The Mayor of Casterbridge Study Guide (Choose to Continue)


The Mayor of Casterbridge: Chapters 39,40,41,42,43,44,45

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Summary – Chapters Thirty Nine, Forty and Forty One

Chapter Thirty Nine returns to Farfrae as he comes down from the ladder after the unexpected fight with Henchard. He had intended to visit a village on the Budmouth road, but Whittle gives him an anonymous note with ‘immediate’ written on it and it requests him to go to Weatherbury that evening. This is a well-intentioned attempt by Longways and other men who work for him to get him out of the way of the skimmity ride. ‘Poor’ Lucetta was given no such protective measure, though, as the men believe like the majority that there is some truth in the scandal.


At 8 pm, she relaxes at home and is pleased with the events of the day (apart from Henchard’s appearance) and is also relieved that the ‘floating evidence’ of her ‘absurd passion’ has been destroyed. This reverie is disturbed by a hubbub outside and the noise is increasing moment by moment. She can hear the maids describe what is happening and discovers that two images are tied back to back on a donkey. Lucetta hears that the female image is dressed as ‘she’ was when she sat watching a play at the Town Hall.


Lucetta stares at her feet and in almost the same instant Elizabeth-Jane appears. She begins to shut the shutters and Lucetta tells her to let it be. Lucetta then shrieks that Farfrae will see the effigies and will not love her any more. She goes on to the balcony and knows that it is impossible to mistake who the effigies are supposed to represent. Elizabeth-Jane implores her to come in, but Lucetta stands motionless and then drops to the floor. The ‘rude music’ of the skimmington ceases when she falls and has epileptic seizures. The doctor arrives and says Farfrae must be brought back home as a fit in her present state of health means mischief.


Before she becomes ill, Henchard sees the mounted images (in Chapter Forty) and knows what it all means. He goes to Elizabeth-Jane’s lodgings and is told she is with Mrs Farfrae. He goes over and by this time the roisterers have vanished. The doctor is saying that Farfrae must be met on the Budmouth road and Henchard says he has gone to Weatherbury instead. Because he has lost his good name, nobody believes him and in a state of ‘bitter anxiety and contrition’ he determines to find Farfrae himself.


He meets Farfrae’s gig and tells him to return to Casterbridge at once. Farfrae intends to carry on, but Henchard insists and says that his wife is ill. Farfrae still refuses to trust him and although he knows his wife is with child, she was in perfect health when he left her earlier. Henchard curses himself and is compared to a ‘less scrupulous Job’ and returns to Farfrae’s house. Elizabeth-Jane informs him Lucetta is in great danger and thinks the anxiety may kill her: ‘So much for man’s rivalry, he thought. Death was to have the oyster, and Farfrae and himself the shells.’


The only pinpoint of light for Henchard is in Elizabeth-Jane and he sees her affection for him in his face. For the first time, he has the faint dream he might like to get to know her ‘as his own’ if she would continue to love him. He goes home and Jopp says it is rather bad about Mrs Farfrae’s illness (and does not let him know of his involvement). He then tells Henchard he has had a visitor, who is a traveller or sea captain of some sort. He did not leave a name and Henchard does not give the matter any attention.


The narrative shifts back to Farfrae and how his diversion delays him by two hours and that he knows nothing of the skimmity ride. Lucetta’s dangerous illness and miscarriage are rumored around the town and those involved maintain a silence. Because of fear and compunction, those with Lucetta would not add to Farfrae’s distress by speaking of it. It is not known how much Lucetta has told him about her past relationship with Henchard apart from the bare facts.


Henchard is unable to sleep that night and makes frequent calls to the Farfrae house. When he makes his last visit at 4 am, he sees the maid untie a piece of cloth which had muffled the door knocker. He asks why she is doing this and he is told that they now may knock as loud as they want, ‘she will never hear it anymore’.


In Chapter Forty One, Henchard has come back home and Elizabeth-Jane comes to tell him of Lucetta’s death. He tells her he already knows, but thanks her for letting him know. He is kind to her and prepares her breakfast and then lets her sleep. We are told a great change has come over him as he develops the dream ‘of a future lit by her filial presence’.


There is another knock at the door then and it is the stranger (who was also in Peter’s Finger). He asks Henchard if he remembers him and as he does not he explains that his name is Newson. Henchard’s face and eyes seem to die, but the other one does not notice. They discuss the last time they met and Newson says how they were both young and thought less then. He explains that he feigned his own death because after Susan realized her sale had not been binding they grew distant from each other. He thought his death would enable her to return to Henchard.


Newson knows that Susan is now dead and wants to know about Elizabeth-Jane. Henchard tells him that she has also died and that she is buried next to her mother. Newson leaves and says he will trouble him no longer. As soon as he goes, Henchard is amazed at what he has done and goes in the direction Newson had taken. He sees him mount a coach and in a few minutes the vehicle has left and he  thinks of how Newson acted on faith as he did when he first left with Susan and his daughter.


As Henchard thinks of obstacles to his claim to Elizabeth-Jane, his affection grows more jealously strong. He becomes gloomier through the course of the day as he worries that Newson will return for her and he will have nobody. He walks to where the river is deepest and takes off his hat and coat. He looks down and believes he sees himself (and not just a resemblance). Because of his belief in the supernatural, he covers his eyes and bows his head. Without looking again, he picks up his hat and coat and leaves. He goes back home and brings Elizabeth-Jane to the weir to see this ‘miracle’. She thinks it is a bundle of clothes that are like the ones he wears and realizes it is an effigy on closer inspection. He then wonders why it is only his replica that is there and says their performance killed her, ‘but kept me alive’.


She guesses the meaning of these words and asks if she may come to live with him. He asks how she can forgive his former roughness and she says she has forgotten it. They both return home and he shaves for the first time in many days and puts on clean clothes. The next morning both effigies are found, but he continues to feel that even he is in ‘Somebody’s hand’.


Analysis – Chapters Thirty Nine, Forty and Forty One

In these chapters, Henchard reveals his complex warring personality once more as he shows contrition for Lucetta in searching for Farfrae, but later tells Newson that Elizabeth-Jane is dead. He lies to him on the spur of the moment and immediately regrets it; however, he continues to keep the truth of his step-daughter’s true paternity from her.


Other events in these chapters are concerned with Lucetta’s public humiliation in the skimmity ride. Although some of Farfrae’s workers hope to save him from these scenes, she is seen as deserving of her fate. Because of this and because of the outcome of this supposed practical joke, it is possible to see the novel question the moral hypocrisy that judges female sexuality. 


Summary – Chapters Forty Two, Forty Three, Forty Four and Forty Five

In due course, in Chapter Forty Two, Farfrae learns of the ‘proximate cause’ of Lucetta’s death and at first he wants to wreak vengeance. He comes to see, though, that it is best to see the event as an ‘untoward accident’.


Farfrae and Henchard mutually avoid meeting and for Elizabeth-Jane’s sake Henchard agrees to accept the small seed and root business. Time teaches Farfrae to ‘estimate his experience’ of Lucetta and this takes him out of the dead blank loss of grief.


By the end of the year, Henchard’s little shop has developed trade considerably and Elizabeth-Jane has her own way in everything now. When Henchard visits the market place, he notices Farfrae looking at her and the same idiosyncracies, which have already ruled him, arise again. Instead of thinking that a union between the two was a thing to be desired for the good, ‘he hated the very possibility’. However, rather than acting on this opposition as he would have done formerly he schools himself to accept Elizabeth-Jane’s will as he does not want her to dislike him. He considers telling Farfrae that she is not his child, and legally is nobody’s (in order to deter him), but decides against it.


In Chapter Forty Three, others in the town begin to notice that Farfrae and Elizabeth-Jane are becoming closer. Henchard takes to using a telescope to spy on them in order to ‘read the progress of affairs’ between them. One day he sees Newson approaching town and drops the glass. Newson stands and waits at a spot (where Elizabeth-Jane walks to) and she does not arrive; he then disappears. Henchard feels like a condemned man who has been given a few hours respite.


At home, Elizabeth-Jane tells Henchard she has received an unsigned note telling her to meet somebody on either the Budmouth road at noon or at Farfrae’s in the evening. The note says that the writer has come to the town before but a trick was played on him. She did not want to keep the appointment until she had asked Henchard his opinion. He heavily replies that she should go.


Henchard thinks he can no longer stay in Casterbridge and tells her she is able to look after the shop. He says he would rather go to the country and be by himself. She cries and believes he is saying this because of her attachment to Farfrae. She tells him that she wants him to be at her wedding and he exclaims that he does not want to see it. He asks her to think of him, though.


He buys a tool basket and the clothes that he wore as a young man and she accompanies him out on to the highway. At the first milestone, he rests his basket and gives way to a convulsive twitch that is worse than a sob. He wishes he had Elizabeth-Jane with him and feels like Cain (as an outcast and vagabond). However, he also decides his punishment is not greater than he can bear.


On her return, Farfrae meets her and they join hands. Newson is waiting for her at Farfrae’s and the true facts of her paternity are revealed. He also explains that Henchard told him she was dead and she thinks she should forget him now. Newson takes Henchard’s side, though, and says he (Newson) should not have been such a simpleton as to believe him, but she is not persuaded.


In Chapter Forty Four, Henchard is so sad at leaving Elizabeth-Jane that he cannot face human company and sleeps under a wheat rick. As well as his own belongings, he has also brought some of her cast off possessions and a curl of her hair.


He walks for five consecutive days and it becomes apparent that he is heading towards Weydon Priors. The field where the fair is held is now empty apart from a few sheep. He sees the road that they came in by and notes where the tent would have been. We are told that he has been ‘sorry for all this long ago’, but his ‘attempts to replace ambition by love had been as fully foiled as his ambition itself’. He has visited this place as an act of penance and now intends to move away from the area. The effects of his love for Elizabeth-Jane mean that he only moves in a circle around Casterbridge, though.


He finds work as a hay-trusser and hears news of Farfrae’s and Elizabeth-Jane’s impending marriage. Two days after hearing of this, he sets off ‘with a sudden reckless determination to go to the wedding’ and buys a present (a caged goldfinch).


When he arrives in Casterbridge on the day of the wedding, he visits Farfrae’s house and decides to call on them from the back entrance. A waiting woman shows him to the little back parlor and tells him she will wait until the end of the dance before she informs them of his arrival. Through the gap in the door, he sees the dancers and notices that Newson is dancing with Elizabeth-Jane. Henchard rises to his feet, and stands like a ‘dark ruin’. He wants to leave but Elizabeth-Jane enters the room. She is surprised to see him and calls him Mr Henchard. He asks her not to be cold and to save a little love for him. She asks how she can love him after he has so bitterly deceived her. He waives the ‘privilege of self-defence’ and apologizes for coming. He says he will not trouble her again to his dying day and leaves the way he came. We are told that she sees him no more.


The final chapter (Chapter Forty Five) begins a month later. Newson stayed for three days after the wedding and then moved to Budmouth. The narrative then shifts to Elizabeth-Jane discovering a covered bird cage with a dead bird inside in the first week of her marriage. The maid tells her that a farmer’s man brought it on the evening of the wedding celebrations and Elizabeth-Jane recognizes it as ‘a token of repentance’ from Henchard. From this moment, her heart softens towards this ‘self-alienated man’. When Farfrae comes home, she asks him to help her find Henchard so she can make her peace with him.


They follow directions to where Henchard was last seen and see a man enter a rundown cottage. They believe it is Whittle and go there to enquire. Whittle answers and he informs them that Henchard died about half an hour ago. He came to help Henchard as he used to be kind to his mother.


Henchard had pinned his will to the bed head and, among other requests, he asks that Elizabeth-Jane should not know of his death and he does not want to be buried in consecrated ground. He also does not want flowers and wants no man to remember him. She respects these wishes as much as she can and she goes on to live in ‘equable serenity’.


Analysis – Chapters Forty Two, Forty Three, Forty Four and Forty Five

In these last few chapters, Henchard continues to act upon the impulsive recklessness that has established the course of his life. He is duly repentant for his actions, of selling his wife and child and of deceiving Elizabeth-Jane, but is also characteristically unable to avoid feelings of jealousy when his happiness is under threat. He is given convincing complexities that also allow the readers to sympathize with his demise despite his unguarded and, at times, hate-filled conduct. His gift of the bird, which dies from neglect and starvation, is rightfully seen by Elizabeth-Jane as a sign of his repentance. It also represents the ironic failings of Henchard.


His last requests may be regarded as a moral guide to the novel, as he prefers to be forgotten (and ‘self-alienated’) even though as a younger man he was deemed a success in business and civic affairs. It is as though he hopes to eternally separate himself from those he loves. This is evident in the drunken decision to sell his wife and daughter and in the writing of his will. 


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