The Mayor of Casterbridge
- The Mayor of Casterbridge (1886), subtitled "The Life and Death of a Man of Character", is a tragic novel by British author Thomas Hardy. It is set in the fictional town of Casterbridge (based on the town of Dorchester in Dorset). The book is one of Hardy's Wessex novels, all set in a fictional rustic England. The novel is often considered one of Hardy's greatest works. At a country fair near Casterbridge, Wessex, a young hay-trusser named Michael Henchard overindulges in rum-laced furmity and quarrels with his wife, Susan. Spurred by alcohol, he decides to auction off his wife and baby daughter, Elizabeth-Jane, to a sailor, Mr. Newson, for five guineas. Once sober the next day, he is too late to recover his family, particularly since his reluctance to reveal his own bad conduct keeps him from conducting an effective search. When he realizes that his wife and daughter are gone, probably for good, he swears not to touch liquor again for as many years as he has lived so far (twenty-one). Eighteen years later, Henchard, now a successful grain merchant, is the eponymous Mayor of Casterbridge, known for his staunch sobriety. He is well respected for his financial acumen and his work ethic, but he is not well liked. Impulsive, selfish behavior and a violent temper are still part of his character, as are dishonesty and secretive activity. All these years, Henchard has kept the details surrounding the "loss" of his wife a secret. The people in Casterbridge believe he is a widower, although he never explicitly says that his first wife died. He lies by omission instead, allowing other people to believe something false. Over time he finds it convenient to believe Susan probably is dead. While traveling to the island of Jersey on business, Henchard falls in love with a young woman named Lucette Le Sueur, who nurses him back to health after an illness. The book implies that Lucette and Henchard have a sexual relationship, and Lucette's reputation is ruined by her association with Henchard. When Henchard returns to Casterbridge he leaves Lucette to face the social consequences of their fling. In order to rejoin polite society she must marry him, but there is a problem: Henchard is already technically married. Although Henchard never told Lucette exactly how he "lost" his wife to begin with, he does tell her he has a wife who "is dead probably dead, but who may return". Besotted, Lucette develops a relationship with him despite the risk. Yet just as Henchard is about to send for Lucette, Susan unexpectedly appears in Casterbridge with her daughter, Elizabeth-Jane, who is now fully grown. Susan and Elizabeth-Jane are both very poor. Newson appears to have been lost at sea, and without means to earn an income Susan is looking for Henchard again. Susan, who is not a very intelligent or sophisticated woman, believed for a long time that her "marriage" to Newson was perfectly legitimate. Only recently, just before Newson's disappearance, had Susan begun to question whether or not she was still legally married to Henchard. Further complications ensue.