Mayor of Casterbridge (Barnes & Noble Classics Series)

Mayor of Casterbridge (Barnes & Noble Classics Series)

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by Thomas Hardy

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The Mayor of Casterbridge, by Thomas Hardy, is part of the Barnes & Noble Classics series, which offers quality editions at affordable prices to the student and the general reader, including new scholarship, thoughtful design, and pages of carefully crafted extras. Here are some of the remarkable features of Barnes & Noble…  See more details below


The Mayor of Casterbridge, by Thomas Hardy, is part of the Barnes & Noble Classics series, which offers quality editions at affordable prices to the student and the general reader, including new scholarship, thoughtful design, and pages of carefully crafted extras. Here are some of the remarkable features of Barnes & Noble Classics:

  • New introductions commissioned from today's top writers and scholars
  • Biographies of the authors
  • Chronologies of contemporary historical, biographical, and cultural events
  • Footnotes and endnotes
  • Selective discussions of imitations, parodies, poems, books, plays, paintings, operas, statuary, and films inspired by the work
  • Comments by other famous authors
  • Study questions to challenge the reader's viewpoints and expectations
  • Bibliographies for further reading
  • Indices & Glossaries, when appropriate
All editions are beautifully designed and are printed to superior specifications; some include illustrations of historical interest. Barnes & Noble Classics pulls together a constellation of influences—biographical, historical, and literary—to enrich each reader's understanding of these enduring works.

Thomas Hardy’s first masterpiece, The Mayor of Casterbridge opens with a scene of such heartlessness and cruelty that it still shocks readers today. A poor workman named Michael Henchard, in a fit of drunken rage, sells his wife and baby daughter to a stranger at a country fair. Stricken with remorse, Henchard forswears alcohol and works hard to become a prosperous businessman and the respected mayor of Casterbridge. But he cannot erase his past. His wife ultimately returns to offer Henchard the choice of redemption or a further descent into his own self-destructive nature. A dark, complex story, The Mayor of Casterbridge brims with invention, vitality, and even wit.

Phillip Lopate, a professor at Hofstra University in New York City, is best known as an essayist (“Bachelorhood,” “Against Joie De Vivre,” “Portrait of My Body”). He is the editor of the anthology Art of the Personal Essay and has written a novel, The Rug Merchant, and a book of poetry, The Daily Round.

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Barnes & Noble
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Barnes & Noble Classics Series
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4.13(w) x 6.75(h) x 1.00(d)

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From Phillip Lopate's Introduction to The Mayor of Casterbridge

Inevitably, in analyzing this book, we must start with the novel's protagonist, since no other Hardy novel is quite so dominated by a single character. Michael Henchard has rightly been hailed as one of the unforgettable characters in fiction. "He takes his place at once with certain towering and possessed figures of Melville, Hawthorne, and Dostoevsky," wrote Albert Guerard (in Thomas Hardy; see "For Further Reading"). The novel's subtitle, "The Story of a Man of Character," is meant to lead us directly into the knot of Henchard's personality. Some of Hardy's contemporary critics took exception to this formulation, since Michael Henchard errs so often that he seems precisely to lack what Victorian moralists would have called "character." However, we should remember what Hardy's contemporary, Friedrich Nietzsche, once wryly asserted: that making the same mistake over and over was a true sign of character. In any case, Hardy clearly uses the word "character" here less as approbation than as shorthand for the set of habits, traits, and foibles that may determine a person's destiny. To drive home that point, he even inserts in his text a quote from Novalis: "Character is Fate."

When we first meet Michael Henchard, he is a young, disgruntled itinerant farmhand, unemployed and saddled with a wife and child. He is also a heavy drinker, which leads him into an appalling folly: He sells his wife, Susan, and baby girl, Elizabeth-Jane, at a county fair. In his book Thomas Hardy, Irving Howe comments on the shocking but also outrageously liberating undercurrents of this act, at least for some male readers: "To shake loose from one's wife; to discard that drooping rag of a woman, with her mute complaints and maddening passivity; to escape not by a slinking abandonment but through the public sale of her body to a stranger, as horses are sold at a fair; and thus to wrest, through sheer amoral willfulness, a second chance out of life—it is with this stroke, so insidiously attractive to male fantasy, that The Mayor of Casterbridge begins. In the entire history of European fiction there are few more brilliant openings." Elaine Showalter, in "The Unmanning of The Mayor of Casterbridge," has correctively pointed out that Howe and many other male critics neglect to mention an aspect of the wife-sale that is potentially much more disturbing to women readers: It included their child as well.

Awakening from his drunken stupor, he vows not to touch a drop of alcohol for the next twenty years. But he remains, as the novelist Rick Moody has shrewdly observed, "a dry drunk," with all the unresolved inner impulses of alcoholic sentimentality and hostility, now barely held in check by sobriety. Hardy skips over the next two decades, during which, we learn, Henchard has risen to become a wealthy, powerful grain merchant, and gotten himself elected Mayor of Casterbridge, the thriving town to which he has resettled. Initially, the sale of his family seems to have had just the sort of positive effect on the burdened Henchard that he intended. It releases his energies and talents, so that he is able to carve out a position of financial power and respect in a new place. True, he is alone, cut off from love and intimacy, but this seems to him a fair price to pay, on the whole.

When his rejected wife Susan returns and seeks him out, he remarries her, mostly out of duty and penance. After she dies, a former lover of Henchard's, Lucetta, arrives on the scene, and a Hardyesque romantic triangle ensues between Lucetta, Henchard, and his Scottish assistant, Donald Farfrae. Eventually the wife-sale episode of twenty years earlier comes to light by happenstance in a police court at which Henchard is presiding. "On that day—almost at that minute—he passed the ridge of prosperity and honour, and began to descend rapidly on the other side," Hardy tells us, with a structurally tidy sentence that diagrams all too neatly (and deceptively) the book's narrative arc.

Summarized this way, the novel would appear to be a severe, straightforward tragedy: A man commits a shameful act in his youth, then rises to prominence, at which point the truth of his earlier misdeed surfaces, leading to his downfall. But what makes the book so much more interesting is the way the narrative keeps slipping the noose of inevitability, even as the laws of causation and retribution bear down hard. First of all, Henchard is well into his fall from grace long before his twenty-year-old error is exposed; second, he is given countless chances after this public exposure to redeem himself, which he does and does not take up; third, public opinion in Casterbridge soon forgets, or stops caring about, his old repellent act. The townsfolk have their own worries. Hardy uses them both as a Greek chorus commenting on its masters' actions, and as a set of idiosyncratic individuals, whose debates, for instance, about whether it is appropriate to rob the pennies from a corpse's eyelids place Henchard's tragic scandal in a more forgiving, everyday perspective.

Henchard and Casterbridge form alternating strands of narrative tension and attention. For a while, Henchard is the town's "monarch," so to speak, and he bears on his shoulders the solitudinous anxiety of a Shakespearian king. But Henchard is also lowborn, an ex-laborer, and his dilemma about how to act, his irritable testiness, derive in part from uncomfortably straddling two social classes. A self-invented man, he is desperately in need of self-knowledge to connect the two halves of his life.

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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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