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The Mayor of Casterbridge

Thomas Hardy

Chapters XLIII–XLV

Chapters XXXIX–XLII

Important Quotations Explained

. . . that no flours be planted on my grave.
& that no man remember me.
To this I put my name.

(See Important Quotations Explained)

Summary: Chapter XLIII

Henchard continues to worry about what will become of him if Elizabeth-Jane marries. One day, while spying the spot where Elizabeth-Jane and Farfrae normally meet, he sees Newson through his telescope. When Elizabeth-Jane comes home, she has not yet met Newson, but she tells Henchard that she has received a letter from someone asking her to meet him that night at Farfrae’s house. Much to her chagrin, Henchard tells her that he has decided to leave Casterbridge that very evening. Elizabeth-Jane believes that he is leaving because he disapproves of her impending marriage to Farfrae, but he assures her that such is not the case. Alone, Henchard departs town. He compares his fate to that of the biblical figure Cain but declares, “[M]y punishment is not greater than I can bear!”

That evening, at Farfrae’s house, Elizabeth-Jane meets Newson and immediately understands the reason for Henchard’s sudden departure. She is overjoyed at her reunion with the father she had believed dead, but she is upset when she learns of Henchard’s deception. Newson and Farfrae begin to plan the wedding.

Summary: Chapter XLIV

Meanwhile, Henchard makes his way through the countryside and eventually arrives at Weydon-Priors, the very spot where he sold his wife more than twenty-five years earlier. He reflects briefly upon those past events and then goes on, settling in a spot some fifty miles from Casterbridge and finding employment as a hay-trusser. One day, he speaks to some travelers who have come from Casterbridge and learns that the wedding between Farfrae and Elizabeth-Jane is to take place on St. Martin’s Day. He decides to go to Casterbridge for the wedding and sets off on his journey. On the night before the wedding, he stops in a nearby town and buys some proper clothes and a caged goldfinch as a present for Elizabeth-Jane.

When Henchard arrives at Farfrae’s house in Casterbridge, the celebration is already underway. As he enters, he leaves the caged bird under a bush near the back of the house. He watches the dancing unseen, until Elizabeth-Jane’s housekeeper informs her that she has a visitor. She comes in to see him and reprimands him for deceiving her about Newson. So coldly received, he decides to leave and promises never to trouble her again.

Summary: Chapter XLV

Several days after the wedding, Elizabeth-Jane discovers the birdcage with a bird—now dead from starvation—inside, and she wonders how it got there. About a month later, after speaking to one of her servants, Elizabeth-Jane figures that Henchard must have brought it as a gift, and she begins to regret the way she treated him. When Farfrae comes home, she asks him to help her find Henchard so that she can make her peace with him. They track Henchard to the cottage of Abel Whittle, who tells them that the man has just died. He gives them a piece of paper that Henchard left, which turns out to be his will. The will stipulates that Elizabeth-Jane not be told about his death, that he not be buried in consecrated ground, that no one mourn for him, and that no one remember him. Elizabeth-Jane regrets her harsh treatment of Henchard the last time they met, and she determines to carry out his dying wishes as best she can.

And in being forced to class herself among the fortunate she did not cease to wonder at the persistence of the unforeseen. . . .

(See Important Quotations Explained)

Analysis: Chapters XLIII–XLV

In these final chapters, Michael Henchard succumbs to the defeat he has courted throughout the novel. The plot of The Mayor of Casterbridge is essentially a series of incidents in which Henchard tries again and again to expunge the guilt he feels for his shameful behavior at the fair at Weydon-Priors. The depth of Henchard’s guilt is apparent in many of his actions and emotions: his desperate need to divulge his secret to Farfrae, his determination to remarry a woman he never loved, his willingness to care for Elizabeth-Jane even after he learns that she is not his daughter. Above all, the burden that Henchard bears for his guilt manifests itself in his acceptance of the forces that seem bent upon his destruction.

There is an element of self-destructiveness in Henchard’s character. For example, Henchard could have easily denied the accusations of the furmity-woman in the courtroom and spared himself from insult and injury. His willingness to suffer is an important thread in the fabric of his character. His sense of what is right trumps his desire for comfort and makes it impossible for him to live a life he is convinced he has not earned. Henchard believes that he must suffer, as though misery were a means of becoming worthy of such love and comfort. As he leaves Casterbridge, having alienated Elizabeth-Jane and therefore destroyed his last hope of happiness, Henchard compares himself to Cain, the son of Adam and Eve whom God, according to the Bible, condemned to a lifetime of suffering for killing his brother, Abel. His resolute exclamation that, unlike Cain, he can bear his punishment reflects his willingness to do so.

It is through defeat that Henchard becomes a man of true character. His willingness to bear the brunt of his suffering and his continual refusal to foist his misery on others and resist suicide mark him as a hero. Indeed, in many respects, Henchard conforms to the tradition of the tragic hero, a character whose greatest qualities or actions ultimately lead to his or her downfall. In the novel’s last chapters, Henchard’s determination to spare Elizabeth-Jane any sorrow elevates him into this admirable realm. As he faces a lonely death in a humble cottage, his resolve lies in his desire not to burden any further a world that seems so bent on human suffering. The tragic irony of Henchard’s story is that leaving Elizabeth-Jane to live her life in peace is his greatest and most selfless act, proof that he is a man of worthy name and reputation. Instead, the novel ends with the promise of his obscurity. There is no greater punishment for a man whose every struggle has been to secure his public standing than the dictum that he be forgotten; in keeping with his character, Henchard has already embraced this punishment.

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Characters

by atleastimnotaprincess, March 23, 2013

All of the characters (besides the troubled Henchard) are almost completely shallow and almost petty. Isn't it odd how Frafaer had no difficulty getting back together with Elizabeth-Jane after he hurt her so terribly by going for Lucetta? And how Lucetta practically refuses to own up to her own actions by claiming it was a misfortune she fell into? Although it is almost annoying how Henchard never learns from his mistakes, he truly does seem like the only "deep" character in this book.

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3 out of 4 people found this helpful

Confused.

by aimalfarooq, September 02, 2013

I didn't like most of the characters, but that does not imply that I disliked the book. The book was fantastic and the story was gripping. I was initially fond of Farfrae, but then I grew to dislike him. I despised Lucetta since the first time she was described, and my hatred kept increasing as the story progressed. Elizabeth-Jane was the only character I liked; whereas, my feelings towards Michael Henchard were those of confusion. I disliked him at times. Other times, I felt pangs of sympathy towards him, and anger towards how others treate

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