The Mayor of Casterbridge

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The Mayor of Casterbridge Study Guide

Welcome to the LitCharts study guide on Thomas Hardy's The Mayor of Casterbridge. Created by the original team behind SparkNotes, LitCharts are the world's best literature guides.

Brief Biography of Thomas Hardy
Thomas Hardy grew up in a cottage near Dorchester. He was not able to receive a thorough education, but, at sixteen, he became an architectural apprentice. In 1862, he moved to London to further his career and worked with an architect named Arthur Blomfield. In London, he started to write and publish poetry. In 1867, he returned to Dorset, working again as an architecture assistant, as he started to craft his first novel. He married his first wife, Emma Gifford, in 1874, after meeting her on a business trip to Cornwall four years earlier. In 1878, the Hardys moved to London, so Thomas could join the thriving literary circles there. But by 1885, Thomas Hardy had again returned to Dorset. There, in his beloved homeland, he wrote many of his major novels: The Mayor of Casterbridge (1886), The Woodlanders (1887), Tess of the d’Urbervilles (1891), The Pursuit of the Well-Beloved (1892), and his final novel, Jude the Obscure (1895). For the thirty-two years of his life after the publication of Jude the Obscure, Hardy wrote only poetry and drama. His wife’s death in 1912 inspired some of his most memorable works of poetry. Hardy remarried a woman named Florence Dugdale in 1914. Before his death in 1928, Hardy was recognized as a major literary contributor of his time period and he was awarded the Order of Merit for his literary achievements in 1910.
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Historical Context of The Mayor of Casterbridge
The Mayor of Casterbridge is one of Thomas Hardy’s novels set in Wessex County in Western England. Thomas Hardy hoped to capture the lifestyles of Wessex County, particularly the farming practices, technologies, and the relationships farmers and villagers had with the land in England during the 1800s. While Hardy’s Casterbridge is fictional, it is based on the town of Dorchester in Dorset. Hardy lived in this area and used many realistic details in his novels. The visit of “a royal personage” referred to in the novel matches the historic trip of Prince Albert to Weymouth in July 1849.
Other Books Related to The Mayor of Casterbridge
Literary critics believe Thomas Hardy has more in common with later Modern writers like Virigina Woolf, James Joyce, T. S. Eliot, than with his contemporaries. D. H. Lawrence was strongly influenced by Thomas Hardy.
Key Facts about The Mayor of Casterbridge
  • Full Title: The Mayor of Casterbridge: The Life and Death of a Man of Character
  • When Written: 1885-1886
  • Where Written: Dorchester, England
  • When Published: 1886
  • Literary Period: Victorian, with qualities of Modernism
  • Genre: Tragedy, realistic fiction
  • Setting: The fictional town of Casterbridge and surrounding countryside, in Western England
  • Climax: Richard Newson returns to claim his true daughter, Elizabeth-Jane. Michael Henchard, unable to endure losing his stepdaughter, plans to kill himself, only to have his suicide prevented by the miraculous appearance of an effigy of himself floating in the river.
  • Antagonist: Michael Henchard (a protagonist who brings about his own lonely fate)
  • Point of View: Third person omniscient
Extra Credit for The Mayor of Casterbridge

Thomas Hardy, the poet. Thomas Hardy wrote poetry throughout his life, in addition to novels. After his final novel, Jude the Obscure, was severely criticized for what many critics described as its immoral qualities, Hardy vowed to write only poetry for the reminder of his life.

Thomas Hardy’s funeral. Thomas Hardy’s heart is buried in Stinsford, in Western England, whereas his ashes are placed in the Poets’ Corner in Westminster Abbey, in London.