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The Mayor of Casterbridge

The Mayor of Casterbridge Summary


Here you will find a The Mayor of Casterbridge summary (Thomas Hardy's book).
We begin with a summary of the entire book, and then you can read each individual chapter's summary by visiting the links on the "Chapters" section.

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Last Updated: Monday 1 Jan, 2024

The Mayor of Casterbridge Summary Overview

Michael Henchard, a hay-trusser in search of work, sells his wife Susan and infant daughter Elizabeth-Jane to a sailor named Newson for five guineas during a drunken auction. Overwhelmed by remorse the following morning, he fails to locate Susan and Elizabeth-Jane, prompting him to swear off alcohol for twenty-one years, his age at the time. Nearly two decades later, following Newson's death, Susan and Elizabeth-Jane, who believes Henchard to be a long-lost relative, track him down. Discovering that Henchard is the mayor of Casterbridge, Susan and he devise a plan to remarry to save Elizabeth-Jane from the truth of their past. Around the same time, Henchard employs Donald Farfrae, a young Scotsman, to manage his corn business. Despite an initial attraction between Farfrae and Elizabeth-Jane, Henchard's jealousy over Farfrae's business acuity leads him to ask Farfrae to leave. Shortly after her remarriage to Henchard, Susan passes away, and Henchard, realizing Elizabeth-Jane isn't his biological child, grows cold towards her. Elizabeth-Jane opts to stay with a new arrival in town, Lucetta Templeman, who, unbeknownst to her, was Henchard's lover while Susan was missing. Lucetta, in town to marry Henchard following Susan's death, instead marries Farfrae. Upon discovering Lucetta's past relationship with Henchard, the townsfolk organize a mocking parade which results in Lucetta falling ill and dying. Meanwhile, Henchard's relationship with Elizabeth-Jane improves, but their reunion is cut short when Newson, presumed dead, arrives seeking his daughter. Henchard lies that Elizabeth-Jane is dead to avoid confrontation. Upon learning of Henchard's deceit, Elizabeth-Jane reunites with her biological father and becomes engaged to Farfrae. Henchard, unable to face his past mistakes, leaves town. He returns on Elizabeth-Jane's wedding day only to be rejected and dies alone, leaving a will stating his wish to be forgotten.

chapter 1

In the mid-1800s, Michael Henchard, a hay-trusser, his spouse Susan, and their infant Elizabeth-Jane, tread toward an English town named Weydon-Priors. They encounter a turnip-hoer, who informs them there's no work or lodging in the village. Nonetheless, they stumble upon a fair and halt for a meal. They find a furmity tent where a woman offers a mixed porridge. Observing her adding rum to several bowls, Henchard sneakily requests the same. After multiple servings, he becomes intoxicated. He laments his life as a wedded man and expresses his desire for freedom, saying it would make him "worth a thousand pound." An auctioneer’s call leads Henchard to jest about selling his wife. Despite Susan's pleas for him to cease his jesting as it's "getting serious. O!—too serious!", Henchard persists. He mimics an auctioneer, raising the value of his wife and child, until a sailor accepts the offer of five guineas. Upset yet relieved, Susan leaves with Elizabeth-Jane and the sailor. Henchard spends the night unconscious in the furmity tent.

chapter 2

The following day, Henchard wakes up puzzled, questioning if the happenings from the night before were a dream. The money from the sailor in his pocket confirms the unfortunate reality that he sold his wife and daughter. After a period of deep contemplation, he resolves to rectify the situation as fast as he can. Leaving the tent discreetly, he departs from the fairgrounds. He walks for some distance and questions whether he had given out his identity at the event. Shocked that Susan willingly left with the sailor, he blames her for the disgrace. Nevertheless, he is determined to find them and accept the humiliation, considering it is his fault. Henchard continues his journey and after a few miles, he comes across a small town where he visits a church. He kneels at the altar, puts his hand on the Bible, and swears off alcohol for the next twenty-one years, which matches his current age. He spends several months searching for Susan and Elizabeth-Jane, eventually he reaches a seaport. At this point, he learns that a family resembling the sailor, Susan, and Elizabeth-Jane recently left. He gives up his quest and heads towards the town of Casterbridge.

chapter 3

Nearly two decades later, a pair of women, Susan Henchard and her matured daughter, Elizabeth-Jane, journey towards Weydon-Priors. They're dressed in widow's attire, discussing the sailor Newson, whom Elizabeth-Jane regards as her father and his untimely death at sea. Susan reveals that their mission is to find a distant kin named Henchard. At the fair, Susan spots the familiar furmity tent and its owner, she seeks a private conversation to inquire if the woman recalls a man trading his wife. The furmity-seller does recall, mentioning that the man returned a year later, instructing her to direct anyone searching for him to Casterbridge. Grateful, Susan and Elizabeth-Jane set their course towards Casterbridge.

chapter 4

Upon nearing Casterbridge, Susan and Elizabeth-Jane overhear two men mentioning Henchard. When Elizabeth-Jane suggests they ask these men about their relative, Susan dissuades her, worried about Henchard's potential ill repute. Hungry following their travels, they reach Casterbridge and enquire about a bakery. They learn that good bread is scarce due to the corn-factor trading “grown wheat,” or harvested grain that has already sprouted, to the millers and bakers. They manage to buy biscuits from a local shop and follow the echo of distant music.

chapter 5

Susan and Elizabeth-Jane find themselves at the King’s Arms Inn, where a local gathering is happening. Upon inquiring from an elderly bystander, Elizabeth-Jane learns of a significant dinner being held, attended by Mr. Henchard, the mayor of Casterbridge, and other esteemed community members. They are taken aback to discover Henchard's stature as the mayor, and Susan feels uncertain about revealing herself. They observe the meal, and Elizabeth-Jane notes that Henchard's wine glass remains untouched. The elderly man informs her that Henchard has vowed to refrain from all alcoholic beverages. As they continue to witness the event along with others, someone from the crowd demands the mayor's explanation for the ongoing bread shortage. Henchard clarifies to the crowd that the ruined crop was beyond his control and he's employed a manager to prevent a recurrence. He says, “If anybody will tell me how to turn grown wheat into wholesome wheat, I’ll take it back with pleasure. But it can’t be done.”

chapter 6

A Scottish youth overhears the conversation about the grain and sends a message to the mayor via a server before he heads to the Three Mariners Inn. Elizabeth-Jane, who witnessed the scene, is intrigued by him. She and Susan, needing a place to stay, decide to follow him to the inn. The message is received by Henchard who appears intrigued. He privately inquires about the sender with the server and discovering that the man is at the Three Mariners Inn, Henchard heads there as well.

chapter 7

Susan and Elizabeth-Jane secure lodging at the Three Mariners Inn. Concerned about costs, Elizabeth-Jane negotiates with the innkeeper for a reduced fee in return for her help. She is assigned to deliver the meal to the Scotch gentleman. After her tasks, she serves Susan, who is secretly listening to the conversation in the next room, led by the Scotchman. Susan discloses that the mayor is talking to the Scotchman. They overhear Henchard inquiring if the young man is Joshua Jopp, the one who responded to his ad for a manager position for his corn business. The Scotchman introduces himself as Donald Farfrae. He claims that he's also in the corn business but he wouldn't have responded to the ad as he's en route to America. He then shows Henchard a technique for revitalizing mature wheat as detailed in his note. Despite Henchard's offer to pay, Farfrae refuses. When Henchard proposes a job as his corn business manager, Farfrae declines, remaining committed to his American dream. He invites Henchard for a drink but Henchard reveals his commitment to abstain from alcohol, alluding to a regrettable event in his history.

chapter 8

Henchard departs, leaving Farfrae to finish his meal. When Elizabeth-Jane clears his table, she's drawn to the music downstairs. Farfrae soon enthralls the crowd with a song about his home country. His impending departure from Casterbridge saddens them, as they have come to admire his singing. Elizabeth-Jane observes this from afar and feels a connection with Farfrae, believing they both perceive life as fundamentally sad. As night falls, she is tasked with preparing his room for the night. As they cross paths on the stairway, he gives her a smile. Meanwhile, Henchard has taken a liking to Farfrae, even musing that he would’ve offered him “a third share in the business to have stayed.”

chapter 9

Elizabeth-Jane, upon rising, sees Henchard in conversation with Farfrae. Farfrae discloses his plans to leave, prompting a stroll with Henchard to the town's outskirts. Meanwhile, Susan sends Elizabeth-Jane on an errand to Henchard, where to her astonishment, she finds Farfrae in the office. It is revealed that Henchard convinced Farfrae to remain in town and work under his employ, offering him the freedom to dictate his conditions.

chapter 10

Elizabeth-Jane overhears Joshua Jopp being denied a managerial position by Henchard, leaving Jopp frustrated. She then gets a chance to speak to Henchard, informing him about his kin, Susan, a seaman's widow, being in town. Taken aback by this information, Henchard invites her into his dining area, inquiring about her mother. He writes a note for Susan, including five guineas, asking her to meet him later in the evening and hands it over to Elizabeth-Jane for delivery. Susan receives the note and decides to see Henchard on her own.

chapter 11

Susan encounters Henchard in the Ring, described as "one of the finest Roman Amphitheatres, if not the very finest, remaining in Britain." Assuring her that he has given up drinking, Henchard queries why she didn't come back sooner. In response, Susan mentions her belief in the binding nature of her sale and her obligation to stay with Newson until his demise. They both realise they can't simply resume their marital life due to Henchard's respectable status in the town and Elizabeth-Jane's unawareness of their disreputable history. With a need for discretion, Henchard proposes a scheme: Susan will settle in the town as the Widow Newson, allowing Henchard to woo and wed her, thus reinstating their marriage and his fatherly relationship with Elizabeth-Jane without disclosing their secret past.

chapter 12

Henchard comes upon Farfrae engrossed in work upon his arrival home. He invites Farfrae to stop working and join him for a meal. As they dine, Henchard opens up to Farfrae about his current predicaments. He reveals his past with Susan, to which Farfrae suggests the best solution would be for him to live with her as a married couple. Henchard then admits his affair with a woman from Jersey, where he had gone for business. This affair caused a stir in Jersey, leading to the woman suffering immensely. Henchard decided to propose to the woman, with the understanding that his first wife might still be alive. She agreed, but with Susan's return, Henchard is filled with regret as he will have to let the Jersey woman down. Farfrae, however, assures Henchard that it's an unavoidable situation and offers to assist him in writing a letter to end things with the woman from Jersey.

chapter 13

Susan settles into a townhouse and Henchard starts to spend time with her, a habit that is all business. Town gossip soon circles about the pair, leading up to their upcoming nuptials.

chapter 14

Living with Henchard, Elizabeth-Jane finds contentment, making her more attractive. One day, Henchard queries the unusual lightening of Elizabeth-Jane’s hair and suggests her last name be changed from Newson to Henchard, asserting she is his real daughter. Despite her reservations, Elizabeth-Jane agrees to think about it, but eventually decides to keep her current surname. Under Farfrae's leadership, Henchard's grain and hay trade prospers, deepening the friendship between the two. Elizabeth-Jane notices Farfrae's peculiar interest in her and Susan during their strolls. One day, Elizabeth-Jane gets a mysterious invitation to a granary at a farm where Henchard trades. She arrives to find no one, only to be joined by Farfrae who has received a similar letter. After realizing neither wrote to the other, they guess that a third person wanting to meet them both sent the notes. When this person fails to show up, the two return home.

chapter 15

Henchard and Farfrae clash over Abel Whittle, an employee always late for work in Henchard's hay-yard. After Henchard scolds him for tardiness, he finds him late again, pulls him out of bed, and forces him to work without his trousers. Seeing the humiliated Whittle, who murmurs about suicide, Farfrae instructs him to go home and dress appropriately. The incident leads to a heated exchange between Henchard and Farfrae, with Farfrae considering leaving. They eventually make peace, but Henchard, disturbed by Farfrae's defiance, feels a vague sense of fear towards him and regrets sharing his life's secrets with him.

chapter 16

Casterbridge is slow to prepare for a suggested nationwide celebration day. Eventually, Farfrae approaches Henchard to borrow waterproof materials for a festivity, receiving Henchard's full support. Inspired, Henchard also plans a grand event near the town. However, on the day, the weather turns sour, spoiling Henchard's plans. In contrast, Farfrae's celebration, held under a makeshift tent, goes smoothly. Henchard finds Farfrae dancing with Elizabeth-Jane amidst a bustling crowd, leading to townsfolk suggesting that Farfrae may outshine his master. However, Henchard dismisses this, insinuating that Farfrae will soon leave their shared business.

chapter 17

Elizabeth-Jane feels guilty about upsetting Henchard by her dance with Farfrae. After exiting the tent for some air, Farfrae approaches her, hinting that he might have had something to ask her under different circumstances. He reveals his plans of possibly leaving Casterbridge, to which she expresses her hope of him staying. She later finds comfort knowing Farfrae has bought a small grain and hay enterprise in town. However, Henchard sees this as Farfrae's power move, leading him to demand Elizabeth-Jane to sever all connections with Farfrae, even writing a letter to Farfrae to do the same. Elizabeth-Jane complies and cuts off ties with Farfrae. As Farfrae's venture thrives, Henchard's bitterness intensifies.

chapter 18

Susan's health deteriorates. A letter arrives for Henchard from Lucetta Templeman, his former lover from Jersey. She respects his decision to reunite with his original wife and acknowledges that they cannot continue to communicate. She asks for her love letters back and proposes that they meet when she is traveling through Casterbridge in a coach. Henchard tries to meet her, but she isn't present. Susan's condition worsens significantly. She requests Elizabeth-Jane to fetch a pen and paper one evening, and writes a sealed letter addressed to Michael Henchard, to be opened only on Elizabeth-Jane's wedding day. She then confesses to her daughter that she was the one who arranged for Elizabeth-Jane and Farfrae's meeting at the farm, hoping they would fall in love and eventually marry. Soon, Susan passes away. Farfrae overheard villagers talk about her demise. Mother Cuxsom, one of the villagers, mentioned how Susan had arranged everything for her own funeral, even getting four pennies to weigh down her eyelids. After her burial, Christopher Coney, a destitute town dweller, exhumed her body to take the pennies, believing that death shouldn't deprive life of even fourpence.

chapter 19

Several weeks following Susan's demise, Henchard resolves to reveal to Elizabeth-Jane the nature of his connection to her mother. He discloses that he is her biological father, although he doesn't confess to having sold them. He also tells her that during her early years, both he and Susan believed the other to be deceased. Henchard instructs Elizabeth-Jane to write a newspaper clause stating her name change to Henchard and then leaves her to process the information. Going upstairs to find evidence supporting his claim, he comes across Susan's pre-death letter. Ignoring the instruction to read it only on Elizabeth-Jane's wedding day, he opens the letter to find out that Elizabeth-Jane is not his biological daughter. The letter tells him his real daughter passed away not long after their separation and that Elizabeth-Jane is the offspring of the sailor who bought Susan at Weydon-Priors. The next morning, Elizabeth-Jane approaches Henchard, expressing her desire to regard him as her real father. Henchard's revelation from the previous night makes her acceptance somewhat poignant, but he opts not to distress her further by unveiling this new discovery.

chapter 20

Henchard is growing increasingly distant and icy towards Elizabeth-Jane, even though she still resides with him. He disparages her rural dialect, saying it makes her sound like a pig-trough washer, and expresses disappointment at her unpolished, unladylike handwriting. One day, Henchard admonishes Elizabeth-Jane for giving Nance Mockridge, one of his hay-yard laborers, food. Nance, hearing his derogatory comments, retorts that Elizabeth-Jane has served much worse. Elizabeth-Jane admits her past stint at the Three Mariners Inn, which shocks Henchard, fearing his reputation could be damaged by her past labor. One day, while Elizabeth-Jane is visiting Susan’s grave, she notices a well-dressed woman inspecting Susan's tombstone. She is intrigued and spends her journey home wondering about the woman's identity. Henchard soon discovers his mayorship is ending and he won't be an alderman. This, coupled with Elizabeth-Jane’s past as an inn servant, irritates him even more. He gets agitated further when he finds out she had served Donald Farfrae. Viewing Elizabeth-Jane as an inconvenience, Henchard decides to write a letter to Farfrae, retracting his previous objections to their courtship. The next day, Elizabeth-Jane encounters the stylish lady from the graveyard. During their conversation, she confesses her dissatisfaction with her father. The lady offers her a chance to be her companion at High-Place Hall, where she is about to move. Elizabeth-Jane is overjoyed and agrees readily, and they arrange to meet in a week.

chapter 21

Throughout the following week, Elizabeth-Jane frequently passes by High-Place Hall, pondering on her future life there. One day, as she scrutinizes the house, Henchard enters it, unaware of her presence. Later, she queries Henchard regarding his feelings about her departure from his house. He expresses no objections and even proposes to provide her with an allowance. The day arrives for Elizabeth-Jane's encounter with the elegantly dressed lady, and Elizabeth-Jane proceeds to the arranged location in the churchyard. Miss Templeman introduces herself and invites Elizabeth-Jane to move into High-Place Hall at once. Elizabeth-Jane hastens back home to gather her belongings. On seeing her, Henchard regrets his past conduct towards her and pleads with her to stay. Elizabeth-Jane declines his plea, revealing that she is relocating to High-Place Hall, leaving Henchard in shock.

chapter 22

Rewinding to the previous night before Elizabeth-Jane left, Henchard gets a letter from Lucetta. She shares that she's moved to Casterbridge and will reside at High-Place Hall. Soon after Elizabeth-Jane's departure, a second letter arrives from Lucetta, inviting Henchard to meet her. That night, he heads over but is told she's occupied, although she has time to see him the following day. Feeling snubbed, Henchard decides not to see her again. The following day, an expectant Lucetta eagerly waits for him to no avail. As she waits, she and Elizabeth-Jane take in the view of the market and chat about the town and its people. Days go by without any visit from Henchard. On the third day, Lucetta mentions to Elizabeth-Jane that Henchard might drop by to see her. However, Elizabeth-Jane doubts it due to their frequent disagreements. Lucetta then sends Elizabeth-Jane on various pointless tasks, meanwhile swiftly composing a letter to Henchard. In the letter, she tells him that she's sent Elizabeth-Jane away and requests his presence. Finally, a guest arrives, but it isn't Henchard. Lucetta is crestfallen.

chapter 23

Lucetta entertains Farfrae, who had stopped by to see Elizabeth-Jane. They engage in conversation and observe the marketplace activity from Lucetta's vantage point. One particular event catches their attention, a farmer insisting on hiring an elderly shepherd, only if his son is included. The son, however, is reluctant as he doesn't want to leave his sweetheart behind. Farfrae is moved by this and decides to employ the young man, enabling him to stay near his beloved. Shortly after Farfrae's departure, Henchard shows up, but Lucetta avoids him under the pretense of a headache, conveyed through her maid.

chapter 24

Living with Lucetta is a joy for Elizabeth-Jane, and their days pass in a pleasant manner. Once, observing a "new-fashioned agricultural implement" demonstration at the market, they encounter Henchard. He scoffs at the machine, causing Elizabeth-Jane to introduce him to Lucetta. As he departs, Lucetta believes she hears him imply that she had been avoiding him, creating doubts in Elizabeth-Jane's mind, but she convinces herself she misheard him. Farfrae arrives, singing praises for the new machine. Elizabeth-Jane is curious about Henchard's connection with Lucetta, soon discovering a past encounter between them and Lucetta's interest in Farfrae. Lucetta shares a tale with Elizabeth-Jane, indirectly referring to her own complex relations with Henchard and Farfrae as a "friend's" situation. Elizabeth-Jane sees through this facade and expresses her inability to advise on such a complicated matter.

chapter 25

Farfrae keeps visiting Lucetta more and more. During a day when Elizabeth-Jane is not around, Henchard comes to see Lucetta, expressing his readiness to marry her. He tries to convince her that he is doing her a service by presenting "an honest proposal for silencing [her] Jersey enemies", but Lucetta pushes back. She won’t let her past rule her and boldly asserts, “I’ll love where I choose!”

chapter 26

Henchard stumbles upon Farfrae during a walk and brings up the tale of his former lover from Jersey. He reveals her refusal to wed him now, to which Farfrae advises that Henchard is under no obligation to her. Later, Henchard questions Lucetta about her relationship with Farfrae. Lucetta admits to knowing him but downplays the depth of their acquaintance. An untimely knock and Farfrae's entry heightens Henchard's suspicions of a possible romance between him and Lucetta. Making a strategic move, Henchard employs Joshua Jopp, the man replaced by Farfrae as his manager. He instructs Jopp to edge Farfrae out of the grain business. To make well-informed decisions, Henchard takes advice from a weather prophet, predicting a rainy harvest. Betting on a poor crop, Henchard invests heavily in corn. Contrary to the forecast, the harvest is bountiful, leading to a drop in corn prices. Henchard consequently suffers a loss and terminates Jopp's employment.

chapter 27

Farfrae takes advantage of low corn prices, buying in bulk. His gamble pays off when bad weather interferes with the harvest, causing prices to soar. Farfrae's success irks Henchard. A collision between a Henchard employee and a Farfrae worker outside High-Place Hall escalates to an argument. Henchard steps in to resolve the issue. Lucetta and Elizabeth-Jane testify against Henchard's worker, who retorts, accusing them of favoritism because "all the women side with Farfrae." Following the resolution of the dispute, Henchard seeks out Lucetta but is informed she's unavailable due to a scheduled meeting. Suspicious, he lurks outside her door and observes Farfrae arrive. Following them on a stroll, Henchard overhears their expressions of love. Once Lucetta gets back to High-Place Hall, Henchard confronts her, blackmailing her with their past relationship. He demands that she marry him, to which she consents, with Elizabeth-Jane bearing witness to the agreement.

chapter 28

Henchard, still a magistrate for a year post his mayorship, goes to the Town Hall for a hearing. He needs to rule on a case of an elderly lady charged with unruly behavior. The officer who's brought the charges claims she insulted him, but she keeps disrupting his narration with counteraccusations. Eventually, she gets a chance to present her side of the story. She talks about a past incident from two decades ago when she saw a husband sell his spouse to a seaman for five guineas at a Weydon-Priors fair. She was a furmity-vendor back then. She points the finger at Henchard as the husband, questioning his credibility to judge her. Even though the clerk dismisses her account as invented, Henchard confesses its accuracy and exits the courtroom. Lucetta, noticing a gathering around the Town Hall, asks her housemaid about what's transpired. Upon learning of Henchard's disclosed past, Lucetta, who has agreed to wed him, is filled with sorrow. She leaves for the coastal town of Port-Bredy for a breather.

chapter 29

Lucetta and Elizabeth-Jane encounter a bull on their way to Port-Bredy, forcing them to take refuge in a barn. Henchard rescues them by managing to control the bull. Lucetta, appreciative of his bravery, walks home with Henchard while Elizabeth-Jane returns to the barn to retrieve Lucetta's dropped muff. Eventually, Elizabeth-Jane meets Farfrae and is driven home by him. In the meantime, Henchard, seeking to repay Lucetta for her wealth, proposes a non-committal engagement. He also requests she inform Mr. Grower, one of his debtors, of their intended marriage, hoping this will grant him leniency on his debt. Lucetta rejects the idea, revealing that Grower had witnessed her secret wedding to Farfrae in Port-Bredy earlier in the week.

chapter 30

Following Lucetta's return home, Farfrae comes with his belongings. The only thing left, Lucetta insists, is to inform Elizabeth-Jane about their wedded status. Lucetta brings up the tale she once told Elizabeth-Jane about a woman with two suitors, clarifying that she was actually talking about herself. She also expresses her desire for Elizabeth-Jane to continue living with them. Elizabeth-Jane promises to consider it. However, the moment Lucetta steps out, Elizabeth-Jane starts packing and leaves the house that very night.

chapter 31

News about Henchard's scandal from the furmity-woman circulates quickly in the town, severely damaging his well-established reputation. Upon observing a gathering at the King’s Arms, the location of her initial encounter with Henchard in his prime, Elizabeth-Jane discovers that the town officials are discussing Henchard's impending bankruptcy. Henchard, having already handed over all his assets, presents his last remaining valuable item, a gold watch, to the commission. Despite recognizing the nobility in the gesture, they decline. Henchard then proceeds to sell the watch himself, giving the proceeds to a minor debtor. Subsequently, all of Henchard’s belongings are auctioned, with Farfrae becoming the new owner of his business. Despite Elizabeth-Jane's numerous efforts to reconcile with Henchard and express her forgiveness for his past harshness towards her while offering assistance in his difficult times, she is unsuccessful. In the end, Henchard relocates to a cottage owned by Joshua Jopp.

chapter 32

Casterbridge houses two bridges, known as the gathering place for the town's downcasts. One evening, Henchard is on the quieter bridge when Jopp approaches him. Jopp informs him that Farfrae and Lucetta have moved into Henchard's previous home, which Farfrae bought along with Henchard's belongings. Jopp departs, and soon after, Farfrae arrives. Aware of Henchard's plans to depart from Casterbridge, he suggests Henchard occupy the extra rooms in his former abode. Henchard declines. Farfrae then proposes for Henchard to take any furniture he likes. Despite being touched by Farfrae's kindness, Henchard persists in his refusal. Elizabeth-Jane discovers Henchard's ill health and uses this as a reason to visit him. Henchard initially dismisses her, but she stays, nursing him back to health and bringing about a rejuvenated perspective on life. Seeking work, Henchard approaches Farfrae's corn-yard for a job as a hay-trusser. However, hearing about Farfrae's potential mayorship, he starts to fall back into his previous gloom, marking the days till the end of his self-imposed alcohol abstinence. On the day the oath is up, Elizabeth-Jane learns that Henchard has succumbed and started drinking again.

chapter 33

After attending mass, the townsmen of Casterbridge typically congregate at the Three Mariners Inn for convivial discussion and a modest "half-a-pint of liquor." Breaking from this custom, Henchard indulges in alcohol and sings derogatory songs about Farfrae. His daughter, Elizabeth-Jane, comes to escort him home. En route, he grumbles about Farfrae usurping his life and hints at potential harm if they cross paths. Concerned by his threats, Elizabeth-Jane decides to monitor him closely and assists him at the hay-yard during the week. In the ensuing days, Farfrae and Lucetta pay a visit to the hay-yard, where Lucetta is taken aback by Henchard’s presence. He greets her with acerbic sarcasm, prompting Lucetta to send him a note the next day requesting better treatment. This interaction escalates the tension between them. Later, Elizabeth-Jane notices Henchard and Farfrae at the corn-stores. She becomes alarmed when it appears that Henchard may push Farfrae and feels compelled to warn Farfrae about the potential danger of associating with Henchard.

chapter 34

Elizabeth-Jane cautions Farfrae about Henchard's potential ill intentions towards him early one morning. Farfrae, surprised by such hostility, doesn't heed the warning. He, in turn, tries to aid Henchard by setting up a seed shop for him to manage. The town clerk, however, alerts Farfrae of Henchard's resentment, prompting Farfrae to postpone acquiring the shop. Back home, Farfrae shares his concern with Lucetta about Henchard's animosity. Fearing the revelation of her past relationship with Henchard, Lucetta suggests they leave Casterbridge. Their discussion is interrupted by an alderman who informs them of the recent passing of the elected mayor. He offers the position to Farfrae, who accepts. Lucetta requests Henchard to give back her letters. Henchard realizes they're locked in his previous home's safe. He visits Farfrae one evening to get them and ends up reading a couple to Farfrae. Unaware that Lucetta penned the letters, Farfrae shows little interest. Despite the temptation to disclose the author, Henchard refrains, unwilling to jeopardize Farfrae and Lucetta's marriage.

chapter 35

Lucetta, having listened in on the exchange between Farfrae and Henchard, becomes worried that Henchard might expose her as the sender of the letters. After Farfrae enters the room, she understands that Henchard has kept her secret. The following day, she sends a note to Henchard, setting up a meeting at the Ring later that day. Here, she pleads with him to show compassion and give back the letters, a request he agrees to fulfill.

chapter 36

Lucetta encounters Joshua Jopp upon returning home from her rendezvous with Henchard. Jopp, having heard of Farfrae's search for a business associate, requests Lucetta's endorsement, which she declines. Disheartened, Jopp departs. Once home, Henchard gives Jopp a package to deliver to Mrs. Farfrae. Curiosity prompts Jopp to examine the packet, revealing its contents—letters—before he sets off to deliver them. On his delivery route, Jopp crosses paths with Mother Cuxsom and Nance Mockridge, who inform him of their journey to Mixen Lane, the hub of all things "sad", "low", and occasionally "baneful" in Casterbridge. Jopp joins them, bumping into the elderly furmity-woman who quizzes him about his package. Giving in, he admits they're romantic letters and even reads them out to the gathered crowd. Nance Mockridge identifies Lucetta as the letters' author and claims this revelation creates the perfect stage for a "skimmity-ride", a traditional British spectacle used to publicly shame adulterers. A fur-clad stranger, intrigued by the custom, generously contributes to the spectacle's funding. After this event, Jopp reseals the letters and hands them to Lucetta the following day.

chapter 37

News soon spreads across Casterbridge that a "Royal Personage" is due to visit. In anticipation, the town council meets to plan for the esteemed visit. During the meeting, Henchard interrupts to request involvement. However, Farfrae denies Henchard's request stating his former councilman status makes it inappropriate. Undeterred, Henchard promises to welcome the royal in his own style. When the royal's carriage pulls up, Henchard, notably intoxicated, is seen waving a flag he'd made. Farfrae is forced to pull him away.

chapter 38

Furious at Farfrae's mistreatment, Henchard plots revenge. He sends a message for Farfrae to meet him at the granaries. Once Farfrae arrives, Henchard, having handicapped himself by binding one arm, declares they will conclude their previous fight. Even though Henchard dominates Farfrae in the brawl, he finds himself unable to defeat him completely. After Farfrae departs, Henchard is overwhelmed by shame and nostalgia for their past relationship. He yearns to see Farfrae once more but recalls a rumor of Farfrae's impending trip to Weatherbury.

chapter 39

We return to the events immediately after Henchard and Farfrae's wrestling match. Farfrae receives a note from Abel Whittle post-battle, asking him to visit Weatherbury. The note is from Farfrae's employees, intending to divert him from the town to mitigate the effects of the "skimmity-ride." Farfrae leaves for Weatherbury, and Lucetta then hears some uproar afar off. She eavesdrops on two maids discussing the events outside her window: two figures, sitting back-to-back on a donkey, being paraded around Casterbridge. Lucetta realizes, just as Elizabeth-Jane enters and attempts to shut the shutters, that those figures are representing her and Henchard. Consequently, she succumbs to hysteria and an epileptic seizure, worried that her husband will bear witness to the scene. Elizabeth-Jane summons the doctor, who understands the gravity of the situation and instructs her to bring Farfrae back immediately.

chapter 40

After witnessing the skimmity-ride, Henchard sets out to find Elizabeth-Jane. When he reaches Farfrae’s home and hears about Lucetta's health, he insists that Farfrae can be located heading to Weatherbury, not Budmouth as previously assumed. Despite his assertions, he isn't trusted and he leaves to search for Farfrae himself. He eventually locates Farfrae and pleads with him to come back to Casterbridge but Farfrae, suspicious of him, declines. Henchard goes back to Casterbridge, only to find Lucetta’s condition hasn't improved. Upon his return home, Joshua Jopp informs him that a sailor was looking for him. When Farfrae eventually returns, he summons another doctor and Lucetta's condition stabilizes with his presence. Farfrae stays by her side through the night while Henchard wanders the streets asking about Lucetta’s health. It's the following morning when a maid breaks the news that Lucetta has passed away.

chapter 41

Henchard returns home after Lucetta's demise, and Elizabeth-Jane comes by. While he makes breakfast, she drifts off to sleep. Henchard, filled with affection for her, hopes she will accept him as her true father. A man named Newson interrupts them. He reveals his past with Susan and shares that he pretended to be deceased. He asks about Elizabeth-Jane, to which Henchard lies, telling him she's dead. Heartbroken, Newson leaves. Still, Henchard is filled with anxiety, fearing his lie will be exposed and Newson will reclaim Elizabeth-Jane. After breakfast, when Elizabeth-Jane departs, he feels a deep despair, worrying she'll forget him. This drives him to the brink of suicide at the local river, but upon seeing his reflection in the water, he backs out. When he comes back home, he finds Elizabeth-Jane waiting. She had returned, feeling he had been upset earlier. He takes her to the river, showing her the effigy from the skimmity-ride. He comments on the irony of it saving his life when it had cost Lucetta hers. Understanding his reference, Elizabeth-Jane offers to live with him, a proposal he happily agrees to.

chapter 42

Henchard is constantly worried about Newson coming back, but in the meantime, he and Elizabeth-Jane have a peaceful life in his house. They seldom see Farfrae since Henchard runs a small seed business that Farfrae and the town council helped him buy. One day, Henchard notices Farfrae's interest in Elizabeth-Jane and starts considering the potential of their marriage. He doesn’t like this thought but feels Elizabeth-Jane should make her own choices. Gradually, Elizabeth-Jane and Farfrae start seeing each other more often. Henchard eventually confirms their close relationship when he witnesses Farfrae kissing Elizabeth-Jane.

chapter 43

Henchard is consumed by anxiety over the possible consequences of Elizabeth-Jane's impending marriage. While observing the usual meeting spot of Elizabeth-Jane and Farfrae, Henchard spots Newson with his telescope. When Elizabeth-Jane returns home, she informs Henchard of a letter she received, inviting her to meet someone at Farfrae’s residence that night. To her surprise, Henchard announces his decision to leave Casterbridge immediately. Elizabeth-Jane presumes his departure is a sign of disapproval towards her forthcoming marriage to Farfrae, but Henchard denies this. He leaves the town in solitude, likening himself to the biblical figure Cain, and exclaims, “[M]y punishment is not greater than I can bear!” At Farfrae's home that night, Elizabeth-Jane encounters Newson, which clarifies Henchard’s abrupt exit. She is thrilled by the reunion with her supposedly deceased father, but is deeply upset upon discovering Henchard's deceit. Newson and Farfrae proceed to discuss the wedding arrangements.

chapter 44

Henchard travels to Weydon-Priors, the place he sold his wife over two decades ago, reminiscing briefly before proceeding onward. He finds a job as a hay-trusser about fifty miles away from Casterbridge. While interacting with some visitors from his old town, he learns about Elizabeth-Jane's upcoming marriage to Farfrae on St. Martin’s Day. He chooses to attend the wedding, embarking on his trip. On the eve of the celebrations, he purchases new attire and a caged goldfinch as a gift for Elizabeth-Jane in a neighboring town. Upon reaching Farfrae's residence in Casterbridge, he discovers the festivities in progress. He keeps the birdcage under a shrub at the rear of the house before entering. He observes the merriment inconspicuously until the housekeeper tells Elizabeth-Jane about his arrival. When she confronts him, she criticizes him for his deceit regarding Newson. Due to her frosty reception, he opts to leave, vowing not to disturb her ever again.

chapter 45

Days following her marriage, Elizabeth-Jane encounters a birdcage. Inside, a bird has died of hunger and she ponders its origin. A few weeks later, a conversation with a servant leads her to realize the bird must've been a gift from Henchard, sparking regret over her previous harshness towards him. Upon Farfrae's return, she pleads for his aid in locating Henchard to reconcile their differences. Their search leads them to Abel Whittle's cottage, where they learn of Henchard's recent passing. Whittle hands them a paper, Henchard's will, which includes peculiar requests: Elizabeth-Jane is not to be informed of his death, he is to be buried outside consecrated ground, nobody should grieve for him, and he should be forgotten. Elizabeth-Jane is filled with remorse for her unkind treatment of Henchard during their last encounter, and resolves to honor his final requests as much as possible.

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