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Susan meets Henchard in the Ring, “one of the finest Roman Amphitheatres, if not the very finest, remaining in Britain.” Henchard’s first words to Susan are to assure her that he no longer drinks. He asks why she has not returned before now, and she replies that, since she believed the terms of her sale to be binding, she felt unable to leave Newson until his death. They agree that it is impossible for them to begin living together as though they were still married because of Henchard’s estimable position in the town, as well as Elizabeth-Jane’s ignorance of their dishonorable past. Henchard insists that they proceed with caution and devises a plan: Susan will take a cottage in town as the Widow Newson and allow Henchard to court and marry her, thereby restoring both their marriage and his role as Elizabeth-Jane’s father without revealing their past.
When Henchard returns home, he encounters Farfrae still at work. He asks Farfrae to leave off working and join him for supper. As the two men eat, Henchard confides in Farfrae about his present situation. He discloses his relationship with Susan, and Farfrae replies that the only solution is to make amends by living with her as husband and wife. Henchard reveals that he has become involved with another woman in Jersey, where he once traveled on business. He adds that their affair caused quite a scandal in Jersey, for which the woman suffered greatly. To make amends, Henchard proposed to her, on the condition that she run the risk of his first wife being alive. The woman accepted, but now that Susan has returned he regrets that he will have to disappoint the woman in Jersey. Farfrae assures him that the situation cannot be helped and offers to help Henchard write a letter breaking off relations with the Jersey woman.
Susan gets established in a cottage in the town, and Henchard begins to visit her “with business-like determination.” Rumors go around the town concerning the two of them, and a wedding soon follows.
After Susan and Elizabeth-Jane move in with Henchard, Elizabeth-Jane enjoys a peace of mind that makes her more beautiful. One day, Henchard comments that it is odd that Elizabeth-Jane’s hair has lightened since she was a baby. Susan, with “an uneasy expression” on her face, assures him that nothing is amiss. Henchard says he wants to have Elizabeth-Jane’s surname legally changed from Newson to Henchard, since she is actually his daughter. Susan proposes the change to Elizabeth-Jane, who, though reluctant, says she will consider it. When, later that day, Elizabeth-Jane asks Henchard if he wishes the change very much, Henchard says it is her decision. The matter is dropped, and Elizabeth-Jane remains Miss Newson.
Meanwhile, Henchard’s corn and hay business thrives under Farfrae’s management, and the two men become good friends. Elizabeth-Jane notices that, when she and Susan are out walking, Farfrae often looks at them “with a curious interest.” One day, Elizabeth-Jane receives a note asking her to come to a granary on a farm at which Henchard has been doing business. Thinking it has something to do with Henchard’s business, Elizabeth-Jane goes to the farm but finds no one there. Eventually, Farfrae arrives. When he reveals a note similar to Elizabeth-Jane’s, they discover that neither of them wrote to the other. Farfrae theorizes that someone who wished to see them both must have been penned the notes, and so they wait a little longer. They eventually decide that this individual is not coming, and they go home.
As the Industrial Revolution swept through the English countryside, Hardy witnessed dramatic changes. Isolated agricultural towns like Hardy’s native Dorchester, which serves as a model for the fictional Casterbridge, were immutably changed by advances in science and technology. Thus, Hardy’s observations of the town’s unique topography and customs—the thatched-roof cottages, the Ring, the skimmington ride described in Chapter XXXIX—become a means of preserving a dying culture. Hardy’s description of the Ring also serves a thematic purpose, in which the history of the arena supports and confirms the novel’s undeniably bleak worldview of the inevitability of human suffering. Having served as a gallows for gruesome public executions, as well as the site of countless “pugilistic encounters,” the Ring casts a foreboding shadow over Henchard’s meeting with his former wife. But the Ring also stands as a remnant of a culture that no longer exists, which, perhaps, foreshadows Casterbridge’s imminent move forward into a more technological future.
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