This for me is Hardy's greatest novel, written at the peak of his career. The character of Henchard, although deeply flawed, nonetheless captures the reader's attention both during and after reading the novel. His journey from young and despondent husband and father, through to his time as the mayor and his eventual demise, prove most gripping. This novel along with Tess, Jude the Obscure and The Return of the Native make up Hardy's tragic Wessex novels, and although all of them are rather sad and to an extent depressing, The Mayor of Casterbridge really does stand out as the most satisfying read that chronicles the shift away from older models of masculinity towards the beginnings of modernity that Hardy himself lived through during his long life. Don't forget about the genius of this man's writing!