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The Mayor of Casterbridge
Thomas Hardy

About the author
Thomas Hardy was born in 1840 in Dorset, a rural county
in the south-west of England. His father was a stonemason
and the family were not well off. Hardy showed an early
interest in books, however, and when he was sixteen, he
began training as an architect in Dorchester. In 1862, he
went to work in London, where he was able to compare
city life with the customs and timeless ways of the country
village where he grew up. He began writing in his spare
time. In 1870, he met and fell in love with Emma Gifford,
but they could not afford to marry. His fourth novel, Far
From the Madding Crowd, published in 1874, was a big
success. This allowed him to become a full-time writer and
to marry. Hardy wrote several more novels, among them
The Mayor of Casterbridge, published in 1886. He and
Emma lived in Dorset, but they spent part of every year in
London, where they mixed with literary people and Hardy
was much admired. Although Hardy’s books were very
popular, when Jude the Obscure appeared in 1896, people
hated it. They thought it was an attack on marriage, and
found it shocking and immoral. Hardy turned to poetry
and never wrote another novel. He died in 1928. Some
biographers portray him as snobbish, mean and hateful
towards women. Others believe he was a sensitive man
who cared deeply about the human condition.

Young, poor Michael Henchard feels trapped by his wife
and child and one night gets drunk at a fair and sells
them to a stranger called Newson. Horrified by what
he has done, he swears not to touch alcohol for twenty
years. Eighteen years later he is the mayor of Casterbridge
and a successful businessman. Believing Newson is dead,
his wife, Susan, and daughter, Elizabeth-Jane, arrive in

c Pearson Education Limited 2008

Casterbridge to find Henchard because she has no money.
He marries her again and they have a short happy life
together. Farfrae, a young man with modern business
ideas, arrives at the same time and becomes Henchard’s
farm manager. Susan dies, and Henchard learns that
Elizabeth-Jane is really Newson’s daughter. Henchard falls out with Farfrae, who sets up a rival business, and soon
outdoes him. A woman from Henchard’s past, Lucetta,
comes to Casterbridge. Henchard now wants to marry
her, but she and Farfrae fall in love. Henchard’s business fails and he loses his house so he starts drinking again.
Lucetta dies of shock after the local people make fun of
her and Henchard in public. He sees that he will now
lose his ‘daughter’ as well as everything else. He leaves Casterbridge on foot. He is penniless and has lost his
family – just as at the beginning of the story. ElizabethJane remains loyal to Henchard, but he dies before she can find him.
Chapter 1: Henchard, a farm worker aged twenty, has a
family, no job and no home. He gets drunk and sells his
wife and child for five guineas to a sailor named Newson
at a fair. Devastated at what he has done, he looks for
them without success. Henchard makes a solemn promise
not to touch alcohol for twenty years.
Chapter 2: Susan, widowed and poor, and her eighteenyear-old daughter, Elizabeth-Jane arrive in Casterbridge to find Henchard. She is relieved to find he is now the Mayor
and a businessman who needs a corn manager for his
growing business.
Chapter 3: Henchard employs Farfrae, a handsome
innovative Scotsman as corn manager and the business
improves. He also meets Susan and devises a plan so
that the townspeople do not find their marriage strange.
He draws closer to Farfrae and tells him about his past;
including a woman in Jersey he promised to marry.
Chapter 4: Henchard marries Susan, but she is reluctant
to have her daughter’s last name changed. He and Farfrae
disagree publicly over a worker. Henchard is jealous and
organises a rival entertainment day to Farfrae’s, but it fails. Farfrae leaves him and sets up a rival business. Susan dies
but leaves a letter with the truth about her daughter.
Chapter 5: Henchard tells Elizabeth-Jane what happened
at the fair twenty years ago but reads in Susan’s letter that she is really Newson’s daughter. He begins to treat her
coldly, and even encourages Farfrae to see her. ElizabethJane meets a woman at her mother’s grave who is friendly and offers her to share her house.
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Teacher’s notes


Teacher Support Programme

The Mayor of Casterbridge
Chapter 6: Lucetta, the woman from Jersey, has inherited
property in Casterbridge and has employed Elizabeth-Jane
as a housekeeper. Henchard tries to see her but they fail to meet. Farfrae calls in to see Elizabeth-Jane, who is out. He likes Lucetta and she loses interest in Henchard.
Chapter 7: Henchard goes bankrupt because of the
weather and his own impatience while Farfrae’s business
succeeds. Henchard realises he and Farfrae compete for
Lucetta’s love, so he threatens her with making their past public so that she accepts his proposal of marriage.
Chapter 8: Henchard agrees to postpone their wedding
if Lucetta helps him buy some time to repay a debt to
Grower. She can’t because she has secretly married Farfrae and Grower acted as witness.
Chapter 9: Henchard claims the letters from his safe, and
reads them out to Farfrae without disclosing the sender.
He promises Lucetta to give tham back to her and asks
Jopp to deliver them.
Chapter 10: Jopp asks Lucetta to help him become her
husband’s manager but she refuses. In a pub, he reads out
the letters to two women and they plan a skimmity-ride in
town to scorn Lucetta and Henchard.
Chapter 11: A member of the Royal family visits the
town but Henchard is not allowed to greet him. Hurt,
Henchard fights Farfrae in a barn but cannot bring himself
to kill him.
Chapter 12: Henchard is back in town to see the ride.
Farfrae does not see the ride because he is lured away from
town but Lucetta dies of the shock.
Chapter 13: Henchard and Elizabeth-Jane live
together happily. Elizabeth-Jane and Farfrae renew their
relationship and get married. Newson returns and tells his
daughter the truth, which makes her very happy.
Henchard leaves the town.
Chapter 14: Elizabeth-Jane marries Farfrae and tries to
find her father to take care of him but he dies before she
can find him.

The original text
The novel first appeared serially, in twenty instalments,
in 1886 in The Graphic, an English periodical and
simultaneously in the United States. The book appeared
as soon as the serial publication was complete but it differs a lot from the serial novel. It has been adapted for TV as a miniseries.

c Pearson Education Limited 2008

Background and themes
Where the story came from: Hardy claims the story
was inspired by three actual events: the sale of a wife
by her husband reported in a local newspaper, the
uncertain harvests and the visit of Prince Albert, Queen
Victoria’s husband, to Dorchester, the town upon which
Casterbridge is based, in 1849.
Fight with self: The main theme of the book is
Henchard’s fight against two things: his own character
and chance. As he fights with himself, his actions and
decisions affect other people’s lives, usually badly. He
often allows negative feelings to overwhelm him – at the
beginning when things seem so bad he sells his wife. He is
always honest in business, but not always kind; he is often
impatient and quick to anger, but he is capable of great
love and great loneliness. His complex character creates
uncertainty in the reader – should we feel sorry for him or does he deserve everything that happens to him?
Chance: Chance plays an important part throughout the
story: the chance appearance of Newson in the tent when
Henchard is trying to sell his wife; the rain that spoils
Henchard’s fair; the August weather that ruins Henchard’s business; the chance meeting between Farfrae and Lucetta
when they fall in love. Hardy believes that although
Henchard is a powerful character, he is never fully in
control of his life.
Alcohol also has a role here. Henchard’s life improves
when he stops drinking; as he devotes himself to work,
builds a successful business and eventually becomes mayor.
Once he starts again, he loses his pride and his judgement.
Traditional versus modern: The two men represent
contrasting ways of life in the country. Henchard is
traditional and old-fashioned. Farfrae is young and
modern. Hardy was always fascinated by country customs
and ways. He often includes strange country rituals like
the skimmity-ride in his novels. They make useful plot
devices and allow him to paint pictures of colourful but
less important characters. He also uses them to reveal the
conservative side of society, which can be very cruel to
people who fall outside its strict rules of moral behaviour. Lucetta dies because of the skimmity joke. This breaking
of the moral code becomes a very important theme in
Hardy’s later novels, which shocked the reading public
and ended Hardy’s novel-writing career.

The Mayor of Casterbridge - Teacher’s notes  of 5

Teacher’s notes

Teacher Support Programme


The Mayor of Casterbridge
Discussion activities
Before reading
1 Group work: Students work in groups. Each
group chooses an important person in their local
community, e.g. a factory owner, the mayor, the
chief of police, a magistrate. They then decide on a
terrible secret in the past of their character. They
discuss the details of the secret without other students
overhearing. The class then questions each group in
turn to try and find out what the secret is. Groups
have to answer as truthfully as they can.
2 Read carefully: Read the Introduction on pages v–vii.
Make a chart of the events of Thomas Hardy’s life.
Use these dates:
1840  1871  1886  1895  1913  1914  1928
Example: 1840 Thomas Hardy is born in Dorset.

Chapter 1
While reading
3 Pair work: (after page 4) Michael is offering his wife
for a little money at the fair. Ask students in pairs to
make a list of the things they could say to persuade
Michael to keep quiet.
4 Discuss: (page 6) Michael makes a formal promise
not to drink alcohol for twenty years. Ask students
to discuss the following: How hard will this be for
Michael? Have you ever made a promise that was hard
to keep?

After reading
9 Pair work: Henchard wants to persuade Farfrae to
stay and work with him. How can he do this? Ask
students in pairs to write down reasons why Farfrae
should stay in Casterbridge. Then they prepare a short
speech and give it to the rest of the class. Finally, have
a class vote for the most convincing speech.
10 Discuss: Ask students to discuss the following: How
do you think people in Casterbridge would react if they
knew that the mayor had sold his wife twenty years
before? How has this changed in present days? Are
citizens’ decisions influenced by the private life of their authorities?

Chapters 3–4
Before reading
11 Discuss: Ask students to discuss the following: What
about Farfrae has attracted Henchard? Why would he be
interested in him?

While reading

6 Guess: Tell students that eighteen years have passed
after Henchard’s promise not to drink for twenty
years. Ask students to guess what has become of
Henchard’s life. Will he ever find his family again?

12 Write: (after Chapter 3) After he learns about Lucetta
and Henchard, Farfrae advises him to write a letter
to the young woman explaining to her why he is no
longer available to keep his word and marry her. He
even helps him do so. Ask students in pairs to write
the letter from Henchard to Lucetta.
13 Role play: (page 21) Ask students to pretend they
are ordinary townspeople at Henchard and Susan’s
wedding. They are very surprised by the wedding.
Ask them to role play the conversation in pairs.
14 Guess: (page 23) Farfrae and Elizabeth-Jane receive
notes for a secret meeting in a barn. Neither of them
has written the note for the other. Ask students to
guess who may have wanted them to meet and
therefore written the notes. What motive might that
person have?
15 Discuss: (page 24) Henchard and Farfrae argue over
how to treat a worker. Ask students to discuss how
different their approaches to management are. How
can they be described? If they were a worker, who
would they prefer as a manager?

While reading

After reading

After reading
5 Role play: Susan leaves the fair with the sailor. How
do they feel? What do they say to each other as they
walk along the road? Ask students to role play the
conversation between them.

Chapter 2
Before reading

7 Discuss: (page 9) Ask students to discuss how Susan’s
life might have been different if she had not left with
the sailor eighteen years before. Would her life have
been better?
8 Role play: (after reading aloud the first paragraph
on page 15) Casterbridge was a very quiet town in
Hardy’s day. Communications with big cities like
London and Portsmouth were slow and difficult. So
when Farfrae arrives, a visitor from Scotland, it is a
big event. Farfrae is in the bar at the King of Prussia.
One student is Farfrae. Other students are customers.
What do they ask him? Ask them to role play the
conversation in small groups.

c Pearson Education Limited 2008

16 Group work: Put students in small groups. Ask
them to discuss how these sets of relationships change
in this section of the book: Susan and Henchard;
Henchard and Farfrae; Elizabeth-Jane and Farfrae;
Elizabeth-Jane and Henchard. After their discussions,
groups report back to the class.

Chapters 5–6
Before reading
17 Discuss: Ask students to discuss these questions with
a partner.
(a) Who is the ‘woman in black’?
(b) The next chapter is called ‘Love at First Sight’. Which two characters will fall in love at first sight?
The Mayor of Casterbridge - Teacher’s notes   of 5

Teacher’s notes

Teacher Support Programme


The Mayor of Casterbridge
While reading

After reading

18 Group work: (page 33) Henchard has just been told
that he will not be offered the position of mayor
again. Farfrae has been chosen instead. Ask students
in groups to discuss which candidate would be a
better mayor and to give reasons for their choice.
Then they share their ideas with the class.
19 Role play: (page 35) Elizabeth-Jane is sitting by
her mother’s grave, reading. A woman she has never
met before approaches and they start talking. She
tells her about her life before and after Casterbridge.
Ask students in pairs to role play this conversation.
Remind them the woman ends up hiring her as a
20 Discuss: (page 40) Will the new planting machine
be good for the people of Casterbridge or bad? Ask
students to take a minute and write arguments for
and against new machinery. Then they share their
ideas with other students.

27 Group work: Wealth (or the absence of it) plays an
important role in the novel. For example, Henchard’s
interest in Lucetta grows now that she is wealthy and
independent. Ask students to work in groups. Assign
each group a character (Henchard, Susan, Lucetta,
Elizabeth-Jane, Farfrae). Students discuss how money
and wealth have changed their character. Are they
better off with money? Are they happier? Then they
share their views.

After reading
21 Discuss: Elizabeth-Jane wonders why Lucetta did not
trust her with the truth. Ask students in pairs or small
groups to try to respond to this question. Then they
compare their views with other students.

Chapters 7–8
Before reading
22 Guess: Ask students to discuss who the title of the
chapter may refer to, when it comes to love. Who are
the women involved?

While reading
23 Group work: (page 44) Ask students in small groups
to list the mistakes or miscalculations Henchard made
as regards his business. What did he do wrong? What
shouldn’t he have done? What should he have done
instead? Encourage them to give reasons for their
answers. Then they share their lists with the rest of
the class. Do they have similar ideas?
24 Discuss: Invite students to read aloud the incident
on page 45 between the two drivers. Discuss with
students how this incident reflects the wider situation
between Henchard and Farfrae. Record ideas on the
25 Discuss: (page 47) Ask students to discuss the
following questions:
How does Henchard force Lucetta to agree to marry him?
Was she right in accepting the proposal? Did she have
any other way out?
How will Farfrae feel about this?
26 Discuss: (page 53) Ask students to discuss the
following questions in pairs or small groups: What
emotions does Henchard feel when he learns of Lucetta’s
marriage to Farfrae?
Will he keep quiet about their past relationship? Then
they share their ideas with the rest of the class.

c Pearson Education Limited 2008

Chapters 9–10
Before reading
28 Guess: Ask students to guess how Henchard might
react to Lucetta’s rejection.

While reading
29 Pair work: (page 55) Ask students in pairs to discuss
the following questions:
How do Henchard’s and Farfrae’s management styles
differ? What kind of manager would you like to have if
you were an employee?
30 Role play: (page 59) Elizabeth-Jane stops Farfrae in
the street and warns him about Henchard’s feelings
but he does not take her seriously. Ask students to
role play this conversation.
31 Discuss: (page 66) Mrs Cuxsom and Nance
Mockridge plan the skimmity-ride after they listen
to Jopp read out the letters. They want to teach Mrs
Farfrae a lesson using an old tradition. Ask students
to discuss the following: How would people in your
country shame others today?

After reading
32 Group work: Students compare events in the lives
of Henchard and Farfrae by making a good/bad list
for each of the two men. Divide the class into four
groups. Each group takes and completes one section
of the list. Groups report back to the class, writing
their ideas in list form on the board. As a follow-up,
students write a paragraph comparing the fortunes of
the two men.

Chapters 11–12
Before reading
33 Discuss: Farfrae has just been offered the position of
mayor. Ask students to discuss these questions: Do you
think he will agree? Why/why not?

While reading
34 Role play: Ask students to imagine that they are
standing in the crowd watching the royal visit. They
role play a conversation about what they see.
35 Discuss: Henchard tries to deal with his hurt pride by
fighting Farfrae. Ask students to discuss the following:
Why does he do this and why does he stop before he kills
Farfrae? They write down some ideas to share with the
rest of the class.
The Mayor of Casterbridge - Teacher’s notes   of 5

Teacher’s notes

Teacher Support Programme


The Mayor of Casterbridge
36 Guess: Ask students to guess the following: What do
you think the sounds Henchard can hear at the end of
Chapter 11 are? Ask them to share their ideas with the
other students.

After reading
37 Research: Ask students to research and prepare a
description of a custom from their part of the world
and bring it to the next lesson. Compare customs,
including the skimmity ride. Talk about their specific
purpose and any wider functions these customs
perform within communities.

Chapters 13–14
Before reading
38 Group work: Ask students in groups to guess
what happens to the following characters: Farfrae,
Henchard, Elizabeth-Jane, Jopp. Assign each group a
different character. Then they tell the class about their

While reading
39 Role play: (page 81) Newson returns and, with
Farfrae’s help, meets Elizabeth-Jane, who was very
happy to see him. Ask students in pairs to role play
the conversation in which they catch up on the long
time they have been apart. Encourage them to include
as much information from the last paragraph of
Chapter 13 as possible.
40 Group work: (page 82) Elizabeth-Jane and Farfrae
search for Henchard. They describe him to the people
in the towns nearby. Ask students in small groups to
agree on a few phrases that would describe Henchard.
Then they write their descriptive paragraph and
read it out to the rest. Have they written similar

Extra activities
42 Pair work: Students work in pairs. Write the names
of these characters on separate slips of paper and fold
them up: Michael Henchard, Donald Farfrae, Susan
Henchard, Richard Newson, Lucetta, Elizabeth-Jane,
Joshua Jopp, the furmity woman, Abe Whittle, Nance
Mockridge. Hand them out at random, one for each
pair. Pairs write one or two sentences describing their
character without mentioning his or her name and
trying not to make the answer too obvious. Pairs read
their descriptions aloud – the class guesses who the
character is.
43 Discuss: In Chapter 3, we learn that Susan agrees to
marry Henchard again but she has not been able to
forgive him. He says: ‘You can judge me by my future
actions, not my past.’ Ask students to discuss the
following questions:
What would she think of him if she were alive? What
did his actions reveal about the kind of man he was?
44 Discuss: Emotions are important in the novel. They
can make characters take the wrong decisions if they
act under them. If they had stopped to think instead
of acting on impulse, many problems would have
been avoided. Ask students to discuss how emotions
lead Henchard to the wrong choices both in business
and in love throughout the novel.
45 Discuss: Hardy says Elizabeth-Jane was aware of the
important part that chance plays in our lives. Ask
students to discuss how this applies to their lives.
Use these questions as a guide: Has chance ever decided
something for you? Have you ever met someone you
became close to by chance?

Vocabulary activities
For the Word List and vocabulary activities, go to

After reading
41 Discuss: Abe Whittle speaks very fondly about
Henchard, although, he says, ‘he was often rough
with me’. Does Hardy want us to think Henchard was
a good man or a bad man, or that chance can turn a
man either way?

c Pearson Education Limited 2008

The Mayor of Casterbridge - Teacher’s notes  of 5

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