The Mayor of Casterbridge | Study Guide

Thomas Hardy

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The Mayor of Casterbridge | Chapters 37–38 | Summary

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Summary

Chapter 37

Casterbridge is all agog because a member of the royal family is scheduled to visit. At a meeting of the town council, Henchard appears, shabbily dressed, and boldly requests approval for participation in the official ceremonies. Donald Farfrae, now the mayor, firmly rejects Henchard's request. His pride injured, Henchard goes about saying he will ignore the council's decision and welcome the royal visitor anyway.

True to his word, Henchard attempts to intercept the royal carriage on the day of the visit. Farfrae roughly drags him away and tells him to be off. The townsfolk gossip about the incident. They also exchange opinions on the upcoming skimmity-ride, with Solomon Longways, in particular, urging the plans for it be abandoned, since Farfrae is a decent man and Lucetta has behaved correctly during her time in Casterbridge. Joshua Jopp, however, maliciously encourages the scheme, urging it be carried out that very evening.

Chapter 38

Lucetta is thrilled by the royal visit, but Henchard is outraged at his public humiliation by Farfrae and vows revenge. He reflects he is physically stronger than Farfrae. The two men confront each other in a fight in a hayloft, and Henchard has tied one arm behind his back to make the odds fairer. Henchard wins the fight and is in a position to pitch Farfrae down a drop of 30 feet—perhaps to his death. At the last moment, however, he spares his opponent, sinking onto some sacks in a fit of remorse. As the chapter concludes Henchard wanders through the streets and outskirts of Casterbridge. He hears a confusing clangor from the town but does not pay much attention to it.

Analysis

Scholars believe there is a historical basis for the visit of the "royal personage." In 1849 Prince Albert, the husband of Queen Victoria, passed through Dorchester, the real-life model for Casterbridge. In the novel the episode serves to extend the theme of pride, as Henchard desperately tries to reclaim some of his lost prestige and then suffers the humiliation of being dragged off by the collar, like a vagabond.

The physical clash between Farfrae and Henchard in Chapter 37 foreshadows their fight in Chapter 38. As is usual for Henchard, the fight involves a paradoxical mingling of disparate elements. Henchard is brimming with bitter enmity, for example, but he still ties one arm behind his back when he faces Farfrae. This action, in turn, could be interpreted either as motivated by Henchard's pride or by a wish to insult Farfrae yet further. Henchard's love/hate emotions about Farfrae are clear at the moment when Farfrae urges Henchard to do his worst, exclaiming Henchard has long wished to see him dead. Henchard bitterly denies this charge and releases his opponent.

Hardy's placement of the fight in Chapter 38 is noteworthy from the perspective of plot construction. For some time now suspense has been building about the skimmity-ride. The conclusion of Chapter 37 indicates it may well occur that very evening. But Hardy does not proceed to the event directly, preferring to heighten the suspense further by dramatizing the confrontation between Farfrae and Henchard.

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