The townsfolk of Casterbridge gossip about the engagement between Farfrae and Elizabeth-Jane. The original occupants of The King of Prussia who witnessed the young people’s humble appearances in Casterbridge are happy for them and their union. Some townsfolk argue that the successful Farfrae is choosing a new wife below his station, whereas others feel that the well-liked Elizabeth-Jane is lowering herself to marrying a widower with a dubious first wife.
The gossip of the Casterbridge villagers focuses on the inequality between Elizabeth-Jane and Farfrae, although opinions differ as to which young person is marrying below his or her station. This discussion reflects the importance in Casterbridge society of status, which is based on wealth, success, popularity, and modesty.
Henchard is tormented by Elizabeth-Jane’s silence on the matter of her relationship with Farfrae. He supposes that she must see him as an obstacle to her future happiness given his past with Farfrae. Henchard wonders, on the other hand, if a union with Farfrae wouldn’t necessarily prevent him from maintaining a close relationship with Elizabeth-Jane. He continues to keep a close eye on Elizabeth-Jane and Farfrae. While one day spying on the Budmouth road for the pair’s arrival there, he sees another man arrive on that road. It is Richard Newson.
Elizabeth-Jane does not confess to Henchard about her relationship with Farfrae. While this situation is presented from Henchard’s anxious and possessive perspective, and not from Elizabeth-Jane’s, it seems that Elizabeth-Jane does not feel as close a connection with Henchard as he feels with her. Henchard’s spying allows him to see Newson’s return to Casterbridge.
Elizabeth-Jane confesses to Henchard that she has received a letter from a strange man about meeting her on the Budmouth road and wonders whether or not she should go. Henchard tells her to go. Then he tells her that he plans to leave Casterbridge, foreseeing how his life must change with the reappearance of Richard Newson. Elizabeth-Jane, surprised and confused by this announcement, begins to cry.
Henchard does not delay the inevitable, and tells Elizabeth-Jane that she should meet the man, who Henchard knows to be Newson. Elizabeth-Jane, despite her discretion with respect to her stepfather, does not want him to leave her life. Although she has every reason to distrust Henchard, Elizabeth-Jane does care for him.
Elizabeth-Jane thinks her father must be leaving because she wishes to marry Farfrae. He assures her that she may do so, but that he will not come to her wedding. He asks her to remember, once she knows all his sins, that he loved her and cared for her. She promises not to forget him. That very evening, Henchard secretly leaves town, with only Elizabeth-Jane accompanying him as far as the second bridge. As Henchard travels alone, he wishes he still had Elizabeth-Jane with him, believing any hardship would be nothing then. But to live alone is his punishment, he believes.
Elizabeth-Jane, typically self-effacing, assumes that Henchard’s departure is all her fault. Henchard leaves town directly, and in this departure, he and Elizabeth-Jane part ways at the second bridge. Losing Elizabeth-Jane is the final tragedy in Henchard’s life and his fall from mayor of Casterbridge to friendless wanderer is complete. He recognizes his own fault in much of this fall from prominence.
Elizabeth-Jane meets Farfrae on her walk back. She tells him that Henchard is gone. Farfrae has a friend that he wishes her to meet at home, and Elizabeth-Jane is surprised to see this man, who is Richard Newson. The reunion between long-separated daughter and father is emotional. Newson is so proud of the woman Elizabeth-Jane has grown up to be.
Newson’s treatment of Elizabeth-Jane is sharply contrasted to Henchard’s: Newson sees and values Elizabeth-Jane, but not because of her treatment of him.
Newson expresses his happiness to be involved in their lives now that Henchard is gone. He feels that he has already inserted himself into Henchard’s family life too far, and wishes to not hurt or offend the other man. Newson explains how Henchard had told him that Elizabeth-Jane had died when he had come through Casterbridge previously, searching for her. Newson regards the situation as a joke, but Elizabeth-Jane is angry and revolted by Henchard’s actions.
Elizabeth-Jane has been infinitely patient and forgiving, but the lie Henchard told Newson is unforgiveable in her mind. Throughout the novel, it has been clear that Elizabeth-Jane cared for Newson, and did not want to lose her connection to her father, despite Henchard’s attempts to replace Newson in her affections.
Newson good-naturedly encourages Elizabeth-Jane to put the past behind her. He offers to help pay for the wedding, which Farfrae plans to hold in their own large house.
Newson assumes the role of father seamlessly, with his positive focus on the future and his offer of monetary support.