The Mayor of Casterbridge: Chapters 12,13,14

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Summary – Twelve, Thirteen and Fourteen

Henchard returns home in Chapter Twelve and finds Farfrae ‘overhauling the books’. He asks Farfrae to sit with him and then explains how he has not always been what he is now. He tells him how he sold his wife, tried to find her and took the oath not to drink. He describes himself as something of a woman hater, and says this woman has returned.


Henchard confides further details of his life as he explains that by doing right by Susan he will ‘wrong another innocent woman’. A scandal arose between him and this other woman when he was doing some work in Jersey. He has received many letters from her reminding him of her suffering and he has told her that if she is prepared to run the slight risk (which he then thought) of Susan being alive, he would marry her. She jumped for joy at this news, ‘but, behold, Susan appears!’ Henchard realizes he will have to disappoint one of them, but his duty is to Susan.


Farfrae advises him to write to the woman in Jersey to inform her of Susan’s appearance and that he is unable to marry her. Henchard wants to send her money too and asks Farfrae to help him write it. He then informs Farfrae that his daughter does not know he is her true father and asks for Farfrae’s advice again. Farfrae tells him to run the risk of telling her the truth, but Henchard replies ‘never’. No more is said on the subject and when Farfrae writes the letter, Henchard copies it and posts it to Jersey with a cheque.


In Chapter Thirteen, Henchard hires a cottage for Susan under the name of Newson. He comes to visit once they are comfortably installed and Elizabeth-Jane is ‘carefully hoodwinked’ by their conversations.


The people of the town get to know that Henchard is ‘captured’ by Susan, but cannot understand why he has chosen her. She is so pale that the local boys call her ‘the Ghost’. Nobody would have guessed from his outward appearance that romance was not his stimulant. Instead, he had three large resolves: to make amends to Susan; provide a comfortable home for Elizabeth-Jane; and ‘to castigate himself with the thorns which these restitutory acts brought in their train’.


In November, Susan enters a carriage for the first time and this takes her and Elizabeth-Jane to the church for the marriage to Henchard. Idlers outside the church discuss the match and Nance Mockridge says there is a ‘bluebeardy look’ about Henchard, whilst the others see the match as a godsend for Susan.


The two women move into Henchard’s house in Chapter Fourteen and he shows as much affection as he is capable of doing. Elizabeth-Jane thrives at this time, but she also remains circumspect as she does not wish to tempt fate. This may be attributed to her earlier, more difficult life.


Henchard tells Susan that he wants Elizabeth-Jane to take his name now and will advertise it in the newspaper. Susan is reluctant for this to happen, but backs down when he says she must be willing if Elizabeth-Jane agrees. When Susan is alone with her, Susan tells her about Henchard’s desire for her name to be changed and adds that this might be a slight upon Newson. Henchard talks to Elizabeth-Jane about his proposal later, and she says she would prefer to remain as Miss Newson unless he wishes for the change ‘very much’.


Meanwhile, Henchard’s business thrives under Farfrae’s management. This is helped by his putting everything in writing and ‘the rugged picturesqueness of the old method disappeared with its inconveniences’.


When Elizabeth-Jane and Susan are out, Elizabeth-Jane notices ‘the Scotchman’ watching them both and her mother in particular. Another day, she receives a note delivered by hand and it asks her to come to the granary on Durnover Hill. She presumes it is from Henchard and when she arrives she feels shy because Farfrae approaches and she enters the granary unseen. Farfrae thinks he is alone, looks at his watch and pulls out a note that is a duplicate of the one she has received.


The situation becomes more awkward when Farfrae hears a movement in the granary and Elizabeth-Jane makes herself known. After some confusion, they realize a third party has sent them the same note and he presumes this person wants to meet both of them so they stay there for a while. They come to see that this has been a hoax and as they are about to leave Farfrae blows the dust from her. When she sets off, he watches her thoughtfully.


Analysis – Chapters Twelve, Thirteen and Fourteen

As Henchard reveals to Farfrae his secrets, and this includes his relationship with a woman in Jersey, it becomes apparent that he wishes to maintain his image of respectability despite asking Farfrae for advice. When Farfrae advises him to be honest with Elizabeth-Jane about her history, for example, he replies ‘never’ and this trait is also evident in Susan when she suggests to her daughter that she should not take on Henchard’s name. Both Susan and Henchard may be seen to prefer to cover over past indiscretions and this is in contrast to Farfrae’s desire for openness. 

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