Mayor of Casterbridge

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What contribution is made to The Mayor Of Casterbridge by Hardy’s description of the settings in which the actions take place?

        Thomas Hardy wrote the tragic novel The Mayor of Casterbrige (1886), setting it in the fictional town Casterbridge which was based on his childhood town Dorchester. Hardy’s novel explores the life of a rural hay-trusser, Michael Henchard and his rise and fall in Casterbridge. It was set in 1846, before the Corn Laws, when England was experiencing scientific and technical advancement and new ways of working. In addition, social values were also changing. Hardy is well known for his very pictorial descriptions and was a writer in the realist/naturalist tradition and used real places in Dorchester to describe rural Casterbrige. The functions of Hardy’s descriptive language creates a vivid picture; illustrates and reflects the personality of the characters concerned; creates a strong sense of atmosphere often using pathetic fallacy and gives a sense of social history.  Throughout the novel, Hardy describes many exterior settings such as Casterbridge and its surrounding area including Weydon Priors, The Ring and the market-place. Interior settings include Henchard and Lucetta’s home and the three public houses, the King’s Arms, the Three Mariners and Peter’s Finger. What would the modern reader think about the vivid descriptions Hardy creates that contribute greatly to the novel?


        When Casterbridge is first introduced, it is described as being an isolated old-fashioned agricultural town that was cut off from the outside world.

“Casterbridge- at that time, recent as it was, untouched by the faintest sprinkle of modernism.”

There is a great contrast with the surrounding countryside and the town.

“The mass became gradually dissected by the vision into towers, gables, chimneys and casements.” 

Hardy creates an in-depth account of Casterbridge to engage the reader so they can connect with the town itself where most if not all the action of the novel takes place.

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The town relies on the agricultural and pastoral people of Casterbridge for its existence and the jobs were linked with the countryside. Hardy shows this by including a list of occupations in his colourful description,

The yeomen, farmers, dairymen, and townsfolk, who came to transact business in these ancient streets…” 

The prosperous market town reveals to the reader the long-standing tools and objects that used to be used by the townspeople which puts their world into context with the modern world.

“Scythes, reap-hooks, sheep-shears, bill-hooks, spades, mattocks and hoes, at the ironmonger’s: bee-hives, butter firkins, churns, milking stools ...

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