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Literature / The Mayor of Casterbridge

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As the novel is Older Than Radio and many twists in Hardy's plots are now widely known, all spoilers on this page are unmarked.
"For my part I don't see why men who have got wives, and don't want 'em, shouldn't get rid of 'em as these gipsy fellows do their old horses."
Michael Henchard

The Mayor of Casterbridge (or, to give it its full title, The Mayor of Casterbridge: The Life and Death of a Man of Character) was Thomas Hardy's tenth published novel, written in 1884-85 and published in 1886. Like many of Hardy's novels, it is set in the fictional county of Wessex in south-west England, and particularly in and around Casterbridge, the fictional counterpart of Hardy's childhood hometown of Dorchester.

Some time in the early 19th century, Michael Henchard, a 21-year-old journeyman hay-trusser, is wandering the Wessex countryside with his wife Susan and their infant daughter Elizabeth-Jane in search of work when he arrives in the village of Weydon-Priorsnote  during the town fair. Henchard proceeds to get drunk on rum-laced furmity and, in the novel's most famous scene, finally carries out his long-made threat to auction off his wife and daughter so that they are no longer a burden to him; the winning (and only) bid of five guineas is made by sailor Richard Newson. The next morning, Henchard is horrified at the realisation of what he has done, and, unable to track down Newson and "his" family, he swears off alcohol for the next twenty-one years.

Some eighteen years later, Susan has received word that Newson has been lost at sea. With nowhere else to turn, she takes Elizabeth-Jane and goes looking for Henchard, and is surprised to find that his years of sobriety have allowed him to become a reasonably successful grain merchant who is serving a term as mayor of the town of Casterbridge. Still ashamed of how he treated her (the particulars of which he has kept carefully hidden to preserve his respect in the community), Henchard is delighted to welcome her and Elizabeth-Jane back into his life, and renews their marriage after a suitable courtship and engagement period. At the same time, he meets Donald Farfrae, a young man from Edinburgh who is planning to seek his fortune in North America, but who knows enough about the latest scientific and technological developments in the grain industry to advise Henchard on how to deal with the poor quality of his wheat after a recent harvest. Lacking much formal education of his own and liking the young man's energy and enthusiasm, Henchard persuades Farfrae to stay in Wessex and serve as his business manager.

But this being Hardy, it's all downhill from there; drunk or sober, Henchard is still a proud and short-tempered man, and he soon fires Farfrae in a fit of jealous anger at his growing popularity, resulting in the Scotsman setting up his own grain business. Then there's the little matter of Lucette La Sueur AKA Lucetta Templeman, a young lady with whom Henchard had a dalliance on the island of Jersey some years earlier when he thought he might be a widower and whom he promised to marry to restore her reputation. And when Susan is taken ill and dies, Henchard discovers a shocking secret about Elizabeth-Jane...

The novel has been adapted for British television twice, for The BBC in 1978 produced by Dennis Potter and starring Alan Bates as Henchard,note  and for ITV in 2003 produced by Georgina Lowe and starring CiarĂ¡n Hinds as Henchard. It was also given a Setting Update and Adaptational Location Change in the 2000 film The Claim, set during the Gold Rush in California, directed by Michael Winterbottom and starring Sarah Polley as Elizabeth-Jane (called Hope here), Milla Jovovich as the Lucette figure (called Lucia), Wes Bentley in the Farfae role (Daglish here), and Peter Mullan in the Henchard role (Dillon here).

This novel features examples of the following tropes:

  • Alcohol-Induced Idiocy:
    • When the novel opens, Michael and Susan Henchard have been married three years, and he has never seen her as anything other than a burden, so that when he gets drunk on rum-laced furmity at Weydon-Priors Fair, he declares that he is auctioning her and their daughter off to the highest bidder. Most of the farmers and vendors in the furmity tent think he is joking, and are shocked when it becomes clear he is serious - and even more shocked when he accepts a bid of five guineas from Newson.
    • After falling Off the Wagon when his twenty-one years of sobriety are over, Henchard starts getting drunk and making a complete idiot of himself in public. When an unnamed member of the Royal Family comes to Casterbridge and is to be met by Farfrae in his capacity as mayor, Henchard asks if he can be part of the ceremony, and when he is turned down, he gets drunk, fashions a crude Union flag and flagpole, and walks right across the royal parade and begins addressing the guest of honour, forcing Farfrae to drag him away.
  • The Atoner: After selling his wife and daughter for five guineas and realising what an idiot he was when he sobers up the next morning, Henchard swears off alcohol and spends the next eighteen years making good, building up a successful grain business from nothing and becoming a respected pillar of the community in Casterbridge, to the point that he is elected mayor. When Susan returns with Elizabeth-Jane, he decides to do right by her and re-marry her. Unfortunately, not only has he kept his past shame a carefully-guarded secret (and added a second past shame with his relationship with Lucetta), but the personality traits that led to said shame are still part of who he is, and his atonement is gradually undone, strand by strand, over the course of the novel.
  • Awful Wedded Life: When the novel opens, this sums up Henchard's view of his marriage to Susan; he married her when he was 18, and has seen her as a tiresome burden ever since, believing that he might be rich and successful if he still had the freedom of being a bachelor. For her part, Susan tells Michael that she has had nothing but temper from him in their three years of marriage, and she is almost as glad to be rid of him as he is to be rid of her when she and Elizabeth-Jane are sold to Newson.
  • Because You Were Nice to Me: When Henchard leaves Casterbridge, having lost everything, he is taken in by one of his former workers, Abel Whittle, despite having treated Whittle abominably while he was in his employ. When Farfrae and Elizabeth-Jane come looking for Henchard, they recognise Whittle, who explains that for all his cruelty, Henchard took a personal interest in Whittle's sickly mother, doing what he could to support her financially. When Whittle saw Henchard in a similarly difficult situation, he found an abandoned house for him to live in, and secured a few pieces of furniture.
  • Book Dumb:
    • Henchard may have built up a successful grain business, but he would be the first to admit that his lack of formal education has proven a hindrance; he is bad at mathematics, resulting in heavy reliance on approximation in measurement and finance, and is unaware of and/or unable to make sense of scientific and technological developments in the grain industry. Farfrae's book smarts are part of Henchard's motivation to hire him as his business manager.
    • Elizabeth-Jane starts out this way, but tries to shed it over the course of the book. She has had little in the way of formal schooling by the time she and Susan re-enter Henchard's life, and after Henchard learns that she was raised thinking Newson was her father because he actually is her father, her rural speech patterns (starting with "Bide where you be" instead of "Stay where you are") become one of the main sources of his increasingly frequent criticism of her. Desperate to regain his affection, Elizabeth-Jane begins reading voraciously to both improve her vocabulary and learn all she can about classical history and similar subjects in order to provide intelligent conversation. Her initial lack of book smarts does not prevent her from being savvy enough to see through Lucetta's I Have This Friend story.
  • Cassandra Truth: When the skimmity-ride brings knowledge of Henchard and Lucetta's past indiscretion to the entire town, the pregnant Lucetta is so shocked and humiliated that she has an epileptic seizure, and a messenger is sent to retrieve Farfrae, who has just left town on business. However, the messenger goes the wrong way, as Farfrae had to change his plans at the last minute, and when Henchard tries to alert Farfrae's staff to the mistake, they ignore him as they feel he can no longer be trusted. So Henchard runs after Farfrae on foot, but when he catches up with him and tells him that he needs to return to Casterbridge immediately, Farfrae recalls that Henchard tried to kill him mere hours earlier, and suspects this is a ruse for another attempt on his life, so he rides on. By the time Farfrae returns home, Lucetta has miscarried their child and died.
  • Continuity Nod: Among the creditors at Henchard's bankruptcy hearing are James Everdene, a farmer from Weatherbury, and a "silent, reserved man" named William Boldwood. Everdene's niece, Bathsheba, is the protagonist of Hardy's earlier novel Far from the Madding Crowd, and Boldwood is one of her three main suitors.
  • Dark Secret:
    • When he becomes a successful merchant and mayor of Casterbridge, Henchard regards his sale of Susan and Elizabeth-Jane as an old embarrassment that he has tried to keep under wraps. A mark of how much he trusts Farfrae soon after employing him is his decision to trust him with the knowledge of his folly, and when he declares Farfrae an enemy (a sentiment Farfrae never returns), he becomes paranoid that his secret will be revealed. Instead, the proprietress of the furmity tent in which he made the sale is the one to reveal his secret when she is brought before him in his capacity as a justice of the peace; had he admitted to his crime before becoming a pillar of the community, it might have been written off as a "wild oat", but since it has only come to light twenty years later, he becomes a pariah.
    • Victorian gender roles being what they were, Lucetta's dalliance with Henchard on Jersey (implied, though never outright stated, to have been a sexual relationship) is an embarrassment that she tries to keep secret, only noting that she feels obligated to marry Henchard to restore her reputation, even though the delay caused by Susan's return has cooled her affection for him. When she marries Farfrae instead, she asks Henchard to send over her letters to him, so that she can burn the evidence; unfortunately, he chooses Joshua Jopp as his courier, and Jopp has reasons to hate both Henchard (for hiring Farfrae as his business manager after promising Jopp the job, then hiring Jopp as Farfrae's successor only to fire him for incompetence) and Lucetta (whom he knew on Jersey and resents since she came into money), and so he reads the letters aloud to the patrons of Peter's Finger. His fellow pubgoers decide to organise a skimmity-ride, in which effigies of Henchard and Lucetta are paraded around town to signal that everyone knows what they did; the humiliation of discovering that her secret is out causes Lucetta to have an epileptic seizure that ultimately kills her. Henchard, meanwhile, is already in disgrace and so feels no embarrassment from the parade.
  • Death by Despair: After being rebuked by Elizabeth-Jane on her wedding day for the web of lies he spun to keep her in his life - first claiming that she was his daughter even after learning that she was Newson's daughter, then telling Newson she was dead when he came looking for her — Henchard leaves Casterbridge for the last time. Abel Whittle sees him leaving and sets him up in an abandoned house, but with nothing left to live for, Henchard's spirits never recover. When Farfrae and Elizabeth-Jane come looking for him, Whittle explains that Henchard stopped eating, and died barely a month after the wedding.
  • Downer Ending: What do you expect from Thomas Hardy? Henchard loses his business, his money, his standing in the community, his house, his wife, his daughter, and his self-respect, and dies alone and miserable, just half an hour before Elizabeth-Jane and Farfrae come looking for him to reconcile with him. They do what they can to honour his deathbed wishes for a Lonely Funeral.
  • Even Evil Has Standards: Calling Henchard "evil" may be overstating things; he is at worst proud, temperamental, and selfish rather than outright villainous. However, as his enmity toward Farfrae gets ever deeper, he contemplates ways to destroy him, including revealing the truth of his past relationship with Lucetta after she has married Farfrae, or luring him into a barn under false pretences to fight him to the death. Each time, he finds himself unable to see the plans through to completion, deciding that he cannot destroy a woman he once loved or kill a man he once regarded as a friend.
  • Fairy Ring: Fairy rings are used as symbols of lost love. Michael Henchard passes a fairy ring and remembers that he last saw Susan there when he sold her to Newson in a drunken rage.
  • Faking the Dead: Newson and Susan are reasonably happy together, but when they return to England from their failed attempt to make good in Canada, a friend of Susan's points out that there is nothing legally binding about her sale to Newson, throwing both of them into emotional turmoil about whether they have been living a lie all these years, and whether this makes Elizabeth-Jane illegitimate. Newson joins the crew of a ship sailing from England to Newfoundland, and when the ship runs into a storm, he allows word to be sent back that he was lost overboard as a way of resolving the legally questionable nature of his and Susan's relationship and "marriage".
  • Foreshadowing:
    • Several subtle hints are dropped early on that Susan's teenage daughter Elizabeth-Jane is not the baby with whom she was sold to Newson. When Newson is lost at sea and Susan tells Elizabeth-Jane that their only hope is to track down Michael Henchard, whom Susan vaguely describes as a relation, she says that Elizabeth-Jane has never met Henchard, which initially just seems like another part of the truth that Susan is concealing. After Henchard and Susan are re-married, Henchard comments to Susan that he thought Elizabeth-Jane had dark hair as a baby, but she has fair hair now; in the moment, this seems to be a slip in Henchard's attempt to keep the truth of his relationship to Elizabeth-Jane a secret from her.
    • While plans are being laid for the skimmity-ride, a mysterious man, not local to the area, attracts the attention of the patrons of Peter's Finger by calling out "Ahoy!", revealing himself to be a sailor. As the only significant character in the book who matches that description is Newson, this is the reader's first clue that Elizabeth-Jane's father is not as dead as she believes; he is not formally identified until he arrives at Henchard's house asking after Susan and Elizabeth-Jane.
  • Funetik Aksent: True to Hardy's usual style, most of the characters speak with phonetic West Country accents, while Farfrae's dialogue is intended to be a phonetic rendition of the Edinburgh accent, though Hardy later admitted that there were merits to complaints from Scottish readers that no-one north of the River Tweed had an accent even vaguely resembling the one used for Farfrae.
  • Hourglass Plot: Hardy keeps finding new ways to completely reverse Henchard and Farfrae's positions over the course of the novel, as Farfrae turns out to be more successful at being Henchard than Henchard himself:
    • Initially, Henchard hires Farfrae as his business manager, believing that his education will be an asset to his company. He later fires Farfrae, partly because he stands up to Henchard's less reasonable actions toward the workers and partly because such behaviour makes Farfrae more popular with the workers and the customers. Farfrae decides to set up his own grain business, and though he tries to avoid stealing Henchard's customers, his business becomes a resounding success while Henchard's collapses. In the end, Farfrae hires Henchard as a manual labourer to throw him a lifeline.
    • When Henchard declares bankruptcy, he is forced to sell his house, and most of his furniture is auctioned off to pay off his debts. They are bought by Farfrae (although, in the case of the furniture, with an eye to allowing Henchard to take any pieces of sentimental value free of charge).
    • Lucetta comes to Casterbridge after receiving word of Susan's death, believing that at last Henchard will make good on his promise to marry her and restore her reputation after it was ruined by their dalliance in Jersey. Instead, she meets and falls in love with Farfrae, and, her affections toward Henchard having cooled in the intervening years, ends up marrying him. He also ends up losing Elizabeth-Jane to Farfrae, first in her capacity as Lucetta's live-in companion, then as Farfrae's second wife.
    • And finally, Farfrae is elected mayor of Casterbridge after Henchard's successor dies in office.
  • I Have This Friend: When Lucetta is torn between honouring her commitment to marrying Henchard, thus restoring her reputation, or following her heart and seeing where her attraction to Farfrae might lead, she tells Elizabeth-Jane that she has a friend who is torn between two men, one who promised to marry her when circumstances permitted but whom she does not love, and one of whom she met more recently and genuinely loves. Elizabeth-Jane knows immediately that the "friend" is Lucetta herself, but does not know the two men are Henchard and Farfrae.
  • Immigrant Patriotism: Zigzagged with Farfrae. He regards Scotland with fondness, and sings Scottish ballads while drinking at the Three Mariners to the delight of the other patrons, but he says he has no plans to return there. While his initial plan is to emigrate to the United States, Henchard persuades him to stay in Casterbridge, where he finds professional and personal happiness (albeit not without a few bumps in the road), and rises to become a respected member of the town council before being elected the youngest (and first Scottish) mayor in the town's history.
  • Lonely Funeral: Having finally hit rock bottom, Henchard's last wishes are that he have one of these. He leaves a pencilled scrap of paper instructing that Elizabeth-Jane not be told of his death (which proves impossible to honour when she arrives at his house half an hour after he dies), that church bells not be rung to signal his death, that he not have any mourners, that no flowers be placed on his grave, and that no-one remember him. Though saddened by the self-loathing in his final wishes, Farfrae and Elizabeth-Jane do what they can to honour them.
  • Love Dodecahedron: Newson comes to love Susan after making the winning bid on her at auction, but she is torn between him and Henchard, as her "marriage" to Newson is not legally binding, leaving her technically still married to Henchard. While Henchard is delighted to welcome Susan back into his life after Newson is reported lost at sea, he is caught between honouring his existing marriage and restoring Lucetta's honour by marrying her. Lucetta finds herself having to decide between allowing Henchard to honour his promise to marry her once he knows he is free to do so and pursuing her growing feelings for Farfrae - who has also caught the eye of Elizabeth-Jane.
  • The Matchmaker: Susan Henchard can see that Elizabeth-Jane is attracted to Farfrae, and so forges notes to both her daughter and the young Scotsman in which each asks the other to meet at a specific location. When they do meet, the inevitable "I thought you wanted to meet me here?" conversation does give way to the beginnings of a romance between them, but it is not until near the end of the book that they properly get together.
  • My God, What Have I Done?:
    • When Henchard sobers up the morning after selling Susan and Elizabeth-Jane, he immediately regrets the rashness of his actions, and scours the countryside in search of them or of Newson, the man who bought them. But the trail has already gone cold, and he is so ashamed that he swears a gospel oath to touch no alcohol for twenty-one years.
    • After the incident in which Henchard gets drunk and interrupts the ceremonies surrounding a visit to Casterbridge by a member of the Royal Family, he meets Farfrae in a barn with plans to fight him to the death; being bigger and stronger than Farfrae, he soon has him at his mercy even with one hand tied behind his back, but memories of their past friendship begin flooding his mind, and he is so horrified by what he is about to do that he lets Farfrae go free.
    • When Newson returns to England after having been presumed lost at sea, he tells Henchard that he had an extended period of remorse when one of Susan's friends pointed out that her sale to him was not legally binding, and that their "marriage" was nothing more than a mockery. Appalled by the idea that they had been living a lie for over a decade and a half, Susan became so unhappy in her life with Newson that he felt the best thing to do would be to clear the way for her to return to Henchard by faking his death.
    • In the longer version of the novel's ending, Henchard has gone into self-imposed exile from Casterbridge in embarrassment at having told Newson that Elizabeth-Jane was dead so that he did not have to give her up to her real father, but decides to try returning on the day of her wedding to Farfrae with a present of a caged goldfinch. He leaves the cage outside the house before entering, but Elizabeth-Jane is so angry at him for lying to Newson and delaying their reunion by nearly a year that he leaves in shame and forgets about the birdcage. Some months later, the cage is found, the bird having long since starved to death, and when the servants remember how it got there, Elizabeth-Jane realises Henchard genuinely regretted his actions and wanted to make amends, and is mortified that they parted on such bad terms.
  • No Woman's Land: Hardy's Wessex is a bad place to be a woman, and the Wessex of The Mayor of Casterbridge is one of the worst.
    • Poor Susan Henchard stands alongside Tess Durbeyfield as one of Hardy's most miserable female characters. Her husband gets drunk and declares that she is holding him back and he would be better off without her or their infant daughter, so he sells both of them for five guineas to Newson. Lacking any real education, she assumes the sale is legally binding, and when a friend tells her it is not, she falls into a depression at the idea that her "marriage" to him - which has produced a child - is based on a lie. Newson decides to resolve the situation by faking his death so that she can return to Henchard, who re-marries her, only for her to fall ill and die months later.
    • Lucette La Sueur has her reputation ruined by her dalliance with Henchard, as they are not married, and he may or may not still be legally married to Susan. When she inherits money from a rich maiden aunt and styles herself Lucetta Templeman, she is the one who suffers most when her past indiscretion with Henchard is publicly revealed to the entire town of Casterbridge.
  • Off the Wagon: When Susan and Elizabeth-Jane track Henchard down, Susan is pleasantly surprised to hear that he has been on the wagon for nineteen years, and had his professional and personal happiness continued, he might well have remained sober after the twenty-one years were up. But as his fortunes decline precipitously after Susan returns to his life, he wastes no time in getting drunk again after the final day of his vow of temperance, and this only hastens his spiral toward rock bottom.
  • Oh, Crap!: When an old woman is brought before Henchard in his capacity as a justice of the peace to face trial for disturbing the peace and assaulting a constable, Henchard is mortified to discover that she is the proprietress of the furmity tent at which he sold Susan and Elizabeth-Jane years earlier - and his fears that this will blow the lid off the secret he has kept to preserve his reputation prove justified when the woman declares that a man who sold his wife and daughter does not deserve to pass judgement on her. His reputation is left in tatters by the revelation.
  • Poor Communication Kills: One of the many incidents that leads to the disintegration of Henchard and Farfrae's friendship is caused by a miscommunication; with Henchard's grain business having failed, Farfrae inquires about setting him up in a seed shop near the churchyard whose owner is looking to sell, but is persuaded to delay the idea when a fellow councillor tells him of Henchard's personal hatred of him. He tells the proprietor that the council has scuppered the plan to set Henchard up as the new shopkeeper, but the proprietor gets the wrong idea and tells Henchard that Farfrae personally vetoed the plan.
  • Pride: One of Henchard's Fatal Flaws is his immense personal pride, and overreaction to perceived slights against it, resulting in numerous bad decisions that bring him to ruin.
    • Farfrae means well when he stops Henchard from dragging a trouserless Abel Whittle to work after the latter oversleeps once too often, but Henchard sees this as an intolerable slight against his authority, and it becomes the beginning of the end of his friendship with the Scotsman.
    • When a day of celebration is declared in honour of an unnamed national event, Farfrae asks Henchard for permission to set up tents with dancing, food, and games, for which he plans to charge admission. Henchard decides to set up his own celebration, free of charge, to outdo his business manager, but he sets up his gala in the open air, and British weather being what it is, it pours with rain all day, resulting in Henchard's celebration being dismally attended while Farfrae's is a triumph. Seeing Farfrae dancing with Elizabeth-Jane is the last straw for Henchard, who fires Farfrae on the spot.
    • Already losing prospective customers to Farfrae after he sets up his own grain trading business, Henchard tries to outdo him in speculating on the price of grain during the autumn harvest, hoping to regain his fortune and his standing in the community. Unfortunately, he consults an augurer who tells him the autumn will be a wet one, only for the sun to shine brightly for days at a time. Henchard ends up buying vast stocks of grain just before the price crashes, and then sells it at a massive loss just before the price rebounds.
    • Henchard insists on maintaining the illusion that Elizabeth-Jane is his daughter even after finding Susan's deathbed letter that she is actually Newson's daughter, and when Newson turns out to be alive after all and comes looking for his daughter, Henchard claims that she is dead so that he can hold onto her. When his deceit is exposed to Elizabeth-Jane, she is furious, and spurns him when he shows up at the celebration of her wedding to Farfrae seeking forgiveness. With his spirit completely broken, he leaves Casterbridge and dies barely a month later, refusing to send word to Elizabeth-Jane even though she might be able to rekindle his will to live if she knew the truth.
  • Rags to Riches: When the novel opens, Henchard is an itinerant hay-trusser, going wherever he can find work and lodging at any given time, and has only a few shillings to his name. After selling his wife and daughter and swearing off alcohol, he becomes a prosperous grain merchant, living in one of the finest houses in town with furniture to match. Unfortunately, a series of bad decisions causes him to lose everything, and when the novel ends, he has had to go back to being an itinerant hay-trusser.
  • Reasonable Authority Figure: Farfrae slides nicely into this role after being hired as Henchard's business manager, in contrast to his Bad Boss superior. Never is this more evident than in the first in the chain of events that causes Henchard to part ways with Farfrae; Abel Whittle, one of their labourers, routinely oversleeps and is late for work, and when this happens once too often, Henchard storms over to his house and drags him to work without even letting him put on his breeches. Farfrae stops the spectacle and sends Whittle home to finish getting dressed, telling Henchard that he is going too far. Henchard is outraged that Farfrae contradicted him in front of the workers, while the workers begin to see Farfrae as a kinder and more level-headed boss than Henchard.
  • Replacement Goldfish: After Susan dies, Henchard tells Elizabeth-Jane that he, not Newson as she has been told all her life, is her father, and goes to find documents proving this. Instead, he finds a poorly-sealed letter from Susan revealing that Elizabeth-Jane Henchard died within a few months of being sold to Newson, and when she bore another daughter by Newson, she was named Elizabeth-Jane in her dead half-sister's honour.
  • Rule of Symbolism: Invoked by Henchard when he receives Susan's letter asking for financial assistance in the wake of Newson's disappearance; he sends her a sum of five guineas, symbolically buying her back for the price for which he sold her many years earlier.
  • Tragic Hero: Where the universe simply seems to despise Tess Durbeyfield and Jude Fawley and delights in making their lives miserable through no fault of their own, Michael Henchard is almost unique among Hardy's protagonists in that his downfall is entirely his own fault. His short temper and pride cause him to make a long string of bad decisions, starting with selling Susan and Elizabeth-Jane at auction and continuing with his rash decision to fire Farfrae. His anger at discovering that the Elizabeth-Jane that has returned to him is actually Newson's daughter leads him to treat her coldly and drive her away, and when they are on the brink of reconciling and Newson returns after having been presumed dead, Henchard lies to him and says Elizabeth-Jane is as dead as Susan so that he can keep her in his life, even though he knows he has no way to prevent Newson from making inquiries and learning the truth.
  • Villain Protagonist: Michael Henchard is the main character and, for much of the book, the point-of-view character (a role that is played at different times by Farfrae, Elizabeth-Jane, and Lucetta as well). However, he is proud, selfish, and short-tempered, sells Susan and Elizabeth-Jane in a drunken haze because he thinks they're holding him back, turns against his erstwhile friend and business manager Farfrae because he is more popular with their employees, ruins Lucetta's reputation and then dithers over marrying her to restore it, and lies to Elizabeth-Jane about her true paternity and then to Newson about whether his daughter is alive purely to keep her in his life.
  • Your Son All Along: Inverted with Elizabeth-Jane, whom Susan leads Henchard to believe is the daughter he sold to Newson years earlier. However, before she dies, she writes a letter with instructions that Henchard should only open it when Elizabeth-Jane is married; the letter is not sealed properly, and Henchard reads it and discovers that his daughter died only a few months after he sold her and her mother, and Susan had another daughter with Newson whom she also named Elizabeth-Jane.