Review 1599: The Mayor of Casterbridge

At a small county fair in the early 1800’s, a drunken Michael Henchard sells his wife and child to a sailor. Twenty years later, his wife and her daughter come seeking him, the sailor having disappeared at sea and the two being nearly destitute. When they arrive at Casterbridge, they find he is wealthy and the town’s mayor.

To his credit, Henchard looked for his wife and child twenty years ago, but they had emigrated to Canada. Wanting to make amends, he suggests that Susan Newson, as his wife calls herself, and Elizabeth Jane stay in Casterbridge. He will appear to court Susan and will marry her.

At the same time, he meets a young Scotsman, Donald Farfrae, and likes him so much that he offers him a job. But Henchard has a hasty temper and a jealous, unforgiving nature, and as Donald becomes successful, Henchard takes a dislike to him that grows into enmity. A final issue is caused by another incident from Henchard’s past.

Henchard is not a likable character. Although he is often repentent of his actions, his temper creates situations, like the sale of his wife, that lead to his downfall. This is an interesting novel for Hardy, whose main characters, although flawed, are usually more sympathetic. Still, it is an absorbing and dramatic story about a man who is his own worst enemy.

Related Posts

Far from the Madding Crowd

Tess of the D’Urbervilles

That Lass o’Lowrie’s

10 thoughts on “Review 1599: The Mayor of Casterbridge

  1. Jane January 8, 2021 / 9:41 am

    I read this at school and didn’t like it at all but I think my time for Hardy has arrived so will give this another try!

    • whatmeread January 8, 2021 / 10:59 am

      He is one of my favorite authors, although I haven’t read much by him in recent years.

  2. ilovedays January 8, 2021 / 10:21 am

    Sounds like an interesting character study. It’s hard to write – or read – about unsympathetic characters – and to read about them. Not crazy about Franzen’s or TC Boyle’s books partly for that reason.

    • whatmeread January 8, 2021 / 11:00 am

      I sometimes have difficulty if there is no one I like, but occasionally I can be surprised.

  3. Liz Dexter January 10, 2021 / 12:05 pm

    I really like this one – I read all of Hardy in publication order a few years ago and this was a favourite again. I was amazed how many I’d read several times (school!) and how many I seem to have missed!

    • whatmeread January 10, 2021 / 3:22 pm

      I read a lot of his books years ago, but in recent years, I have only revisited a few of them, this one, Tess, Jude, and Far from the Madding Crowd. I should read some of the other ones.

  4. Naomi January 15, 2021 / 2:10 pm

    I have loved the two books by Hardy I’ve read – Tess and Madding Crowd – and keep meaning to read more.
    What made him sell his wife and daughter in the first place? (Hard to come back from a mistake like that!)

      • Naomi January 15, 2021 / 2:58 pm

        Can you imagine?!

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