Places Discussed

(Critical Guide to Settings and Places in Literature)


Casterbridge. Bustling market town in Hardy’s fictional Wessex countryside in southern England. Its origins date back to Roman times, and several of its features remain from that era: a Roman amphitheater, a graveyard, and the straight roads connecting Casterbridge with adjacent towns. Hardy describes Casterbridge from two opposite perspectives. On one hand, from Yalbury Hill a mile away, it appears a well-defined urban community, set square in rolling, open countryside, sharply divided from the country by a wall, tree-lined avenues, and a river. On the other hand, from a worm’s-eye view, it seems to be a sprawling, confusing set of streets in which boundaries are constantly eroded. Market stalls cover sidewalks; carts jostle for right-of-way; smart private residences abut commercial premises. Secret back alleys lead to houses and pubs.

This double perspective of the town symbolizes the ambiguity of protagonist Michael Henchard’s own rise and fall. From one perspective his downfall seems to be brought about by a cruel but clear-cut fate; from another, by the muddle of his own character and choices. The tensions created by these opposite perspectives create the power of the novel.

Recurring geographical features of the town include High Street; St. Peter’s Church; the market house; the town hall, in which magistrates preside over the police court; two inns, the Mariner’s Arms and the King’s Arms Hotel; and the Bull Stake, an open area. The buildings are typically either timber houses with overhanging stories dating from Tudor times, or stone Georgian structures. Stores serve a variety of agricultural needs. The houses have no front yards, opening straight onto sidewalks, though they often have long rear courtyards and gardens.

Casterbridge corresponds to the real Dorchester in the county of Dorset in southwestern England. Hardy knew the town intimately, for it was there he received his...

(The entire section is 804 words.)

Historical Context

(Novels for Students)

Victorian England
The Victorian age began in 1837, when eighteen- year-old Queen Victoria ascended to the British...

(The entire section is 552 words.)

Literary Style

(Novels for Students)

Victorian Literature
It was during the Victorian period (1837– 1901) that the novel became the dominant literary...

(The entire section is 1241 words.)

Literary Techniques

(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

Although he was trained as an architect, Hardy's special strength as a novelist does not lie with technical innovation. Unlike his American...

(The entire section is 820 words.)

Ideas for Group Discussions

(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

The Mayor of Casterbridge is bound to raise stimulating discussions of fate and free will, and such conversations might lead...

(The entire section is 285 words.)

Social Concerns

(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

The Major of Casterbridge opens with a brilliant and ominous scene that sets forth many key social concerns of this novel of colliding...

(The entire section is 2449 words.)

Compare and Contrast

(Novels for Students)

Late Nineteenth Century: The price of English grain is falling due to competition from overseas farmers. Better...

(The entire section is 297 words.)

Topics for Further Study

(Novels for Students)

Hardy originally subtitled The Mayor of Casterbridge “A Story of a Man of Character.” What is meant by the phrase “a man of...

(The entire section is 327 words.)

Literary Precedents

(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

The Mayor of Casterbridge has many affinities with the serialized novels that were so very popular in Victorian England. An equally...

(The entire section is 394 words.)

Media Adaptations

(Novels for Students)

Unabridged audio versions of The Mayor of Casterbridge have been published by Books on Tape, Inc. (1983), Chivers Audio Books (1991),...

(The entire section is 122 words.)

What Do I Read Next?

(Novels for Students)

Hardy’s Far from the Madding Crowd was published serially in 1874 and is ranked as a Victorian classic. It is the story of a woman farmer and her three suitors. Author Virginia Woolf commented that this book “must hold its place among the great English novels.” It has the distinction of being Hardy’s only novel to offer readers a happy ending.

Hardy’s Tess of the D’Urbervilles was published in 1891 and has always been one of his most popular novels. It tells the tragic story of Tess, a young farm worker on the estate of the wealthy D’Urbervilles. Working to support her drunken father...

(The entire section is 383 words.)

Bibliography and Further Reading

(Novels for Students)

Alden, H. M., Review of The Mayor of Casterbridge, in Harper’s New Monthly Magazine,...

(The entire section is 254 words.)


(Great Characters in Literature)

Berger, Sheila. Thomas Hardy and Visual Structures: Framing, Disruption, Process. New York: New York University Press, 1991. Berger takes a look at the narrative style in Hardy’s novels, focusing on acts of storytelling, subjective points of view, and the construction of the “omniscient” narrator.

Enstice, Andrew. Thomas Hardy: Landscapes of the Mind. London: Macmillan, 1979. A good historical analysis of the novel, in which Enstice uses a thorough discussion of nineteenth century Dorset and its economic circumstances to interpret Hardy’s rendition of Casterbridge’s history and society in The Mayor of...

(The entire section is 253 words.)