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How The Mayor of Casterbridge reflects the social, historical and cultural influences of the period and place in which it is set and during which Hardy lived.

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Introduction

Name Date Can No: Centre No GCSE English coursework The Mayor of Casterbridge-Thomas Hardy How The Mayor of Casterbridge reflects the social, historical and cultural influences of the period and place in which it is set and during which Hardy lived. The Mayor of Casterbridge was written in the second part of the nineteenth century by the novelist Thomas Hardy. He based it on Dorchester and how he remembered the town from his boyhood days during the 1840's. The story circles around a prosperous businessman, Michael Henchard, his shady past and his prosperous present. It shows the power of the corn trade in the early years and also the impact of a newfound belief in the period- Fate. In this essay I will be analysing the book and its contents to see how it reflects the social, historical and cultural influences of the era in which it is set. As a skilled architect, and having a great eye for detail, Hardy included large pieces of narrative about Casterbridge and the key buildings in his novel. His first, general description about the layout of Casterbridge came early on in the book: "It was compact as a box of dominoes. It had no suburbs- in the ordinary sense. Country and town met at a mathematical line." "From the centre of each side of this tree bound square ran avenues east, west and south into the wide expanse of corn-land and coomb to the distance of a mile or so." As Elizabeth Jane and Susan entered the town, Hardy added a bit of information about the houses on the main street: "...There were timber houses with overhanging stories, whose small-paned lattices were screened by dimity curtains on a drawing-string, and under whose barge-boards old cobwebs waved in the breeze. There were houses of brick-nogging..." "There were slate roofs patched with tiles, and tile roofs patched with slate, with occasionally a roof of thatch." ...read more.

Middle

But when he made the fatal mistake of predicting the weather, causing him to loose all of his belongings and money, he had to go from living in one of the biggest and cleanest houses in the town to living with Jopp in a small and less than hygienic cottage. "He looked a far different journeyman from the one he had been in his earlier days. Then he had worn clean, suitable clothes, light and cheerful in hue; leggings yellow as marigolds, corduroys immaculate as new flax, and a neckerchief like a flower garden. Now he wore the remains of an old blue cloth suit of hid gentlemanly times, a rusty silk hat, and a once black satin stock, soiled and shabby." When we first see Elizabeth Jane she is dressed in modest clothes, dusty from her long journey to Casterbridge, but after she had met her father, and had the opportunity to see what money can buy, she started dressing in more elaborate clothes. "We now see her in a black silk bonnet, velvet mantle or silk spencer, dark dress, and carrying a sunshade. In this latter article she drew the line at fringe, and had it plain edged, with a little ivory ring for keeping it closed." Henchard, instead of being cautious of spoiling Elizabeth Jane, eggs her on; "Henchard gave Elizabeth Jane a box of delicately tinted gloves one spring day. She wanted to wear them to show her appreciation of his kindness, but she had not bonnet that would harmonise. As an artistic indulgence she thought she would have such a bonnet. When she had a bonnet that would go with the gloves she had no dress that would go with the bonnet." "She had no sunshade to go with the dress. in for a penny in for a pound; she bought the sunshade, and the whole structure was at last complete." ...read more.

Conclusion

In his tale Hardy includes a range of different historical notes that remind us of which era he was writing in, but he also included real events and incorporated real places into his story. In his original preface he tells us that three of the main topics in his story which were based on real events were the visit of a royal personage, the corn trade and the sale of a wife. The sale of the wife was, in my opinion, one of the most crucial points of the whole plot. If it hadn't happened, the whole life of Henchard as we know it would never have happened. Hardy got the idea from an edition of the Dorset County Chronicle between the dates of 1826-1830. The corn trade was also very important. In The Mayor of Casterbridge Hardy demonstrates the power of the corn trade by showing how it can give you all of the money you ever dreamt of, but also take it all away by having just one bad harvest. Henchard was at the peak of his life, he was Mayor, churchwarden and a successful businessman, but by the end of one bad year when he had gambled just a bit too much on the turnout of the weather, he had lost it all, his wealth, business and house. The corn trade continued to toy with farmer's lives until the repeal of the Corn Laws in 1846. Up until then the Corn Laws had forbidden any importation of wheat or corn and so if it was a bad harvest there was a shortage of good bread. Because of this, before the Corn Laws had been repealed the corn trade ruled the lives of everyone involved. The Mayor of Casterbridge is a very accurate and detailed account of life in the 1840's. It is a valuable source of information about the era, and reflects the social, historical and cultural influences of the period in a descriptive, but entertaining and interesting way. ?? ?? ?? ?? Lucy Crabb 10W ...read more.

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