Thomas Hardy's 1886 novel, The Mayor of Casterbridge, is an awesome drama rooted in early-nineteenth-century England. The story opens with an astonishing scene in which a drunken Michael Henchard sells his wife and daughter to a sailor at a local fair. The story eventually builds into a tale of guilt and revenge centered on Michael Henchard's rise and subsequent fall from a position of power in Casterbridge. The Mayor of Casterbridge, however, plots not only the course of one man's character, but also the evolution of a small, agricultural village into a more modern town. In this novel, Thomas Hardy explores the cultural and economic evolution of England during his lifetime, and he also explores the unraveling of traditional moral codes in a society marked by increasing levels of industrialization and urbanization. Though Thomas Hardy abandoned Christianity himself during a portion of his lifetime, he uses The Mayor of Casterbridge to reveal to readers the decreasing moral and religious standards in the world they lived in. Hardy realizes the potential harm that could result from movements of industrialization and urbanization, and he uses this novel to reveal to readers the negative potential that these generally positive movements contain. Hardy reveals this negativity towards modernization through the use of Michael Henchard. Hardy leads Henchard through a series of shocking discoveries and personality changes, leaving Henchard unhappy and alone at the end. Thomas Hardy's setting for this novel, an area called Wessex, is actually a fictional region created just for his novels, but the setting is reflective of traditional English towns. While Hardy does not actually criticize particular English villages or groups, he uses Wessex and its inhabitants to reveal his attitudes toward English society and landscape. Hardy's writings in The Mayor of Casterbridge and other famous novels such as Jude the Obscure and Tess of the d'Urbervilles dramatize his sense of "the inevitable tragedy of life" (Hardy 1). Hardy seems to focus more on the negativity of life rather than the positive aspects gained from experience. In the end, Hardy uses The Major of Casterbridge as a means of expression and also as a way to caution readers against the dangers of industrialization and urbanization efforts which were taking place in England during the period of publication.
II. Scholarly Article
In Shannon Rogers' 1996 article entitled "The Medievalist Impulse of Thomas Hardy," she claims that Thomas Hardy is a largely medievalist poet who "maintained an interest in the period throughout his career" (Rogers, 1). Rogers goes on to explain that Hardy's view of this medieval period "takes on an urgency and somber tone expressive of the ache of modernism'" (Rogers, 1). Rogers, however, states that while almost all of Hardy's work contains medievalist aspects, his final two novels, Tess of the d'Urberville's and Jude the Obscure, are more representative of his medievalist views than any of his other works. Even still, in all of Hardy's works, including The Mayor of Casterbridge, Hardy clearly expresses his fascination with the medieval period.
Although Rogers acknowledges that Hardy's last two novels are his most medievalist works, she does state that all of Hardy's works contains at least a hint of medievalist society. In most of his works, however, Hardy's medieval interest "can be summed up in his architectural background" (Rogers, 1). Early in his adulthood, Hardy often participated in restoration projects. Later in his life, however, Thomas Hardy held these restoration and conservation efforts in contempt. Hardy believed that by restoring this medieval architecture, England was losing a rich part of its history that could never be regained. He believed that by restoring the medieval buildings to modern standards, the citizens of England were being robbed of their past. Despite this belief, Hardy...