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ON HARDY'S PURPOSE
Who, comparing the ways of Henchard and Farfrae, will easily choose between them? Certainly not Hardy. He is too canny, too reflective for an unambiguous stand, and his first loyalty is neither to Henchard nor Farfrae but the larger community of Wessex. Hardy's feelings may go out to Henchard but his mind is partly with Farfrae. He knows that in important respects the Scotsman will help bring a better life to Casterbridge, even if a life less vivid and integral. Yet he also recognizes that the narrowing of opportunity for men like Henchard represents a loss in social strength. In his own intuitive and "poetic" way Hardy works toward an attitude of mature complexity, registering gains and losses, transcending the fixed positions of "progress" and "tradition."
Irving Howe, Thomas Hardy, 1967
Yet although this relentless decline of Henchard's is (as we take its meaning) what unifies the book, Henchard still stands above the others in psychic virtue. In the conventional sense, he is both less moral than them and more so. He is violent and a liar and in one sense intensely selfish, but his generosity is true magnanimity, and he has reserves of affection and humility that they quite lack. The essential is something else though: that his whole nature, good or bad, is centered upon a deep source of vital energy.... Farfrae prospers through skill which the new mode of life has impersonally taught him; Henchard is able to struggle on, though defeated, because not of what he has learnt but of what he is. He blocks out something like the full contour of the human being.
John Holloway, The Charted Mirror: Literary and Critical Essays, 1960
ON PLOT TECHNIQUES
The reader's breath is almost taken away by the succession of surprising turns of the kind so much prized in a certain kind of romance, and now become the staple of the movies. Everything is so disposed that the story shall never lag, that never shall there be a failure of good things for the lover of movement and novelty.... The specialty of The Mayor of Casterbridge, and what makes its close affinity to the movie, is the large provision of scenes of violent and surprising action making their appeal directly to the sense of sight.... The device of the overheard conversation is also a favorite one in the movies, it gives such scope for that study of facial expression which is so important a feature of movie art. Consider, for example, the picture that Henchard makes as he listens to the love-making of Farfrae and Lucetta, or later to that of Farfrae and Elizabeth...
Joseph Warren Beach, The Technique of Thomas Hardy, 1922
Founding itself upon an ancient psychology, The Mayor of Casterbridge celebrates, first of all, the subordination of the passions that link man with nature to the reason that unites him with God. It is Henchard's tragedy that, like Lear and Othello, he reverses and destroys this order. For when he sells his wife to a sailor for five guineas in violation of the profoundest moral tact, it is at a moment when, under the spell of the furmity-woman, he has allowed the passions to distort and deform the reason. Indeed, the surrender to passion responsible for the original crime will, in spite of his heroic resolution to give up drinking for [twenty-one] years, repeat itself in those sudden angers and indignations that alienate Farfrae, Elizabeth, and Lucetta, among others, and eventually deprive him of the ordinary consolations of love and friendship. The precarious balance between reason and passion will be reestablished only at the very end when, thoroughly scourged and chastised, all passion spent, Henchard is displaced by the Farfraes and Elizabeths in whose persons the claims of reason are piously acknowledged.
John Paterson, "The Mayor of Casterbridge as Tragedy," 1959 In James K. Robinson, The Mayor of Casterbridge, 1977
ON HARDY'S VIEW OF THE PAST
Because he could always call up so clearly the dark as well as the more cheerful aspects of his early experience, Hardy in his mature years was rarely tempted to indulge in indiscriminate nostalgia for the past. He was always deeply conscious, however, of the process of change itself and of the many relics, good and bad, of earlier days and ways which were constantly being swept away.... Hardy, in fact, was born just in time to catch a last glimpse of that English rural life which, especially in so conservative a county, had existed largely undisturbed from medieval times until the onset of the new forces- population expansion, urbanization, railways, cheap printing, cheap food imports, enclosures, agricultural mechanization and depression, pressures and opportunities for migration and emigration- which so swiftly and radically impinged upon it in the middle of the nineteenth century.
Michael Millgate, Thomas Hardy: A Biography, 1982
We wish to thank the following educators who helped us focus our Book Notes series to meet student needs and critiqued our manuscripts to provide quality materials.
Sandra Dunn, English Teacher
Lawrence J. Epstein, Associate Professor of English
Leonard Gardner, Lecturer, English Department
Beverly A. Haley, Member, Advisory Committee
Elaine C. Johnson, English Teacher
Marvin J. LaHood, Professor of English
Robert Lecker, Associate Professor of English
David E. Manly, Professor of Educational Studies
Bruce Miller, Associate Professor of Education
Frank O'Hare, Professor of English and Director of Writing
Faith Z. Schullstrom, Member of Executive Committee
Mattie C. Williams, Director, Bureau of Language Arts