This 1886 novel may be Hardy’s most intense and gripping narrative. We first see the central character, Michael Henchard, as a drunken and unemployed hay-trusser who sells his wife Susan and his daughter Elizabeth-Jane at a fair. When he is eventually reunited with the two, he has become the contented and prosperous mayor of a thriving market town. But the downward spiral begins. Henchard’s fall is hastened by a series of coincidences and quarrels, and by his own jealousy and pride. Though the perspective on events that Hardy gives us is often that of other characters (Elizabeth-Jane in particular), Henchard remains the central focus; in the end he is a tragic figure, bankrupt, emotionally broken and an outcast from society.
Prepared by one of the world’s leading Hardy scholars, this edition includes a critical introduction and a range of background materials from the period. Historical documents (concerning such topics as the corn laws and the practice of wife-selling) and contemporary reviews help set this remarkable novel in the context out of which it emerged.
“Of all the great Victorian novelists, Hardy is the one who consistently requires most annotation and careful contextual placing. The density of regional reference, the often complex composition, publication and reception histories, the author’s vexed relationship with his age—all call for tactful but learned editing. The noted Victorian scholar Norman Page supplies this admirably for Broadview Press’s Mayor of Casterbridge. This is the edition I shall use and prescribe in the future.” — John Sutherland, University of London