I have never read a book as surprising as The Mayor of Casterbridge. Its first 10 pages shock me already. The story of Susan Henchard’s sale is very unusual and ridiculous. Be it because of liquor or Micheal Henchard’s ill behaviour, the scene shows how worthless women are at that time. Throughout the whole novel, the theme is obviously seen through the characterizations of Elizabeth-jane and Lucetta Templeman.
Elizabeth-jane, who grows up from poor to high-class woman, strives to adjust herself from outer appearance to ladylike manner. It seems like all eyes on her hard efforts. Then we know Lucetta, who gains respect from people in Casterbridge, after she receives precious possessions from her late aunt. Prior to that, she is no more than a poor woman begging a love from Henchard.
Compared to Far from The Madding Crowd, this book is stronger in many ways, particularly in characterization. Women position in the society I find in The Mayor of Casterbridge acts as the red line that makes it a bit similar with Far from The Madding Crowd except that the leading woman role namely Batsheba Everdane acts as heroine and defends her voice regardless opposite opinions in the latter novel.
What makes The Mayor of Casterbridge so powerful is undoubtedly Hardy’s ability to create such perfect main character as Henchard. At least, the writer is capable of making me to have hated, despised, loved, admired, and had pity on Henchard. Thus far, he is the perfect leading character in a book I have read. And I enjoy reading his mind and attitude. He is a real human being portrayed in the book. His battle with evil and kind acts amazes me. I think everybody has problems on that. His character development succesfully leaves readers, at least me, to decide on whether I should put him as a protagonist or antagonist. Is he a good or a bad person? I find it more comfortable to say that he is as normal as human being can be.
In almost 400 pages, Hardy never fails to keep my eyes set at the book. How can not I? Conflicts, be they are trivial or strong, are numerous. Even when Henchard is almost at ease with his relationship with Elizabeth-jane as his stepdaughter, he turns out to be possesive thus forces him to create lies that separates her with her real father, Captain Richard Newson.
Everything is perfect for Henchard’s imperfect traits and behaviour. What about other characters? Sadly to say, I have to admit Mr. Hardy does not do that good job. Elizabeth-jane and Donald Farfrae are too good to be true to appear in such strong novel. They are too kind, naive, too innocent. May be their amazing traits serve as Hardy’s motive to connect them in a grand marriage at the end. Perhaps, the author wants to show us that patience and unconditional love are keys to attain a happy life. Apart to that, these two characters do not move me as much as Henchard does. I put respect to Elizabeth-jane who stands by Henchard regardless how coarse has he been to her. But she should act more boldly in response to that even though she still regards him as her father.
Also, in her relationship with Farfrae, I think she should show her ignorance and her dissapointment when Lucetta marries Elizabeth-jane’s man of dream instead of being silent all the way. The description of her success to be the most-admired woman in Casterbridge is not a good ending for the novel.
I feel Hardy forces himself to end the story in a joyful tone. He should close the book with the death of Henchard. That would be very tragic but that how it should be. The sadness and loneliness haunting Henchard’s life speaks it all in the end.
Donald Farfrae is handsome, humble, good-tempered, faithful lover, devoted husband, good friend, and very successful businessman. Despite Henchard’s suspicions and hatred, Farfrae still admires him as the one who contributes much to his bright life in the town. After Lucetta passes away, he marries Elizabeth-jane who is as beautiful as his late wife. His strategy is always fruitful in business. Isn’t he lucky?
Somehow, the personalities of Elizabeth-jane and Farfrae make them as an element that unfortunately brings a loophole in the novel. So sorry for that. Anyway… The Mayor of Casterbridge is a wonderful book, exceptionally classic work that confronts readers with never ending conflicts in a search of blissful life.