The Motif of the Perpetrator in Hardy's "The Mayor of Casterbridge"

Seminar Paper, 2003

22 Pages, Grade: 1,7 (A-)


Table of Contents

1. Introduction

2. Characters as Intruders
2.1 Henchard
2.2 Farfrae
2.3 Doubling of Henchard and Farfrae
2.4 Casterbridge and its Chorus

3. Social Influences regarding Intrusion
3.1 Setting
3.2 Modernism vs. Traditionalism
3.3 Victorianism

4. Conclusion

5. Bibliography

1. Introduction

The theme of the intruder, defined in the Collins English Dictionary as “a person who enters [..] without permission”[1], is, although it might not seem so at first, one of the key issues of Hardy’s The Mayor of Casterbridge. It is one of Hardy’s “Novels of Character and Environment”[2], in which Hardy creates a uniquely detailed portrait of rural life, inspired by Dorset, the county of his birth. Throughout the novel strangers appear in and disappear from Casterbridge, overhearing instances can be found in many a chapter, and the fact that “none of the major characters in the novel is a native of Casterbridge or even of South Wessex[3] ”is one the reader can hardly forget. By examining selected characters and the way they intrude on both other characters and the town of Casterbridge, it becomes clear that this theme is to be regarded in a wider context – one of social distinctions, the changing world of rural Victorian England and the individual’s struggle against overpowering forces.

2. Characters as Intruders

2.1 Henchard

Michael Henchard, the novel’s tragic hero, is a man of “dogged and cynical indifference”[4], which is shown to the reader in almost every chapter. In him we see embodied the anti-Victorian idea of a ‘no-name’ working class man rising out of his own class into a higher one– he goes from being a hay-trusser to becoming mayor of the aforesaid Casterbridge. He is shown to act on impulse most of the time, not considering the consequences before he acts. However, when he realises that he has acted wrongly, feelings of regret and remorse occur. He is seen to intrude on almost all the other characters of the novel, as well as on society in general. From the beginning of the novel right to the end we are presented with a character full of twists and clashing ideals – the worker who wants to become a respected citizen, indifferent to the pain he causes to his family when drunk; the quick-tempered rogue, whose anger quickly turns to remorse at various points in the novel; the lonely isolated man who truly loves the daughter that never was his at the end of the novel.

The first and foremost character Henchard can be seen to intrude on is Susan, his once lost and then regained wife. From the first page of the novel the reader feels that Susan’s company is not wanted by Henchard; indeed his indifference to her is made explicit by the narrator’s comment that it is not clear whether “intercourse […] would have been irksome to him”, before adding that Henchard’s “taciturny was unbroken, and the woman enjoyed no society whatever from his presence”[5]. Indeed, we feel that Henchard is not interested in his family – his wife and three-year old daughter – when he “phlegmatically”[6] asks a turnip-hoer they meet if there was any work in the next village. This makes a great impression on the reader. By letting Henchard appear phlegmatic, Hardy manages to point the reader to the fact that Henchard, although he should be caring for his family (by trying to find work as quickly as he can) really only cares for himself.

But not only does Henchard intrude on Susan, he also intrudes on the town of Casterbridge. The first description of Casterbridge marks it out as being an “old-fashioned place”, “huddled all together […] shut in by a square wall of trees”[7]. This initial description reminds the reader of Henchard’s earlier entrapment during his marriage, and we assume that he is still trapped. The borough of Casterbridge, whose “antiquated”[8] look is “the characteristic which most struck in the eye”[9], was in fact “untouched by the faintest sprinkle of modernism”[10]. This initial impression is underlined by the next two paragraphs, in which Hardy again describes the quaintness of Casterbridge, as opposed to the openness of the surrounding landscape. The reader immediately sees the approaching women as intruding on the closeness of the town – we assume that this feeling was also associated with Henchard when he first entered the town, although no narrative of his first dealings with Casterbridge, and Casterbridge society, is given.

Right to the end of the novel the reader sees Henchard’s underlying qualities. Not only does he deal with minor characters “with the instinct of a perverse character”[11], he also answers them with the “fiery spark of his dark eye”[12], which at one point in the novel makes the narrator compare him with “that infuriated Prince of Darkness”[13]. Although “he and Casterbridge bank-folk are sworn brothers”[14], and not withstanding the fact that “he was overbearing – even brilliantly quarrelsome”[15], “Henchard, like all his kind, was superstitious”[16]. These examples help to demonstrate the fact that Henchard, although most the powerful man in Casterbridge, has qualities in him that are better kept under lock and key – for the best of him, his relationships with other characters (especially Susan and Farfrae, but also Elizabeth-Jane), and his social status. Unlike Farfrae, who is at once liked by the whole community, he still has “the same unruly volcanic stuff beneath as when he had sold his wife at Weydon Fair”[17], which makes him dangerous to others and himself. This mixture of natural and unnatural character traits further serves to alienate Henchard from his fellow townsmen. As early as chapter 17, only slightly more than one third into the novel, the reader is faced with Henchard’s old-fashioned quaintness (which, in turn, links him to Casterbridge – see 3.1), expressed by various assertions of his that “he could not help thinking that the concatenation of events this evening had produced was the scheme of some sinister intelligence bent on punishing him”[18], and later on the “movements of his mind seemed to tend to the thought that some power was working against him.”[19] This superstitious nature of Henchard’s is made even more explicit in his visit to conjurer Fall, who predicts the weather for the oncoming harvest. Henchard believes him and thus loses money and prestige, which results in his having to pronounce his bankruptcy and to leave Casterbridge as a broken man. It is then when “his path, like that of the Canadian woodsman, became part of a circle, of which Casterbridge formed the centre”[20], that it is shown that no matter how harshly he is treated by Casterbridge society, it attracts him like the light attracts the moth – he cannot live with it, but he also cannot live without it. Although it has been shown to him that he is not wanted there anymore, he cannot help but yet again intrude on Casterbridge, which is especially poignant as he chooses Elizabeth-Jane’s and Farfrae’s wedding-day to re-enter this old-fashioned and secluded haven.

2.2 Farfrae

In opposition to Henchard, Donald Farfrae, the charming, romantic stranger, is introduced in chapter 6. He is shown to be generous, attractive, soft-spoken, patriotic, and a fine ballad singer. He is also ambitious, clever, a whiz at mechanical inventions and, as we soon learn, a superb businessman. But he misses some of Henchard’s enthusiasm and passion, making him seem somewhat two-dimensional at times.

Farfrae is marked as an outsider from his first appearance in the novel. The “stranger”[21] differs in appearance, behaviour and aspect from all the other characters introduced so far in that he is “a young man of remarkably pleasant aspect”, who is “fair and ruddy, bright-eyed, and slight in build”, and who speaks with a strange accent – “it was quaint and northerly”[22]. Even Elizabeth-Jane is at once attracted to him. When he starts singing “in a melody and accent of a peculiar charm”[23], she admits that “she had never heard any singing like this”.[24] This and the fact that Farfrae’s singing is followed by “a burst of applause; and a deep silence which was even more eloquent than the pause”[25] underlines Farfrae’s role as an outsider – “it was plain that nothing so pathetic had been heard at the King of Prussia for a considerable time”[26]. And although “Casterbridge had sentiment”[27] and “romance”[28], “this stranger’s sentiment was of differing quality.”[29]

The young Scotsman serves as a foil for Henchard. Whereas will and intuition determine the course of Henchard's life, Farfrae is a man of intellect. He brings to Casterbridge a method for salvaging damaged grain, a system for reorganising and revolutionising the mayor's business, and a blend of curiosity and ambition that enables him to take interest in, and advantage of, the agricultural advancements of the day (such as the horse-drill). Although Henchard soon comes to view Farfrae as his adversary, the Scotchman's victories are won more in the name of progress than of personal satisfaction. His primary motive in taking over Casterbridge's grain trade is to make it more prosperous and usher the village into the advancing agricultural economy of the later nineteenth century, rather than to dishonour Henchard. Indeed, even when Henchard is at his most adversarial – during his fight with Farfrae in the barn[30], for instance – the Scotchman reminds himself of the fallen mayor's circumstances, taking pains to understand and excuse Henchard's behaviour. In his calm, measured thinking, Farfrae is a model man of science, and Hardy depicts him with the stereotypical strengths and weaknesses of such persons. He possesses an intellectual competence so unrivalled that it passes for charisma, but he remains, throughout the novel, emotionally distant. Although he wins the favour of the townspeople with his highly successful day of celebration[31], Farfrae fails to feel any emotion too deeply, whether it is happiness inspired by his celebrations or sorrow at the death of his wife[32]. In this respect, too, he stands in bold contrast to Henchard, whose depth of feeling is so profound that it ultimately dooms him.


[1] J. M. Sinclair (Ed.), Collins English Dictionary. 21st Century Edition, (Glasgow: HarperCollins, 2000), p. 806.

[2] Rebecca Warren, The Mayor of Casterbridge, Thomas Hardy: notes, (Harlow: Longman, 1999), p. 6.

[3] Simon Gatrell, Thomas Hardy and the Proper Study of Mankind, (London: Macmillan, 1993), p. 80.

[4].Thomas Hardy, The Mayor of Casterbridge, (London: Penguin, 1997), ch. 1, p. 3. (Penguin Classics Edition, further on abbreviated as “PCE”).

[5] PCE, ch. 1, p. 4.

[6] PCE, ch. 1, p. 5.

[7] PCE, ch. 4, p. 27.

[8] ibid.

[9] ibid.

[10] ibid.

[11] PCE, ch. 1, p. 8.

[12] ibid..

[13] PCE, ch. 38, p. 269.

[14] PCE, ch. 5, p. 35.

[15] PCE, ch. 1, p. 8.

[16] PCE, ch. 17, p. 110.

[17] ibid.

[18] ibid.

[19] PCE, ch. 27, p. 190.

[20] PCE, ch. 44, p. 313.

[21] PCE, ch. 6, p. 37.

[22] ibid.

[23] PCE, ch. 8, p. 50.

[24] ibid.

[25] ibid.

[26] PCE, ch. 8, p. 51.

[27] PCE, ch. 8, p. 53.

[28] ibid.

[29] ibid.

[30] Chapter 38.

[31] Chapter 16.

[32] Chapter 18.

Excerpt out of 22 pages


The Motif of the Perpetrator in Hardy's "The Mayor of Casterbridge"
University of Bonn  (English Seminar)
Seminar Thomas Hardy
1,7 (A-)
Catalog Number
ISBN (eBook)
File size
478 KB
Motif, Perpetrator, Hardy, Mayor, Casterbridge, Seminar, Thomas, Hardy
Quote paper
Kristin Ott (Author), 2003, The Motif of the Perpetrator in Hardy's "The Mayor of Casterbridge", Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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