Susan and Elizabeth-Jane live in a nice cottage paid for by Henchard. Henchard visits regularly, with business-like commitment, seeming to have schooled himself to follow his duty to his old wife perfectly. Susan feels she has entered into a new commitment to Henchard solely for the sake of her daughter and her daughter’s reputation. She, however, feels concerned by the attention Henchard pays her that she is costing him too much and taking up too much of his time. Henchard, on the other hand, is happy to leave more and more of the business management to Farfrae.
Henchard and Susan’s courtship is dictated by their feelings of duty and obligation rather than by any feelings of love. Both are motivated by a commitment to what is best for their daughter. Henchard, now that he has Farfrae, is happy to avoid the business management, which he disliked, and to enjoy the aspects of his position that he found more enjoyable.
The town of Casterbridge gossips about Henchard’s delayed choice of a wife in such a pale and fragile woman as the widowed Mrs. Newson. Henchard continues to keep up appearances despite his lack of emotional attachment to Susan. He is motivated not by love, but by his resolve to make amends to Susan, provide for Elizabeth-Jane, and excuse himself from the dark deeds in his past.
To outside eyes, Susan seems a strange choice for Henchard’s wife. Henchard’s prominence in town means that the villagers feel he is marrying “below him.” The match’s strangeness to the outside world reinforces the fact that Henchard’s decision to re-marry Susan is motivated solely by duty and guilt over the past.
The villagers Christopher Coney, Solomon Longways, Buzzford, and their friends gather on Henchard and Susan’s wedding day to gossip. They are surprised to see Henchard has waited to so long in life to marry and to take on so little (a woman such as Susan who is little in both stature and situation). Mother Cuxsom joins the gossiping villagers who banter about her late husband and reminisce about her late mother, among other fond memories. As the married pair appears out of the church, the villagers disperse for drinks as the moist weather is declared reason for doing little work that day.
The villagers of Casterbridge add complexity and interest to the novel with their colorful stories and gossip. Less innocently, they demonstrate the way news and gossip function in a small town. Everyone knows and discusses each other’s business. In such an environment, it is difficult to keep secrets. The revealing of secrets causes many of the major plot events of the novel.