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The Mayor of Casterbridge
Michael Henchard is traveling with
his wife, Susan, looking for employment as a hay-trusser. When they
stop to eat, Henchard gets drunk, and in an auction that begins
as a joke but turns serious, he sells his wife and their baby daughter,
-Elizabeth-Jane, to Newson, a sailor, for five guineas. In the morning,
Henchard regrets what he has done and searches the town for his
wife and daughter. Unable to find them, he goes into a church and
swears an oath that he will not drink alcohol for twenty-one years,
the same number of years he has been alive.
After the sailor’s death, eighteen years later, Susan
and Elizabeth-Jane seek Henchard; Elizabeth-Jane believes he is
merely a long-lost relative. They arrive in Casterbridge and learn
that Henchard is the mayor. The parents meet and decide that in
order to prevent Elizabeth-Jane from learning of their disgrace,
Henchard will court and remarry Susan as though they had met only
Meanwhile, Henchard has hired Donald Farfrae, a young Scotchman,
as the new manager of his corn business. Elizabeth-Jane is intrigued
by Farfrae, and the two begin to spend time together. Henchard becomes
alienated from Farfrae, however, as the younger man consistently
outdoes Henchard in every respect. He asks Farfrae to leave his
business and to stop courting Elizabeth-Jane.
Susan falls ill and dies soon after her remarriage to
Henchard. After discovering that Elizabeth-Jane is not his own daughter,
but Newson’s, Henchard becomes increasingly cold toward her. Elizabeth-Jane
then decides to leave Henchard’s house and live with a lady who
has just arrived in town. This lady turns out to be Lucetta Templeman,
a woman with whom Henchard was involved during Susan’s absence;
having learned of Susan’s death, Lucetta has come to Casterbridge
to marry Henchard.
While Lucetta is waiting for Henchard to call on her,
she meets Farfrae, who has come to call on Elizabeth-Jane. The two
hit it off and are eventually married. Lucetta asks Henchard to
return to her all the letters she has sent him. On his way to deliver
the letters, the messenger, Jopp, stops at an inn. The peasants
there convince him to open and read the letters aloud. Discovering
that Lucetta and Henchard have been romantically involved, the peasants
decide to hold a “skimmity-ride,” a humiliating parade portraying
Lucetta and Henchard together. The event takes place one afternoon
when Farfrae is away. Lucetta faints upon seeing the spectacle and becomes
very ill. Shortly afterward, she dies.
While Henchard has grown to hate Farfrae, he has grown
closer to Elizabeth-Jane. The morning after Lucetta’s death, Newson,
who is actually still alive, arrives at Henchard’s door and asks
for Elizabeth-Jane. Henchard tells him that she is dead, and Newson leaves
in sorrow. Elizabeth-Jane stays with Henchard and also begins to
spend more time with Farfrae. One day, Henchard learns that Newson
has returned to town, and he decides to leave rather than risk another
confrontation. Elizabeth-Jane is reunited with Newson and learns
of Henchard’s deceit; Newson and Farfrae start planning the wedding
between Elizabeth-Jane and the Scotchman.
Henchard comes back to Casterbridge on the night of the
wedding to see Elizabeth-Jane, but she snubs him. He leaves again,
telling her that he will not return. She soon regrets her coldness,
and she and Farfrae, her new husband, go looking for Henchard so
that she can make her peace. Unfortunately, they find him too late,
discovering that he has died alone in the countryside. He has left
a will: his dying wish is to be forgotten.
Ace your assignments with our guide to The Mayor of Casterbridge!