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The Mayor of Casterbridge

3.79  ·  Rating Details ·  42,634 Ratings  ·  1,563 Reviews
I’ve not always been what I am now

In a fit of drunken anger, Michael Henchard sells his wife and baby daughter for five guineas at a country fair. Over the course of the following years, he manages to establish himself as a respected and prosperous pillar of the community of Casterbridge, but behind his success there always lurk the shameful secret of his past and a pers
Paperback, Penguin Classics, 445 pages
Published March 27th 2003 by Penguin Books Ltd (first published 1886)
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Jason Khadka It is a tragic novel and will leave a bitter taste as you go into the story. I would highly recommend it. It is an English literature classic and is a…moreIt is a tragic novel and will leave a bitter taste as you go into the story. I would highly recommend it. It is an English literature classic and is a very good read. (less)

Community Reviews

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Jun 15, 2012 karen rated it it was amazing

this is hardy's most perfectly-constructed novel. there are others that are more appealing, to me, (am i allowed to say that?), but this one is such a perfect cause-and-effect, every-action-has-a-reaction kind of book, that it should really be his most popular and successful, instead of tess, which by comparison, is pure melodrama.

mayor is full of the trappings of melodrama - convenient and inexplicable deaths, characters long out of the picture returning at the least opportune times, overheard
Henry Avila
Jan 21, 2016 Henry Avila rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Michael Henchard an itinerant, young, annoyed farm worker, walking with quiet wife Susan, infant daughter Elizabeth -Jane, looking for employment, the time, the early 1830's, in southern England, after an exhausting journey they reach a country fair, in a small village, enter a crowded tent, with dubious humans, serving alcohol, he imbibes vigorously, (a weakness that will cause much trouble, and haunt him the rest of his life) soon inebriated, the highly distressed man, in a stupor, sells Susan ...more
Aug 25, 2007 Elizabeth rated it it was amazing
I give it five stars because it seems nearly a perfect example of its type of craft. This book has an intertwined and flawless plot that is never overcomplicated; it is full of wonderful language, rich with regional variation, for instance the tenor of Donald Farfrae's Scottish is exceptionally musical and not like the speech of his peers. There were moments reading this book I felt so much under the sway of the author's power that I could observe him wirte himself into one tight plot corner and ...more
Jason Koivu
Nov 22, 2008 Jason Koivu rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction
I'd heard Hardy was a bit of a chore, so instead of his chunky novels I went slender with The Mayor of Casterbridge as my first. I'm not sure it was a wise choice.

Not because I thought it was bad by any means. The writing's quite good, the story held my interest, but jeez louise, this is bleak stuff! It's bleaker than Bleak House! Are all this books like this? I'm not normally depressed, but I may have to put myself on suicide watch just to get through another one of his novels!

Seriously though
Apr 27, 2010 Sue rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Sue by: Read with Constant Reader Classic
It seems The Mayor of Casterbridge can end only in one direction as this Mayor is continually victimized by his own shortcomings. As the novel begins, we witness the famous selling of his wife while he is in a drunken stupor, not caring about anything or anyone else in the world. Years later, he has his chance to make changes, amends but his essential character prevents this. He sees evil and devils where there are none and increases small faults to large. He turns friends to enemies and enemies ...more
helen the bookowl
What a silly novel! Much of these unfortunate destinies could have been prevented if only the characters weren't so stupid and didn't make so many irrational and unbelievable decisions.
But what an entertaining story this is! It's got a shocking beginning and a lot of plot twists that I didn't see coming, I just wish that it didn't feel like Thomas Hardy was pushing the plot forward in an unnatural and quite unbelievable way.
I won't go too much into the plot and the characters' decisions which
Jul 23, 2016 Perry rated it really liked it
"Happiness was but the occasional episode in a general drama of pain."

"Life is an oasis which is submerged in the swirling waves of sorrows and agonies."

Never have I found a couple of lines in a novel that so perfectly sum up the writer's oeuvre for me. To those, I'd add, "Gloom, despair and agony on me" from an old TV song.

This was my first Hardy novel, reading it last July. In the six-plus months since, I've made myself a Hardy punching bag: Tess of the D'Urbervilles, Return of the Native, a
MJ Nicholls
When Thomas stopped writing novels in the early 1900s, he concentrated his bitterness on spectacularly peevish poetry, dripping with more melancholy self-loathing than mid-90s Morrissey albums (has anyone actually heard Maladjusted or Southpaw Grammar the whole way through?) These poems captivated my downbeat imagination as a teenager but the novels remained out of reach—I wanted heartbreak-to-go, I wasn’t looking to eat in the restaurant of shattered dreams. Now, I find myself pulled towards th ...more
Sep 24, 2013 Crispy rated it did not like it
I had to read this in high school . It was so boring it caused every particle of oxygen to be instantly sucked out of my brain whenever I opened the cover. My teacher gave me detention for falling asleep in class, I pointed to The Mayor of Casterbridge, he hit me on the back of the head with a wooden ruler. I can truly say that the classics of 19th century English literature made an impact on me.
Barry Pierce
I really loved this one. This was my third Hardy novel and it's by far one of his best. Horribly tragic of course, well obviously, this is Hardy, but also SO GOOD. I think this one would be a good entry point into Hardy, it has all this major themes and all of his delicious pessimism. Ah, it's so fantastic.
Mar 22, 2015 Apatt rated it it was amazing
If Thomas Hardy's Wessex region was a real place the British government would probably have to nuke it as nothing but misery seems to go on there, as recounted in Tess of the d'Urbervilles, Jude the Obscure, The Return of the Native and other bleak-fests (I am excluding Far from the Madding Crowd here because I find it quite cheerful by his melancholic standard (only a few tissue papers required instead of a whole box of Kleenex). The Mayor of Casterbridge is Hardy at least wonderfully mirth ...more
Oct 08, 2011 Kim rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition

This is the story of Michael Henchard, who sells his wife and infant daughter for five guineas while drunk at a local fair. The consequences of this one impulsive action haunt his life thereafter. Henchard is a tragic figure, doomed not only by the character flaws of which he is only too aware, but also by a malignant, inescapable fate.

Hardy's writing is breathtaking. The novel is full of stunningly beautiful descriptive language. Hardy paints vivid pictures with words, bringing both characters
α “He was like one who had half fainted, and could neither recover nor complete the swoon.”

α “Life is an oasis which is submerged in the swirling waves of sorrows and agonies.”

α “It was part of his nature to extenuate nothing and live on as one of his own worst accusers.”

α “She had the hard, half-apathetic expression of one who deems anything possible at the hands of time and chance, except perhaps fair play”

α “I won't be a slave to the past. I'll love where I choose.”

Review to follow!
Jul 17, 2015 TheSkepticalReader rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: in-print, classics
I felt like I’d been in a Hardy-slump lately, in my attempt to read 1 Hardy novel a month this year, so veered off the schedule and read this when I was meant to be reading The Trumpet-Major. Like every Hardy novel, The Mayor of Casterbridge is another case of extreme dramatics attempting to illustrate a point.

This reads somewhat different to previous Hardy novels that had become slightly repetitive for me. Instead of the concentration being on an individual female, the main protagonist is a mal
The Book Whisperer (aka Boof)
When I began this book I have to admit that I didn't think the three words I'd be using to describe it would be drama, excitement and intrigue . In fact, I really had no intention of reading this book at all any time soon as a friend of mine had to study it in school as a teenager and told me it's the worst book she's ever read and that had stayed with me and filed into the "don't bother" part of my brain. So then, just before Christmas I saw or heard something about this book and that it was ab ...more
Jun 02, 2016 Alex rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: assholes
Shelves: 2016, 2016-bingo
When you hear "tragic flaw" you think of hubris, probably, or curiosity, or the desire to fuck your mom, but here's the tragic flaw Michael Henchard has in Hardy's blazing character study: he's an asshole.

He's not bad, exactly. He has a sense of justice, or at least he develops one. As the book opens, he auctions off his wife for five shillings in a fit of drunken pique. When he sobers up and realizes what he's done, he swears off drinking. He tries to be better. Later on in a fistfight, he ties
Nov 24, 2008 Laura rated it liked it
Shelves: classic, english-lit
Truth is stranger than fiction except in this story, which presents a circuitous series of tragic circumstances that only the cruelest force — a depressed novelist — could dream up. Actually, I have no idea if Hardy was depressed when he wrote this book, but I certainly was by the time I finished reading it. The story begins with an itinerant hay-trusser, Michael Henchard, selling his wife and baby daughter for five guineas (!!) in a fit of drunken madness. Unbelievably enough, it goes downhill ...more
Jul 17, 2008 Meg rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: psychologically stable tragedy lovers
This book is amazing. Its pacing and subject matter reminded me somewhat of Les Miserables. And it pretty much confirmed my opinion that Thomas Hardy is the most depressing creature ever to walk God's earth. Those of you who appreciate tragedy will love this... you poor souls...
May 17, 2010 Ann rated it it was amazing
Best book I've read in a while. If some books are worth putting down because they are too depressing, others (like this one) are worth devouring for the same reason.

Bitter irony stacked upon heaps of previous bitter ironies permanently invested me in this horrible character that I hate to love. And Hardy can't even let the happy ending for the one truly good character stand--he MUST qualify it with the lesson that happy endings aren't very happy if your life has taught you that happiness can't l
Rebecca McNutt
Feb 16, 2017 Rebecca McNutt rated it really liked it
Shelves: classic, fiction
A thrilling and exciting yet dramatic classic, The Mayor of Casterbridge never gets old no matter how often you read it.
May 27, 2011 Fionnuala rated it really liked it
Bleak Country
I've just reread this after many, many years and I'm wondering how this tale of self imposed isolation and utter loneliness appealed to me as a teenager. And yet, I remember really enjoying it. Mystery.
Elizabeth (Alaska)
With Hardy, one should remember Murphy's Law: What can go wrong, will go wrong. The story opens with a man getting drunk and auctioning off his wife and infant daughter to the highest bidder. What a compelling opening! What further could go wrong?

Many books start at the end, then go back and tell you how they got there. This is not one of them. Instead, Hardy begins with this horrible event and then skips nearly two decades, plunking us down into the future of that man, wife, and daughter.

Mar 10, 2011 Catie rated it really liked it
It’s been about 12 years since I’ve read a Thomas Hardy novel (he was a big favorite in the dark teenage years). I was a huge classics buff as a kid. Ironically, I’ve spent my adult years reading a ton of cheesy YA. Apparently the universe has a sense of humor. Not in a Thomas Hardy novel though. In his world, the universe is capricious and exacting. Don’t get too comfortable or make plans, because nothing is permanent and difficulty abounds.

This book opens with Michael Henchard – out of work, t
Captain Sir Roddy, R.N. (Ret.)
I am in the midst of reading all of Thomas Hardy's novels in the order that he wrote them. Well, at least the more well known novels. While most of Hardy's 'Novels of Character and Environment' have a fairly pronounced pastoral presence, The Mayor of Casterbridge is distinctly a novel about characters in a relatively urban setting, the Wessex town of Casterbridge.

The Mayor of Casterbridge is a relentless novel. It is a relentlessly sad story, and a relentlessly painful story to read. Change the
Gary  the Bookworm
Jul 06, 2012 Gary the Bookworm rated it it was amazing
Photobucket Pictures, Images and Photos

This is a real roller-coaster ride. Following the mayor from his drunken decision to sell his wife and infant daughter to his final act of desperation is an engrossing tale of perfidy and happenstance. At its moral center is Elizabeth-Jane, the mayor's long lost daughter who bears a strong resemblance to Jane Eyre, another nineteenth century heroine who doesn't expect much from life except the freedom to live in accordance with her own code of honor. There are plenty of plot twists and richly e
Ron Nie
Nov 15, 2014 Ron Nie rated it really liked it
I read this for a class on sociology and the Victorian novel, particularly looking at it next to Heather Love's piece on description without presumption - how looking from a distance and documenting, instead of witnessing (her idea of witnessing necessitating a kind of emotional reaction that can obscure actual events and change them with empathy), can be a, maybe not better, but different way of reading texts. Basically, it's anti-humanist, and she's on board with changing up the approach from ...more
Daniel Clausen
Aug 19, 2016 Daniel Clausen rated it really liked it
The book is a bit like a dinner guest who, though entertaining at first, stays too long and then wears out his welcome. In this way, the book is not entirely unlike its main character, Michael Henchard.

Still, if you're a writer, there is much to learn from this book.

First, the book is an excellent example for how to write scenes. I read this book directly after reading Charles Dickens, a writer who tends to narrate too much and focus too little on the physical world and the actions of characte
Oct 31, 2008 Jason rated it really liked it
Shelves: classics, victorian
In Mayor of Casterbridge, Hardy tells the unmitigatedly tragic story of the strong-willed, domineering, some-times alcoholic Michael Henchard. From Henchard's unpardonable act of drunken folly in the opening scene, Hardy takes the reader through an unlikely series of mishaps and three hundred thirty some pages of ruin.

Among other things, this is a book about timing, more specifically bad timing. While Henchard is ultimately responsible for most of the ill that befalls him and others, the primary
Joselito Honestly and Brilliantly
The "first great novel about alcoholism"? I disagree. Except for the opening scene where the main male protagonist is drunk, and when he gets back to the bottle some 21 years of staying sober, alcohol barely had any role in this novel.

An opening "of such heartlessness and cruelty"? Excuse me. The guy is drunk and his wife helps things happen by calling his dare made in stupor. Cruelty and heartlessness are done intentionally and with complete consciousness of the consequences. Not this, when the
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Thomas Hardy, OM, was an English author of the naturalist movement, although in several poems he displays elements of the previous romantic and enlightenment periods of literature, such as his fascination with the supernatural. He regarded himself primarily as a poet and composed novels mainly for financial gain. The bulk of his work, set mainly in the semi-fictional land of Wessex, delineates cha ...more
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“Happiness was but the occasional episode in a general drama of pain.” 442 likes
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