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CHAPTER SUMMARIES WITH NOTES
After a passage of eighteen years, a mother and daughter traverse the same road to Weydon Priors. The two women are no other than Susan and Elizabeth-Jane. Susan is newly widowed, the sailor who purchased her having been lost at sea. She is now actively searching for Michael Henchard, who she tells her daughter is a 'relation' of theirs. She carefully deflects answering her daughter's specific questions about the exact relationship.
Amazingly, at Weydon Priors Susan finds the "'furmity woman'," who is now aged. When Susan questions her, the old woman remembers that Henchard planned to go to Casterbridge. As a result, Susan and Elizabeth-Jane set off for Casterbridge after a night's lodging in the town.
It is important to note that eighteen years have passed between the previous chapter and chapter 3, and many changes have taken place. Newson, Susan's second husband who is the sailor that purchased her from Henchard, has been lost at sea and is presumably dead. Susan herself is considerably older, approaching middle age; her daughter is a young woman. There is also a great change is in the atmosphere of the fair. Business has significantly dwindled as the bigger markets of neighboring towns have stolen the trade; those whom the 'furmity woman' does serve are few in number and down on their luck. The negative comment from the 'furmity woman' that "straightforward dealings don't bring profit-- it's the sly and the underhand that get on in these times" suggests that many things have changed other than her level of business. Her words also foreshadow some to the slyness that will take place later in the book.
Susan has walked a great distance to search for Henchard; she obviously has a purpose, which is only inferred at this point in the novel. The fact that she is a widow suggests that she is down on her luck emotionally and financially. The reader assumes she may be attempting to reclaim her marriage to Henchard for economic and emotional solvency. She is also determined to keep Elizabeth- Jane from knowing the exact relationship she has to Henchard; as a result, she only asks the 'furmity woman' questions about her lost husband when Elizabeth-Jane is out of hearing.
This chapter introduces the grown-up Elizabeth-Jane, who is described as a person "possessed of that ephemeral precious essence of youth." She appears to be an obedient daughter with an inborn sense of respectability. Although naturally curious about Henchard and his relationship to them, she does not press her mother too much when she is given deliberately vague replies. She also indicates that she has been properly raised when she wonders why her mother is talking to a character such as the ''furmity woman'."
In a flashback, the reader learns about Susan and her daughter's life with Newson, the sailor. For some time, they had lived in Canada, but when Elizabeth-Jane was twelve, they returned to England and settled at Falmouth. It was in Canada, after living together for many years, that Susan discovered that her marriage to Newson was not legally binding. Ashamed of living in sin, she tells Newson they cannot continue their relationship. A year later, Newson is lost at sea. This news comes as a welcome release to Susan.
Thinking of Elizabeth-Jane's future and their precarious financial situation, Susan decides to go in search of Henchard. When they reach Casterbridge, they find people arguing about him, but Susan is too timid to allow her daughter to make open inquiries, for she is afraid he may be in the work house in a penurious condition. Susan also hears that good bread is in demand since there has been a period of bad wheat, resulting in a shortage.
Susan's character is succinctly analyzed in this chapter. She is obviously a virtuous woman. She loses her peace of mind after realizing her marriage to Newson is not valid and finds it unacceptable to continue with him. The news of his loss at sea solves a problem for her and her conscience. She does not wait for a confirmation of his death, but instead looks for a way to keep financially solvent and allow Elizabeth-Jane to blossom into the beautiful and intelligent young women she aspires to be. As a result, she is spurred to find Henchard, hoping he may be able and willing to help. Mention is also made of Susan's failing health, which makes her even more determined to find a way to financially care for Elizabeth-Jane.
Susan's caution and cunning is revealed when she does not allow Elizabeth-Jane to make inquiries about Henchard when they hear his name mentioned. This lack of initiative is understandable since Susan has not revealed her relationship to him. She wants to make certain that Henchard is acceptable and not drinking before she introduces Elizabeth-Jane.
Hardy's descriptive powers are seen when he presents a picture of Casterbridge, a town based on Dorsetshire in western England. His romance with rural life is revealed when he states that Casterbridge is full of agricultural and pastoral people, "untouched by the faintest sprinkle of modernism." He also reveals how the quaint custom of ringing the curfew at eight is still maintained.