2008: 63. The Mayor of Casterbridge

“One evening of late summer, before the nineteenth century had reached one-third of its span, a young man and woman, the latter carrying a child, were approaching the large village of Weydon-Priors, in Upper Wessex, on foot.

The Mayor of Casterbridge, Thomas Hardy

I was nervous about starting this book, given that Tess of the d’Urbervilles almost defeated me when I read it (I could barely follow the plot.  Granted, it was in eighth grade, showing off for summer reading, but still), and when I started Jude The Obscure, I got about five pages in before I put it down for something else.  But I am going to give Hardy another try because I really enjoyed The Mayor of Casterbridge (plus, ever since seeing The History Boys a few weeks ago I am sort of into Hardy’s poetry*).  The reason I liked it was because, despite the typical Hardy grimmness, the plot is so ridiculous as to make it an absolutely fabulous melodrama.  This is definitely one of those books that reads like the Victorian equivalent of a soap opera, and I am now dying to see a Masterpiece Theater/BBC adaptation!

The novel starts with Michael Henchard, who will become the titular mayor (or at least one of them), but is at the time a roaming hay trusser, getting intoxicated and selling** his wife and daughter to the highest bidder (BTW, this is all set in the 1800s).  By the time he sobers up his wife is gone, but the experience prompts him to reform his life and he becomes a successful local businessman in the town of Casterbridge (and eventually mayor).  All is well until, thrown on hard times, his wife and daughter return to town.  His daughter knows nothing of the scandalous past, and so he pretends to woo and remarry his wife, and then claim them as his own.  Throw in the woman whose reputation he has ruined by being too close to her (people in her town think that they have behaved improperly, if you catch my drift), and the handsome young Scotsman who comes to work for Henchard, and soon you have a plot that needs a diagram, and ends up withe Henchard eventually paying the price for his behavior - not because he did something wicked, but because of his personality, which lead him to a terrible end.  Very psychologically apt, but the book is awesome because of the plot which somehow manages to be page turningly awesome, despite its totally deus ex ridiculousness.  

Namely, the poem used in the play, "Drummer Hodge "                               

They throw in Drummer Hodge, to rest

  Uncoffined – just as found:

His landmark is a kopje-crest

  That breaks the veldt around;

And foreign constellations west

  Each night above his mound.

Young Hodge the Drummer never knew –

  Fresh from his Wessex home –

The meaning of the broad Karoo,

  The Bush, the dusty loam,

And why uprose to nightly view

  Strange stars amid the gloam.

Yet portion of that unknown plain

  Will Hodge forever be;

His homely Northern breast and brain

  Grow to some Southern tree,

And strange-eyed constellation reign

  His stars eternally.

** That is right, SELLING

Date/Place Completed: 4/19/08; D.C.

Categories: Fiction, Commuting Book

© Carrie Dunsmore 2017