The chapters in this section foretell the transition of a quaint Casterbridge that stands isolated from modern times into a more industrialized, economically viable town. Under Henchard’s reign as mayor, the town does not flourish; rather, it merely, like Henchard, endures. Indeed, when the novel opens, the citizens find themselves in dire straits over a damaged crop. Without Farfrae to introduce the modern method by which grown wheat can be restored, one imagines that the people of Casterbridge would have continued to suffer with their hunger and that Henchard would have sought in vain for a way to make amends. But as Henchard falls, so too do the proverbial walls that keep progress and modernity at bay. Hardy uses Henchard’s reliance on the outdated weather prophet to encapsulate a fading, bygone era. In the face of progress—embodied by Farfrae in his reliance on and fondness for modern machinery—Henchard cannot compete.
Although the novel proclaims itself, in its subtitle, A Story of a Man of Character and, as such, concentrates primarily on Henchard, these chapters provide us with a keener understanding of Farfrae, Elizabeth-Jane, and Lucetta. In many ways, Lucetta Templeman seems familiar. Like Henchard, she is ruled by her passions. Just as she once refused to conceal her affair with Henchard to secure her good name in Jersey, she now refuses to bow to his whims or his threats and marry him against her will. In her declaration that she will love whomever she chooses, we recognize the same sort of blind resolve that possesses and often misleads Henchard.
But Lucetta differs from her ex-lover in a crucial respect: she refuses to enslave herself to the past. She recognizes no obligations, feels no compulsion toward self-sacrifice, and voices no desire to make amends. That Henchard does oblige himself to right past wrongs and so willingly flays himself for his sins sets him apart. Indeed, it is this desire to undo the past, regardless of what it means for his present or future life, that makes Henchard a man of character and proves the rarity and worth of his moral fiber.
While Henchard and Lucetta have similar capacities for emotional vulnerability, Farfrae and Elizabeth-Jane stand as their opposites. Throughout the novel, these two demonstrate a tendency for sentimentality—Farfrae sings sad songs of the homeland he misses, for example, and Elizabeth-Jane pines for Henchard’s love and attention—but both are capable of a curious emotional detachment that suggests they are ruled by their heads rather than their hearts. In matters of love, for instance, Farfrae proves himself rather passionless. He resumes courtship of Elizabeth-Jane as quickly and with as little ceremony as he abandons it, which makes his motivation seem more a matter of wise business, such as an alliance with Henchard through marriage, than personal desire. The same might be said of Elizabeth-Jane, who accepts the dawning knowledge of Lucetta’s affair with Farfrae, the man she supposedly loves, stoically.