[T]hey laid a slippery pole, with a live pig . . . tied at the other end, to become the property of the man who could walk over and get it.
Henchard and Farfrae have a quarrel over the treatment of Abel Whittle, a man who is consistently late for his job in Henchard’s hay-yard. When Whittle is late for work the day after Henchard reprimands him for his tardiness, Henchard goes to his house, drags him out of bed, and sends him to work without his breeches. When Farfrae sees Whittle, who claims that he will later kill himself rather than bear this humiliation, he tells him to go home and dress properly. Henchard and Farfrae confront each other, and Farfrae threatens to leave. The two men reconcile, but Henchard, upset by Farfrae’s insubordination, thinks on him with “dim dread” and regrets having “confided to him the secrets of his life.”
A festival day in celebration of a national event is suggested to the country at large, but Casterbridge is slow to make plans. One day, Farfrae asks Henchard if he can borrow some waterproof cloths to organize a celebration. Henchard tells him he can have as many cloths as he wants. Henchard is inspired to plan events for the holiday and begins to organize a grand entertainment on an elevated green close to the town. When the day of the festival arrives, the weather is overcast, and it rains by midday. Henchard’s celebration is ruined, but Farfrae’s, which takes place under a tent he has ingeniously constructed, goes off without a hitch. Henchard sees Farfrae at the center of a great ball, dancing with Elizabeth-Jane. Prominent townspeople tease Henchard, remarking that Farfrae will soon surpass his master. Henchard replies that no such thing will happen, stating that Farfrae will shortly be leaving the business.
Elizabeth-Jane regrets that she has upset Henchard by dancing with Farfrae. She leaves the tent and stands thinking. After a short time, Farfrae joins her to say that, were circumstances different, he would have asked her something that night. He tells her that he is thinking of leaving Casterbridge, and she says that she wishes he would stay. Later, she is relieved to hear that Farfrae has purchased a small corn and hay business of his own in Casterbridge. Upset by what he takes to be Farfrae’s coup, Henchard requests that Elizabeth-Jane break all ties with Farfrae and sends a letter to Farfrae asking the same from him. Elizabeth-Jane dutifully obeys Henchard and engages in no further contact with Farfrae. As Farfrae’s new business grows, Henchard becomes increasingly embittered.
Susan falls ill. Henchard receives a letter from Lucetta Templeman, the woman from Jersey with whom he was having an affair. In it she says that she honors his decision to remarry his first wife and understands the impossibility of any further communication between them. She also requests that he return to her the love letters she has written him. She suggests that he do her this favor in person and announces that she will be on a coach passing through Casterbridge. Henchard goes to meet the coach, but Lucetta is not there.
Meanwhile, Susan has gotten worse. One night, she asks Elizabeth-Jane to bring her a pen and paper. She writes a letter, which she seals and marks, “Mr. Michael Henchard. Not to be opened till Elizabeth-Jane’s wedding-day.” Susan also admits to Elizabeth-Jane that it was she who wrote the notes that caused Elizabeth-Jane and Farfrae to meet at the farm, hoping that the two would fall in love and marry.
Soon thereafter, Susan dies. Farfrae hears some of the old inhabitants of the village discussing her death. One villager, Mother Cuxsom, relates that Susan had laid out all the necessary preparations for her burial, including four pennies for weighing down her eyes. After Susan is buried, Christopher Coney, a poor townsman, digs up her body to retrieve the pennies, arguing that death should not rob life of fourpence.
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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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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