The Mayor of Casterbridge: Chapters 3,4,5

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Summary – Chapters Three, Four and Five

Chapter Three begins with Susan and her daughter walking on the road to the village of Weydon-Prior. Susan is wearing the mourning clothes of a widow and Elizabeth-Jane is now aged about 18. They follow the same track as before and ascend to the fair.


Elizabeth-Jane asks why they have hindered their time by coming here and Susan explains that this is where she first met Newson. Elizabeth-Jane asks, ‘first met with father here?’ and it is then revealed that he has since drowned. Susan also explains hesitantly that this is also the last place that she saw their relative, Michael Henchard (for whom are now looking). Elizabeth-Jane wonders what their exact relationship is to this man, as her mother has never explained. Susan only says he is related by marriage. The girl innocently asks if he ever knew her and her mother replies, of course not (Susan is now known as Mrs. Newson).


The old woman who sells furmity is still working there and Susan approaches her alone. She asks if she remembers the time when a wife was sold by her husband and the woman finally recalls the incident. The year after the sale the man came to her and said if a woman ever asks after him, she should tell her that he is now in Casterbridge. Susan rejoins Elizabeth-Jane and informs her where they will find him.


In Chapter Four, the readers are told that Susan has wanted to tell her daughter a 100 times about the true story of her life, but has refrained from doing so. However, Susan has felt no sense of wrong as she believed ‘Newson had acquired a morally real and justifiable right to her by his purchase’. After leaving with the sailor, they all went to Canada for several years and the three returned to England when Elizabeth-Jane was about 12.


It was at this time that Susan had an awakening. She told a friend about her history and this friend ridiculed her for her ‘grave acceptance of her position’. When Newson returned from work in Newfoundland, ‘he saw that the delusion he had so carefully sustained had vanished for ever’. Susan doubted if she could live with him anymore and when he returned to Newfoundland and she heard of his plight at sea, the problem for her ‘meek conscience’ was solved.


To help Elizabeth-Jane advance out of poverty, Susan has decided to pocket her pride and search for her first husband. The only awkwardness now lies in enlightening her daughter about her true origins. She decides to let Henchard tell her if they find him.


On a Friday evening, they reach the summit of a hill that gives them a view of Casterbridge. Two men pass them and mention the name Henchard, but Susan wants to wait until they reach town to make further enquiries. However, they stop a woman to ask where they can buy bread and they are informed that the corn factory has sold grown wheat to the millers and bakers. The bread here is described as flat and like a suet pudding inside, so they buy biscuits instead and head to where they can hear music being played.


By moving towards the source of the music, Susan and Elizabeth-Jane reach the King’s Arms in Casterbridge in Chapter Five and are told that there is a public dinner taking place inside. Elizabeth-Jane is also told by those outside that she will see Mr Henchard, the Mayor, at the end of the table. Both mother and daughter take a look and Susan is surprised that he is only drinking water. She is overcome by the memories of the last time she saw him and says she can never speak to him.


An old man explains to Elizabeth-Jane that Henchard does not drink alcohol as he took a ‘gospel oath’ years ago and has kept to it ever since. He has two years of the oath left and is described as a lonely widow man. The man goes on to explain that Henchard came with nothing and is now a pillar of the town. He then criticizes him for the rough bread that has come from his wheat.


After Henchard’s speech, some at the lower end of the table ask him about the bad bread and some outside also say that he should tell the story (that is, explain). Henchard’s face darkens and he argues that allowances should be made for a large business.  He continues by telling the group that he has advertised for a manager of the corn department. He refuses, however, to replace the grown flour with ‘sound grain’ as he says it cannot be done.


Analysis – Chapters Three, Four and Five

In Chapter Three, Susan and Elizabeth-Jane return to Weydon fair over 15 years later to help discover the whereabouts of Henchard. A little information is given of what has happened over the intervening years and this includes Susan believing misguidedly that her sale to Newson had been binding. This demonstrates her lack of worldliness and naivety.


Chapter Five indicates how different the lives of Susan and Henchard have become as she is mired in poverty whereas he has since risen to become the Mayor of Casterbridge. When she glimpses him at the table, she is overcome with memories of the last time they were together and notices that he is now drinking only water (which demonstrates he has maintained his oath). The differences in their stations are apparent as she looks in from the outside at this grand public dinner. 

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