Study Questions for The Mayor of Casterbridge
The landscape of Far from the Madding Crowd moves from one side of Dorset to the other. The Return of the Native is more constrained, taking place entirely on the large but nonetheless confining Egdon Heath. What is the extent of the topography in The Mayor of Casterbridge? (It might be worth noting that Hardy wrote this novel shortly after moving back to Dorchester.)
Hardy's portrait of Michael Henchard, the sometime Mayor of Casterbridge, has often been celebrated for its psychological depth. What do you make of Henchard's complex and difficult character? In this regard, you might consider the subtitle applied to the book in the first edition: "The Life and Death of a Man of Character."
On a connected note: what do you make of Hardy's quotation from Novalis in Chapter 17, "Character is Fate"?
Is Henchard a tragic hero? If so, in what sense?
How is the relationship between Henchard and Farfrae developed in the novel? In what ways does it represent a clash between the old and the new? And how is that clash presented elsewhere in the novel?
The closing paragraph of the novel sums up the lessons Elizabeth-Jane draws from her life experience, but Hardy phrases this very interesting passage in subtly difficult ways. Take a careful look at the passage--what exactly is it saying?