The story about Henchard’s sale of his wife and child revealed by the furmity-woman spreads throughout town, and from that day onward Henchard’s reputation rapidly declines. An incident of some sold wheat that is far below the quality of the sample of wheat Henchard’s business provided, drags Henchard’s name into the mud. Elizabeth-Jane is passing the Golden Crown not longer afterward and learns from the crowd outside that a meeting of the commissioners is occurring concerning Henchard’s bankruptcy.
Henchard’s reputation and his business take a hit once the secret of his past is revealed. Elizabeth-Jane learns, through the town gossip, that Henchard has gone bankrupt. This is a technique frequently employed in this novel: information is gained through the gossip of the villagers, and information is revealed to the reader at the same time as it is revealed to a character.
Henchard willingly gives everything that he has to his creditors in order to settle his debts, attempting to go so far as to give them his gold watch, which they will not accept. The creditors say that despite Henchard’s rash business dealings that have created his debt, they feel he has been fair and conscientious in trying to repair the unfortunate situation. Henchard is deeply moved by these statements, and sells his watch and takes the money to one of his smaller creditors. All of Henchard’s belongings and furniture are auctioned off.
Henchard is occasionally able to confront problems of his own creation. This happens only a handful of times in the novel, and it occurs when Henchard’s mistakes are large and noticeable. He is able to attempt to pay back all his creditors, just as he was able to take a vow to stop drinking when he was aware of the dramatic mistake he had made.
Elizabeth-Jane alone feels for Henchard and attempts to reconnect with him. She writes to him, but he does not reply. She wishes she could make it clear to him that she does not blame him for his treatment of her. Henchard’s house is sold as part of the process of paying his creditors and Henchard moves into Jopp’s small cottage by the Priory Mill, despite Jopp being the man whom Henchard had mistreated, employed, abused, and dismissed.
Elizabeth-Jane’s empathy is apparent in her treatment of Henchard. Despite his ill-treatment of her, she reaches out to him in this difficult time. Henchard’s one other friend is Jopp, who he has also mistreated. Without the kindness and forgiveness of others, Henchard’s situation would be far grimmer.
Elizabeth-Jane sees that Henchard’s wagons have been painted over with Farfrae’s name. She sees Abel Whittle at work, and he tells her that Farfrae has purchased Henchard’s entire business, which the workers are happy about, as they no longer have to fear Henchard’s temper. Henchard’s business, which has been inactive as he fell into bankruptcy, is revitalized with a new precision under Farfrae’s ownership.
Farfrae has bought Henchard’s business and employs his workers. This literal transition represents an emotional and social transition: Farfrae is taking over Henchard’s place, his role, and his situation in Casterbridge. Unintentionally, Farfrae is claiming everything Henchard had and wanted.