The Mayor of Casterbridge: Chapters 24,25,26

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Summary – Chapters Twenty Four, Twenty Five and Twenty Six

Elizabeth-Jane is pleased to remain at High-Place Hall, in Chapter Twenty Four, as this is her home now and she (as well as Lucetta) also enjoys the views of the market place and each Saturday both steal sly glances at Farfrae.


One day, the two women go out to investigate the arrival of a new seed drill and Elizabeth-Jane introduces Henchard to Lucetta. She thinks she hears him say, ‘you refused to see me’, to Lucetta but then presumes she hallucinated it. He leaves and they then chat with Farfrae who is examining his drill. He is at ease with Elizabeth-Jane, but is embarrassed and deferential with Lucetta. When they are alone, Lucetta explains to Elizabeth-Jane that she has already had occasion to speak to Farfrae. Elizabeth-Jane considers this encounter and recognizes that when Lucetta goes out, she hopes to see him again.


Lucetta tells Elizabeth-Jane her story involving Henchard and Farfrae, but does not use any names and refers to herself in the third person as ‘the lady’. She asks if the lady ‘could in honour dismiss the first’ (which is, of course, Henchard) and Elizabeth-Jane says she cannot answer as this is a difficult point and Lucetta understands correctly that she prefers not to say. The chapter ends with Elizabeth-Jane sighing in bed that Lucetta has not treated her to her full confidence of names and dates as she has not been beguiled by the ‘she’ of Lucetta’s story.


The next day, in Chapter Twenty Five, Farfrae calls to see Lucetta and Elizabeth-Jane is treated as though she is all but invisible. He answers her questions with ‘curtly indifferent monosyllables’ and she leaves the room when she has a chance. She realizes that Farfrae is the second man in Lucetta’s story.


The narrative then shifts to Henchard and to how he is becoming more attracted to Lucetta. He calls to see her again when Elizabeth-Jane is absent and is received with such cool friendship that he is deferential to her. He proposes marriage (that is, he proposes to silence her enemies in Jersey) and she says they should let things be for the present and to treat her as an acquaintance for now. He is angry and fails to notice her face (which shows her love) when she looks at Farfrae from her window. When Henchard leaves, Lucetta decides she will love him (Farfrae) and will not be a slave to the past.


Elizabeth-Jane understands now that Lucetta is caught between Henchard and Farfrae, but has learned the lessons of renunciation. She wonders what other unwished-for thing Heaven might send her now.


In Chapter Twenty Six, Henchard and Farfrae do not know that they are rivals for Lucetta’s affections and Farfrae does not know that she is the ‘second’ woman that Henchard has told him about. Henchard is sure, however, that he has a rival and asks Lucetta if she knows Farfrae. She says she knows almost everybody in Casterbridge and Elizabeth-Jane adds that they both know him to save her companion’s embarrassment. Shortly after this discussion, Farfrae appears and Henchard notices that Lucetta is full of ‘little fidgets and flutters’ and these increase his suspicions. Lucetta holds out a plate to both men and asks if they would like some more bread and butter. They both think she is talking to them and take the same slice. The slice breaks in half and Farfrae tries to laugh about it. Elizabeth-Jane thinks, ‘how ridiculous of all three of them’.


Henchard leaves with his suspicions but no proof, yet Elizabeth-Jane thinks it is as ‘plain as the town pump’ that Farfrae and Lucetta are incipient lovers. Henchard is disturbed, though, and feels a ‘vitalised antagonism’ towards Farfrae. He employs Jopp as a foreman and he is the only one in the town (apart from Elizabeth-Jane and Henchard) that knows Lucetta used to live in Jersey. Jopp is now in straitened circumstances and his character has changed because of this. He lets Henchard know he was living in Jersey when Henchard had business. Henchard replies ‘indeed! Very good’ and employs him and does not think that his character might have deteriorated since they last met.


He tells Jopp that he wants Farfrae cut out of the trade and he cannot live side by side with him any longer. Elizabeth-Jane is sure this is the wrong man to employ and risks Henchard’s ire by telling him so. She is rewarded with a ‘sharp rebuff’.


The narrative shifts to explain the importance of the weather on how the wheat crops will turn out. A bad harvest would double the price of corn and the promise of a good yield would lower it considerably. In June, the weather is unfavorable and Henchard, supported by Jopp, reads a ‘disastrous garnering’. However, Henchard is superstitious and visits a man (Mr Fall) with a reputation of being a weather-prophet. Fall tells him that the last fortnight in August will be ‘ruin and tempest’ and the next Saturday Henchard buys such large quantities of grain that his neighbors discuss it. When his granaries are full, the weather changes and an excellent harvest becomes almost a certainty. Because of this, the prices rush down. To pay for his dealings, Henchard has to sell off the corn for a price that is a lot lower than he paid.


He then has to visit the bank and it is rumored soon after that the bank now owns much of his property and produce. As he leaves, he encounters Jopp and hears him say that it is a fine hot day. Henchard turns on him and blames him for giving him bad advice. The conversation continues in these terms and ends with Henchard dismissing him. When Henchard leaves, Jopp says he will be sorry for this.


Analysis – Chapters Twenty Four, Twenty Five and Twenty Six

As when Henchard sold his wife and daughter almost twenty years ago, he continues to behave on impulse in his rivalry with Farfrae. Once more, his first destructive reaction is acted upon and this brings about a downfall. Earlier, his actions were punished with a secretive shame and this time they bring financial ruin that is just becoming evident in Chapter Twenty Six. It is also of interest that he continues to lash out and blame others in his first thoughts and this time he takes his anger out on Jopp. Henchard is the eponymous anti-hero who courts tragedy by acting on jealousy and anger rather than logic and reason. His all too human failings are made clear.


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