The Mayor of Casterbridge

Thomas Hardy


Summary Chapters XXXV–XXXVIII

Though powerful, Henchard is no bully, and he uses his both his physical and political strength sparingly. Though he laments that he has taken Farfrae’s dismissal “like a lamb,” he wants nothing more than a fair fight from the Scotchman. This desire for fairness is further manifested in his decision to bind one arm before the wrestling match begins, since he is the stronger of the two men. Furthermore, he cannot bring himself to destroy Lucetta, whose duplicity and wayward emotions have left him feeling abandoned and unloved. Nothing would be easier for Henchard than to bring shame upon Lucetta, but he determines, quite honorably, that “such a woman was very small deer to hunt.” These moments of restraint—rare for a man of Henchard’s domineering passions—prove and preserve Henchard’s humanity. Indeed, these conflicts reveal the complexity of Henchard’s character and are the reason that many critics have found him to be the most human of all Hardy’s creations.

In addition to giving us a more fully developed understanding of Henchard’s character, these chapters build suspense by hinting at two major imminent events: the skimmity-ride and the arrival of Newson. The interest displayed in the skimmity-ride, manifest in the fur-wearing stranger’s piqued curiosity about the ritual, hints at the ride’s inevitability. The ride was a custom popular in rural towns and involved a parade of effigies and music used to shame publicly those guilty (or suspected) of adultery. Although the custom was prohibited by law in 1882, it continued for years after. Hardy foreshadows Newson’s arrival very cleverly, using the details of his clothes. In describing a stranger “dressed with a certain clumsy richness—his coat being furred, and his head covered with a cap of seal-skin,” Hardy evokes the weatherproofed sailor who, as many years ago at Weydon-Priors, has money at his disposal.