The Mayor of Casterbridge | Study Guide

Thomas Hardy

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The Mayor of Casterbridge | Chapters 41–42 | Summary

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Summary

Chapter 41

This chapter follows up on the foreshadowed meeting between Henchard and the long-absent—and presumed lost-at-sea—Richard Newson, Elizabeth-Jane's real father. Newson explains Susan Henchard believed the auction sale was binding, but then someone persuaded her otherwise, and she became unhappy and restless. Newson therefore thought it best to disappear as if he had been drowned at sea, thus freeing Susan to resume her life with Henchard.

When Newson inquires about Elizabeth-Jane, Henchard lies to him, saying she is dead. As usual with Henchard, he soon regrets this "impulse of a moment," realizing if Newson returns and learns the truth, Henchard will have forfeited her love and respect forever.

After breakfasting with Elizabeth-Jane, Henchard wanders to the east of Casterbridge. He is so depressed he contemplates suicide. Then he spies an image floating in a pool—it is Henchard's double. Meeting again with Elizabeth-Jane, Henchard asks her to accompany him to the pool, where he shows her the effigy. She recognizes it as the discarded effigy from the skimmity-ride. Elizabeth-Jane, pitying Henchard's loneliness, asks him if she may live with him, and he begs her to forgive him for all his past roughness. As the chapter closes Henchard speculates on the effigy as a supernatural sign emanating from Divine Providence.

Chapter 42

In his bereavement Farfrae, ever practical, decides not to pursue the mischief-makers responsible for the skimmity-ride. A year passes, and Henchard and Elizabeth-Jane live together while Henchard manages the small seed-shop authorized for him by the town council. The shop is successful, but Henchard continues to be haunted by the fear of losing Elizabeth-Jane. Henchard wonders about the new books Elizabeth-Jane reads and asks himself how she is getting them. One day he overhears Elizabeth-Jane and Farfrae chatting innocently during a walk. On another occasion he stands behind a wall and witnesses Farfrae kissing Elizabeth-Jane, calling her "dearest." Henchard contemplates what would happen if he told Farfrae the whole truth about his stepdaughter's past, but he then reproaches himself for the thought.

Analysis

Henchard's lie to Newson in Chapter 41 extends the major theme of deception in the novel. Notably, Henchard regrets his falsehood almost immediately, realizing it may have entirely unproductive consequences. He is, as ever, a creature of impulse.

The conclusion of Chapter 42 offers a mirror image of the end of Chapter 41. In the earlier chapter Henchard speculates on Divine Providence, thinking he seems to be "in Somebody's hand." At the end of Chapter 42, however, when he reflects on how he might wreck Farfrae's relationship with Elizabeth-Jane, Henchard reproaches himself for entertaining "visitations of the Devil." Earlier in the story Henchard is portrayed as superstitious: for example, he consults Mr. Fall, the weather prophet. As the plot nears its conclusion, however, Henchard's exclamations are more consistent with orthodox Christian beliefs.

Hardy sprinkles some Latin phrases in Chapter 42: Henchard's solicitus timor in his love for Elizabeth-Jane refers to his "anxious fear" of losing her, while the legal phrase locus standi means a right to appear in court—literally, "a place to stand."

Earlier in the novel Hardy describes Henchard as a "leonine" or lion-like figure, and Henchard's affection for Farfrae is termed "tigerish." Now, however, Hardy employs the image of a "netted lion" for his protagonist, suggesting Henchard is ensnared or caged; see also the phrase "fangless lion" at the beginning of Chapter 43.

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