The Mayor of Casterbridge | Study Guide

Thomas Hardy

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The Mayor of Casterbridge | Chapters 43–45 | Summary

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Summary

Chapter 43

Faced with prospects of a dismal future and disconcerted by the sight of Newson on the approach to town from Budmouth, Henchard decides to leave Casterbridge. He discusses with Elizabeth-Jane her relationship with Farfrae. He does not forbid her to marry him, but he says he does not wish to attend the wedding. He leaves town secretly and alone.

Meanwhile, Elizabeth-Jane has a reunion with Newson, her real father. Newson and Farfrae discuss the upcoming wedding. Newson reveals Henchard told him Elizabeth-Jane was dead, and the young woman is shocked. Good-natured Newson, however, shrugs off Henchard's deception.

Chapter 44

In his wanderings Henchard revisits Weydon-Priors, where he auctioned off Susan long ago. As he laments his pride and temper, the journey serves as an act of penance. In his despair he bemoans being alive, against his will.

In Casterbridge Elizabeth-Jane and Farfrae's wedding day approaches. Henchard becomes suddenly determined to attend the celebrations, and he purchases a wedding present: a caged goldfinch. Near Casterbridge the pealing of bells signals the marriage has taken place. Later in the day Henchard glimpses the festive dancing and is addressed as "Mr. Henchard" by Elizabeth-Jane. He reproaches her, but she then reproaches him for his deception of Newson. He bids her farewell and departs by the back door.

Chapter 45

At her house Elizabeth-Jane discovers a new birdcage with the dead body of a goldfinch, but no one can tell her how it got there. A month after the wedding Elizabeth-Jane grows concerned about her stepfather, who, she assumes, is homeless and penniless. She and Farfrae begin to search for him. At length, after much searching, they come upon Abel Whittle, the poor employee Henchard humiliated for tardiness long ago. Meeting them at his decrepit cottage, Whittle reveals he had taken Henchard in because of Henchard's kindness to his mother when she was ill and impoverished. Henchard died only half an hour before Elizabeth-Jane and Farfrae's arrival. Whittle shows them a piece of paper on which Henchard wrote his will, requesting no one mourn or even remember him.

"What bitterness lies there!" exclaims Elizabeth-Jane. The novel concludes with some reflections on her life experience.

Analysis

Henchard's return to Weydon-Priors in Chapter 44 brings the novel full circle. His "act of penance," however, is not sufficient to bring him peace of mind. In his anguish and solitary wanderings, he is reminiscent of Shakespeare's King Lear, who dies as an outcast, mad and solitary. Hardy may have intended Henchard's wedding present to suggest Lear's remark to his daughter Cordelia just before their deaths: "The two of us together will sing like birds in a cage" (Act 5, Scene 3).

That Hardy meant to cast Henchard in the mold of a Shakespearean tragic figure is also supported by an allusion in Chapter 45, when the narrator comments, "It was a part of his nature to extenuate nothing." The reference is to Shakespeare's Othello, when the hero, just before he stabs himself, declares to his listeners, "Speak of me as I am. Nothing extenuate" (Act 5, Scene 2).

In another significant allusion in Chapter 43, the wandering Henchard compares himself to Cain, the Biblical figure who murdered his brother and then became an outcast and a vagabond (Genesis 4:1-16).

The novel concludes with a solemn, elegiac tone. Hardy makes clear his pessimistic outlook on human life in the final paragraphs, as he writes of "a general drama of pain" where happiness is but "an occasional episode."

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