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Posts Tagged ‘Tthe Mayor of Casterbridge’

There’s no picture this week as I read a book on my e-reader!

Book 13 – The Mayor of Casterbridge, by Thomas Hardy. This is the story of Michael Henchard, and how an angry drunken decision shapes his life to come.

One day, after an excess of rum at a country market, Henchard sells his wife to a sailor for five guineas. His wife leaves with their baby, but once the alcohol has worn off, Henchard realises what he has done, and searches out his lost family. After a long search, and a vow of abstinence, he gives up hope of finding them and settles in the town of Casterbridge, where his energy and drive help him build a successful life and eventually become mayor of the town.

However, when the sailor is lost at sea and presumed drowned, his wife reappears, and thus begins the slow destruction of Henchard’s life.

This book is a classic, and although I’ve never read it before, my sister told me she studied it at school; it’s that kind of literature, where you could dig for ages to get to the root of the story, the motifs, the underlying morality tale.

The protagonist is not heroic, or good, but is a deeply flawed human being whose feelings of anger, jealousy and self-satisfaction combine to cause him great harm – he reviles the daughter who loves him, mis-uses the women who have counted on him and threatens and harms the man he once called his closest friend.

This book is a study in self-deception; it is only through his often wilful blindness to the reality of any given situation that Henchard loses everything he holds dear. He is weak when he thinks he is strong, considering violence of thought and deed as the strongest part of him when it is the most damaging part, like a poison killing him over years.

And yet, he is a sympathetic character. His friend, Mr Farfrae, is more fun, kinder, better in many ways; but I wanted Henchard to succeed. I wanted him to come good when Farfrae – whose position in Casterbridge society was entirely due to Henchard – was benefitting from Henchard’s misfortune, even when that misfortune was self-inflicted.

For me, this was a powerful book. The women, as is often the case, were not entirely to my taste but even so, this book lingers in your mind for a while after reading it.  Henchard was a cruel man in many ways but he also sought to put right the wrong he did, and when he could not he tried to make a successful life: the question Hardy’s writing forces the reader to ask, is can anyone ever put their mistakes behind them?  Is anyone ever free to move on from their past?

I understand that Hardy will not be to everyone’s taste but I find his writing earthy and full of depth, easy to access but requiring thought to understand the implications of the scene he sets out.  I find it stimulating to read.

This is a book I would recommend not because everyone might enjoy it, or because it is comforting but because it is not – it is a book which forces contemplation.

Happy reading,

EJ

🙂

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