete contrast to Henchard's reliance on traditional methods. It is a curious combination of bad luck and Henchard's own character failings that result in his fall from grace and power, as Farfrae replaces him in power and stature, and, to add insult to injury, courts Elizabeth-Jane, Henchard's daughter. At the end of the novel, Henchard loses everything, even the affection of Elizabeth-Jane, who, in a cruel twist of fate is shown not to be his daughter after all. He dies alone and poor.

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