Works of Thomas Hardy discussion

The Mayor of Casterbridge
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message 1: by Amy (last edited Oct 18, 2017 08:37AM) (new) - added it

Amy | 120 comments Mod
Alright. Time to read The Mayor of Casterbridge together. It's always a pleasure to read one of Hardy's best.

GoodReads Blurb:
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 personality prone to self-destructive pride and temper. Subtitled ‘A Story of a Man of Character’, Hardy’s powerful and sympathetic study of the heroic but deeply flawed Henchard is also an intensely dramatic work, tragically played out against the vivid backdrop of a close-knit Dorsetshire town.

Brian Reynolds | 92 comments I first read this back in 1978 or 1979, at the time of the Masterpiece Theater miniseries with Alan Bates as the Mayor. Hard to forget the event that propels the story, but I've forgotten most details of the event's consequences which form the core of the story
I've enjoyed the first few chapters. Like ROTN, it begins with travelers along a country road. Hardy likes presenting the Dorset/Wessex setting for his tale.

message 3: by Brian (last edited Oct 22, 2017 12:17PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Brian Reynolds | 92 comments FINISHED CHAPTER 25

The intriguingly manipulative Lucetta character adds a little spice to the story. She seems like a character out of a Trollope rather than a Hardy novel. The novel also has a different feel than ROTN and FFTMC, my most recent Hardy reads, as the action takes place in a town rather than a more rural setting.
I found Hardy's observation in Chapter 22 intriguing, that Henchard: "was getting on towards the dead level of middle age, when material things increasingly possess the mind." While I don't know if I agree, I do enjoy Hardy's observations.
(I will list the chapter I've finished as my spoiler alert)

message 4: by Amy (new) - added it

Amy | 120 comments Mod
The more I think about it, the more Hardy plots I can think of that hinge on people not being able to divorce a spouse. It sounds like this couple would have already been ancient history in a modern setting. I'm trying to decide if there would be a possibility of this happening today--a wife acquiescing to be purchased by another man rather than going home with her drunken husband. I could see it as being a way out for a woman who was afraid to divorce a man when he wasn't drunk. In this way, it's completely the man's idea and she's free from his possible sober wrath.

Brian Reynolds | 92 comments Amy, i agree that restrictions on marriage dissolution power this story. However, its the societal restrictions on women and education that makes this a story of the time and place and, while possible in some places and locales, would not happen in contemporary western society. Even in this story, Hardy places it in the early part of the 19th century, seeming to acknowledge its unlikely occurrence in the society he is writing in, 1884 Britain.
As to today, there are unfortunately too many stories of battered women and such women staying with their batterer to completely scoff at the reason you conjecture it could occur. But highly unlikely.

message 6: by Amy (last edited Oct 25, 2017 07:22AM) (new) - added it

Amy | 120 comments Mod
Finished Chapter 12
Maybe I'm reading into it, but I have to wonder if Hardy is not trying to hint that Michael Henchard has more feelings toward men than women. There seemed to be a homoerotic scene in Desperate Remedies, so I'm not surprised if he means to hint here that Henchard has feelings for Donald Farfrae.

Upon first meeting Farfrae, Henchard says, "To be sure, to be sure, how that fellow does draw me! I suppose 'tis because I'm so lonely. I'd have given him a third share in the business to have stayed!"

And then later, Henchard tells Farfrae, "...and being by nature something of a woman-hater, I have found it no hardship to keep mostly at a distance from the sex."

I found a link to an article on the subject, but I can't access it easily. I'm only 24% through, so I don't have the entirety of the novel to draw upon yet, but I'll certainly be reading more closely with this in mind. Thoughts?

message 7: by Brian (last edited Oct 27, 2017 12:35PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Brian Reynolds | 92 comments Repressed homosexual tendencies in Henchard? If it was Henry James, maybe, but Hardy?
In truth, I was struck by the same thing when reading those quotes. Hardy did write about sexual practices and attitudes. While Henchard is probably just a member of the He-Man Women-Haters Club, I will keep it in mind as a subtext for Henchard's future behavior toward Farfrae.
Because Henchard notes that Farfrae resembles a dead brother, another critic felt there was a sibling-type rivalry. To me, both are plausible explanations for the intensity of Henchard's shifting feelings toward Farfrae, which readers may conjecture about.

Brian Reynolds | 92 comments I've finished, but will reserve comments until others finish. I will say, though, that I find that Mayor of Casterbridge, while a very good novel, does not rank with the great Hardy Novels, Return of the Native, Jude and Tess. I place MOC in the second tier, along with Far From the Madding Crowd and The Woodlanders.

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