The Mayor of Casterbridge | Study Guide

Thomas Hardy

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The Mayor of Casterbridge | Chapters 25–26 | Summary

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Summary

Chapter 25

Donald Farfrae attends now almost entirely to Lucetta, with Elizabeth-Jane having to take a back seat. As for Henchard, he has by no means disposed of his "smoldering sentiments" toward Lucetta, and he ventures to call on her again. Lucetta greets him with "cool friendship." Henchard gets straight to the point, requesting her to decide on a date for their marriage. Lucetta replies evasively, and she refuses to commit herself even when Henchard pointedly refers to her enemies in Jersey. The two part on distinctly frosty terms. Meanwhile, Elizabeth-Jane copes with Farfrae's new relationship with Lucetta, viewing the turn of events with equanimity.

Chapter 26

In a chance meeting on the edge of Casterbridge, Henchard and Farfrae chat about the story Henchard had recounted to him beforehand about a woman who suffered because of her intimacy with him. Henchard says he has now offered to marry her, but she won't have him. Farfrae replies that Henchard owes her nothing further. It is clear Farfrae does not realize Henchard is referring to Lucetta.

Henchard suspects he has a rival for Lucetta's affections, and he tests his theory by calling on her and asking whether she knows Farfrae. Soon afterward Farfrae himself appears, and Lucetta's behavior increases Henchard's suspicions. In Elizabeth-Jane's opinion, Lucetta and the two men are acting in a ridiculous fashion.

Henchard then takes steps to seek revenge on his rival in romance. He reengages Joshua Jopp, the man originally displaced by Farfrae, as his manager, telling him the business must now be run with the objective of ruining Farfrae. The two men discuss their strategy at length, commenting on Farfrae's seemingly wondrous ability to play the grain markets successfully. Elizabeth-Jane tells Henchard that he is making a mistake by hiring Jopp, but Henchard sharply rebuffs her.

Because the weather is so unpredictable, grain prices are extremely volatile, and farmers in the region are exposed to serious risk. Henchard, who is superstitious, consults a local weather prophet named Mr. Fall, who predicts a poor harvest because of bad weather. As a result, Henchard buys up a large quantity of grain, gambling he will make a windfall when prices rise. But the forecaster is mistaken: the weather turns out to be favorable. Henchard suffers a huge loss and goes into debt. Rumor has it the formerly wealthy grain merchant has mortgaged many of his properties to the bank. In a fit of temper Henchard discharges Jopp, who vows his boss will regret his action.

Analysis

The parallels between Henchard and Lucetta's temperaments are further explored in these chapters. In Chapter 25, for example, when Henchard presses Lucetta on the matter of marriage, she responds evasively. But after Henchard departs she impulsively gives vent to her true feelings. "I will love him!" she exclaims, referring to Farfrae, and adds, "I'll love where I choose!" Like Henchard, Lucetta is lonely and eager to bestow her affection; also like Henchard, she is self-willed and headstrong. In contrast to both characters, Elizabeth-Jane is portrayed as patient and balanced; note the emphasis on her "approach to equanimity" at the conclusion of Chapter 25.

Rivalry between Henchard and Farfrae is the keynote of Chapter 26. Henchard begins by testing his theory Farfrae is courting Lucetta. Having satisfied himself this is probably true, he sets out to ruin his rival. Unfortunately, this leads him to renew his acquaintance with Joshua Jopp and engage him as a manager. Here Hardy delivers a heavy dose of foreshadowing. Jopp is said to reside in Mixen Lane, a tawdry neighborhood of Casterbridge where dung and refuse dominate the scene. The narrator also darkly declares, "That characters deteriorate in time of need possibly did not occur to Henchard." When Elizabeth-Jane learns her stepfather has hired Jopp, she warns him he is making a mistake, but he rejects her advice.

Henchard says Jopp must lead a business operation to "grind [Farfrae] into the ground." Revenge is Henchard's overarching motivation. But when Henchard and Jopp's machinations fail because of unpredictable weather and Henchard dismisses the foreman, Jopp in turn vows revenge. As readers will learn later in the story, Jopp achieves his malignant objective.

Why does Hardy devote so much attention in Chapter 26 to Mr. Fall, the "weather-prophet"? For one thing, weather's fickle unpredictability has a profound effect on agriculture—and thus on the economy—in the region. Also significant is Henchard's characteristically superstitious nature, which will be referred to again early in Chapter 27. Suffice it to say, Henchard's plans for revenge on Farfrae are stymied not only by chance but also by the failings in his own nature.

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