Book : The Mayor of Casterbridge
AUTHOR : Thomas Hardy
Blurb on Goodreads :
‘I’ve not always been what I am now’
In a fit of drunken anger, Michael Henchard sells his wife and baby daughter for five guineas at a country fair. Over the course of the following years, he manages to establish himself as a respected and prosperous pillar of the community of Casterbridge, but behind his success there always lurk the shameful secret of his past and a personality prone to self-destructive pride and temper. Subtitled ‘A Story of a Man of Character’, Hardy’s powerful and sympathetic study of the heroic but deeply flawed Henchard is also an intensely dramatic work, tragically played out against the vivid backdrop of a close-knit Dorsetshire town.
When I sat down to read my first ever Hardy novel, I was expecting a heroine centric story. I mean I have read his short stories based in the beautiful rustic setting of Wessex and having heard that this book too takes place there , it is safe to say I was overjoyed. New heroines !
Having heard great deal about Hardy and his works , I am aware that he was a author quite ahead of his time, quite disturbed by the hypocrisy that surrounded him and quite against the tide that pertained to sail him towards the shackles of sexism.
So, I get down to read The Mayor.. and turns out it’s a story of an ambitious, but short tempered man called Michael Henchard.
I am surprised but not disappointed at all .
The story and the circumstances that would eventually lead to his downfall are hinted very early on in the novel and they definitely keep you gripping your seats.
It’s fascinating really, the Victorian attitude on women and their rights, and Hardy tangles every thing in the beautiful web that he created with his writing. It’s very important to remember that this book unlike Hardy’s other works (about whom I have heard in abundance ) is centred around a man. Henchard is complex , he is not someone you would like to hang out with, he is layered and extremely flawed. He is almost like a Shakespearean tragic hero, with his fatal flaw being his spitfire temper. Like I said, he isn’t loved. You are not supposed to love Henchard. It would be quite disturbing if you do, but you root for him. You feel his pain, his suffering and you mourn for his sheer bad luck. Hardy I believe gives us a number of reason to loathe Henchard, being a feminist I am supposed to despise him, but I don’t. Not really. Because regardless of all his flaws and utter disgrace, Henchard is unique. He is no Brutus, too blind in his sensitive ideologies to see the conspiracy , neither is he Hamlet , procrastinating everything and taking his twisted and very disturbed sensibility to a new level. Henchard is very much Victorian. He realises his mistakes, calls the spade a spade and works deliberately for repentance . He is retrospective of himself, punishing himself for his flaws. He is never delusional into believing that he is on the correct path. He is his own critic and in his own twisted way works to make amends for his misdeeds and that makes him stand apart. His late but ardent devotion for his daughter Elizabeth is beautiful and heartbreaking and that final scene between them , did make me shed a tear or two. Henchard is not noble, and he isn’t supposed to be , but he is very much beautifully constructed.
A most finished character.
But what Hardy does with Henchard, is somewhat lacking in his characterisation of others.
Lucetta is almost tragic and in her we get a glimpse of the type of women Hardy went on to write in his more popular and later works. She is interesting but she at times is almost too weak to be taken seriously. The same goes with Elizabeth Jane, her characterisation seems incomplete. I believe she needed more than what was given to her. Her devotion to her father , which is in many ways veiled in her love for Farfrae could have been worked upon more. I mean she is a strong women, and is one character who evolves the most in the novel, but still she lacks something. Something I really aspire to see in Hardy’s other heroines when I sit down to read their stories.
Mrs. Henchard is too simple and bland, and her character and back story needed a bit more than what Hardy bestowed upon her.
Now coming to the character that I am supposed to care about. Donald Farfrae is to an extent the opposite of Henchard as he was supposed to be. He doesn’t make the choices that Michael does and he does end up having a happily ever after of a sort. But I am sorry I didn’t feel for him much. It’s amazing really, I initially thought I would like the Scotsman. It’s brilliant that Hardy induced a Scotsman as one of the central characters considering the political turmoil that was taking place between the two states, but I think Donald lacked a lot. Perhaps that’s why I didn’t feel much about his storyline.
I didn’t really care for anyone in The Mayor of Casterbridge and that worked just fine by me. Sometimes it works when I detach myself from the characters and enjoy the beauty of the book. And the book is beautiful I am telling you all.
So very fascinating.
The class commentary is brilliant and so very Hardy. The glimpses of Industrialisation in a country town made me giddy because I am a total history nerd and the sheer brilliant story telling of Thomas Hardy is so constructive and finished !
His hold in the book is strong and it never really falls apart. I can’t wait to read more of him. The bug of Victorian literature has bit me and I am drowning in this elixir.
If you haven’t read this one yet, what’s stopping you really ?