Rashaan 's Reviews > The Mayor of Casterbridge

The Mayor of Casterbridge by Thomas Hardy
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Mar 03, 09

bookshelves: fiction

Michael Henchard undoubtedly has to be a not-so-distant relative of American anti-hero Homer J. Simpson. The Mayor of Casterbridge serves as literary English grandfather to our own lecherous, lazy, and negligent father of America's longest running cartoon family. Bull-headed, dim-witted, and insolent, we cannot turn our gaze from the train-wreck that is Hardy's eponymous protagonist. Henchard is both repellent and fascinating. We know his ship is going down from the start of the novel--the story is just a matter of when and how.

Not nearly as steeped with lush prose and reverence for Nature as his other works, Hardy's novelistic eye and acute attention to detail turns toward architecture and design. Perhaps the cut of stone and the structure of brick and mortar serves to compliment and edify our main character. The men in this story are the pillars to the narrative and the women, in this case, take a backseat from the limelight. Donald Farfrae, Henchard's handsome Scottish rival, is so amicably charming and clever, Hardy successfully persuades readers to gradually dislike and resent him because he antagonizes our anti-hero. Not an easy writing feat, by any means! Hardy's central characters are men of industry. Henchard represents old, bucolic agrarianism. Farfrae, an energetic lad from the North, ushers in technology and worker's rights. And the landscape that Hardy usually lingers on gets tossed aside, like Susan Henchard, sold to the highest and most convenient bidder.

Though many of the plot twists are easy to predict, The Mayor of Casterbridge's melodramatic storyline still holds intrigue because Hardy paints each character so vividly. We may be able to foresee what's in store for them, but we're never sure how they will react. Michael, Elizabeth Jane, his long-lost daughter, Lucette, his lost mistress, and Farfrae are each volatile elements. Watching them interact, with their clashing drives and unstable fears, is like watching Hardy, as mad scientist, experiment in his literary lab. Put your goggles and gloves on! Its great twisted fun to watch these sparks burst.

What we eventually learn at the close of the work is not new. Everyone is laden with guilt whether by deliberate action or by indirect association. Sin is gravity, bringing all of us down, literally and figuratively. A barrel of monkeys, Thomas Hardy is not. But what makes his work brilliant and why I can't keep from returning to him is that his writing is deftly evocative. The pivotal scene that hails Henchard's downfall is deliciously rife with details, the writing palpitates. See for yourself:

'I'll tell ye what--I won't sell her for less than five,'said the husband, bringing down his fist so that the basins danced. 'I'll sell her for five guineas to any man that will pay me the money, and treat her well; and he shall have her for ever, and never hear aught o' me. But she shan't go for less. Now then--five guineas--and she's yours. Susan, you agree?'
She bowed her head with absolute indifference.
'Five guineas,' said the auctioneer, 'or she'll be withdrawn. Do anybody give it? The last time. Yes or no?'
'Yes,' said a loud voice from the doorway.
All eyes were turned. Standing in the triangular opening which formed the door of the tent was a sailor, who, unobserved by the rest, had arrived there within the last two or three minutes. A dead silence followed his affirmation.
'You say you do?' asked the husband, staring at him.
'I say so,' replied the sailor.
'Saying is one thing, and paying is another. Where's the money?'

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Comments (showing 1-2 of 2) (2 new)

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Sarah The Homer Simpson comparison is brilliant!

Rashaan Thanks, Sarah! Happy reading.

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