Book Review: The Mayor of Casterbridge

Happiness was but the occasional episode in a general drama of pain.

the m of c

Title: The Mayor of Casterbridge

Author: Thomas Hardy

Genre: Tragedy

Pages: 445

Chapters: 45


‘I’ve not always been what I am now’

In a fit of drunken anger, Michael Henchard sells his wife and baby daughter for five guineas at a country fair. Over the course of the following years, he manages to establish himself as a respected and prosperous pillar of the community of Casterbridge, but behind his success there always lurk the shameful secret of his past and a personality prone to self-destructive pride and temper. Subtitled ‘A Story of a Man of Character’, Hardy’s powerful and sympathetic study of the heroic but deeply flawed Henchard is also an intensely dramatic work, tragically played out against the vivid backdrop of a close-knit Dorsetshire town.



Initially, I downloaded the free kindle copy, since this is a public domain book. I would advise against that. There are missing paragraphs in that version, and you’re left feeling like you’re missing important details and clues.

I’ll make a short summary.

Michael and Susan Henchard are a young couple, in their early 20s. The story opens up with the two of them walking on a country road, in search for a better life. They are quite poor, and they also have a baby daughter, Elisabeth-Jane, who is a few months old. They arrive in a small town, and there is a fair.

Michael gets very, very drunk, and he holds an auction for his wife and daughter. Susan thinks her husband is just drunk and making bad jokes, but since Michael insists on selling his family, she says something like “We are married to a pig. Someone buy us, please!” So Susan and Elisabeth-Jane get auctioned off; a young sailor buys them. Obviously, the spectators are horrified, since they, like Susan, thought that Michael is just joking.

The next morning, Michael wakes up  horrified, and he realizes that he sold his family. He runs around in the small town, trying to find them, but the search was unsuccessful. At last, he goes to church, and he says something like ” Oh God, what did I do? I swear to never drink again!”. So he makes an oath: to stop drinking for 21 years as penance for his sins.

Fast forward 20 years.

Susan and Elisabeth-Jane are looking for Michael Henchard. The guy that bought them at the auction died, so Susan decides to go back to Michael so her daughter will be taken care of. They find out that Henchard lives in Casterbridge, and they go there to find out that, surprise, the poor, alcoholic Henchard is the Mayor of Casterbridge.

And the real drama begins.

All I’ve said it’s the in first 3 chapters, and also included in the blurb. So it’s not really a spoiler.


Full of twists and turns. It is also a very strong plot. I wouldn’t say complex, but it does have a lot of depth.

The reader gets to learn what happened with Henchard, Susan, Elisabeth-Jane and other characters. It is full of drama and suspense.

It is easy to follow, and it is a medium-paced read.

I don’t want to say to much about the plot. I don’t want to ruin the surprises.



It is a little bit different than modern narratives. This novel has the omnipresent narrator, who knows about the characters and he is the one telling the story. The narrator’s voice is clear and separated from the plot. These days most books have a limited narrator; the stories are told from one character’s point of view and we’re often in hers/his head. It’s not bad, just different.

The narrator also does a good job at describing the setting, and the mood. It is very easy to imagine what the narrator is describing; he paints strong, clear images.



This novel is a perfect example of characterization through actions.

Of course, the narrator does talk about the characters, and he does mention a few characters traits. However, the character’s actions are the ones that show the reader what kind of persons they are.

Michael Henchard is the main character. He is not a bad person, but he makes terrible choices, and sooner and later, he has to pay the consequences for his actions. Michael is impulsive, hot tempered, jealous, scared and selfish. However, he is a great character and he adds a lot of drama and twists to the story.

Susan Henchard/Newson. Minor character. She is simple, not very bright, warm, and she has a kind heart. For some reason she actually believed that the action was real, and that the sailor had legal and moral hold over her. It wasn’t like that, but she stood by him. Maybe she just had enough of Michael’s alcoholism.

Elisabeth-Jane. Secondary character. Poor Elisabeth. She’s a sweetheart and she had to go through so much. At least she had a happy ending.

Farfrae. Secondary character. The poor Scottish man who wants to go to America, but he ends up being Michael’s manager. In a way, there a juxtaposition between Farfrae and Michael. One rises, and one falls. He is a key character in this story, and one of the main reason that causes Henchard so much anguish. However, I didn’t like how he treated Elisabeth-Jane.

Lucetta. Secondary character. She also adds a lot of drama to the story.

In general, I think the characterization was brilliant. It’s easy to imagine that the main character, as well as the minor and secondary ones, are real people. The reader gets to know all the characters, and the author pays attention even to the smallest ones.


Reader’s Experience

What can I say? I love this book. While reading it, I laughed, felt sad, then angry and sometimes even exasperated. This book is a roller coaster of emotions, that’s for sure.

It’s not a fluffy book. It has a lot of depth, and it portrays a more realistic side of human nature. Some people say that Michael Henchard’s fate was working against him. I would say this is a perfect example of action and reaction, and how a person’s choices affect her and the ones around her.


Overall, I think this book is brilliant and it became one of my favorites. I think this book needs to be read by everyone. 😀

The Mayor of Casterbridge deserves a rating of 5/5.

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