The Mayor of Casterbridge - Chapter Summaries
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Chapter 1: Summary: The novel opens in the early part of the nineteenth century. One summer evening, a young family is walking towards the village of Weydon-Priors, in the region of England known as Wessex. From the beginning, it is obvious that something is strange about this family. Although the man, woman, and child are not poorly dressed, the dirt that has collected on them during their journey makes them look shabby. In addition, the man and woman do not regard each other at all, even though they are clearly traveling together. Eventually the family stops to rest. While they rest, a turnip-hoer speaks to them. From him, the family learns that there is no work and no housing available in Weydon-Priors; however, since it is Fair Day, there is some excitement in the village. The family goes to the fair-field, but ignores all the goings-on in favor of finding food. They decided to stop in a furmity tent, a place where they can buy some pudding. The man demands some liquor for his furmity, and drinks it lustily, ignoring his wife's pleas for lodging. Soon the man, who has been called Michael, complains loudly about his marriage and his poverty. Outside, Michael hears an auction of horses, and he wonders why men can't sell their wives at auction. Some people inside the tent actually respond favorably to this question, and Michael openly offers his wife for sale (with the child as a bonus). Although the wife, named Susan, begs her husband not to do such a thing, Michael ignores her. A sailor soon speaks from the doorway. He will take Susan and Elizabeth-Jane (the child) for five pounds and five shillings--though he will not if Susan is unwilling. Susan sweeps out of the tent with Elizabeth-Jane and the sailor, cursing her husband. As Michael drinks, the villagers wonder about the sailor and the woman's spirit.
Analysis: Hardy draws upon his architectural experience again. He describes the facades, parapets, and other sections with the eye of an architect. His talent for architectural detail also benefits the story. High-Place Hall has many little gruesome features that act as metaphors for the corruption within its walls. There are "damp nooks where fungi grew" and a mask over an archway that has been so beaten that it seems to have been "eaten away by disease." In addition, the placement of the house in the center of town is significant. It implies that everyone who lives here will be at the center of the events in town. Since both Elizabeth-Jane and Michael are secretly visiting the house, the house already draws the important personages near. Elizabeth-Jane and Michael continue to act as opposites. By this point, Michael seems to have no affection for Elizabeth-Jane whatsoever, treating her with "absolute indifference." (Yet, as in his relationship with Farfrae, he also seems to regret sending the girl away so quickly.) However, Elizabeth-Jane continues to have a loving spirit. Not only does she promise to return if Michael needs her, she also regards the house as a place where she can find love--she comes there "with a lover's feeling." Chapter 22: Summary: As Elizabeth-Jane considers going to High-Place Hall to see Lucetta, Michael receives a letter from Lucetta saying that she is staying at High-Place Hall. He has learned that the Hall is being rented by a Miss Templeman, not a Miss Le Sueur (the name by which Michael had known Lucetta in Jersey). Later Lucetta sends him another note: she has taken the name of Templeman from a recently deceased aunt, the woman who left the Hall and her fortune to Lucetta. In this note, Lucetta also explains her choice of companion. When Michael comes to visit his daughter, he can conveniently call upon Lucetta at the same time. Michael is pleased by her inheritance and amused by her tactics to lure him to the hall.
The town council again sets up a seed shop for Michael, allowing him and Elizabeth-Jane to make a respectable living. As Michael continues to worry that Elizabeth-Jane will be taken away, Farfrae decides that his life with Lucetta was doomed to unhappiness from the beginning. A year passes. Elizabeth-Jane frequently walks on the road to Budmouth twice a week, and she ends up with expensive trinkets, such as muffs and new books, that Michael knows she cannot afford. Upon seeing Farfrae's eyes upon Elizabeth-Jane in the marketplace, however, he begins to suspect that Farfrae is returning to his former love, and he worries that Farfrae will take Elizabeth-Jane away. Farfrae and Elizabeth-Jane first meet accidentally, but very soon they habitually meet each other as they walk into town. Michael watches from the Ring as Farfrae presents Elizabeth-Jane with a new book everyday. Very soon Farfrae kisses Elizabeth-Jane. Michael, watching the scene, reasons that Farfrae's love will force Elizabeth-Jane to turn against him. He thinks that telling the secret of Elizabeth-Jane's birth to Farfrae will ward the young man off, but cannot bring himself to tell. Analysis: Even near the end of the book, Hardy introduces some elements of suspense. Will he return, and if he does, what will Elizabeth-Jane do? Will Farfrae and Elizabeth-Jane finally be joined in marriage? Will Michael do anything to halt the wedding or the return of Newson? Apparently Elizabeth-Jane has finally become learned enough in Latin to be interesting to everyone. As if to reflect her new status, this chapter contains more mythological allusions and Latin phrases to refer to her and those around her. The other young women in the town are compared to the plumes of "Juno's bird" (the peacock) with "Argus eyes." Not only are the townspeople connected to nature (through the comparison to birds), but they are also the gossiping people of before, watching with their own "eyes." Michael has a "solicitus timor" (worrisome fear) for her love.
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