The Nobel Laureate Thomas Hardy’s immortal novel The Mayor of Casterbridge is subtitled "The Life and Death of a Man of Character". It is set in the fictional town of Casterbridge. The novel seems to emphasize that “Character is destiny”. Henchard’s grave error of selling his wife and daughter to Newson works like hubris for him. He repents but the Furies and nemesis are preying upon him. He repents why he sold his wife and daughter:
"If I had only got her with me—if I only had!," he said. "Hard work would be nothing to me then! But that was
The plot of Hardy’s novel is quite interesting. Henchard under the influence of wine sells his wife Susan and baby daughter Elizabeth-Jane to a sailor named Newson for five guineas. As he wakes up the next morning, he realizes his blunder, and pledges in a church that he won’t drink wine for the next twenty one years. After 18 years, Newson dies. Susan and Elizabeth-Jane arrive at Casterbridge to meet Henchard who is the mayor now. Both Henchard and Susan decide never to reveal any thing to Elizabeth-Jane about their tragic past. Henchard’s past act of selling his wife and daughter makes his life miserable and hopeless. This is evident from the following lines of his will:
“That Elizabeth-Jane Farfrae be not told of my death, or made to grieve on account of me. And that I be not bury'd in consecrated ground. And that no sexton be asked to toll the bell. And that nobody is wished to see my dead body. And that no mourners walk behind meat my funeral. And that no flours be planted on my grave. And that no man remember me.”
Many critics point out that Thomas Hardy’s attitude toward life is quite pessimistic in The Mayor of Casterbridge. It is not possible to agree with this view. It is true that the following oft-quoted lines are devoid of any bright hope: “Happiness was but the occasional episode in a general drama of pain.”
We should remember that destiny is pitiless and cruel, but the indomitable courage of Henchard in facing the sufferings of life compels us to admire him. Let us see this remark about Hardy’s novels: “He had a grudge against the universe which he could not throw off, a feeling of resentment at injustices and wanton cruelty that must have some object to wreak itself” (Baker).
Henchard is like Shakespeare’s King Lear in his majesty and courage. The Mayor of Casterbridge shows a heroic struggle between Henchard and an omnipotent and indifferent fate. “His tragic heroes and heroines cry out defiantly against their fate, but accept their doom with an insight into and an awareness of the forces of evil which have effected their downfall; by the very strength of their passions Hardy's protagonists command our sympathies, and we experience a feeling that someone of great worth has been lost when we see them destroyed" (Philip V. Allingham).