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The Mayor of Casterbridge | Study Guide

Thomas Hardy

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The Mayor of Casterbridge | Quotes


When she plodded on in the shade of the hedge, silently thinking, she had the hard, half-apathetic expression of one who deems anything possible at the hands of Time and Chance except, perhaps, fair play.

Narrator, Chapter 1

The narrator describes Susan Henchard at the novel's outset. The context makes it clear she and her husband, Michael Henchard, are unhappily married. But Hardy's description also foreshadows the major roles time and chance will play in the story's events.


What an old-fashioned place it seems to be!

Elizabeth-Jane Newson, Chapter 4

Elizabeth-Jane makes this remark just as she and her mother, Susan, enter Casterbridge for the first time. Most of Hardy's novel is set in this town, which stands in for the novelist's own adopted town of Dorchester, the center of Dorset County. Elizabeth-Jane's observation highlights the conservatism of Casterbridge, and it also alludes to the town's ancient history, which reaches back to ancient Roman times. Both dimensions are important for Hardy's use of setting in the novel.


There was temper under the thin bland surface—the temper which, artificially intensified, had banished a wife nearly a score of years before.

Narrator, Chapter 5

The narrator comments on Henchard when, as mayor, he grows visibly irritated at some townsfolk's complaint about the inferior quality of Henchard's grain. The comment draws attention to one of Hardy's major emphases in the novel: the frequent inconsistency between appearance and reality.


I feel it a great relief, Farfrae, to tell some friend o' this! You see now that the mayor of Casterbridge is not so thriving in his mind as it seems he might be from the state of his pocket.

Michael Henchard, Chapter 12

Henchard and Farfrae have become inseparable friends. Henchard expansively recounts various aspects of his past and asks Farfrae's advice. The quotation underlines Henchard's ever-restless nature and his fruitless quest for happiness. He has become wealthy and influential, but emotional fulfillment eludes him.


Not if I am manager. ... He either goes home, or I march out of this yard for good.

Donald Farfrae, Chapter 15

Farfrae intervenes as Henchard metes out humiliating and cruel treatment to a tardy employee, the poor and simple Abel Whittle. Farfrae's actions and words are consistent with his characterization as a decent and generous man.


These tones showed that, though under a long reign of self-control he had become mayor, and churchwarden, and what-not, there was still the same unruly volcanic stuff beneath the rind of Michael Henchard as when he had sold his wife at Weydon Fair.

Narrator, Chapter 17

The narrator comments on another display of Henchard's impulsive, potentially explosive temperament. This time, after Henchard and Farfrae have quarreled and split, Henchard is incensed to learn Farfrae has set himself up as a rival in the grain business.


Elizabeth-Jane is not your Elizabeth-Jane—the child who was in my arms when you sold me. No; she died three months after that, and this living one is my other husband's.

Susan Henchard, Chapter 19

Susan makes this pivotal revelation in a letter penned shortly before her death. The disclosure has a powerful impact on Michael Henchard's relationship with Elizabeth-Jane for the rest of his life.


These domestic exhibitions were the small protruding needle-rocks which suggested rather than revealed what was underneath.

Narrator, Chapter 20

The "domestic exhibitions" refer to the spats between Henchard and Elizabeth-Jane, as hostility and carping replace his previous affection for her. Once again Hardy emphasizes the contrast between surface appearances and reality.


I will love him! ... as for him—he's hot-tempered and stern, and it would be madness to bind myself to him knowing that. I won't be a slave to the past—I'll love where I choose!

Lucetta Templeman, Chapter 25

In this emotional outburst, Lucetta first refers to Farfrae and then to Henchard, with whom she was romantically involved earlier. She accurately describes Henchard as "hot-tempered," although Hardy portrays Lucetta as somewhat similar in this regard. She is impulsive and changeable, and she does not hesitate to manipulate others to get her own way.


Continually it had happened that what she had desired had not been granted her, and that which had been granted her she had not desired.

Narrator, Chapter 25

Hardy uses a pointed contrast here to sum up Elizabeth-Jane's destiny. Like other characters, she finds herself unable to steer her own life's direction and is rather a victim of fate and chance.


Any suspicion of impropriety was to Elizabeth-Jane like a red rag to a bull.

Narrator, Chapter 30

Elizabeth-Jane is portrayed in the novel as consistently patient, considerate, balanced, and "respectable"—an adjective Hardy repeatedly uses to describe her. She works hard to educate herself, and she behaves responsibly in her relationships with Henchard, Farfrae, and Lucetta. Impropriety is not in her nature.


And thus out of error enmity grew.

Narrator, Chapter 34

Hardy is especially fond of portraying the unexpected effects of misunderstandings. In this case Henchard mistakenly believes Farfrae has acted to prevent him from setting up his own business, and he becomes enraged.


To him, at least, it was not a joke, but a retaliation.

Narrator, Chapter 37

The narrator refers here to Joshua Jopp and the upcoming skimmity-ride, which will have such disastrous consequences for both Henchard and Lucetta's reputations. Jopp is a malicious character; Henchard encounters his ill will at several points in the novel.


God forbid such a thing! Why should I still be subject to these visitations of the Devil, when I try so hard to keep him away!

Michael Henchard, Chapter 42

Henchard regrets feeling tempted to tell Farfrae the truth about Elizabeth-Jane's background. The quotation shows he is conscious of the ill-tempered, perverse streak in his nature.


And being forced to class herself among the fortunate she did not cease to wonder at the persistence of the unforeseen.

Narrator, Chapter 45

The novel's concluding sentence sums up the role of chance and coincidence in human affairs, as Elizabeth-Jane puzzles over the contrast between her happy present and her tragic past. Her youth, she reflects, "seemed to teach that happiness was but the occasional episode in a general drama of pain"—a viewpoint reflected in the novel's pessimistic outlook on the possibility of enduring happiness.

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