Her experience had been of a kind to teach her, rightly or wrongly, that the doubtful honour of a brief transit through a sorry world hardly called for effusiveness, even when the path was suddenly irradiated at some half-way point by daybeams rich as hers. But her strong sense that neither she nor any human being deserved less than was given, did not blind her to the fact that there were others receiving less who had deserved much more. And in being forced to class herself among the fortunate she did not cease to wonder at the persistence of the unforeseen, when the one to whom such unbroken tranquillity had been accorded in the adult stage was she whose youth had seemed to teach that happiness was but the occasional episode in a general drama of pain.

These lines make up the final passage of the novel and provide a thoughtful, balanced summary of its proceedings. Elizabeth-Jane decides to honor Henchard’s last wishes as best she can. She does not mourn him or plant flowers on his grave. She does, however, come close to honoring him inwardly, when she reflects here on the unfair distribution of happiness, which she considers the most valuable human currency. Her reflection mitigates Henchard’s obsession with the worth of his name and reputation, for in the face of such a “sorry world,” all honor seems “doubtful.” But it also grants the fallen mayor a quiet, unassuming kind of forgiveness. She certainly has Henchard in mind when she thinks of the many people who “deserved much more” out of life. Indeed, given that the world emerges as “a general drama of pain,” both we and Elizabeth-Jane begin to understand better Henchard’s disastrous mistakes and missteps. Even his lie regarding Newson becomes less grievous when we consider that he meant only to secure a happiness that had, for so many years, eluded him. In such a bleak world, the course of Henchard’s life seems not to merit punishment so much as it does pity.