The Mayor of Casterbridge

The Mayor of Casterbridge

4.1 40
by Thomas Hardy

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In Thomas Hardy's classic novel, an ambitious man discovers that the blind energies and defiant acts that brought him to power can also destroy him.


In Thomas Hardy's classic novel, an ambitious man discovers that the blind energies and defiant acts that brought him to power can also destroy him.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
“Hardy’s world is a world that can never disappear.” —Margaret Drabble
John Sutherland University of London
"Of all the great Victorian novelists, Hardy is the one who consistently requires most annotation and careful contextual placing. The density of regional reference, the often complex composition, publication and reception histories, the author's vexed relationship with his age—all call for tactful but learned editing. The noted Victorian scholar Norman Page supplies this admirably for Broadview Press's Mayor of Casterbridge. This is the edition I shall use and prescribe in the future."

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One evening of late summer, before the nineteenth century had reached one-third of its span, a young man and woman, the latter carrying a child, were approaching the large village of Weydon-Priors,1 in Upper Wessex, on foot. They were plainly but not ill clad, though the thick hoar of dust which had accumulated on their shoes and garments from an obviously long journey lent a disadvantageous shabbiness to their appearance just now.

The man was of fine figure, swarthy, and stern in aspect; and he showed in profile a facial angle so slightly inclined as to be almost perpendicular. He wore a short jacket of brown corduroy, newer than the remainder of his suit, which was a fustian2 waistcoat with white horn buttons, breeches of the same, tanned leggings, and a straw hat overlaid with black glazed canvas. At his back he carried by a looped strap a rush basket, from which protruded at one end the crutch of a hay-knife, a wimble for hay-bonds3 being also visible in the aperture. His measured, springless walk was the walk of the skilled countryman as distinct from the desultory shamble of the general labourer; while in the turn and plant of each foot there was, further, a dogged and cynical indifference personal to himself, showing its presence even in the regularly interchanging fustian folds, now in the left leg, now in the right, as he paced along.

What was really peculiar, however, in this couple’s progress, and would have attracted the attention of any casual observer otherwise disposed to overlook them, was the perfect silence they preserved. They walked side by side in such a way as to suggest afar off the low, easy, confidential chat of people full ofreciprocity; but on closer view it could be discerned that the man was reading, or pretending to read, a ballad sheet4 which he kept before his eyes with some difficulty by the hand that was passed through the basket strap. Whether this apparent cause were the real cause, or whether it were an assumed one to escape an intercourse that would have been irksome to him, nobody but himself could have said precisely; but his taciturnity was unbroken, and the woman enjoyed no society whatever from his presence. Virtually she walked the highway alone, save for the child she bore. Sometimes the man’s bent elbow almost touched her shoulder, for she kept as close to his side as was possible without actual contact; but she seemed to have no idea of taking his arm, nor he of offering it; and far from exhibiting surprise at his ignoring silence she appeared to receive it as a natural thing. If any word at all were uttered by the little group, it was an occasional whisper of the woman to the child—a tiny girl in short clothes and blue boots of knitted yarn—and the murmured babble of the child in reply.

The chief—almost the only—attraction of the young woman’s face was its mobility. When she looked down sideways to the girl she became pretty, and even handsome, particularly that in the action her features caught slantwise the rays of the strongly coloured sun, which made transparencies of her eyelids and nostrils and set fire on her lips. When she plodded on in the shade of the hedge, silently thinking, she had the hard, half-apathetic expression of one who deems anything possible at the hands of Time and Chance except, perhaps, fair play. The first phase was the work of Nature, the second probably of civilization.

That the man and woman were husband and wife, and the parents of the girl in arms, there could be little doubt. No other than such relationship would have accounted for the atmosphere of stale familiarity which the trio carried along with them like a nimbus as they moved down the road.

The wife mostly kept her eyes fixed ahead, though with little interest—the scene for that matter being one that might have been matched at almost any spot in any county in England at this time of the year; a road neither straight nor crooked, neither level nor hilly, bordered by hedges, trees, and other vegetation, which had entered the blackened-green stage of colour that the doomed leaves pass through on their way to dingy, and yellow, and red. The grassy margin of the bank, and the nearest hedgerow boughs, were powdered by the dust that had been stirred over them by hasty vehicles, the same dust as it lay on the road deadening their footfalls like a carpet; and this, with the aforesaid total absence of conversation, allowed every extraneous sound to be heard.

For a long time there was none, beyond the voice of a weak bird singing a trite old evening song that might doubtless have been heard on the hill at the same hour, and with the self-same trills, quavers, and breves, at any sunset of that season for centuries untold. But as they approached the village sundry distant shouts and rattles reached their ears from some elevated spot in that direction, as yet screened from view by foliage. When the outlying houses of Weydon-Priors could just be descried, the family group was met by a turnip-hoer with his hoe on his shoulder, and his dinner-bag suspended from it. The reader promptly glanced up.

“Any trade doing here?” he asked phlegmatically, designating the village in his van by a wave of the broadsheet. And thinking the labourer did not understand him, he added, “Anything in the hay-trussing5 line?”

The turnip-hoer had already begun shaking his head. “Why, save the man, what wisdom’s in him that ’a should come to Weydon for a job of that sort this time o’ year?”

“Then is there any house to let—a little small new cottage just a builded, or such like?” asked the other.

The pessimist still maintained a negative. “Pulling down is more the nater of Weydon. There were five houses cleared away last year, and three this; and the volk nowhere to go—no, not so much as a thatched hurdle6 that’s the way o’ Weydon-Priors.”

The hay-trusser, which he obviously was, nodded with some superciliousness. Looking towards the village, he continued, “There is something going on here, however, is there not?”

“Ay. ’Tis Fair Day. Though what you hear now is little more than the clatter and scurry of getting away the money o’ children and fools, for the real business is done earlier than this. I’ve been working within sound o’t all day, but I didn’t go up—not I. ’Twas no business of mine.” The trusser and his family proceeded on their way, and soon entered the Fair-field, which showed standing-places and pens where many hundreds of horses and sheep had been exhibited and sold in the forenoon, but were now in great part taken away. At present, as their informant had observed, but little real business remained on hand, the chief being the sale by auction of a few inferior animals, that could not otherwise be disposed of, and had been absolutely refused by the better class of traders, who came and went early. Yet the crowd was denser now than during the morning hours, the frivolous contingent of visitors, including journeymen7 out for a holiday, a stray soldier or two come on furlough, village shopkeepers, and the like, having latterly flocked in; persons whose activities found a congenial field among the peep-shows, toy-stands, waxworks, inspired monsters, disinterested medical men who travelled for the public good, thimble-riggers,8 nick-nack vendors, and readers of Fate.

Neither of our pedestrians had much heart for these things, and they looked around for a refreshment tent among the many which dotted the down. Two, which stood nearest to them in the ochreous haze of expiring sunlight, seemed almost equally inviting. One was formed of new, milk-hued canvas, and bore red flags on its summit; it announced “Good Home-brewed Beer, Ale, and Cyder.” The other was less new; a little iron stove-pipe came out of it at the back, and in front appeared the placard, “Good Furmity9 Sold Hear.” The man mentally weighed the two inscriptions, and inclined to the former tent.

“No—no—the other one,” said the woman. “I always like furmity; and so does Elizabeth-Jane; and so will you. It is nourishing after a long hard day.”

“I’ve never tasted it,” said the man. However, he gave way to her representations, and they entered the furmity booth forthwith.

A rather numerous company appeared within, seated at the long narrow tables that ran down the tent on each side. At the upper end stood a stove, containing a charcoal fire, over which hung a large three-legged crock, sufficiently polished round the rim to show that it was made of bell-metal.10 A haggish creature of about fifty presided, in a white apron, which, as it threw an air of respectability over her as far as it extended, was made so wide as to reach nearly round her waist. She slowly stirred the contents of the pot. The dull scrape of her large spoon was audible throughout the tent as she thus kept from burning the mixture of corn in the grain, flour, milk, raisins, currants, and what not, that composed the antiquated slop in which she dealt. Vessels holding the separate ingredients stood on a white-clothed table of boards and trestles close by.

The young man and woman ordered a basin each of the mixture, steaming hot, and sat down to consume it at leisure. This was very well so far, for furmity, as the woman had said, was nourishing, and as proper a food as could be obtained within the four seas; though, to those not accustomed to it, the grains of wheat swollen as large as lemon-pips, which floated on its surface, might have a deterrent effect at first.

But there was more in that tent than met the cursory glance; and the man, with the instinct of a perverse character, scented it quickly. After a mincing attack on his bowl, he watched the hag’s proceedings from the corner of his eye, and saw the game she played. He winked to her, and passed up his basin in reply to her nod; when she took a bottle from under the table, slily measured out a quantity of its contents, and tipped the same into the man’s furmity. The liquor poured in was rum. The man as slily sent back money in payment.

He found the concoction, thus strongly laced, much more to his satisfaction than it had been in its natural state. His wife had observed the proceeding with much uneasiness; but he persuaded her to have hers laced also, and she agreed to a milder allowance after some misgiving.

The man finished his basin, and called for another, the rum being signalled for in yet stronger proportion. The effect of it was soon apparent in his manner, and his wife but too sadly perceived that in strenuously steering off the rocks of the licensed liquor-tent she had only got into maelstrom depths here amongst the smugglers.

The child began to prattle impatiently, and the wife more than once said to her husband, “Michael, how about our lodging? You know we may have trouble in getting it if we don’t go soon.”

But he turned a deaf ear to those bird-like chirpings. He talked loud to the company. The child’s black eyes, after slow, round, ruminating gazes at the candles when they were lighted, fell together; then they opened, then shut again, and she slept.

At the end of the first basin the man had risen to serenity; at the second he was jovial; at the third, argumentative; at the fourth, the qualities signified by the shape of his face, the occasional clench of his mouth, and the fiery spark of his dark eye, began to tell in his conduct; he was overbearing—even brilliantly quarrelsome.

The conversation took a high turn, as it often does on such occasions. The ruin of good men by bad wives, and, more particularly, the frustration of many a promising youth’s high aims and hopes and the extinction of his energies by an early imprudent marriage, was the theme.

“I did for myself that way thoroughly,” said the trusser, with a contemplative bitterness that was well-nigh resentful. “I married at eighteen, like the fool that I was; and this is the consequence o’t.” He pointed at himself and family with a wave of the hand intended to bring out the penuriousness of the exhibition.

The young woman his wife, who seemed accustomed to such remarks, acted as if she did not hear them, and continued her intermittent private words on tender trifles to the sleeping and waking child, who was just big enough to be placed for a moment on the bench beside her when she wished to ease her arms. The man continued—

“I haven’t more than fifteen shillings in the world, and yet I am a good experienced hand in my line. I’d challenge England to beat me in the fodder business; and if I were a free man again I’d be worth a thousand pound before I’d done o’t. But a fellow never knows these little things till all chance of acting upon ’em is past.”

From the Paperback edition.

Copyright 2002 by Thomas Hardy

Meet the Author

Thomas Hardy (1840–1928) was an English poet and regional novelist whose most notable novels are Far from the Madding Crowd and Tess of the D'Urbervilles.

Simon Vance, a former BBC Radio presenter and newsreader, is a full-time actor who has appeared on both stage and television. He has recorded over eight hundred audiobooks and has earned five coveted Audie Awards, and he has won fifty-seven Earphones Awards from AudioFile magazine, which has named him a Golden Voice.

Brief Biography

Date of Birth:
June 2, 1840
Date of Death:
January 11, 1928
Place of Birth:
Higher Brockhampon, Dorset, England
Place of Death:
Max Gate, Dorchester, England
Served as apprentice to architect James Hicks

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The Mayor Of Casterbridge 4.1 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 40 reviews.
TheQuillPen More than 1 year ago
Diving into The Mayor of Casterbridge with the highest of expectations, I found myself sorely disappointed after finishing the first third (or thereabouts) of the novel. Let's just say that, well, honestly, the first several chapters set the boo...k up for failure. Who doesn't know about Michael Henchard (the titular mayor, though his time in office occupies very little of the substance of the book) and his sale of his wife to an unassuming sailor in the first few pages? Such a scene brims with literary possibility, and Hardy did not disappoint--per se. However, as I read, I could not ward off the nagging dread that Hardy forced many of his plot twists just to keep readers entertained--he did serialize the novel before publishing it in book format, after all. Additionally, the first half of the book, though somewhat necessary to establish the characters, lacks much of the interest of the second half of the narrative. Nevertheless, this said second half is a true gem--so much so, in fact, that it largely makes up for its less-than-sterling earlier counterpart. Certainly worth the read, The Mayor of Casterbridge, at its best, is an excellent character study. Highly recommended!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Though some parts in the beginning of the book drag on a bit, the plot soon thickens. Each new event is unexpected and adds to the complexity of the writing. Many charchers evolve over the course of the book and you grow attached to them amd want to learn more aout their life. Overall the book is a good read for anyone interested in olden setting books with higher level vocabulary. Very enjoyable book :)
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
As a high school student, I wasn't too excited when I first picked up "The Mayor of Casterbridge" for my required reading. However, I was pleasantly surprised. Though in my opinion it is not a quick read (for there are slow parts in the plot that can be hard to get through), the overall story was extremely touching and memorable. Also, the language was very easy to understand without being too simple. I highly recommend.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Hardy gives a good account of how one evil choice can lead to many others when a person seeks redemption without confession. Michael Henchard wants to improve himself but he never wants to reveal his past. Henchard swears off liquor but he never confesses why he has done so. Thomas Hardy really seems to understand many of our own thought processes as we decide we can make up for our past transgressions if we only really lead a good life. The mayor's past continually comes back on him until he finally has no place to turn. It is not a heart warming feel good book but it is a good read.
Guest More than 1 year ago
If there ever was a story that could be described as one representing the essence of the human condition, The Mayor of Casterbridge would be it. I highly recommend this book to anyone who enjoys reading about matters of the heart, and the mistakes people make, some out of good intentions. The English countryside with its cozy feel and people comes alive through Hardy's canvases, and The Mayor of Casterbridge is no exception. This book is British literature at its best.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Here is an excelent book. The story of ones mans selfishness and his ultimate lesson. There is something every human can learn from this book. We are all at one point like the mayor.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This is such a wonderful and engrossing story about a man who lives with the consequences of a reckless deed he committed when he was young. It is a tragic novel, but oh, so well written and so compelling! I couldn't put it down! I absolutely loved it!!! This Barnes and Noble edition is superb! The introduction is very informative and the notes are excellent, adding so much to the enjoyment of the book.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This is a fantastic must-read novel. Thomas Hardy gives life to his colorful characters expressing just about every human emotion such as love, hate, jealousy, sorrow, perseverance, forgiveness, and much more!
Guest More than 1 year ago
A beautiful touching tragedy. Hardy creates rich characters in all his works but Michael Henchard exceeds all.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Nothing much happened, just lots of talking.
jlks More than 1 year ago
I hate when I'm torn by a book. Part of me loved the story because of the characters, the location, and everything they went through. Another part of me hated the story because of the characters and everything that they went through. For example, Michael Henchard. He certainly didn't make it easy for a person to like or root for him. He was ill-tempered, ungrateful, quick to accuse and even quicker to blame. He sold his wife and infant daughter off in a drunken fit, and then had the audacity to be angry at Susan the next day (after he sobered up) for taking his auction of her seriously and running off with Newson. He behaves like a petulant child throughout the majority of the book, constantly blaming others for his failures, hoping for redemption without ever trying to redeem himself in their eyes. Susan Henchard was a minor character, but one that had a fairly large impact on the story. She hoped for much, lied about a lot, and then - rather inconveniently, I'm afraid - died and left Elizabeth-Jane and Michael in a state of confusion. I'd like to add my confusion as to Susan's desire to see Elizabeth married to Farfrae to the mix, as well. She alluded to Elizabeth that she needed to marry Donald at some point, but we never found out why. That's kind of annoying. And the secret that she revealed in her deathbed letter to Michael! I never saw that one coming. Elizabeth-Jane was the one character to escape my scorn and frustration, though she did not come out unscathed. I don't know how she was able to repress her feelings for so many years, especially when she watched Donald go loping off after Lucetta, knowing that he had, not too long ago, all but given his heart to her. Elizabeth was the very embodiment of patience and understanding, with a strong will and determination to make herself better. She was bit gullible (not nearly as much as her mother, though), but she was still likable for it. I, of course, was rooting for her happiness, even though it looked for a long time like it was never going to happen. Donald annoyed me because of his casting-off of Elizabeth-Jane for Lucetta. Lucetta, in turn, annoyed me for chasing after Donald, even though she knew that Elizabeth had a fancy for him. That the two of them could completely forget the facts and retreat into a world of their own creating, all while ignoring Elizabeth's discomfort and heartache, was astounding to me. That Elizabeth chose to put on a happy face and carry on as if nothing was amiss was even more surprising. Or, maybe not. When I look back at how she handled herself from the minute she was introduced, I guess her choices weren't so surprising. She was a selfless soul, eager for others to be happy, and able to amuse herself by watching their doings. Elizabeth-Jane definitely was the character I cared about most. There was a tiny bit of redemption for Michael at the very end, when we find that Henchard had an impact on at least one person (Abel), but I think it was too little, too late. There were more than a few instances where I drew parallels to a Shakespeare drama, owing to the many challenges the characters had to live through. The dramas weren't incredibly unbelievable (except, maybe for the premise of Susan being sold to Newson), but they were stiff enough to have the characters grow, or fold under the pressures. All in all, it was an entertaining story. There are just a few questions that remain unanswered, and I felt like the ending
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Really painful ending although I know I should sympathize with Mr. Henchard more. Morr life experience required to really appreciate wht Hardy is saying.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
rodeck More than 1 year ago
Though I expected sadness and misery, I was hoping for something more profound at the ending than "Happiness was but the occasional episode in a general drama of pain." This is a many chaptered narrative that shows how the results of good intentioned-or-not mistakes can lead to personal ruin. The reader also will lose all respect for the main character. A problem with Victorian Period literary giants I have is their long sentences. I counted one at 82 words. Would only recommend this to someone who likes a challenging read (big words and colloquial language) and who doesn't mind a depressing, predictable story. "The sun was resting on the hill like a drop of blood on an eyelid." Best line.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I first read this book in middle school. It took me a while to finish but the questions it raises are universal and only more important as we age.
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