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The Mayor of Casterbridge | Study Guide

Thomas Hardy

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The Mayor of Casterbridge | Chapters 23–24 | Summary



Chapter 23

It turns out Farfrae is acting on the note Henchard recently wrote him, declaring Henchard would not object if Farfrae visited Elizabeth-Jane. When Farfrae called at Elizabeth-Jane's house, he learned she was now staying at Miss Templeman's.

Lucetta and Farfrae chat, getting to know each other. Among other things, Farfrae learns Lucetta is lonely and rich. Lucetta is clearly attracted by Farfrae's youth and good looks. The pair look out the window at the market, just as Lucetta and Elizabeth-Jane did before. They see a hiring negotiation in progress—a business deal that will require two young lovers to part. Farfrae steps outdoors to intervene, kindly arranging matters so the pair can stay together. Lucetta is greatly touched by his action, and it is clear a romance is beginning between them. But Farfrae must leave to keep a business appointment.

Minutes later a servant announces Henchard's arrival. Now, however, Lucetta's affections have changed, and she puts the mayor off, saying she has a headache. Suddenly Lucetta conceives of a new role for Elizabeth-Jane: as a "watch-dog" to keep her stepfather from visiting!

Chapter 24

Life goes on for Lucetta and Elizabeth-Jane, with the two women focusing their attention on the weekly market day. Lucetta considers the relative merits of two new dresses she has received in a package from London. From the windows overlooking the marketplace, they catch sight of a new agricultural implement, a horse-drill. Suspecting Farfrae has brought the machine to Casterbridge, the women venture outside, where they encounter Henchard. Elizabeth-Jane—who still does not know of her stepfather's prior relationship with Lucetta—introduces her to Henchard as Miss Templeman. They discuss the horse-drill briefly, with Henchard expressing pessimism about the machine's prospects. As Henchard departs, Elizabeth-Jane hears him murmur something to Lucetta: "You refused to see me!"

Farfrae is heard humming a Scottish song, "The Lass of Gowrie," as he inspects the new horse-drill. He predicts it will revolutionize sowing in the area, and he remarks it is now very common in the east and north of England.

Later that day Lucetta says Henchard seemed very distant toward Elizabeth-Jane. The two companions fall into a discussion of the past, with Lucetta recounting some of her own doings in semi-fictionalized form. Elizabeth-Jane remains tactful and polite, although she is not deceived by Lucetta's tale.


In Chapter 23 the narrator explains Farfrae's sudden appearance at High-Place Hall. Farfrae has arrived to visit Elizabeth-Jane in accordance with Henchard's withdrawal of any objection. But like many of Hardy's plot developments, the role of coincidence and chance is significant in this turn of events. The first encounter between Lucetta and Farfrae will soon lead to a whirlwind romance and, ultimately, to their marriage.

The romance between Lucetta and Farfrae is paralleled, as well as advanced, by a seemingly minor scene the two characters observe at the hiring-fair in the marketplace where a negotiation threatens to split two young lovers. The kindly Farfrae steps out of High-Place Hall to intervene, and his assistance ensures the young couple can stay together. Lucetta is impressed—and smitten.

Lucetta abandons her interest in Henchard and shifts her affections to Farfrae. The narrator sums up this change: "Her heart longed for some ark into which it could fly and be at rest." The ark connotes a place of protection and safety, notably associated with the Biblical story of Noah and the flood in Genesis, Chapters 8 and 9.

In Chapter 24 Hardy bestows much attention on the horse-drill, an innovative agricultural implement Farfrae is introducing to Casterbridge. The machine, which by this time had become popular in other parts of England, serves as a realistic component of the novel's setting. But it is also symbolic of the intergenerational conflict between Henchard and Farfrae. This dimension becomes clear when Henchard goes out of his way to belittle the device, while Farfrae claims it will revolutionize sowing in the Casterbridge region.

In The Mayor of Casterbridge, partial or incomplete recounting of past events, often accompanied by outright deception, is common. In Chapter 24 Lucetta supplies her own "fictional tale" when she tells Elizabeth-Jane a partly true and partly fictionalized version of her life story. The parallels with Michael Henchard are striking; indeed, Hardy draws attention to them at the beginning of Chapter 26, when he has Henchard recapitulate the tale he had told long ago to Farfrae about his past. The differences between these tales are perhaps as important as the similarities, for Lucetta's tale does not fool Elizabeth-Jane, while Henchard's story, contrived more ingeniously, finds credence with Farfrae.

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