Character is Fate, said Novalis, and Farfrae’s character was just the reverse of Henchard’s, who might not inaptly be described as Faust has been described—as a vehement gloomy being who had quitted the ways of vulgar men without light to guide him on a better way.

This passage from Chapter XVII relates to Farfrae’s enormous business success after Henchard requests that he leave his employment and stop courting Elizabeth-Jane. The phrase “Character is Fate,” from Novalis, an eighteenth-century German novelist and poet, offers us a context for understanding much of Henchard’s ensuing struggle. Henchard blames much of the suffering he endures on cruel forces that are bent on human destruction. In Chapter XVII, however, Hardy reminds the reader that Henchard has much to do with his own downfall. In the same chapter, we read that “there was still the same unruly volcanic stuff beneath the rind of Michael Henchard as when he had sold his wife at Weydon Fair.” This “volcanic stuff” refers to Henchard’s passionate disposition. Whatever he feels—be it love, hate, desire, or contempt—he feels it overpoweringly. The same holds true for his guilt over selling Susan, which tracks him from Weydon-Priors to Casterbridge, where it overshadows his life for twenty years. His desire to right these past wrongs and his conviction that he deserves to suffer for them account for his suffering as much as any malignant force of the universe.