The Mayor of Casterbridge

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Themes and Colors
Self-Destruction Theme Icon
Familial and Romantic Love Theme Icon
Loyalty to Duty and Commitments Theme Icon
Humans and Nature Theme Icon
The Past and Forgiveness Theme Icon
Character Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in The Mayor of Casterbridge, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.
Character Theme Icon

The full title of the novel is The Mayor of Casterbridge: The Life and Death of a Man of Character. Henchard’s “character” is neither good nor evil, but complex. Character directly impacts each person in the novel. Henchard’s self-destruction is a critical aspect of his character. His self-harming personality traits lead to his isolation and poverty. Elizabeth-Jane and Susan are loyal characters. They honor their duties and their past commitments, which leads Susan to leave and then return to Henchard, and which causes Elizabeth-Jane to never act upon her love for Farfrae. Elizabeth-Jane’s fortitude and good character are appropriate to her happy ending of her marriage to Farfrae and reunion with her long-lost father, Newson. Farfrae’s character, his easy temperament and his natural goodness, helps his business and position in Casterbridge society and leads him to marry Lucetta. His character causes him to prioritize love and personal happiness. He continues to be kind to Henchard for a long time after he is asked to leave Henchard’s business, another mark of his open and generous character.

Character, in the subtitle of the novel, implies more than the way in which character correlates to events and outcomes in the novel. Character, in the 19th century, was a term frequently associated with one’s social standing and reputation. A man of character was a man who was prominent and respected in society. With this meaning in mind, describing Henchard as “a man of character,” is both accurate and ironic. He holds the important position of mayor in Casterbridge for most of the novel. However, this position is, in many ways, one of which Henchard is unworthy. His secret past wrong is concealed from the inhabitants of Casterbridge and when the furmity-woman reveals the story of Henchard selling his wife and daughter, Henchard’s popularity declines rapidly from that day onward.

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Character Quotes in The Mayor of Casterbridge

Below you will find the important quotes in The Mayor of Casterbridge related to the theme of Character.
Chapter 1 Quotes

“For my part I don’t see why men who have got wives, and don’t want ‘em, shouldn’t get rid of ‘em as these gipsy fellows do their old horses…why shouldn’t they put them up and sell ‘em by auction to men who are in want of such articles? Hey? Why, begad, I’d sell mine this minute, if anybody would buy her!”

Related Characters: Michael Henchard (speaker), Susan Henchard
Page Number: 9
Explanation and Analysis:

Early in the novel, Michael Henchard and his wife and child are traveling and stop at a country fair for a meal, where Henchard, intoxicated, grows angry with his lot in life. Henchard turns his bitterness on his wife, as he no longer wishes to be married. In this passage, he wonders aloud to the listening occupants of the food tent why unhappy men cannot sell their wives to other men. Henchard’s complaints are set against the sounds of a horse auction, which he mentions as a point of comparison. The language of this passage is quite obviously belittling and hurtful. Not only does Henchard compare his wife to an “old horse” that could be auctioned off, but he calls this “getting rid” of her because he doesn’t “want her.” This language treats women as the property of men as well as material possessions (Henchard refers to wives as “articles,” like articles of clothing).

Henchard’s "character" is established early in the novel, though he later grows into a more complex figure, and is haunted by this scene of extreme boorishness. To the modern audience, this scene is horrifying, but it is also upsetting to the other people who witness Henchard’s behavior, particularly the kind man Richard Newson who takes in Henchard’s wife and child. Henchard’s cruelty is attributed in part to his drunkenness, as he later, when sober, regrets his actions. His drinking problem results in self-destructive behavior. While drunk, he foregoes the sense of duty he has to his family, particularly to his young daughter, which resurfaces later in the novel.


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Chapter 2 Quotes

“I, Michael Henchard, on this morning of the sixteenth of September, do take an oath before God here in this solemn place that I will avoid all strong liquors for the space of twenty-one years to come, being a year for every year that I have lived. And this I swear upon the book before me; and may I be stricken dumb, blind, and helpless, if I break this my oath!”

Related Characters: Michael Henchard (speaker)
Page Number: 18
Explanation and Analysis:

In a pivotal moment for his character, Henchard vows to give up drinking any alcohol for twenty-one years after seeing the effect of his drunkenness at the country fair. Henchard acts partly out of regret for his poor treatment of his wife and child, and partly out of embarrassment about his publicly humiliating behavior. Despite these mixed motives, Henchard’s vow is a productive one. He has identified an aspect of his character that has been self-destructive and hurtful to others and he seeks to improve. And indeed, he upholds this vow loyally for twenty-one years because he has made a commitment.

The “solemn place” in which Henchard makes his oath before God is a church, which lends significance to his vow because it occurs in a place that is traditionally the site of praying and seeking repentance. Henchard later asks Susan directly for forgiveness, which demonstrates some true feeling of guilt and desire to repent. However, Henchard, true to his character, is also inclined to exaggerated and theatrical behavior. It is not enough to seek to change himself in private—instead he makes an extreme oath, featuring a full twenty-one years of abstinence from alcohol and the condition that he be struck “dumb, blind, and helpless” if he doesn’t follow his promise. Ironically, Henchard ends the novel in a helpless state, despite having kept his oath, because he returns after twenty-one years to the self-destructive behavior of drinking.

Chapter 5 Quotes

"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."

Related Characters: Michael Henchard (speaker)
Related Symbols: Restoring Wheat
Page Number: 36
Explanation and Analysis:

Henchard becomes the mayor of Casterbridge and a successful wheat merchant, but his business is criticized one summer when he sells a large amount of rotten wheat to farmers and citizens in Casterbridge. In this scene, Henchard defends his actions, arguing that he cannot change the bad wheat back into wholesome wheat. This is a significant passage because a comment about a literal problem—the rotten wheat—provides commentary on a larger problem: the inability of any person to turn back time. Henchard wished he could turn back time after he sold his wife and daughter. He saw that he had made something that was once wholesome—his family and his marriage—into something rotten. This passage shows his life philosophy, as well as his understanding of wheat. The past cannot be changed, Henchard believes; something rotten cannot be made wholesome again.

This quote also shows Henchard’s rather underhanded business dealings. He is not willing to take the blame or the responsibility for having sold bad wheat, and he will not replace the product he sold with good wheat. He sees that the sale, once complete, is finished, regardless of the outcome for his costumers. Instead, he blames the problem on the impossibility of restoring wheat that has gone by, encouraging others to blame fate, the weather, science—anything other than Henchard himself.

Chapter 10 Quotes

"Meet me at eight o'clock this evening, if you can, at the Ring on the Budmouth road. The place is easy to find. I can say no more now. The news upsets me almost. The girl seems to be in ignorance. Keep her so till I have seen you. M. H."
He said nothing about the enclosure of five guineas. The amount was significant; it may tacitly have said to her that he bought her back again.

Related Characters: Michael Henchard (speaker), Susan Henchard, Elizabeth-Jane Newson
Related Symbols: Five Guineas, The Ring
Page Number: 67
Explanation and Analysis:

Henchard and Susan are reunited through a letter that is brought from Susan to Henchard via Elizabeth-Jane. Henchard responds with a note asking Susan to meet him, and includes with it five guineas. Two important symbols appear in this pivotal passage: the Ring and the five guineas. The Ring is a local remnant of the ancient Roman culture in this part of England. As a landmark site, it is linked to the bloody history of the Romans would invaded England; it is an amphitheater for battle as a form of entertainment. Because of its role as a visual reminder of a painful past, the Ring seems a fateful place for Henchard and Susan to meet and address their own painful past.

The second symbol of the five guineas is acknowledged by Henchard, who remembers that this is the sum Newson paid to buy Susan from him years earlier. By enclosing this amount, Henchard intentionally suggests that he wishes Susan to return to him, that he symbolically wishes to “buy her back.”

The language of Henchard’s note focuses on his commitment to and concern for Elizabeth-Jane. He wants to keep her ignorant of his connection to her, which suggests that he feels guilt over his past wrongs. But he also feels a duty to her and to Susan because of their family connection. This sense of duty seems more prevalent than any feelings of real love or attachment, as the language of his letter to Susan is matter-of-fact, rather than romantic or apologetic. Duty to family also influences Susan when she reaches out to her past husband, once Richard Newson is supposedly dead. 

Chapter 11 Quotes

"Right," said Henchard. "But just one word. Do you forgive me, Susan?"
She murmured something; but seemed to find it difficult to frame her answer.
"Never mind--all in good time," said he. "Judge me by my future works--good-bye!"

Related Characters: Michael Henchard (speaker), Susan Henchard
Page Number: 74
Explanation and Analysis:

When Henchard and Susan meet at the Ring, their conversation focuses on the future and how to reintegrate Susan and Elizabeth-Jane into the life of the now-successful Henchard. Henchard does, however, turn to discussion of the past briefly when he asks if Susan forgives him. This moment shows Henchard’s unwillingness to hear an unfavorable answer, as he dismisses Susan's reply and instead requests that Susan “judge” him by his “future works.” But why does Henchard desire Susan’s good opinion at this point in the novel? Henchard is concerned throughout this scene about his current moral character and his reputation as mayor of Casterbridge, and it seems that he cannot bear to have anyone, even Susan, think ill of him. His comment about his “future works” shows Henchard’s belief that the past can be outweighed by the future. Henchard is a complex character, and this novel works to develop his nuances and changes. He argued that the past could not be changed when his wheat was rotten, but is quick to have Susan overlook the past in favor of the future.

For her part, Susan’s murmured response to Henchard’s request for forgiveness shows her conflicted feelings about her reunion with her ex-husband. As with many characters in the novel, Susan is concealing some information (here about her motives for returning to Henchard). Henchard might have foreseen this, but he is too self-focused to be troubled by her lack of a legitimate response to his question.

Chapter 15 Quotes

But Henchard continued moody and silent, and when one of the men inquired of him if some oats should be hoisted to an upper floor or not, he said shortly, "Ask Mr. Farfrae. He's master here!" Morally he was; there could be no doubt of it. Henchard, who had hitherto been the most admired man in his circle, was the most admired no longer.

Related Characters: Michael Henchard (speaker), Donald Farfrae
Page Number: 98
Explanation and Analysis:

Mr. Farfrae works as Henchard’s manager, but the men disagree on the treatment of their workers. This disagreement comes to a head over the habitually tardy Abel Whittle. Their public disagreement shows Farfrae to be a better man than Henchard, more level-headed and kind, and he wins over the support of the other workers. The disagreement also shows that Farfrae is willing to stand up to Henchard and does not follow all his orders. Henchard responds to both aspects of this situation negatively. He is upset by what he sees to be Farfrae’s betrayal and upset that Farfrae is more popular than himself. This passage captures the shifting power dynamic between these two men. Henchard is no longer “the most admired man in his circle” because Farfrae now fills this space.

Henchard’s bitterness and childishness is obvious to everyone. Instead of taking responsibility for his actions and continuing to lead his workers, Henchard mockingly says that Farfrae is the master when he is asked questions. This behavior is petty, as is his “moody and silent” sulking. This passage reveals another aspect of Henchard’s character: he does not react well to failure. When he fails, he worsens the problem, rather than mending it, by acting childishly. His inability to address the problem of Farfrae’s popularity and leadership means that his own popularity and control fail further. This is the very beginning of a downward spiral for Henchard who, once upset and angry, makes his situation worse by acting more upset and angry.

Chapter 16 Quotes

"Mr. Farfrae's time as my manager is drawing to a close--isn't it, Farfrae?"
The young man, who could now read the lines and folds of Henchard's strongly-traced face as if they were clear verbal inscriptions, quietly assented; and when people deplored the fact, and asked why it was, he simply replied that Mr. Henchard no longer required his help. Henchard went home, apparently satisfied. But in the morning, when his jealous temper had passed away, his heart sank within him at what he had said and done. He was the
more disturbed when he found that this time Farfrae was determined to take him at his word.

Related Characters: Michael Henchard (speaker), Donald Farfrae
Page Number: 106
Explanation and Analysis:

Henchard’s jealousy and anger over Farfrae’s popularity and willfulness is critical in this scene, in which Henchard publically dismisses Farfrae. In company, he says that Farfrae will soon be leaving his employ. He does not talk to Farfrae about this beforehand, nor does he explicitly fire Farfrae. However, Farfrae can tell from Henchard’s mood that it will no longer work to be Henchard’s manager. Farfrae’s decency is shown in his quietness about this problem. When it is addressed, he simply tells others that “Mr. Henchard no longer required his help.” He doesn’t speak ill of Henchard, despite having been mistreated by him, which shows his respectable and kind character.

Henchard, on the other hand, has acted rashly, which he later realizes, and then attempts to retract his statement that Farfrae should leave his employ. Although Henchard is sober at the time of his rash statement, a clear parallel can be drawn between this scene and the scene in which Henchard sells his wife and child. In both cases, Henchard later regrets his behavior and attempts to reverse the situation, but without success. Farfrae’s refusal to return to Henchard’s business is notable because it shows another strong difference in the two men's characters. Farfrae has a strong resolve and does not make decisions lightly, while Henchard repeatedly makes decisions that he later regrets—a trait that mostly hurts himself rather than others.

Chapter 17 Quotes

Hence, when she felt her heart going out to him, she would say to herself with a mock pleasantry that carried an ache with it, "No, no, Elizabeth-Jane--such dreams are not for you!" She tried to prevent herself from seeing him, and thinking of him; succeeding fairly well in the former attempt, in the latter not so completely.

Related Characters: Elizabeth-Jane Newson , Donald Farfrae
Page Number: 110
Explanation and Analysis:

Elizabeth-Jane and Farfrae share a strong connection, but Elizabeth-Jane tries to persuade herself to stop developing romantic feelings for him. She sees Farfrae as her father’s competitor, an idea supported by Henchard’s anger about Farfrae opening a separate business in the same field. Henchard then openly forbids Elizabeth-Jane to see Farfrae, and Elizabeth-Jane heeds her father’s wishes. This quote shows Elizabeth-Jane’s strong sense of duty. She is loyal to her father and obeys his wishes, even when they go against her own desires. Yet despite her attempt to avoid seeing Farfrae and even thinking of him, Elizabeth-Jane’s feelings are clearly too strong to repress.

In Elizabeth-Jane, two types of love are at odds. She feels love and loyalty to Henchard, even though she doesn’t yet know the story of his past with her mother or that he believes himself to be her father. She is grateful to him for taking her and her mother in when they were in need. Yet she also feels a youthful romantic love for Farfrae. Tragically, Henchard’s conflict with Farfrae means Elizabeth-Jane must choose one type of love or the other—in this situation at least, she can't have both.

Chapter 19 Quotes

"Don't cry--don't cry!" said Henchard, with vehement pathos, "I can't bear it, I won't bear it. I am your father; why should you cry? Am I so dreadful, so hateful to 'ee? Don't take against me, Elizabeth-Jane!" he cried, grasping her wet hand. "Don't take against me--though I was a drinking man once, and used your mother roughly--I'll be kinder to you than he was! I'll do anything, if you will only look upon me as your father!"

Related Characters: Michael Henchard (speaker), Elizabeth-Jane Newson
Page Number: 121
Explanation and Analysis:

After Susan’s death, Henchard feels he can tell Elizabeth-Jane the truth (as he understands it) of her parentage. When Henchard confesses that he is Elizabeth-Jane’s father, and then tells the story of his sale of wife and daughter to Richard Newson, Elizabeth-Jane begins to cry. Henchard is deeply moved by her tears, pleading with her with “vehement pathos” (expressive, pitiable sadness). He begs for her approval and recognition of the father-daughter relationship between them. As in his reunion with Susan, Henchard focuses on overcoming the woes of the past with promises for the future. He promises to be kinder to Elizabeth-Jane than "he" (either Richard Newson or Henchard's own past self) was, if she will only accept him as her father.

Notably, Henchard’s promises of kindness depend upon Elizabeth-Jane’s behavior: she must treat him as her father. Henchard also asks that she change her last name to his to reflect their relationship. These details show that Henchard sets a lot of value on their father-daughter relationship. He cares deeply for her because she is his daughter. Her worth in his eyes is based on that connection. He does not care about Elizabeth-Jane because of the person she is, independent of that connection. This is due in part to his duty to his family, and in part to happiness he derives from familial love. Henchard’s obsession with Elizabeth-Jane’s care and support escalates at the end of the novel.

Chapter 25 Quotes

"I will love him!" she cried passionately; "as for him--he's hot-tempered and stern, and it would be madness to bind myself to him knowing that. I won't be a slave to the past--I'll love where I choose!"

Related Characters: Lucetta Templeman (speaker), Michael Henchard, Donald Farfrae
Page Number: 177
Explanation and Analysis:

Lucetta appears in Casterbridge after Susan’s death and meets Elizabeth-Jane, as well as Henchard, whom she once loved. At first, Elizabeth-Jane is unaware of the connection between Henchard and Lucetta, but when she comes to understand it she and her father agree for once: Lucetta is duty-bound to Henchard because she confessed her love to him and publically displayed her affection. Lucetta’s feelings change when she meets Farfrae and when she witnesses Henchard’s true character, which she refers to as “hot-tempered” and “stern.” After Henchard forces Lucetta to promise to marry him by threatening that he will otherwise reveal their past relationship, Lucetta must make a pivotal decision.

In this passage, Lucetta is torn between the emotion she feels in the present and her sense of duty to actions in the past. Tension between past and present, in which the past influences the present, is a common motif in this novel. Henchard and Susan feel guilt about the past and let it guide their actions in the present. Lucetta rejects this—throwing away her sense of duty to Henchard—and chooses to follow romantic love for Farfrae. She says she won’t be “a slave to the past,” as she believes that to live according to the past leads to unhappiness. It is certainly true that Elizabeth-Jane, guided by feelings of duty, is unhappy. Lucetta rejects duty in favor of happiness, partly because of romantic love and partly because she sees Henchard’s poor character and feels it would be “madness” to marry him.

Chapter 29 Quotes

Married him?" said Henchard at length. "My good--what, married him whilst--bound to marry me?" "It was like this," she explained, with tears in her eyes and quavers in her voice; "don't--don't be cruel! I loved him so much, and I thought you might tell him of the past--and that grieved me! And then, when I had promised you, I learnt of the rumor that you had--sold your first wife at a fair like a horse or cow! How could I keep my promise after hearing that?”

Related Characters: Michael Henchard (speaker), Lucetta Templeman (speaker), Donald Farfrae
Page Number: 209
Explanation and Analysis:

The truth of Henchard’s treatment of Susan in the past is revealed to the occupants of Casterbridge when the furmity-woman is on trial. One consequence of this is Henchard’s further decline in popularity, and another is Lucetta’s secret marriage to Farfrae. Lucetta confesses the truth to Henchard with “tears in her eyes” and a “quaver in her voice.” Her emotions may be the result of fear of Henchard’s reaction, guilt over her actions, or an attempt to gain his sympathy for her plight. She implores him to not be cruel and to attempt to understand that she saw herself released from her promise once she learned the truth about his past.

Lucetta’s motivation for her secret marriage shows in two ways that the past cannot ever be entirely overcome, overlooked, or forgiven. First, she is unable to think that Henchard might have changed in twenty-five years. She sees the actions of his past as a permanent mark of his character. She speaks of his actions in the most horrifying terms, equating his sale of his wife to treating her like a horse or cow. This is an accurate assessment, but one that overlooks Henchard’s later reunion with and kindness toward Susan and Elizabeth-Jane. Henchard’s past has come back to haunt him, preventing him from being with this woman he loves and wants to marry. Second, Lucetta’s secret marriage shows that she believes the past connection between herself and Henchard will mark her unfavorably in the present. She married Farfrae quickly because she worried that he would see her in a negative light if he learned of her past, just as she sees Henchard in a negative light because of his past.

Chapter 32 Quotes

"I have heard that you think of emigrating, Mr. Henchard?" he said. "Is it true? I have a real reason for asking." Henchard withheld his answer for several instants, and then said, "Yes; it is true. I am going where you were going to a few years ago, when I prevented you and got you to bide here. 'Tis turn and turn about, isn't it! Do ye mind how we stood like this in the Chalk Walk when I persuaded 'ee to stay? You then stood without a chattel to your name, and I was the master of the house in corn Street. But now I stand without a stick or a rag, and the master of that house is you."

Related Characters: Michael Henchard (speaker), Donald Farfrae (speaker)
Related Symbols: The Second Bridge
Page Number: 223-224
Explanation and Analysis:

Henchard has fallen dramatically: he has lost his role as mayor, his business, his love, and his home. Farfrae purchases Henchard's home and moves there with Lucetta, strangely reversing his and Henchard’s situations. When these two men meet and share a few words on the street, Henchard acknowledges the irony of this reversal of situation and status. Farfrae is kind to Henchard, as he always has been. He asks about Henchard’s plans to leave Casterbridge, and this highlights another reversal in situation between the two men, who once stood on the street discussing Farfrae’s plans to travel on from Casterbridge. Henchard’s acknowledgement of this situation attributes these changes to fate. It is “turn and turn about,” he says, as if the passage of time alone has caused this change in fortunes. He does not admit any fault of his own character in his fall from grace, excluding his bitterness and jealousy, his rash decisions, or his drinking habit that continues to haunt him. His self-destructive tendencies are unacknowledged, and he is left bitter at Farfrae’s rise and his fall.

"Michael Henchard have busted out drinking after taking nothing for twenty-one years!"

Related Characters: Michael Henchard
Page Number: 228
Explanation and Analysis:

The moment Henchard’s twenty-five year oath ends he begins drinking again. Not only does he drink, but he drinks in excess, casting himself into a downward spiral of bitterness and rash decisions. This new behavior is the talk of the town, which once respected its mayor for his notable restraint. This is a key turning point in the novel for a few reasons. First, Henchard’s drinking has already been strongly equated with cruel and rash behavior. Therefore, when he begins to drink again, the reader expects that this self-destructive tendency will cause his fortunes to take a turn for the worse, even though he has already lost a lot. Second, Henchard has been anticipating this moment in recent weeks, whereas he once seemed settled in his habit of abstaining from alcohol. He seeks refugee in alcohol because he is unhappy, and looks forward to drinking as a way of relieving or escaping from his unhappiness. Finally, this quote shows that Henchard, despite years of change for the better because of his oath, cannot escape his past and his character. He returns to his old habits, even though he has lived for as many years as a sober man as he did as a drinking one.

Chapter 34 Quotes

The truth was that, as may be divined, he had quite intended to effect a grand catastrophe at the end of this drama by reading out the name, he had come to the house with no other thought. But sitting here in cold blood he could not do it. Such a wrecking of hearts appalled even him. His quality was such that he could have annihilated them both in the heat of action; but to accomplish the deed by oral poison was beyond the nerve of his enmity.

Related Characters: Michael Henchard, Donald Farfrae, Lucetta Templeman
Page Number: 244
Explanation and Analysis:

Henchard plans to tell Farfrae of his past romantic connection with Lucetta in the hope of turning Farfrae against his wife and poisoning their relationship. To this end, he reads some of Lucetta’s letters aloud to Farfrae, pretending he simply wants to share these stories with a friend. Farfrae isn’t suspicious of his actions, and is indulgent of a friend’s oddity in reading old love letters. Henchard finds that he cannot, in a calm and measured way, reveal the hurtful truth by reading Lucetta’s name aloud at the end of one of the letters. This quote shows a key aspect of Henchard’s character. He could have “annihilated them both in the heat of action,” meaning he is capable of great cruelty in moments of heightened emotion, but he cannot be cruel when his emotions are not stirred. In this calm atmosphere, when he is not provoked by Farfrae, it is “beyond the nerve of his enmity” to inflict great pain. “Enmity” means hostility, which he feels towards both Farfrae and Lucetta, and the “nerve of his enmity” describes what Henchard is capable of doing due to his hatred.

This passage draws an important distinction about Henchard's character. Henchard is more likely to be self-destructive than destructive to others, because he cannot inflict pain “in cold blood.” Hurting others often requires forethought, but Henchard mostly lashes out when emotional, and his anger is often public, which turns other people against his anger to hurt himself more than anyone else.

Chapter 38 Quotes

"Now," said Henchard between his gasps, "this is the end of what you began this morning. Your life is in my hands." "Then take it, take it!" said Farfrae. "Ye've wished to long enough!" Henchard looked down upon him in silence, and their eyes met. "O Farfrae!--that's not true!" he said bitterly. "God is my witness that no man ever loved another as I did thee at one time....And now--though I came here to kill 'ee, I cannot hurt thee! Go and give me in charge--do what you will--I care nothing for what comes of me!"

Related Characters: Michael Henchard (speaker), Donald Farfrae (speaker)
Page Number: 271
Explanation and Analysis:

Henchard attempts to interrupt the proceedings of a formal event greeting a royal personage in Casterbridge, but he is bodily removed by Farfrae, and then he overhears Lucetta speaking ill of him to others. This is the final straw for Henchard who, in anger and bitterness, seeks out Farfrae and attacks him. The two men struggle and Henchard gains the upper hand, but finds that he cannot kill Farfrae. Farfrae says that he knows Henchard has long desired to take his life. This comment interrupts Henchard’s anger because it isn’t true. This is a turning point in Henchard’s understanding of himself: he moves past anger at another to anger at himself. He realizes how much he is to blame for his own situation because he once loved a man he now wants to kill. Farfrae has not changed, but Henchard has changed how he feels about him.

Henchard’s is not generally a sympathetic character, because he brings many of his misfortunes upon himself through self-destructive behavior and cruelty toward others. This quote is a rare moment of vulnerability for Henchard, which shows him in a new light to the reader and evokes more sympathy than usual. Henchard must have been deeply hurt in order to want to lash out against someone he cared for. He cannot overcome his past actions, but he begins to feel a new type of remorse, self-hatred, and self-awareness.

Chapter 41 Quotes

He watched the distant highway expecting to see Newson return on foot, enlightened and indignant, to claim his child. But no figure appeared. Possibly he had spoken to nobody on the coach, but buried his grief in his own heart. His grief!--what was it, after all, to that which he, Henchard, would feel at the loss of her? Newson's affection cooled by years, could not equal his who had been constantly in her presence. And thus his jealous soul speciously argued to excuse the separation of father and child.

Related Characters: Michael Henchard, Elizabeth-Jane Newson , Richard Newson
Page Number: 290
Explanation and Analysis:

Richard Newson arrives in Casterbridge and seeks his daughter Elizabeth-Jane. Newson was not dead, but lost at sea, and has spent a long time searching for his missing family, guided by love for Susan and Elizabeth-Jane. Henchard, overwhelmed to meet him, tells him in a spur of the moment decision that both women have died. Newson’s grief at this news shows the true love he feels for both women. Henchard again exhibits his characteristic rash decisions and his anxiety about these decisions after the fact. Henchard dreads Newson’s return because he has grown close to Elizabeth-Jane and expects her to be a part of his life. He is once again guided by jealousy, which also motivated him in his treatment of Farfrae.

This moment is established as a parallel to Henchard’s discovery of the truth of Elizabeth-Jane’s parentage. In that moment, Henchard had achieved what he wanted—Elizabeth-Jane’s love and loyalty—only to find it lose meaning for him. In this moment, Henchard has found meaning in Elizabeth-Jane’s love and loyalty, only to find out that she could be separated from him. He had her by his side for a long time when he didn’t care to, and now that he cares for her, he may lose her. Like so many other plot twists in Hardy's work, the irony is clear and tragic.

In the circular current imparted by the central flow the form was brought forward, till it passed under his eyes; and then he perceived with a sense of horror that it was himself. Not a man somewhat resembling him, but one in all respects his counterpart, his actual double, was floating as if dead in Ten Hatches Hole. The sense of the supernatural was strong in this unhappy man, and he turned away as one might have done in the actual presence of an appalling miracle. He covered his eyes and bowed his head. Without looking again into the stream he took his coat and hat, and went slowly away.

Related Characters: Michael Henchard
Related Symbols: The Second Bridge, The Effigies
Page Number: 293
Explanation and Analysis:

Henchard reaches new levels of despair when he thinks he will lose Elizabeth-Jane to Newson, just as he has grown to depend on her as his only source of happiness. Henchard’s character grows more sympathetic through this relationship: he loves Elizabeth-Jane and begins to see her virtues and value her as a person, but fears he will lose her. Newson’s reappearance emphasizes that Henchard cannot escape from his past. Having once given up his wife and daughter, it seems fated that he will not be able to keep them by his side forever. In his despair Henchard considers throwing himself into the river, but he is confronted with the effigy of himself from the skimmington-ride. The image of himself in the water seems to show him the future. This is what he will look like if he floats dead in the river. This surreal image changes his mind, and effectively saves his life.

The confrontation between man and effigy awakens Henchard from his despair because it seems to him that a miracle has occurred. He understands that the effigy is from the skimmington-ride, but it seems to him more than chance that it would appear in that place at that time. This gives him hope, or at least startles him out of his despair, because it seems that some mysterious force has intervened to protect him. And regardless of whether or not God or Fate has placed the effigy there, it has certainly appeared at that place because of the currents of the river. Therefore, although it seems a miracle to Henchard, the mysterious force at work is most notably nature itself. Nature has helped Henchard, whereas at other points in the novel it has harmed him.

“That performance of theirs killed her, but kept me alive!”

Related Characters: Michael Henchard (speaker), Lucetta Templeman
Related Symbols: The Effigies
Page Number: 294
Explanation and Analysis:

Henchard realizes that witnessing the effigy from the skimmington-ride has saved him, whereas witnessing the effigy of herself killed Lucetta. This is the type of irony that appears multiple times in the novel: the same event can have the opposite effect for different characters, and characters can completely reverse situations in life. While Hardy is certainly rather heavy-handed in the ironies of his plotting, his characters also witness these ironies within the plot itself: particularly Henchard, as in this passage. Henchard is awed by these ironies, and his reaction is due to his sense that something beyond his control is occurring. Irony often seems like fate because the reversal or change is so dramatic and complete. And yet despite this fatalistic quality of many of the events in this book, there are always other explanations provided for these events, such as the choices characters make or chance events of nature. 

Chapter 44 Quotes

Very often, as he wandered on, he would survey mankind and say to himself, "Here and everywhere be folk dying before their time like frosted leaves, though wanted by the world, the country, and their own families, as badly as can be; while I, an outcast, an incumbrance, wanted by nobody, I live on, and can’t die if I try.”

Related Characters: Michael Henchard (speaker)
Page Number: 314
Explanation and Analysis:

Henchard leaves Casterbridge once Elizabeth-Jane learns the truth of her parentage and is reunited with her father Richard Newson. He is friendless and homeless, and, once again, aware of the irony of his situation. In this passage, he points out the irony that many who are loved die before their time, yet he, who is unloved, does not die. This highlights the role of chance and the indifference of nature. Chance guides life and death, rather than some rationale, such as the one Henchard suggests here: that loved people should live and the unloved should pass quietly away. Death is part of nature, as the language of this quote reminds the reader. Henchard compares the deaths of people who pass on before their time to “frosted leaves” that whither and die in the fall. Just as leaves die according to the patterns of nature, and according to the fickle behavior of the weather, so too do people die seemingly without rhyme or reason. The relationship between humans and nature, sometimes one of impact, sometimes one of coexistence, is repeatedly highlighted in the work.

Toward the end of the novel, Henchard is walking through the countryside, just as he was at the beginning of the novel. Once again he is poor, despite having passed through a period of wealth and success. His life has completed a full circle, and this isolation seems to be partly his fate and partly the result of his self-destructive behavior throughout the book.

Chapter 45 Quotes


"That Elizabeth-Jane Farfrae be not told of my death, or made to grieve on account of me.
"& that I be not bury'd in consecrated ground.
"& that no sexton be asked to toll the bell.
"& that nobody is wished to see my dead body.
"& that no murners walk behind me at my funeral.
"& that no flours be planted on my grave,
"& that no man remember me.
"To this I put my name.


Related Characters: Michael Henchard (speaker), Elizabeth-Jane Newson
Page Number: 321
Explanation and Analysis:

The novel ends with Elizabeth-Jane and Farfrae seeking out Henchard and finding news of him from Abel Whittle after his death. All Henchard has left behind is a will, in which he cannot bequeath anything—having no possessions, nor offspring—so what he leaves is an absence of things. He asks that nothing be done—that he not be buried, mourned, or remembered. Therefore, this “will” serves the purpose of capturing Henchard’s isolation, loneliness, and despair at the end of the novel. He has been brought to this place through his self-destructive characteristics, through the chance events of nature, and through past cruelties that were not forgiven by others.

But, Hardy suggests, forgiveness is sometimes possible against all odds. Henchard is tended in his last hours of life by Abel Whittle, whom he once treated cruelly. Elizabeth-Jane also forgives Henchard and attempts to find him, although her forgiveness comes too late to be expressed to him during his life.