The Mayor of Casterbridge | Study Guide

Thomas Hardy

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The Mayor of Casterbridge | Chapters 9–10 | Summary

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Summary

Chapter 9

Donald Farfrae's departure from Casterbridge is imminent. Henchard proposes they take a walk together before saying farewell. Meanwhile, Susan decides to send Elizabeth-Jane to Henchard to tell him his relative, a sailor's widow, has arrived in Casterbridge. Susan's motives are twofold. Henchard has been described as a lonely widower, and he has expressed shame for his previous behavior. Susan instructs Elizabeth-Jane to tell Henchard, if he is interested in meeting with the widow, to write Susan a note, telling how and when a reunion may be arranged.

Elizabeth-Jane's stroll up the street to Henchard's residence in Casterbridge affords an opportunity for a description of market day in the town. Much communication among the townsfolk occurs through gestures, rather than words. When Elizabeth-Jane arrives at her destination, she comes upon Farfrae rather than Henchard. In a brief flashback, readers learn how Farfrae came to be busy at Henchard's office. On the walk with Henchard just before he planned to depart, Farfrae had finally yielded to Henchard's pleading and accepted the mayor's third job offer. Shaking hands on the deal, Henchard has offered his house as lodging for his new friend, as least until suitable alternative accommodation can be found.

Chapter 10

This brief chapter features two especially important plot developments. The first dramatizes the disaffection of Joshua Jopp, a candidate for the post of Henchard's manager. Henchard brusquely dismisses Jopp, telling him the post of manager is no longer available. Jopp is bitterly disappointed.

The second important turn in the plot involves Henchard's response to Susan's request. When Elizabeth-Jane tells Henchard the details—as she knows them—Henchard expresses great interest. He writes a note to Susan, asking her to meet him that evening. With the message, he encloses a five-pound note, together with five shillings. When she receives the message, Susan resolves to meet Henchard him alone.

Analysis

In Chapter 9 Hardy's attention to the realistic description of market day in Casterbridge is unmistakable. It is notable the name of the town—a thinly disguised version of Hardy's Dorchester—figures in the novel's title. As Hardy indicates in his preface, the setting is a highly significant aspect of his tale.

Another notable feature of Chapter 9 is the mini-flashback recounting Henchard's persistent courting of Farfrae. As a "man of strong impulses," it seems Henchard will not take "no" for an answer from the young Scotchman. As Henchard puts it, "I am the most distant fellow in the world when I don't care for a man. ... But when a man takes my fancy he takes it strong." Although the auguries seem favorable for these two characters' relationship, the unrestrained, impulsive side of Henchard's personality may suggest an ambiguous forecast.

In Chapter 10 Henchard's reply to Susan is accompanied by a payment of five guineas (a guinea equals one pound plus one shilling, or 21 shillings). The amount exactly corresponds with the payment Henchard received from Richard Newson in Chapter 1 for the sale of Henchard's wife and infant daughter. The symbolic implication is inescapable: Henchard is "buying back" his family. Although this may seem emotionally appropriate, an ambiguity lurks over Henchard's action. The payment suggests he believes cruelty may be redeemed simply and easily by a commercial transaction.

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