The Mayor of Casterbridge-Thomas Hardy How The Mayor of Casterbridge reflects the social, historical and cultural influences of the period and place in which it is set and during which Hardy lived. The Mayor of Casterbridge was written in the second part of the nineteenth century by the novelist Thomas Hardy. He based it on Dorchester and how he remembered the town from his boyhood days during the 1840’s. The story circles around a prosperous businessman, Michael Henchard, his shady past and his prosperous present.
It shows the power of the corn trade in the early years and also the impact of a newfound belief in the period- Fate.
In this essay I will be analysing the book and its contents to see how it reflects the social, historical and cultural influences of the era in which it is set. As a skilled architect, and having a great eye for detail, Hardy included large pieces of narrative about Casterbridge and the key buildings in his novel.
His first, general description about the layout of Casterbridge came early on in the book: “It was compact as a box of dominoes. It had no suburbs- in the ordinary sense.
Country and town met at a mathematical line. ” “From the centre of each side of this tree bound square ran avenues east, west and south into the wide expanse of corn-land and coomb to the distance of a mile or so. ” As Elizabeth Jane and Susan entered the town, Hardy added a bit of information about the houses on the main street: “… There were timber houses with overhanging stories, whose small-paned lattices were screened by dimity curtains on a drawing-string, and under whose barge-boards old cobwebs waved in the breeze.
There were houses of brick-nogging… ”
“There were slate roofs patched with tiles, and tile roofs patched with slate, with occasionally a roof of thatch. ” Henchard’s house is also described, but with surprisingly little detail compared to accounts of other houses. It is described as dull red and grey brick, open front door and a very large garden. This building still exists today, even though it is now Barclays bank and there is no sign of a large garden at the back! Henchard’s yard is described as, “flanked by hay barns” with “wooden granaries on stone-saddles” including, “a store house several floors high. ” Into which, if you looked, you could see, “… A closely packed throng of bursting wheat packs. ”
In contrast, Lucetta’s house and its features are described in great detail, from the house itself: “… It was Palladian, and, like most architecture erected since the Gothic age, was a compilation rather than a design. ” “It was rich but not rich enough. A timely consciousness of the ultimate vanity of human architecture. ” To the keystone of the door: “Originally the mask had exhibited a comic leer, as could still be discerned; but generations of Casterbridge boys had thrown stones at the mask, aiming at the open mouth; and the blows thereon had chopped off the lips and jaws as if they had been eaten away by disease. ”
The three mariners is described as: “Built of mellow sandstone, with mullion windows of the same material, markedly out of perpendicular from the settlement of foundations. The bay window projecting into the street, whose interior was so popular among the frequenters of the inn, was closed with shutters. ” In a time where motorcars were practically non-existent, there were only a few limited and slow ways of getting to a destination. “Sometimes they might have been seen on foot, sometimes on farmers’ wagons and sometimes in carriers’ vans. ” This was, of course, referring to Elizabeth Jane and Susan’s journey to find Henchard.
The trip must have been rough, but they could afford no more. For those who were much wealthier however, they could afford to use such things as flys and gigs, which were horse drawn carriages. We see Elizabeth Jane using a fly to transport her belongings to High-Place Hall, something she would not have been able to do if she had not met Henchard; Farfrae had his own gig, which is mentioned several times throughout the novel and finally the carriage that was used on Henchard’s and Susan’s wedding day; a brougham.
“Susan Henchard entered a carriage for the first time in her life when she stepped into the plain brougham which drew up at the door on the wedding day. ” Because of this lack of transport, even distances that we think of as short, such as 35 miles, must have seemed enormous to the people of those days. Hardy does give us an example of this in The Mayor of Casterbridge; two lovers being split up when the male gets a job in another town. It ends up with the two acknowledging that they will probably never see each other again. “Thirty-five mile! ‘ she murmured. ‘Ah! ’tis enough! I shall never see ‘ee again! ‘” The Mayor of Casterbridge reflects the customs of the time very accurately.
It shows Elizabeth Jane waiting on tables in her hotel to earn the right to stay in one of the rooms with her mother. But we are told that in all but the most isolated tows this custom has almost died out. A curfew was still rung in the in the town, but not for the original reasons. Hardy tells us that now, at eight o’clock it is rung for the shop owners to shut up shop and go home. We read that the town pump was a regular meeting place of the townspeople. Their own water sources, be they wells or streams were known to be less pure than the water from the town pump, so many people drank from there.
The drinking of ale was a different matter altogether. In those days there was no imported beer, and there was very little selection, if any at all, so it was still the custom to brew ale in the pubs themselves. It was also known that people brewed their own beer at home and a favourite breakfast was freshly brewed ale and pigeon pie! But life in the town was not all drinking ale and going to the pub. Some of the bigger and more important customs of the time are reflected in the novel as well. Candlemass Fair was held on the 14th of February, and it was the main day of hiring of hands for the corn yards.
Lady day was the day soon after (6th of April) when the current years contracts expired. If you hadn’t managed to get your contract renewed or found a new job, this is the day that you were made officially unemployed. When we read about Henchard in the pub for the first time in 21 years, we see that the local choir and musicians from the church go into the three mariners every Sunday for a half pint of ale. When some one died, in this case, Mrs Henchard, there were a few customs that she wanted to be followed. She asked to be dressed in: “…
My coffin clothes; a piece of flannel- that’s to put under me, and the little piece is to put under my head; and my new stockings for my feet… ” “… And there’s four ounce pennies, the heaviest I could find, a-tied up in bits of linen, for weights-two for my right eye and two for my left. ” “… Bury the pennies, good souls, and don’t ye go spending ’em, for I shouldn’t like that. ” Finally, one of the customs written about in The Mayor of Casterbridge and which plays the biggest part in the whole story is the skimmity, or skimminton ride. Basically a skimmity ride is to name and shame a couple who had an affair or who were considered to have done something wrong.
An effigy of each of the persons was placed onto a back of a horse and was paraded around for all to see. Even though this did happen in the story, in real life things of this sort were becoming less and less common. Of course in Hardy’s day there was no television, radio or computers and so their idea of entertainment is much different to ours. Even though there are only a few references to entertainment in the novel, it is surprising how much we have changed.
Near the start of the story we hear Farfrae singing “It’s hame, and it’s hame, hame fain would I be, Oh hame, hame, hame to my ain countree! ” And it is made clear in the novel that this isn’t a one off event. It was quite common to go down to the pub and sing or play music for entertainment; the better the voice the more attention that was paid to you. We also hear about a public hanging in Maumbury rings, an old roman Amphitheatre on the outskirts of Dorchester. Great crowds gathered to watch the spectacle and after the main event, articles of clothing, the rope and even strands of hair were put on sale for souvenirs, and were, by some people, believed to have magical healing powers.
Like nowadays, people in the past have always enjoyed a good party with lots of dancing, fun and games, and this is shown by all of the preparations that Henchard made for his festivities; “He advertised about the town, in long posters of a pink colour, that games of all sorts would take place here; and set to work a little battalion of men under his own eye.
They erected greasy poles for climbing, with smoked hams and local cheese at the top… hurdles in rows for jumping … across the river they lay a slippery pole, with a live pig … tied at the other end, to become the property of the man who could walk over …there were also provided wheelbarrows for racing, donkeys for the same, a stage for boxing, wrestling, and drawing blood generally; sacks for jumping in. ” There are many references to costume in the story.
The first is of Henchard as a young man of 21 whose profession and life was on the road, looking for work as a hay trusser: “He wore a short jacket of brown corduroy, newer than the remainder of his suit, which was a fustian waistcoat … white horn buttons, breeches of the same, tanned leggings… a straw hat overlaid with black glazed canvas… carried by a looped strap a rush basket, from which protruded at one end the crutch of a hay knife, a wimble for hay bonds, being also visible in the aperture. ”
And as his character progresses through the story, his clothing changes to match his status in society. In the Kings Arms when he is first seen as the prosperous mayor of Casterbridge, his wealth was demonstrated clearly in his attire because “He was dressed in an old fashioned evening suit, an expanse of frilled shirt showing, on his broad breast; jewelled studs, and a heavy gold chain. ”
When he went to see Lucetta he dressed up in some of his finest clothes; “He wore genteel cloth leggings with white buttons, polished boots with infinite lace holes, light cord breeches under a black velveteen coat and waistcoat; and he had a silver topped switch in his hand. ” But when he made the fatal mistake of predicting the weather, causing him to loose all of his belongings and money, he had to go from living in one of the biggest and cleanest houses in the town to living with Jopp in a small and less than hygienic cottage. “He looked a far different journeyman from the one he had been in his earlier days.
Then he had worn clean, suitable clothes, light and cheerful in hue; leggings yellow as marigolds, corduroys immaculate as new flax, and a neckerchief like a flower garden. Now he wore the remains of an old blue cloth suit of hid gentlemanly times, a rusty silk hat, and a once black satin stock, soiled and shabby. ” When we first see Elizabeth Jane she is dressed in modest clothes, dusty from her long journey to Casterbridge, but after she had met her father, and had the opportunity to see what money can buy, she started dressing in more elaborate clothes. “We now see her in a black silk bonnet, velvet mantle or silk spencer, dark dress, and carrying a sunshade.
In this latter article she drew the line at fringe, and had it plain edged, with a little ivory ring for keeping it closed. ” Henchard, instead of being cautious of spoiling Elizabeth Jane, eggs her on; “Henchard gave Elizabeth Jane a box of delicately tinted gloves one spring day. She wanted to wear them to show her appreciation of his kindness, but she had not bonnet that would harmonise. As an artistic indulgence she thought she would have such a bonnet. When she had a bonnet that would go with the gloves she had no dress that would go with the bonnet. ”
“She had no sunshade to go with the dress.in for a penny in for a pound; she bought the sunshade, and the whole structure was at last complete. ” On her wedding day, Elizabeth Jane went for simplicity, showing how she had matured and had a chance to develop her style. “She was in a dress of white silk or satin, he was not near enough to say which- snowy white, without a tinge of milk or cream. ” During the story there are few descriptions of the dress of the lower classes, but when the furmity seller was called into court for being drunk and disorderly we get a good account of the clothes worn. “…
Attired in a shawl of that nameless tertiary hue which comes, but cannot be made- a hue neither tawny, russet, hazel, nor ash; a sticky black bonnet that seemed to have been warn in the country of the Psalmist where the clouds drop fatness; and an apron that had been white in times so comparatively recent as still to contrast visibly with the rest of her clothes. ” In Mixen lane there is also a special dress code of many of the women; “(There was a)… Frequency of white aprons over dingy gowns among the women around the doorways. A white apron is a suspicious vesture in situations where spotlessness is difficult. ” Hardy’s novel gives a good insight into the moral values of the time.
Everything from the segregation of the classes to what was right and wrong in the eyes of the people of that time. When Elizabeth Jane and Susan enter the fair at the start of the story Susan makes her way over to talk to the furmity seller to see if she could get any information on the whereabouts of her husband, Mike. As she walks over, Elizabeth Jane tries to stop her saying, “Don’t speak to her- it isn’t respectable! ” and after Susan returned to her daughter after paying the furmity seller for her refreshments, Elizabeth Jane reminds her mother again; “…
It was hardly respectable for you to buy refreshments there. ” As they arrive in Casterbridge and look for lodgings, Elizabeth Jane comes across the Three Mariners, and even though it would have been too expensive to stay there if Elizabeth Jane had not been able to get a job, she insisted that she and her mother must stay there as, “… We must be respectable. ” As the plot progressed and Henchard met Susan at Maumbury Rings, he tells her that as an important businessman, Mayor and churchwarden, he would face disgrace if Elizabeth Jane found out about his past. Eventually Henchard told Susan that he would “…
Meet you, court you and marry you” and Susan agreed saying. “I like the idea of repeating our marriage… … It seems the only right course. ” It appears that they thought that if they told of their past they would probably be ridiculed and snubbed by others, but they had to go through the whole process of courting again as it was counted as extremely suspicious if a man married, or even invited a woman into his house without going through the proper motions of meeting and courting first. Henchard’s affair with Lucetta, or Lucette as he knew her in Jersey would have posed certain ruin for him and Lucetta.
Affairs in those days were total scandal and if people learnt about them, those involved would face a life of misery, being mocked by those around them. Nowadays a relationship that does not end in marriage is commonplace, but in those days it was very serious. “Now you will, I am sure, perceive that the one condition that will make any future happiness possible for me is that the past connection between our lives be kept secret outside this isle. ” Even something relatively insignificant such as the Mayor’s daughter dancing with the farm manager (Farfrae) was a little out of the ordinary, it would have turned heads certainly.
People’s philosophies and their beliefs were certainly very different to what they are today. As I have said before, the era that The Mayor of Casterbridge was set in was a time of great change, and this was shown especially in the smaller towns of the country. New machines were introduced to make farming easier; the seed drill; “… Till then unknown, in its modern shape, in this part of the country, where the venerable seed-lip was still used for sowing. ” The new technology was for some, baffling; “… It might have been likened to an upright musical instrument with the front gone.
That was how it struck Lucetta. ‘Why, it is a sort of agricultural piano. ” When Farfrae started working for Henchard, he found in his books a mass of “numerical fogs”. Before his entry onto Henchard’s business, Henchard used to “… reckon his sacks by chalk strokes all in a row like garden-palings, measure his ricks by stretching with his arms, weigh his trusses by a lift, judge his hay by a ‘chaw’, and settle the price with a curse. ” But after Farfrae had spent a little time with Henchard’s company, he started measuring with weights and measuring rods, and recording all transactions on paper.
This reflects what was happening all over the country at this time, farmers were abandoning all of their old ways to catch up with technology and produce better goods. We also see that even though newer technology was being developed, at the point of the visit of the royal personage- Prince Albert- we hear that the steam train had not yet reached Casterbridge, and travel by coach was the only way for the Prince to get to where he was going. Education was starting to affect both those who lived in the town and worked on the farm. Even though they still used sayings such as “I’m as clammy as a cockle snail.
” Such words as “hag-rid” and “leery” were replaced by indigestion and tired. You can see the impact of education on even the smallest of details in the story. At the start of the tale we read the sign outside of the furmity tent as “Good Furmity Sold Hear. ” But when Susan returns to the fair about 18 years later the sign reads: “Good Furmity Sold Here. ” And a definite improvement in spelling is shown. People’s philosophies were changing as well. Even though education was beginning to make an impact, people in remote towns and villages still maintained some of their own beliefs and limited views.
When Farfrae meets some locals in the bar, they comment on his homeland, Scotland, saying: “… Land of perpetual snow as we may say, where wolves and wild boars and other dangerous, animalcules be as common as blackbirds hereabout. ” Church and religion was still a major part of many people’s lives, but many of these people were starting to dabble in other beliefs as well. Henchard was the churchwarden, and he had also been religious enough to take a gospel oath 21 years before to give up alcohol, but when in trouble, he went to the weather prophet to try and sort out his problems.
Witchcraft was not acceptable, but this did not deter people from trying to sort out their lives with it. Fate was becoming one of the major ‘extra’ beliefs at the time. People were beginning to think that not everything was done by God’s will and that there may be some other omnipotent force controlling their lives as well. This force became known as Fate. This belief is reflected in Hardy’s writing very clearly, and he gives us many examples of Fate in the lives of the main characters.
Just a few instances are the sale of rum in the furmity tent when Susan had taken Mike in there to avoid the ale and cider in the other tents; Susan returning to Mike just when he was about to marry Lucetta; Farfrae meeting Lucetta when he had gone to see Elizabeth Jane on Henchard’s permission; the effigy killing Lucetta when she had everything to live for and saving Henchard when he had nothing to loose; Newson turning up just as Henchard was getting closer to ‘Izzy’; finally Elizabeth Jane forgiving her father, but finding him half- an- hour after he had died.
The whole plot relies on the belief of Fate. But even though all of these new beliefs were appearing, some of the older superstitions were being lost. New ideas were that nature was in fact, indifferent to man and his actions. To demonstrate this, sometimes Hardy wrote so that nature reflected the main characters feelings. We see this after Henchard has found out that Elizabeth Jane is not his own, and in a foul mood he goes for a walk next to the river. As he contemplates on the direction that his life is taking Hardy describes his surroundings, “The whole way along here was sunless…white frosts lingered here. ” He also describes the river itself, “The river- slow, noiseless and dark- the Schwartzwasser of Casterbridge. ”
And adds that further down the river, “The water… roared down a back-hatch like the voice of desolation. ” But sometimes Hardy described the weather to be the exact opposite to what the character was feeling. Just after Henchard had left Elizabeth, and was very upset; “The bright autumn sun shining in his eyes across the stubble awoke him the next morning early. ”
In his tale Hardy includes a range of different historical notes that remind us of which era he was writing in, but he also included real events and incorporated real places into his story. In his original preface he tells us that three of the main topics in his story which were based on real events were the visit of a royal personage, the corn trade and the sale of a wife. The sale of the wife was, in my opinion, one of the most crucial points of the whole plot. If it hadn’t happened, the whole life of Henchard as we know it would never have happened.
Hardy got the idea from an edition of the Dorset County Chronicle between the dates of 1826-1830. The corn trade was also very important. In The Mayor of Casterbridge Hardy demonstrates the power of the corn trade by showing how it can give you all of the money you ever dreamt of, but also take it all away by having just one bad harvest. Henchard was at the peak of his life, he was Mayor, churchwarden and a successful businessman, but by the end of one bad year when he had gambled just a bit too much on the turnout of the weather, he had lost it all, his wealth, business and house.
The corn trade continued to toy with farmer’s lives until the repeal of the Corn Laws in 1846. Up until then the Corn Laws had forbidden any importation of wheat or corn and so if it was a bad harvest there was a shortage of good bread. Because of this, before the Corn Laws had been repealed the corn trade ruled the lives of everyone involved. The Mayor of Casterbridge is a very accurate and detailed account of life in the 1840’s. It is a valuable source of information about the era, and reflects the social, historical and cultural influences of the period in a descriptive, but entertaining and interesting way.