The Mayor of Casterbridge Study Guide (Choose to Continue)


The Mayor of Casterbridge: Chapters 33,34,35,36,37,38

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Summary – Chapters Thirty Three, Thirty Four and Thirty Five

Chapter Thirty Three begins with Henchard drinking in the Three Mariners and he is insisting that the group of journeymen (that has come in from the church) sing the 109th psalm. The leader says he would rather not as nobody can sing it without disgracing himself. Henchard loses his temper and takes up a poker. He says he will break their pates if they do not do as he wishes. Through fear they sing the psalm and when Lucetta and Farfrae pass, Henchard tells the men they have been singing about Farfrae and some are aghast.


When Elizabeth-Jane arrives, Henchard is calmer and she escorts him home. He implies he will have his revenge on Farfrae, though, and she feels she should caution Farfrae about this.


One day, Henchard says he cannot face Abel Whittle’s pity any longer and Elizabeth-Jane offers to work with him instead. She also wants to see how Farfrae and Henchard get along and two or three days later Farfrae enters the yard with Lucetta. It is obvious to Elizabeth-Jane that Farfrae does not know of any ‘antecedents’ between his wife and the new hay-trusser and Henchard does not look at either of them as though his work is all absorbing. Farfrae does not wish to look as though he is triumphing over him and goes to the corn department. Unfortunately, Lucetta does not know of Henchard’s presence and stumbles across him. With ‘withering humility’, Henchard touches his hat as the other employees do and he says with added sarcasm that ‘we humble workmen here feel it is a great honour that a lady should look in and take an interest in us’.


The next morning, Henchard receives a note from her asking him not to speak to her in such ‘biting’ tones. She does not visit again and in time Farfrae comes to see Henchard as another employee. Henchard notices and hides his feelings under ‘stolidity’. He also drinks more freely at the Three Mariners. Elizabeth-Jane finally resolves to warn Farfrae about Henchard when she sees him make a move to push Farfrae from the top floor of the stores.


In Chapter Thirty Four, she rises at 5 am to caution Farfrae, but he makes light of her warning. Later, he thinks her advice over but continues with a kindly scheme he has come up with to help Henchard.


He talks with the town clerk about setting Henchard up in a little seedsman’s shop and offers to head up the private subscription with 50 pounds if others will do the same. The clerk points out that Henchard hates Farfrae and has been telling people this in the public house. Farfrae decides to let Henchard continue working for him, but drops the idea of the shop. Henchard’s name is mentioned when Farfrae explains to the then occupier of the shop that the intentions of the Council have changed. The occupier is greatly disappointed and informs Henchard straight away that a Council scheme to set him up in a shop has been knocked on the head by Farfrae: ‘And thus out of error enmity grew’.


That night, Farfrae tells Lucetta that Henchard hates him and asks her if she knows why. She turns wan and replies, no. She then suggests they move and he considers this seriously until Alderman Vatt visits and asks him if he would replace the Mayor who has suddenly died. Farfrae accepts when he finds out that several men have nominated him.


Lucetta is uneasy from this day on and when she sees Henchard a few days later she asks him to return her letters. He cannot say what has happened to them, but remembers later that they are in the safe in his former home. On this very evening, the bells ring and bands play to celebrate Farfrae becoming Mayor and this goads Henchard further as he now feels completely ousted. He goes to work the next day as usual and asks Farfrae about a packet he might have left in his safe. Farfrae informs him he has not looked in this safe yet and so it will still be there. Henchard says he will call for it that evening and primes himself with ‘grog’ before his visit.


When he arrives there, Farfrae takes out the packet and gives it to Henchard. They sit at opposite ends of the table and Henchard proceeds to sort through the letters. Henchard tells him how they relate to the ‘curious chapter’ in his life that he has already told him about. Farfrae asks what became of the poor woman and is told she married. Henchard says he no longer feels guilty and then reads from them without giving the name of the writer. Farfrae asks why he did not marry her after Susan died and Henchard grins and says, ‘ah – well you may ask that!’ Farfrae presumes she had ‘a heart that bore transplanting very readily’ and Henchard agrees.


He came to the house with the intention of reading Lucetta’s name out ‘in cold blood’, but is unable to do so.


Lucetta is upstairs in Chapter Thirty Five and comes downstairs to find out what is being read out. The dining room door is ajar and she stands transfixed as she is greeted by her words read out in Henchard’s voice. She also hears Farfrae say that if they were his he would destroy them and Henchard say that he will not do this.


When Farfrae comes up to bed after Henchard has left, she sobs hysterically. After she calms down, he tells her that he thinks Henchard is ‘a little crazed’. He also repeats his last words, which were that Henchard thanked him for listening and may tell him more about the woman some day.


The next day, Lucetta writes to Henchard and asks him for pity. She wants to meet him near the Ring and dresses plainly for the occasion. She also veils herself to avoid being recognized. Unwittingly, she has reminded him of Susan (in her plain dress and in the appointed meeting place). As a superstitious man, her point is already half won as she reminds him of ‘another ill-used woman’. He feels ashamed and agrees to return the letters, but warns her that Farfrae is sure to find out sooner or later. She says she will have proved herself to be a faithful and deserving wife by then and he swears to keep her secret and to send her the letters the next day.


Analysis – Chapters Thirty Three, Thirty Four and Thirty Five

As Henchard turns to alcohol again, his emotions are barely repressed. In drink, he lets his hatred for Farfrae become widely known and this exacerbates their relationship further. This leads Farfrae to reconsider his hope of assisting Henchard, which fuels Henchard’s anger all the more. Great and small ironies structure events as both men misunderstand each other, but it is Henchard that is most consistently thwarted by both his jealousy-led impulsiveness and the dramatic irony that informs the reader (but not him) of his disastrous misconceptions (as in misconstruing the fact of Farfrae’s kindness in wanting to set him up in business).


Summary – Chapters Thirty Six, Thirty Seven and Thirty Eight

When Lucetta returns from her appointment, in Chapter Thirty Six, Jopp stops her to ask if she will say a word in his favor for a position with Farfrae. She is cold with him, but he says she can swear to his trustworthiness better than anyone as he knew her by sight when he lived in Jersey. She steadily refuses him, though, and he returns home. Here, Henchard asks if he may do him a service: take a package in brown paper to Mrs Farfrae. Jopp indifferently expresses his willingness and when Henchard asks if he has had any luck finding work Jopp tells him he has not (and has not informed Henchard about his application to Farfrae). Henchard goes upstairs and Jopp looks at the package. He has a vague recollection of some wooing between Henchard and Lucetta and curiosity leads him to open the package up and finds the letters.


On his way to deliver it, he comes across Mother Cuxsom and Nance Mockridge who tell him about some music being played at an inn (Peter’s Finger) in Mixen Lane. He decides to go this way first and the readers are informed that this area is the hiding place for those in distress, debt and ‘trouble of every kind’.


At the inn, the aged furmity woman is there and she asks about his package. He tells her they are love letters and with a little encouragement he reads from them (and tells them they are from Lucetta). The furmity woman claims she has saved her from a bad marriage, but she has never thanked her. A stranger appears as they talk about a skimmity ride. He asks what this is and is told it is something they do in these parts when a man’s wife is ‘not too particularly his own’. He is told it is funny and that it costs money; he says he would like to see this custom and throws a sovereign down. By the time Jopp leaves, it is too late to deliver the letters so he reseals the package and takes them the next day. They are burned within the hour by Lucetta who then falls on her knees in thankfulness.


In Chapter Thirty Seven, there is the news that a royal personage is visiting the town for half an hour. The Council meet to discuss the procedure and Henchard enters the room in his shabby clothes to say that he wants to join the reception for the visitor. Embarrassed glances are exchanged and it falls to Farfrae to say this would hardly be proper as he is no longer on the Council.


On the day of the visit, Henchard steps up to the royal carriage and unfurls his homemade flag. Farfrae intervenes and drags Henchard away by his shoulders. The ‘idlers’ chat and Nance Mockridge says how she would like to see Lucetta ‘toppered’. When some of the others hear that a skimmity ride is being planned, they decide to keep Farfrae out of the way.


In Chapter Thirty Eight, Henchard withdraws after the royal visit and stares at the lapel where Farfrae seized it. He also overhears Lucetta deny that he had ever helped Farfrae and that he is nothing more than a journeyman. He sees Jopp on the way home and he tells Henchard that he has also been snubbed, but Henchard is barely listening. After dinner, he leaves a message for Farfrae to meet him in the granaries as soon as possible.


When Henchard arrives, it is empty (due to the half holiday) and he wraps a rope around himself so that one of his arms is pinioned to his side. He then goes up the ladders and looks down to about 30 or 40 feet to the ground and waits for Farfrae to appear. At length, he arrives and Henchard asks him to come up to him.


Henchard tells him that he has stood for a lot, but his hustling him away from the visitor has disgraced him. He challenges Farfrae to a fight and says he has tied back his arm so he does not have as much of an advantage. A description of the fight ensues and Farfrae’s life is in danger as Henchard pushes him towards the opening to the ground. Farfrae tells him to take it, but Henchard says that although he came to kill him, he cannot hurt him and Farfrae leaves.


Afterwards, Henchard is thoroughly subdued and considers asking for Farfrae’s forgiveness. He remembers hearing him arrange that he is going to Weatherbury when he was in the store and returns to the bridge and watches the water as he waits for him. Whilst there, he hears an unaccustomed sound in the town quarter. It is a confusion of ‘rhythmical noises’ but it barely rouses him enough to pay more than ‘a cursory heed’.


Analysis – Chapters Thirty Six, Thirty Seven and Thirty Eight

When Jopp reads from Lucetta’s letters in the public house, her fears of public condemnation later become realized. These letters are evidence of her previous relationship with Henchard and demonstrate that she has loved somebody else prior to her marriage to Farfrae. By telling others of her secrets, Jopp has punished her for her coldness towards him and the result is that her breaking of the moral codes become known and the skimmity ride is planned. This is a form of ritual policing, disguised as a joke, and is a carnivalesque form of retribution. 


With regard to Henchard and Farfrae, the fight between them is a culmination of their rivalry. It is telling that Henchard both plans this and regrets it afterwards and wants Farfrae’s forgiveness. His actions are seen to continue to be decided by his recklessness and his later contrition demonstrates the human quality of his failings.


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