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Elizabeth-Jane undergoes a drastic transformation over
the course of the novel, even though the narrative does not focus
on her as much as it does on other characters. As she follows her
mother across the English countryside in search of a relative she
does not know, Elizabeth-Jane proves a kind, simple, and uneducated
girl. Once in Casterbridge, however, she undertakes intellectual
and social improvement: she begins to dress like a lady, reads voraciously,
and does her best to expunge rustic country dialect from her speech.
This self-education comes at a painful time, for not long after
she arrives in Casterbridge, her mother dies, leaving her in the custody
of a man who has learned that she is not his biological daughter
and therefore wants little to do with her.
In terms of misery, one could easily argue that Elizabeth-Jane
has a share equal to that of Henchard or Lucetta. Unlike these characters,
however, Elizabeth-Jane suffers in the same way she lives—with a
quiet kind of self-possession and resolve. She lacks Lucetta’s sense
of drama and lacks her stepfather’s desire to bend the will of others
to her own. Thus, when Henchard cruelly dismisses her or Lucetta
supplants her place in Farfrae’s heart, Elizabeth-Jane accepts these
circumstances and moves on with life. This approach to living stands
as a bold counterpoint to Henchard’s, for Henchard cannot bring
himself to let go of the past and relinquish his failures and unfulfilled
desires. If Henchard’s determination to cling to the past is partly
responsible for his ruin, then Elizabeth-Jane’s talent for “making
limited opportunities endurable” accounts for her triumphal realization—unspectacular
as it might be—that “happiness was but the occasional episode in
a general drama of pain.”
Ace your assignments with our guide to The Mayor of Casterbridge!