I loved this rags to riches to rags story so much that it will definitely feature in my all time top ten favourite books.
The Mayor of Casterbridge, Michael Henchard, is a proud, stubborn and hot tempered man. He reacts without proper thought to future consequences, and when he reaps the rewards of his actions he his quick to blame everyone but himself. It is only towards the end of the novel that he realises he alone brought his fate down upon himself.
Henchard was not always the man that the people of Casterbridge knew him to be. When he was 21, and in a drunken state, he sold his wife and child by auction at a county fair. Devastated by his actions he swears off alcohol for the next 21 years and builds a new and productive life. But, this is a story of secrets, and the biggest secret of all is that which is held by Michael Henchard’s wife, who returns to her husband 18 years after he sold her.
This novel highlights the status of women in society and what is considered to be proper and moral conduct. A young woman who has had a love affair with Michael Henchard falls into disgrace when she moves to Casterbridge to demand that he marry her and restore her good name. The lower class in this small community – who seem to have the highest morals of all - conspire to bring her down.
The idea of Henchard’s wife having lived with her ‘purchaser’ out of wedlock for 18 years would probably have scandalised 19th Century readers, and there are other far reaching effects on another character in the novel which I can’t mention without introducing a plot spoiler, and so will remain un-named.
There were no wasted elements here, it is so well plotted - every action has a negative reaction. – you find yourself running through each cause and effect, tutting along the way and thinking ‘if only he hadn’t done this in chapter so and so, then that wouldn’t have happened in this chapter…..etc’
I read Hardy’s Tess a couple of years ago and found it very sad, although beautifully written. The Mayor of Casterbridge is told in a more straight forward manner, but he still managed to make me cry at the end!