Wednesday, June 21, 2017

A Supplementary Note On The Mayor Of Casterbridge

In response to comments from a friend:

Phil it's only circumstantial that I spent time on EJ. Sometimes when I want to write a note that tries to say something short but synoptic about a novel, I "reverse engineer" it by starting with the ending, where all threads come together or purposefully fray or do some of both and then go backwards, so to say, from there. 

EJ's a major minor character who quietly changes over the course of the story and who as you say functions as an ongoing contrast to what are Henchard's big down, big ups then big downs. It's not insignificant that Hardy ends with her thoughts and viewpoints in a vision of burgher contentment laced with trepidation and hints of subversion of her own seemingly settled resolution.

I both do and don't see her and Farfrae as harbingers of something modern, rationally systematic and smaller than larger than life. Of course it is evident in for example Farfrae's modernizing and systemizing what Henchard sloppily, intuitively and by dint of overweening will does in the way of business and in Farfrae's application of science and use of new machinery. And there is something admirable but inhuman in his near perfect ability to reason out not after all to seek vengeance on the low lifes who caused Lucetta's death but didn't intend to. 

There is some romance in the notion that Henchard larger than life is a figure of the past whose like we will not see again. Yet while, as I say, there is an element of that, I don't totally see it. I see, too, a complicated, massively strong man, a force of nature, who exists in paradoxical relation to everyone in the novel by reason of his outsizedness and to us as readers too. He's not, I'd argue, something, a phenomenon, that has passed by, forever gone. The theme of him, in his outsizedness, could apply, I may read Hardy to imply, in any variety of human settings, including what the, to those times, new age heralds and as you acutely note.

I like your last paragraph a lot. It gets at differences between Henchard and Farfrae both rhetorically and substantively more aptly and penetratingly than did I in my note. I'm not, though, seeing the "sacrifice" exactly, insofar as that suggests some wilful act by Farfrae. Henchard by reason of his nature is completely the cause of his own undoing, I think. And as we will always have our natures, our human natures, Henchards will always be amongst us, troubled, charismatic, forces unto themselves that lesser others circle around even as they may survive better and prosper, not flame out. 

Finally it's been a pleasure reading your comments and thinking about them. And making this small response to them. They have already deepened my sense of the novel, adding layers to what I had begun to think about it.

So I thank ye for that.

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