The Mayor of Casterbridge

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

In a drunken fit, Michael Henchard sells his wife and child to a sailor. Twenty years later, a superficially changed Henchard has risen to be Mayor of Casterbridge. His wife arrives in town, bringing along a girl, Elizabeth-Jane, whom Henchard assumes to be his daughter. They remarry, though they keep their past a secret. A farming crisis causes Henchard to hire Donald Farfrae to manage the town’s grain trade. The two men become rivals, and a series of chance mishaps and impetuous decisions cause Henchard’s fortunes to wane while Farfrae’s rise. When Henchard’s wife dies, he tells his daughter he is her father. An old lover of Henchard’s returns to town, but Farfrae wins her.

Henchard finally is forced to work for Farfrae, who becomes Mayor. The sailor who bought Henchard’s family returns looking for his wife and daughter; Henchard must tell the girl that she is not his offspring. In disgrace, he leaves town. When Farfrae’s wife dies, he marries Henchard’s step-daughter. Henchard dies a bitter exile from his community.

Henchard is a man apparently beaten by circumstance (failed corn crops, letters found too late, coincidental appearances of figures from his past). His strong passion, however, causes him to be blind to his own weaknesses.

Hardy’s main concern is to explore the nature of tragedy and the tragic hero. Elements of Classical, Renaissance, and Romantic drama are all woven into the work. The novel relies...

(The entire section is 575 words.)