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CHAPTER SUMMARY AND NOTES
While Henchard is reading the letters to Farfrae, Lucetta comes down and hears her own words being read aloud. When Henchard goes away, she wonders if he has revealed everything to her husband. Her relief is immense when she realizes Henchard has not disclosed her name. The next morning she writes to Henchard to meet her at the Ring in the evening. She decides to dress plainly for the purpose. When Henchard sees her at the Ring, he is reminded of Susan and feels sympathy for her as well as guilt for his thoughts. He no longer desires to avenge himself. He agrees to return the letters to her the next morning.
Lucetta's fear of discovery and her subsequent relief is perfectly understandable. In fact, she can be compared to Henchard, who also attempted to conceal his past in order to benefit socially and financially. Although Lucetta is now financially independent, she wants to be seen as an upstanding member of the community. Because of this, she is not bold enough to tell Farfrae the truth about her past and risk his forgiveness. Instead, she seeks to destroy her old letters as soon as she can. She uses her powers of persuasion on Henchard by dressing simply and acting powerless. Henchard falls for her ruse, for he sees her as being like Susan, sick with worry and worn out. Lucetta proves her cunning by choosing a spot associated with memories of Henchard's deceased wife; but there is irony in the fact that while Lucetta is trying to ensure security for herself, her attempt will lead to disaster.
When Lucetta returns home, Jopp, who wants her to recommend him to Farfrae as a working-partner, confronts her. When Lucetta refuses to give him any encouragement, Jopp suggests blackmail, saying that he is familiar with Jersey. Lucetta retains her composure.
When Jopp returns to his cottage, Henchard gives him a sealed packet to give Lucetta; it contains the letters she has requested. Jopp, however, is still smarting from the rebuff given by Lucetta. Knowing that there was a previous intimacy between Henchard and Lucetta, Jopp decides to open the package and see what is inside. He reads the letters written by Lucetta.
On his way to deliver the package, Jopp meets Mother Cuxsom and Nance Mockridge. They urge him to accompany them to Mixen Lane, where an inn called Peter's Finger is located. All the renegades and dregs of society meet at Peter's Finger, including the old 'furmity woman'. She encourages Jopp to open the packet and read the letters to everyone. When they realize what has happened between Lucetta and Henchard, they decide to arrange a "skimmity-ride" which is a form of entertainment that exposes a wife's unfaithfulness to her husband. A stranger contributes a sovereign towards the arrangement of the ride.
The next morning Lucetta receives the letters and thankfully burns them. Ironically, she now feels her past is safely behind her.
The unease sensed at the end of Chapter 26, when Henchard fires Jopp, is justified, for he is an angry and bitter man. Lucetta's rebuff inflames Joppo's resentment towards Henchard, Lucetta, and Farfrae, the man who originally replaced him. Since he is a man of few principles, Jopp has no qualms in opening the sealed packet of letters that Henchard has given him to deliver to Lucetta. Henchard obviously makes a grave error in judgment by trusting Jopp with the letters.
The reader is given a graphic description of Mixen Lane. It is the center of evil in Casterbridge, where vice runs freely. Evil emanates in particular from an inn called Peter's Finger. It is where all the degenerates gather, including the old 'furmity woman'. She encourages Jopp to read the letters in the packet to the crowd, and he agrees. The crowd finds it greatly entertaining that the Mayor's wife has had an affair, and they plan her demise, each of them feeling that she in some way has wronged them. They plan a "skimmity-ride," which is used to expose a wife's unfaithfulness. This development will have its effect on Lucetta later on in the story.
In this chapter, Hardy reveals the contrast between the 'haves' and the 'have-nots.' The 'have-nots', gathered at Peter's Finger, feel they are victims of the 'haves' and always seek revenge for the injustices committed against them. When they learn that the Mayor's wife has had a previous affair, they are delighted with the news. It is a chance for them to strike back at the 'haves.'
Hardy ends the chapter with a striking note of irony. With the delivery and burning of her love letters, Lucetta thinks her past is safely behind her. Ironically, her exposure is around the corner with dreadful consequences.