Spoiler free | Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars | Read: 11 June – 15 June, 2018
The Mayor of Casterbridge is my fifth Thomas Hardy novel, and I think it’s one of the best I’ve read. There is so much to comment on, and I feel like a short spoiler free review will not do it the justice it deserves. Nonetheless, I’m going to try and unpick it today. The novel follows Michael Henchard, who, in a fit of drunken rage, sells his wife and baby daughter at a country fair. Over the following years, he establishes himself as a ‘respected pillar of the Casterbridge community’ – he swore an oath of sobriety and became the mayor of the town. But his shameful past cannot escape him, and both Susan and Elizabeth-Jane re-enter his life.
I absolutely loved this one. My favourite thing was the complex characterisation of Michael. There were some elements of him that you admired, and others that you despised, but you couldn’t help but feel some sort of way for him. There were times where I hated him – his motives, morality, and character were utterly questionable – but others times I felt completely sorry for him. He was troubled. I liked how he went from one extreme to the other – he started off a drunken idiot, then redeemed himself, before slowly falling back into his old ways. He didn’t have an easy life. I think such complicated characters like these are hard to depict, and many authors get it wrong, but Hardy captured it perfectly.
Moreover, I really appreciated the gripping narrative. I read The Woodlanders early this year, and found it incredibly boring in comparison. The narrative was dry, and not a lot of exciting stuff happened. The Mayor of Casterbridge was completely different though. Each chapter brought you something new – a new plot twist, a new character, a new dilemma, anything really. I was kept on my toes, and I constantly wondered what would happen next. I know Hardy isn’t a happy writer, so I was intrigued to know the destiny of the characters. I think the short narrative worked well with this – he didn’t go overboard, but didn’t withhold anything. It was perfectly balanced.
As usual, I like how Hardy kept the story in close quarters. It’s set in his imaginary world of Wessex, which is located in the southwest of England. Wessex is the ancient name for the West Saxon kingdom of the Middle Ages before the unification of England. Lots of his novels and poetry, such as Far From the Madding Crowd and Tess of D’Urbervilles, are also set in this location. It’s comforting to know that the events of a different novel only happened in the next county or so. It makes it feel more real, if you know what I mean. Furthermore, I liked Hardy’s exploration into the rural community. He illuminates how the rituals (aka the gossiping) of a close-knit town can be detrimental to someone’s reputation – I love narratives like this.
Overall, The Mayor of Casterbridge was a brilliant read. One of my favourite Hardy novels, and a story that I will often revisit. I liked the deep exploration of human psychology; the novel centres on one man trying to correct his past doings, and how they still play a huge impact twenty years down the line. A wonderful read – one that I highly recommend!
Have you read this novel? Would you read it? I’d love to discuss your thoughts!
Thanks for reading, Lauren X