The Mayor of Casterbridge | Study Guide

Thomas Hardy

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The Mayor of Casterbridge | Chapters 27–28 | Summary

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Summary

Chapter 27

This chapter continues and extends the saga of the rivalry between Henchard and Farfrae, in both business and romance. The weather turns fickle just before the harvest, and Farfrae reaps a huge advantage because he has bought grain at low prices. The superstitious Henchard speculates on whether his bad fortune is the product of witchcraft wielded by an enemy.

The rivalry between Henchard and Farfrae extends to disputes among their employees. A conflict breaks out at the scene of a wagon accident. The two wagon drivers attempt to settle scores in a fistfight, and there is a public commotion. Lucetta and Elizabeth-Jane side with Farfrae, claiming Henchard's driver was most in the wrong. Constable Stubberd appears, informing Henchard a case is coming up at the town hall, and Henchard, as a justice of the peace, must hear it.

Henchard overhears Farfrae speaking romantic words to Lucetta, and she encourages his affection. Soon afterward, in a showdown with Lucetta, Henchard warns he will reveal the secrets of her past life unless she marries him. Elizabeth-Jane is summoned as a witness to Lucetta's promise to wed Henchard. When Elizabeth-Jane expresses surprise, Henchard cynically remarks his marriage to Lucetta will leave Farfrae free for Elizabeth-Jane, if she still wants him. Now it is Lucetta's turn to express astonishment. Elizabeth-Jane exclaims Lucetta has kept secrets from her. How is it, for example, Lucetta calls her stepfather Michael? Lucetta evades this question, merely noting Elizabeth-Jane may have kept secrets too.

Chapter 28

The action shifts to focus on the court case Henchard, as a town magistrate, presides over on the following day. The defendant is an elderly woman accused of disorderly conduct. She turns out to be none other than Mrs. Goodenough, the furmity-woman who first appeared in Chapter 1. The woman discloses Henchard's secret, causing a commotion in the town. Lucetta is shocked, especially considering she just promised to marry Henchard. Saying she needs a rest by the seaside, she departs on a journey to Port-Bredy. Later on, when Henchard attempts to visit, Elizabeth-Jane tells him Lucetta has returned from her journey but is now out for a walk.

Analysis

The role of chance and coincidence, as well as the act of gambling, assume prominence in both these chapters, but in quite different ways. In Chapter 27 Farfrae profits from the fickle weather, but Henchard suffers extreme losses, and his business is imperiled. In Chapter 28 the furmity-woman's reappearance may strain belief, but readers must regard it in the context of one of the novel's principal thematic strands: "the persistence of the unforeseen," as mentioned in the book's final sentence. In The Mayor of Casterbridge Hardy repeatedly points up the often-unanticipated consequences of people's actions.

In Chapter 27 Henchard's superstitious speculations about being a target of witchcraft have a close parallel in an earlier Hardy novel, The Return of the Native (1878), in which Susan Nunsuch creates and then burns a wax image of Eustacia Vye shortly before Eustacia meets her tragic death by drowning.

Henchard continues to be characterized as unpredictable and paradoxical. In Chapter 27 he appears to great disadvantage when he threatens to blackmail Lucetta. In Chapter 28, however, he surprisingly admits to the furmity-woman's accusation, even at the cost of his public reputation in Casterbridge. Although he does not realize it at the time, the effects on his relationship with Lucetta will be just as drastic.

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