Sunday, 14 April 2013

Book #29 The Mayor Of Casterbridge by Thomas Hardy

The Mayor Of Casterbridge 

Length of Time In Possession : Roughly 3 years

The Mayor Of Casterbridge, if you include one unpublished, destroyed work, was Thomas Hardy's seventh novel and the third of his novels that I have read after Tess Of The D'Urbervilles and Far From The Madding Crowd, both of which I read in 2010, before I started up this blog.

It is the story of one Michael Henchard, the eponymous Mayor in question. At the opening of the novel he is a drunk, wandering from town to town in search of work. Accompanied by his wife and their baby daughter he gets drunk at a fair in Casterbridge, and in a moment of passion offers his wife and child up to the highest bidder. At first the gathered assembly take it as a shocking joke, but then a stranger, a sailor called Newson, steps forward and offers him 5 guineas, which he accepts. On waking and discovering his wife and child gone, Henchard vows to give up alcohol and become a good man.

Over the next two decades he prospers financially, and becomes a pillar of the community, the Mayor, respected though not particularly popular. By contrast his wife, Susan, who had a good life with Newson has now fallen on hard times, as her common law husband has been lost at sea. Along with her daughter she tracks down Henchard who is still legally her husband to make him provide for her.

The ensuing complications that arise from their reunion, mark a downturn in Henchard's fortunes culminating in a spectacular fall from grace.

Unlike many of his contemporaries who also made a lot of social comments, Dickens, say, or Eliot, Hardy has a tendency towards the bleak and the unhappy ending.  Henchard as a study is something of a Shakespearian tragedy of a man, full of pride and conceit, inevitably brought low by his own character flaws and mistakes.

As a novel, it is enjoyable but nowhere near as well written as "Tess" or as involving as 'Far From The Madding Crowd'; both of which are completely beautiful novels, so on a certain level I was somewhat disappointed, and I would definitely recommend either of those novels before recommending this.

I did Thomas Hardy's poetry at A Level and ended up loathing and despising him, avoiding him assiduously for more than a decade. With Tess, which I read for a university type Masterclass he won me over and I was glad to finally appreciate him as a writer.

Whilst the Mayor of Casterbridge is excellent as a character driven study, its prose is not the calibre that I know Hardy is capable of.

With that said I give this book 7/10

Destination : Ebook storage 


  1. Enjoyed your review. It's a stickly book to read. I read it at college after reading Far From The Madding Crowd at school ( which remains to be a favourite of mine) .

  2. Thanks Booknut, yes, Far From The Madding Crowd is amazing as was the ITV dramatisation of it I saw many moons ago, I think I was still in school at the time.