14 of 14 people found the following review helpful
on 22 August 2009
Loved this book - what a great story showing all the various elements of the human character - greed, love, hate, struggles for power..... I could go on.
It is also a human tragedy, explained at its best by the inimitable Hardy and although it was written many years ago, it does show that human nature remains very much the same as it always was and you could almost put it into a modern setting and alter the scenery a little and it would be up-to-date, so to speak.
All of Hardy's books are great (I was first introduced to them whilst studing for 'O' Levels in the 1950's and have continued to read them again and again since)and although the grammar and syntax are quite dissimilar to that of today they are easy to read and the stories are great.
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
When I began this book I have to admit that I didn't think the three words I'd be using to describe it would be drama, excitement and intrigue . In fact, I really had no intention of reading this book at all any time soon as a friend of mine had to study it in school as a teenager and told me it's the worst book she's ever read and that had stayed with me and filed into the "don't bother" part of my brain. So then, just before Christmas I saw or heard something about this book and that it was about a man who sells his wife and baby daughter at a fayre and immediately I thought that sounds intriguing and off I popped to pick up a copy. How glad I am that I did - The Mayor of Casterbridge has turned out to be one of my favourite books! I loved it!
Michael Henchard is a young man of twenty-one and walking the countryside of Dorset with his wife, Susan, and their baby girl, Elizabeth-Jane, looking for work. They decide to rest a while in a small village where there is a fayre and several drinks later, Michael starts loudly asking for bidders to buy his wife. After accepting 5 guineas from a sailor he wakes later to realise that they have actually gone and when he realises what he has done he swears not to drink a drop more of alcohol for another 21 years (as long as he has so far lived). He starts to make enquiries about where the sailor and his family may have gone but nobody knows who he is and Michael is too ashamed of his conduct to search too effectively and he sets off on the road once more, alone.
The story then fast-forwards eighteen years and Michael is now the Mayor of Casterbridge (modelled on Dorchester in Dorset). It's difficult to say more about what happens next as I really don't want to give it away - this book is much better read if you know nothing about the characters and what is to come yet as there are plenty of twists and turns along the way. The fuller title for The Mayor of Casterbridge is The Life and Death of a Man of Character, and that is really what this book is based around - Michael Henchard and his fall and rise (and fall again). The main cast of characters is small enough that we really get to know them well and care about them: Susan and Elizabeth-Jane become part of the story again as does a Scottish traveller looking for work, Donald Farfrae and a young lady, Lucetta Templeman, who gets caught up in something that will come back to haunt her in a big way later in the book.
Henchard really is a man of character, as the title suggests, and he is prone to jealousy, impulsiveness and malice but in turn he can be caring, warm and reflective meaning that the reader never hates him, but actually feels for him as he is his own harshest critic. What astounded me was Hardy's understanding of human nature: time and time again I was amazed that he had managed to get it so spot on; to really make me feel as the characters did and understand why they behaved the way they did.
What I really loved about this book, though, was the drama. This is why I love all the Victorian books I have read so far - they're like watching a soap-opera. The Mayor of Casterbridge has it all - love, hate, greed, jealousy, deceit and repentence. And watch out for a scene involving a skimmington-ride (what the Victorians - and those before them - used to do to humiliate people, particularly adulterous women or women who beat their husbands which involved a very rowdy and public parade with effigies of the persons concerned being ridden through town on the back of donkeys) which has extremely tragic consequences.
Verdict: I heart Thomas Hardy! This is the second book of his that I have read (the first being Tess) and I now fully intend to gorge myself on the rest this year. Forget your pre-conceptions about dry and dull Victorian literature - this book has it all! A firm favourite now and one I will definitely read again at some point.
13 of 14 people found the following review helpful
on 6 April 2000
I received this book as a Christmas present along with various other books. I left this one to last because I thought it might be hard going. It turned out to be one of the best books I've ever read, The characters are brilliant, my interest was held the whole way through, and it most definately wasn't a hard read. Now forTess of the D'urbervilles!
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on 29 September 2009
Beginning a Hardy novel is always something of a bittersweet experience. The characters are slowly and carefully introduced, the scene beautifully and evocatively set and quickly you find yourself deeply immersed in nineteenth-century Wessex. And yet, even as you begin to feel yourself almost a part of the story you are filled with a sense of imminent doom. That a protagonist, possibly several, will die, is an absolute given. Hardy's fascination with predestination, whether or not it exists and whether or not, if it does exist, we humans have any agency to influence it, is starkly revealed here. In Michael Henchard he creates a man full of `character', displaying, by turns, impetuosity, reflection , malice, regret, hate and love. If some of these appear contradictory then this is because they are, because such contradictions lie in all people, particularly warm-blooded, instinctive people like Henchard. Yet, despite this, or perhaps because of it he is unable to prevent himself tumbling inexorably towards tragedy.
No clear conclusions about the nature of fate are reached. It is not clear, at least not to me, what Hardy really thought about it, but it is very apparent that he meditated deeply on the subject.
There is much more to this novel besides, the town of Casterbridge, with its Roman ruins, agrarian economy and civic machinations, is brought beautifully to life. Moreover, in addition to Henchard, Hardy introduces us to several other very memorable characters, not least Elizabeth-Jane who is arguably the novel's true hero or heroine. Quietly, solidly she observes, reads and grows until finally she achieves a degree of happiness that is forever denied to most of those around her, including of course Henchard, her unfortunate `father'. Not an easy read by any standards, but the characters and themes in this book are sure to linger with you long after you close the final page
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
Or should it be 'Mayors'? We have the despicable Henchard and the counter-jumper Farfrae. It is Henchard who dominates the novel amidst a cast who come and go, who do or don't tell each other all, or part, of the truth about themselves and their relationships with each other.
Anyone setting out the details of the plot will be writing a short story in their own right and I actually found this book a return to Hardy's sensation novel roots. The novel struggles to come to an end suggesting Hardy wasn't sure of the legacy we should expect from the wife-salesman Henchard.There are other characters who don't convince eg why is the super-rich Lucetta showing any interest in the Kenneth McKellar of Wessex?
The whole skimmington set-piece was a lovely social history insight. However, the tangled web was well and truly woven to the detriment of the reader. An enjoyable (slightly frustrating) read that is second tier Hardy (more Return of the Native than Madding Crowd).
6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
The Mayor Of Casterbridge, if you include one unpublished, destroyed work, was Thomas Hardy's seventh novel and the third of his novels that I have read after Tess Of The D'Urbervilles and Far From The Madding Crowd, both of which I read in 2010.
It is the story of one Michael Henchard, the eponymous Mayor in question. At the opening of the novel he is a drunk, wandering from town to town in search of work. Accompanied by his wife and their baby daughter he gets drunk at a fair in Casterbridge, and in a moment of passion offers his wife and child up to the highest bidder. At first the gathered assembly take it as a shocking joke, but then a stranger, a sailor called Newson, steps forward and offers him 5 guineas, which he accepts. On waking and discovering his wife and child gone, Henchard vows to give up alcohol and become a good man.
Over the next two decades he prospers financially, and becomes a pillar of the community, the Mayor, respected though not particularly popular. By contrast his wife, Susan, who had a good life with Newson has now fallen on hard times, as her common law husband has been lost at sea. Along with her daughter she tracks down Henchard who is still legally her husband to make him provide for her.
The ensuing complications that arise from their reunion, mark a downturn in Henchard's fortunes culminating in a spectacular fall from grace.
Unlike many of his contemporaries who also made a lot of social comments, Dickens, say, or Eliot, Hardy has a tendency towards the bleak and the unhappy ending. Henchard as a study is something of a Shakespearian tragedy of a man, full of pride and conceit, inevitably brought low by his own character flaws and mistakes.
As a novel, it is enjoyable but nowhere near as well written as "Tess" or as involving as 'Far From The Madding Crowd'; both of which are completely beautiful novels, so on a certain level I was somewhat disappointed, and I would definitely recommend either of those novels before recommending this.
I did Thomas Hardy's poetry at A Level and ended up loathing and despising him, avoiding him assiduously for more than a decade. With Tess, which I read for a university type Masterclass he won me over and I was glad to finally appreciate him as a writer.
Whilst the Mayor of Casterbridge is excellent as a character driven study, its prose is not the calibre that I know Hardy is capable of.
With that said I give this book 7/10
12 of 14 people found the following review helpful
on 4 July 2008
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!
on 5 April 2013
Many years ago I read "Tess of the D'Urbervilles" and was less than impressed with the eponymous "heroine" and from that day forward, I have neglected to delve into any of Hardy's other works. After a conscious decision to read more classic literature, I decided to read "Mayor of Casterbridge" as it was recommended to me as a far less depressive, more gripping work.
Michael Henchard, the Mayor of the title, is a difficult protagonist to sympathise with; he is rash, critical and vengeful. Frequently throughout, I found myself yearning to turn him from his ill-advised course of action; this shows the skill of Hardy in crafting believable, realistic characters.
The storyline is undoubtedly tragic (as Hardy's novels typically are) yet is less purposefully depressing and he does not lead the reader to feel emotion for the characters but rather allows one to reflect and sympathise with certain individuals on a very human basis; all their flaws and idiosyncrasies are so real that you cannot help but feel a level of understanding. No character is perfect within "Mayor of Casterbridge" and that makes it far more appealing.
The descriptive elements that Hardy employs are vivid and do not taint the flow of the novel; there are no long, meandering paragraphs to impart to the reader various sights of the countryside which I find distracting and unnecessary. Hardy manages to weave his effective descriptive talents into the telling of the story.
It is a wonderful, gripping novel which I am so pleased that I have finally read. Next on the list..."Far From the Madding Crowd"!
on 15 November 2009
I don't know why it has taken me so long to decide to read this book, it is very easy to read and a very good story. I saw the TV mini-series years ago with Alan Bates in the leading role and all the way through the book I imagined Alan Bates as Michael Henchard. It was Alan Bates speaking Michael's lines, that did not put me off in the least since I was always a fan of Alan Bates and he was very well cast in the part.
The story, as most people probably know, starts off about a drunkard who sells his wife and daughter at a country fair to a sailor for five guineas. He then, when sobered up, becomes full of remorse and vows in the nearest church never to touch a drop of alcohol for as long as he has been alive, 21yrs. He keeps his promise, works hard and makes good in the town of Casterbridge becoming a very rich merchant, land owner, and mayor. Of course as time goes by his past catches up with him, and a large part of the story is about his subsequent downfall. We see this so often in public life today, how many so called "pillars of society" do we know, or have heard of, who have ended up in jail? The difference, refreshingly, is that Michael Henchard in that day and age is truly wretched for his misdeeds, and one can't help feeling sympathy for him in the end. His last will and testimony says everything:-
Michael Henchard's Will.
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
This is a good book to take on holiday with you. It is not depressing (although his Will sounds depressing). Michael Henchard is a spirited unusual character that Thomas Hardy develops to the full. Even though he has done bad things one cheers him on at times and feels that he more than pays his dues for his transgressions. But time does not wash away guilt does it? We have only to turn to the Roman Polanski case at the present time.
Personally I never read the introduction until after I have read the book. I always think introductions spoil things, I prefer afterwords. This introduction is rather long, written in April 2008 by Elliot Perlman, but it is a good summary to read AFTER reading the story.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 12 August 2012
I've wanted to read this novel for a long time but have only recently got around to it.
It started with an intriguing premise and ended satisfyingly enough but I have to admit that along the way, I did find my enthusiasm occasionally flagging. However, the characters are so well-drawn and the range of fickle human emotions so well represented that I can forgive Hardy the occasional stodgy section. This won't rank as my favourite Hardy novel but I will probably give it a second read at some stage because I have a feeling that it might just grow on me.