Book Review: The Mayor of Casterbridge

The Mayor of Casterbridge is dubbed a ‘tragedy’ novel. It is about Michael Henchard, a hay-trusser who sells his wife Susan and their daughter Elizabeth-Jane to a sailor on a drunken whim. Years later, Susan arrives in Casterbridge and, to her surprise, finds Henchard is the Mayor and is a reformed man. The pair reunite, but both Henchard and Susan are keeping secrets from one another, and the past refuses to stay buried.

In true Thomas Hardy style, multiple taboos are introduced quickly in The Mayor of Casterbridge, such as the maltreatment of women, drunkenness, fights, fake identities, and death.

The number of problems each character faced, and how these problems impacted upon the other characters made the book feel very much like an 19th century predecessor to The Jeremy Kyle Show!

I thought The Mayor of Casterbridge was okay, despite having a dislike for most of the characters; each character was selfish and deceptive in varying amounts, so it was hard to feel sympathetic for any of them.

The Mayor of Casterbridge has particularly witty moments, and I liked the Harry Potter-like language in this passage:

‘she [Elizabeth-Jane] no longer spoke of “dumbledores” but of “humble bees” […] that when she had not slept she did not quaintly tell the servants next morning that she had been “hag-rid,” but that she had “suffered from indigestion.”’

(Chapter 20)

I think it’s still unclear as to whether this passage inspired J.K. Rowling, when it came to writing her best-selling children’s fantasy series. In an interview with Stephanie Loer for The Boston Globe, Rowling said:

“Some of the names are invented… Dumbledore […] is an Old English word meaning bumblebee. Hagrid, who by the way is one of my favourite characters, also comes from an Old English word – hagridden – meaning having a nightmarish night.”

Regardless, I liked The Mayor of Casterbridge (not as much as Jude The Obscure however) – not because of its maybe links to the Harry Potter books, but because of Hardy’s ability to simply tell a good story.

– Judith

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Book Review: Jude The Obscure

Jude The Obscure is a Bildungsroman (coming of age) story following the life of Jude who, when we are first introduced, aspires to study at Christminster and become an academic or clergyman. However, various relationships and social dramas interrupt this life goal until it gradually withers away.

I really liked Hardy’s style of writing and this was an easy and enjoyable book to read. I thought the issues covered, such as religion, marriage, divorce and courting were discussed in a very modern way, which pleasantly surprised me, given the fact it was written more than 100 years ago.

I also liked the way the book was split into 6, roughly equal parts: At Marygreen [1], At Christminster [2], At Melchester [3], At Shaston [4], At Aldbrickham and Elsewhere [5], At Christminster Again [6]. This helped the narrative flow by keeping each section in just one setting, and also made it easier to log my progress on Goodreads!

The part which gripped me most was At Christminster Again [6] because of the tense and emotional scene with Little Father Time and the children. The scene was predictable, but in a good way. The foreshadowing was well done, so I knew what would happen, and when it did, I was simultaneously satisfied and heart-broken! I am wary of saying much more as I like to keep my reviews as spoiler-free as possible.

I also noticed some narrative similarities between Jude The Obscure and Great Expectations by Charles Dickens; the beginnings are quite similar. A young boy raised by his aunt grows up to learn about the world and develops feelings for a local girl. However, once Jude reached manhood, the plot completely changed, and sadly this is where the similarities between the two novels ended.

Another slight disappointment for me was that I didn’t understand why the book is called Jude The Obscure. To me, this is such a shame because usually with older books, it’s easier to work out. I just like to be able to work out myself why the book has been given its title.

Nonetheless, I thoroughly enjoyed this Hardy novel and it may be my favourite!

– Judith