Review Article
Theoretical Approaches to The Mayor of Casterbridge
Yakup Yasar
Corresponding Author: Yakup Yasar, Assistant Professor, Department of English Interpretation and Translating, Karamanoglu Mehmetbey University, Turkey
Received: November 15, 2019; Accepted: November 19, 2019 Available Online: January 13, 2020
Citation: Yasar Y. (2020) Theoretical Approaches to The Mayor of Casterbridge. J Hist Stud Soc Sci Lit, 1(1): 1-7.
Copyrights: ©2020 Yasar Y. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.
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Victorian period is so significant for literature that during that time, novel as a genre comes on the stage in a form that the stories of the lower class began to be told so as to be put into discussion by the readers. In fact until that era novel has not been as common as it is in the Victorian period. Thomas Hardy is one of the successful and famous English writers who contribute to the great development of this genre. His novel, The Mayor of Casterbridge is one of his outstanding works demonstrating the ordinary lives of the lower class very explicitly and conspicuously. By focusing on the main character of the novel Henchard, the author not only presents the ambitions and struggles of the members of the lower class but also criticizes their wrong manners towards obstacles in their daily lives. Additionally, the novel is discussed within the scope of the critical approaches “Marxist Literary Criticism”, “Reader Response Literary Criticism” and “Feminist Literary Criticism”. By means of them, the important deductions are made about sociological matters of that time. Finally, as each of the critical approaches supplies a distinctive point of view, various and different results about how and in which points the author criticizes and aims to take the attention of the readers into question are deduced and discussed.


Keywords: Victorian period, Novel, Lower class, Critical approaches, Henchard


Before the discussion, it will be helpful to give some significant background information about Hardy [1] and his Wessex style which forms the basis of his novels, The Mayor of Casterbridge in particular. As fundamentally explained in literary and historical sources the English author Hardy [1] set all of his major novels in the south and southwest of England. He named the area “Wessex” after the medieval Anglo-Saxon kingdom that existed in this part of that country prior to the Norman Conquest. Even though, the places pointed out in his novel are real. He gave these places fictional names so as to imply that he did not tell real history but the events he himself imagined. For example, the place Dorchester is called Casterbridge in his novel, The Mayor of Casterbridge. Hardy’s “Wessex” was defined variously during his writing career and when he decided to retire from writing such novels, the actual definition was finally made. The idea of Wessex plays a significant role in Hardy’s works in aspects such as, primitivism, sexuality, religion, nature and naturalism.

The Mayor of Casterbridge as an example of Wessex novel demonstrates Victorian society and the troubles faced in that period obviously and successfully. For example, the gap between middle class and working class, being female in 19th century and cultural diversities are some of the common Victorian problematic issues mentioned in the novel. What is more, The Mayor of Casterbridge can readily be described in terms of Greek or Elizabethan tragedy. Its hero, Michael Henchard, a man of (local) high position, is humbled and destroyed primarily as a result of his own defects. Hardy quotes Novalis: “Character is fate” (p. 88). Henchard, like Oedipus, Hamlet or Lear, has been betrayed by personal weaknesses, or ‘tragic flaw’. Irwin [2] emphasizes that indeed his final exile in a ruined hut, attended by a single loyal simpleton, is deliberately reminiscent of King Lear.

On the other hand, it is discussed that the miserable or pathetic life of a protagonist who is a member of working class cannot be called as a tragedy. Aristotle [3] summarizes that, in order to be a tragic hero the protagonist should be noble and should have tragic flaw. However, as Irwin [2] emphasizes, Henchard has tragic flaw causing him to experience tragic events. The suggestion that a novel about working-class people could not be tragic would seem snobbish to most of us. Mr. Kramer feels that the social class of the protagonists is irrelevant to the quality of the tragedy they can evoke, but it is certainly very relevant to the novels themselves. Williams [4] reported that Hardy’s book generally ignores the role of class and he refers to the rural workers in the novels as peasants, ignoring the fact that there have been no peasants in England for five hundred years.

Furthermore, the article is mainly based on the Marxist Literary Criticism, Reader Response Literary Criticism and Feminist Literary Criticism [5] and the analysis of The Mayor of Casterbridge within the structure of these critical approaches.


In The Mayor of Casterbridge, it is obviously seen that Henchard, as a protagonist, experiences disappointing events incorporating materialistic elements such as economy, carrier position, commodity and culture. The circle of Henchard’s journey from being a hay-trusser to becoming a mayor and then to becoming a hay-trusser again demonstrates that money changes one’s position but not personality. When he becomes the member of the upper class he cannot preserve his position due to behaving as a member of a lower class; therefore he again becomes a hay-trusser later on. His powerless personality causes him to lose his title.

Marx and Engels [6] take a famous view in their book The German Ideology, “It is not consciousness that determines life, but life that determines consciousness” This shows how seriously the exterior factors influence one’s interior mood. For example, Henchard utters; “I haven't more than fifteen shillings in the world, and yet I am a good experienced hand in my line. I'd challenge England to beat me in the fodder business; and if I were a free man again I'd be worth a thousand pound before I'd doneo't. But a fellow never knows these little things till all chance of acting upon 'em is past.” (5)

After this speech, he puts his wife in an auction and asks whether anyone wants to buy her. His wife, Susan is treated as if she were a commodity like the old horses being sold by the auctioneer at the same place. The relationship between a horse’s and a woman’s case is tragically similar although the former is an animal and the latter is a human-being. In the patriarchal society of 19th century, women and children were treated very unjustly; they were forced to work under hard conditions and they could have scarcely got their rights by the end of the era. Susan’s upsetting situation is an obvious representative of these women and her infant Elizabeth-Jane, who is said to be given to the one buying Susan, represents these children as well. Indeed, Henchard’s behavior can be seen immoral. Booker [5] pointed out that according to Marx and Engels [6], a change in material conditions can lead to changes in the way humans think and therefore to important and sweeping social and political changes. The economic system is the most fundamental aspect, or ‘base’, of any society, while all other aspects of society (culture, politics, religion and so on) are parts of a ‘superstructure’ whose characteristics are at least to some extent dependent on the nature of the base (71).[1]

Moreover, Henchard’s life changes; he becomes a Mayor of Casterbridge and he owns lots of possessions. His financial condition strengthens him and provides him a respectable life in the society. During his mayoralty, it is quite obvious how he is in grievous repentance due to selling his wife years ago. His remorse demonstrates that he was too poor to support his wife and daughter; therefore he had to sell them so that they would have an opportunity to live in prosperity and he did this when he was too drunk, otherwise it would be much more difficult. During his dialogue with Farfrae, Henchard says; “I’ve not been always what I am now,” continued Henchard, his firm deep voice being ever so little shaken. He was plainly under that strange influence which sometimes prompts men to confide to the new-found friend what they will not tell to the old. “I began life as a working hay-trusser and when I was eighteen I married on the strength o' my calling. Would you think me a married man?” (59) and he goes on his speech full of confession about his marriage; “…Well, I lost my wife nineteen years ago or so--by my own fault...This is how it came about. One summer evening I was travelling for employment and she was walking on my side, carrying the baby, our only child. We came to a booth in a country fair. I was a drinking man at that time.” (59)

He says “I lost my wife” instead of telling the truth which should be like “I sold my wife”. He himself is aware of the fact that he has done such an immoral thing that can never be acceptable.

Furthermore, Henchard is confined within his ambition, lies, repentance and hopes. His ambition to reach his hope distorts him to lie and the lies to remorse. Indeed, he is a good person but only to himself. Booker mentions in his article that “For Marx and Engels [6], 19th century capitalism is the ultimate result of this process, with most of the material wealth of Western society lying in the hands of a small, elite class of bourgeois owners who gain this wealth through exploitation of the labor of working class-masses, or the proletariat.” (72). Thinking merely his own sake causes Henchard to make mistakes, even though he seems to help others. For example, he himself convinces Farfrae not to leave Casterbridge and to stay with him so that they will work together. However later on, Farfrae replaces him and takes whatever he owns even his beloved Lucetta and his stepdaughter Elizabeth-Jane. Henchard’s life collapsing upside down clearly demonstrates the power of money in contributing to someone the titles “Mr”, “Mrs” or “Sir” and “Madam” and in making them lose these etiquette after going bankrupt. Lucetta for instance says to Henchard “Yes. With Mr. Farfrae. Oh Michael! I am already his wife. We were married this week at Port-Bredy.” (164).

The changes in Elizabeth-Jane’s life are also so significant that she has great difficulty in getting accustomed to the culture of upper class. By the time she and Farfrae see each other she feels what Pip feels, when he meets Estella at Sati’s House and when she had thought it over, her usual fear of exaggerating appearances engendered a deep sadness. “There is something wrong in all this,” she mused. “If they only knew what an unfinished girl I am--that I can't talk Italian, or use globes, or show any of the accomplishments they learn at boarding schools, how they would despise me! Better sell all this finery and buy myself grammar books and dictionaries and a history of all the philosophies!” (74). She realizes appearance alone is not enough to become a member of bourgeoisie. However she has difficulties in getting accustomed to that different life and then gives in and returns to her own identity, since it is fairly obvious that money changes appearance but not personality. What is more, in his article Booker [5] refers to Marx and Engels [6] assertions and says, “Marx acknowledges that capitalism (relative to feudalism, its immediate predecessor) represents a revolutionary increase in economic efficiency that has allowed the bourgeoisie to accomplish unprecedented feats of productivity. (…) its productivity benefits the bourgeoisie at the expense of the workers.” (72)

All in all, with the help of Marxist Literary Criticism, The Mayor of Casterbridge can be thought to be a novel pointing out the gap among working class, middle class and upper class clearly. It is also significantly obvious that a passage from one class to another is not so simple that it cannot be explained just within the concept of economy. As Marxists advocate, cultural, economic, political and social conditions are in interaction.


In the article Reader Response Literary Criticism, Booker [5] lays stress on that according to Wolfgang [7], “the reader can never grasp the text as a whole but must develop partial and provisional attitudes toward the text, which he then continually updates and revises as his “horizons of expectation” change while reading.”(44)[3]. For Wolfgang [7], then the reader is like “a traveler in a stagecoach who has to make the often difficult journey through the novel, gazing out from his moving viewpoint. Naturally he combines all that he sees within his memory and establishes a pattern of consistency, the nature and reliability of which will depend partly on the degree of attention he has paid during each phase of the journey. At no time, however can he have a total view of that journey.” (16). Moreover, through the journey so as to witness the happenings in the novel obviously and to get experienced, I would like to make up my imaginary character whose name is Jacogosee as a spy and put him in the novel so that he will help me criticize the text quite better. From now on Jacogosee will himself comment and criticize what he has witnessed during his journey from the beginning to the end of the novel. However before the journey, it will be better to explain why I prefer to send my fictional character there instead of focusing on the important points of the novel by myself.

Some of the scholars claim that the characters of a novel are not real and they are fictionalized by the author. What they think, do and live is ordered or planned by him/her but by their freewill; therefore we cannot analyze them as if they were real. However I definitely disagree on this assertion, as writers do not create but imitate. In Poetics, Aristotle [3] says, “Tragedy is the imitation (mimesis) of certain kinds of people and actions.” They choose setting, story and characters from their memories or from their current life. During writing, they have to write according to the characteristics of the characters. That is to say writers cannot use their freewill either. Thanks to this, their fictional characters are not real but verisimilitude. Hardy [1], for instance, in his novels inspired from real places, he even depicted the settings very similar to the real ones. Birch [8] emphasizes in his article “Wessex, Hardy and the Nature Novelists” that he wrote his novels and short stories which were set in various parts of the six counties of southern England centered on Dorset. As Hardy later explained; I first ventured to adopt the word 'Wessex' from the pages of early English history, and gave it a fictitious significance as the existing name of the district once included in that extinct Kingdom. The series of novels I projected, being mainly of the kind called local, seemed to require a territorial definition of some sort to lend unity to their scene. Finding that the area of a single county did not afford a canvas large enough for this purpose, and that there were objections to an invented name, I disinterred the old one. I believe I am correct in stating that, until the existence of this contemporaneous Wessex in place of the usual counties was announced, it had never been heard of in fiction and current speech (348)[4].

What is more, Hardy as a writer of his novels tried to create a “partly real, partly dream country”[5] in his works. As a naturalist and a pessimist, he portrayed the world according to the way how he would look and see. His life influenced his consciousness and that passed through to his art. Birch [8] reported that “He peopled his stories, tales based partly on real-life situations he had witnessed or learnt about in his early life in Dorset.” (349). Because of this, in order to examine The Mayor of Casterbridge, one should bear these significant points in mind; otherwise the criticism of the novel will not be successful enough.

Furthermore, let us listen to what Yacogosee exclaims about his impressions during his experiences. First of all, at the beginning when Michael Henchard sold his wife and daughter to a sailor, I got deeply shocked, since such incidents are not common in our society. Then I realized I was in another community, the conventions and traditions of which are dissimilar; therefore I should keep this fact in my mind while I am commenting on the events. On the other hand, according to Booker [5], as Wolfgang [7] emphasizes, “the instructions given to readers by a text are necessarily incomplete, filled with blanks and indeterminacy or “gaps” which the reader must complete according to his own knowledge, experience and disposition” (44).

Additionally, Henchard suffered in remorse and got punished later on, as the immoral thing he had done was not something easily acceptable. No one gave right to him, even he accused himself. However, he still tried to advocate himself by saying that he had been too drunk to behave consciously and he had not meant to sell his wife. Even though his sincere repentance lessened the anger felt at him, the fact that he was guilty was not still changed. Indeed it was not just because he drank too much but also because he was too poor to support his family. Thus, he thought to get rid of both his wife and daughter unconsciously and on getting sloshed his real purpose came on the scene; “For my part, I don't see why men who have got wives and don't want 'em shouldn't get rid of 'em as these gipsy fellows do their old horses," said the man in the tent. "Why shouldn't they put 'em up and sell 'em by auction to men who are in need of such articles? Hey? Why, begad, I'd sell mine this minute if anybody would buy her!" (5-6).

Getting sober after that night, he realized what a shameful thing he had done and interestingly he got regretful. Then he promised; “I, Michael Henchard, on this morning of the sixteenth of September, do take an oath before God here in this solemn place that I will avoid all strong liquors for the space of 21 years to come, being a year for every year that I have lived. And this I swear upon the book before me; and may I be strook dumb, blind and helpless, if I break this my oath!” (13).

Later on he went to Casterbridge and became a mayor of that county. Actually, it does not mean one who sells wife is awarded with this position, yet still it distracts my mind about how he has gained the chair. In fact, the actual reason must be known by Hardy but he has preferred not to mention the duration of Henchard’s getting the member of bourgeoisie. Indeed with this, Hardy loses his credibility a little bit by contradicting his Wessex novel. However he succeeds to make his novel both interesting and widely read, since “one function of literature is to surprise and unsettle the reader and present her with new perspectives from which to view not only literature but also the world [5].

There is a character Farfrae who has an important role in Henchard’s tragedy. He is the person causing Henchard to end up in death. When they met, Henchard liked Farfrae and persuaded him to stay in Casterbridge so as to work for him; “In my business, 'tis true that strength and bustle build up a firm. But judgment and knowledge are what keep it established. Unluckily, I am bad at science, Farfrae; bad at figures--a rule o' thumb sort of man. You are just the reverse--I can see that. I have been looking for such as you these two year, and yet you are not for me. Well, before I go, let me ask this: Though you are not the young man I thought you were, what's the difference? Can't ye stay just the same? Have you really made up your mind about this American notion? I won't mince matters. I feel you would be invaluable to me--that needn't be said--and if you will bide and be my manager, I will make it worth your while” (37). In his speech, it is clearly demonstrated that he is inferior to Farfrae although he is a mayor and richer. This was another mistake which pulled the protagonist into grievous remorse, as that young man then took whatever and whoever he owned or had. Henchard could not suppress his rural characteristics and that caused him to lose people’s respect. They began to love Farfrae much more than him. After that, no matter whether Farfrae desired or not, he replaced Henchard’s position step by step. At the beginning, Henchard sold his wife then became a mayor but after helping Farfrae he lost his position. It is too difficult to understand why he found himself in such complicated and paradoxical situations; maybe Hardy himself has wanted it to be so. As a pessimist, Hardy influences us to think that both goodness and wickedness take us into bad end.

Moreover, Henchard came across Susan in Casterbridge. Indeed Susan was thought to quarrel with him, yet she believed his apology that he was too drunk and otherwise he would not have sold her very easily. She should have asked him; he might have been too drunk but how about his driving a hard bargain with the other men there? He seemed extremely wide-awake; The woman, however, did stand up. “Now, who's auctioneer?” cried the hay-trusser. “I be,” promptly answered a short man, with a nose resembling a copper knob, a damp voice, and eyes like button-holes. “Who'll make an offer for this lady?” .The woman looked on the ground, as if she maintained her position by a supreme effort of will. “Five shillings,” said someone, at which there was a laugh. “No insults,” said the husband. “Who'll say a guinea?” Nobody answered; and the female dealer in stay laces interposed, “Set it higher, auctioneer,” said the trusser. “Two guineas!” said the auctioneer; and no one replied. “If they don't take her for that, in ten seconds they'll have to give more,” said the husband. “Very well. Now auctioneer, add another.” “Three guineas--going for three guineas!” said the rheumyman (7).Welsh [9] summarizes that Henchard’s inconsistent behavior is pointed out as “a practical joke”. There he says, “Hardy's man of character, moreover, is continually joking. He intends and does not intend to harm others.” (26)

What is more, Susan said her husband Newson had been lost for a long time and he was thought to have been dead. Then Henchard proposed her to remarry him. She wanted to accept his proposal but she saw Elizabeth-Jane as an obstacle for this. A very ingenious idea came to Henchard’s mind and he asked Susan not to tell her that he was her real father. Later on, they got married and one day while the three members of the family were having breakfast Henchard and Susan were talking about Elizabeth-Jane and it was implied that Susan concealed the reality from him but her daughter; “I thought Elizabeth-Jane's hair--didn't you tell me that Elizabeth-Jane's hair promised to be black when she was a baby?” he said to his wife. She looked startled, jerked his foot warningly, and murmured, “Did I?” As soon as Elizabeth was gone to her own room, Henchard resumed, “Begad, I nearly forgot myself just now! What I meant was that the girl's hair certainly looked as if it would be darker, when she was a baby.” “It did; but they alter so”, replied Susan. “Their hair gets darker, I know--but I wasn't aware it lightened ever?” “O yes.” And the same uneasy expression came out on her face, to which the future held the key. (68)

After that he learned the truth he was Elizabeth-Jane’s real step-father from the letter Susan had written before dying. His paradoxical situation creates interesting and amazing atmosphere in the novel yet weakens the plot because of the fact that such situations are not so common in reality. Thanks to this, I cannot successfully establish relations between the events in the novel and my experiences and I have difficulty in filling the gaps. On the other hand, “Iser’s focus on gaps in the text implies that there can be no single correct or final interpretation of any literary work, as these gaps can be filled in many different ways depending on the interests, inclinations, and prior experiences of the reader. But if the reader can thus contribute to the realization of texts, the process of reading can make an important contribution to the ethical development of the reader.” (45)

Henchard went behind his passions and repentance due to his cruel compassion and compassionate cruelty. He was not or could not be consistent in his decisions, behavior and actions. At first, he helped Farfare then he got jealous of his success and tried to get rid of him. When he learned reality about Elizabeth-Jane, his attitudes toward her changed oppositely. His love affairs with Susan and Lucetta went on according to his wishes. All of these circumstances demonstrate how he firstly intended his own advantage. However, he never reached his goal and did not get happy at the end of each step of his scheme. After his faults, he got regretful and endeavored to correct them but every time he realized it was too late. However in spite of them he still supported himself like; “I am a man to my word. I have kept my oath for 21 years; and now I can drink with a good conscience....If I don't do for him--well, I am a fearful practical joker when I choose! He has taken away everything from me, and by heavens, if I meet him I won't answer for my deeds!” (182)

To sum up, at the end he died and it is clearly understood that only his death is able to prevent him from committing another fault which will take him into great penitence again. In order to fill the incomplete points, I have sent Jacogosee into the novel as a representative of my knowledge, experience and disposition since according to Booker [5], readers bring a great deal of extra textual material to their reading of texts, and the outcome of the reading experience is powerfully affected by this material. Finally, The Mayor of Casterbridge as a text focuses on the troubles of Victorian period, such as the gaps between working class and middle class, and the bothersome conditions of women in a patriarchal society.


With the Feminist Critical Approach, I will examine the female characters in the Mayor of Casterbridge. As a man in order to be feminist, one does not have to be homosexual. However, rights of women advocated by men and by women themselves differ from one another. No matter how seriously and rationally men focus on their problems they cannot confirm the negative treatments towards women in patriarchal community as obviously as female feminists do. In fact, it is supported that female characters are depicted in inferiority by the male authors. Woolf [10], for instance in her book, A Room of One’s Own mentions the dominance of male writers over literature and explains the reasons; there she says social and economic conditions historically made it difficult for women to write.[6] In addition to this, The Mayor of Casterbridge written by a male writer is a very clear example for women portrayed negatively. Booker [5] emphasizes that there are the female characters Susan, Elizabeth-Jane I, Elizabeth-Jane II, Lucetta and the lady at the Furmity shown as some of the “eleven major stereotypes of the feminine that are typically found in the work of male writers and critics, including the prevalence of the figures of the Witch and the Shrew in descriptions of women, as well as the attribution to women of formlessness, passivity, instability, confinement, piety, materiality, spirituality, irrationality and compliancy, among other characteristics.” (96)

Furthermore, the protagonist of the novel Henchard has got a wife named Susan and a daughter Elizabeth-Jane both of whom are sold by him in an auction. Susan does not resist strongly enough to her husband’s abject treatment, but she just has a very desperate dialogue with him; “Now”, said the woman, breaking the silence, so that her low dry voice sounded quite loud, “before you go further, Michael, listen to me. If you touch that money, I and this girl go with the man. Mind, it is a joke no longer”. “A joke? Of course it is not a joke!” shouted her husband, his resentment rising at her suggestion, “I take the money; the sailor takes you. That's plain enough. It has been done elsewhere--and why not here?” (8)

It is a very upsetting joke and an unacceptable situation in any case. However in the following chapters, she goes to Casterbridge with her daughter Elizabeth-Jane II and looks for him to talk. After their meeting, she comes to heel quite easily and reconciles with him again. Susan’s compliant attitude toward Henchard represents “the negative stereotyping of women” (Booker 96) created by male authors like Hardy. This has brought a question into my mind that how would Susan react to Henchard’s brutal treatments if the writer of the novel were female? Would she sell Henchard one day when she had an opportunity to get wealthy and powerful then at the end say “Reader I sold him” like Bronte’s Jane in Jane Eyre? Or would she like Jane Auston’s Emma about whom the author says, “I am going to take a heroine whom no one but myself will much like? In fact, the answer will be rather speculative if I answer it, since I am male as well. Indeed I think she would do neither but burn the house and herself like Bertha Mason in Jane Eyre and Miss Havisham in Great Expectations. On the other hand, Elizabeth-Jane II reaches a pleasant end; she finds her real father and marries Farfrae and according to Wagenknecht [11], she learns that, “happiness was but the occasional episode in a general drama of pain.”

What is more, these two Elizabeth-Janes are depicted as stereotypical in patriarchal prejudice. Susan’s naming her second daughter the same as the dead one is quite meaningful. Because of the fact, that in the works of male writers, women are portrayed stereotypically, they are similar to each other. Thanks to this, Hardy calls both of the female characters as Elizabeth-Jane. Gauthier [12] emphasizes, the first one’s death and the second one behaving too passively points out that “women are, in fact, caught in a very real contradiction. Throughout the course of history, they have been mute, and it is doubtless by virtue of this mutism that men have been able to speak and write. As long as women remain silent, they will be outside the historical process. But if they begin to speak and write as men do, they will enter history subdued and alienated; it is history that, logically speaking, their speech should disrupt.”[7]

Lucetta is described much more self-confident and she does not do what Susan has done by accepting to remarry Henchard. She leaves him when she meets Farfrae and falls in love with him. As a matter of fact, her indifference to Henchard is also because she has inherited some fortune. Consequently, she is not as stereotypical as Susan and both of the Elizabeth-Janes. Additionally, Gilbert and Gubar [13] emphasize that “women from Jane Auston and Mary Shelley to Emily Bronte and Emily Dickinson produced literary works whose surface designs conceal or obscure deeper, less accessible (and less socially acceptable) levels of meaning. Thus these authors managed the difficult task of achieving true female literary authority by simultaneously conforming to and subverting patriarchal literary standards.”[8] However, still Lucetta is not a type of female character imagined by female (feminist) writers. She has not got a strong and influential voice against male dominance; “O, my Elizabeth-Jane!” cried Lucetta distressfully. “'Tis somebody else that I have married! I was so desperate--so afraid of being forced to anything else—so afraid of revelations that would quench his love for me, that I resolved to do it off hand, come what might and purchase a week of happiness at any cost!” (168)

The mistress of the Furmity tent is another feminine stereotype being too voiceless to save Susan from getting sold. She just watches the shameful event happening before her, but then she confesses; “I've stood in this fair-ground, maid, wife and widow, these nine-and- thirty years and in that time have known what it was to do business with the richest stomachs in the land! (…) I was once the owner of a great pavilion-tent that was the attraction of the fair. Nobody could come, nobody could go, without having a dish of Mrs. Goodenough's furmity. I knew the clergy's taste, the dandy gent's taste; I knew the town's taste, the country's taste. I even known the taste of the coarse shameless females. But Lord's my life--the world's no memory; straightforward dealings don't bring profit--'tis the sly and the underhand that get on in these times!” (17)

Booker [5] lays stress on the fact that female writers like Showalter, Gilbert and Gubar [13] focus on difficulties of being a woman in a patriarchal society. According to them, being a female writer is not enough to solve the problematic situation of female characters in novels. Due to the fact that female authors themselves live in a patriarchal system, they cannot use their freewill independently to depict women in a type obviously separated from feminine stereotypes in the works of male writers. “Since both patriarchy and its texts subordinate and imprison women, before women can even attempt that pen which is so rigorously kept from them, they must escape just those male texts which, defining them as ‘Cyphers,’ deny them the autonomy to formulate alternatives to the authority that has imprisoned them and kept them from attempting the pen” (13). For example, Mrs. Reed, Eliza Reed in Jane Eyre and Catherine in Wuthering Heights seem to have been created by their writers under the negative impact of patriarchal society. In addition to this, Hardy’s [1] female characters as victims of patriarchal world would not be exactly different if their writer were not Hardy but a female one. However the characters, Susan, Lucetta, and first Elizabeth-Jane would struggle to survive and support their rights rather than die as in The Mayor of Casterbridge.

Furthermore, nature is called as a feminine object and within this aspect it can be claimed that in the novel, nature is portrayed as a negative stereotype of patriarchal ideology as well. Hardy delineates nature in a bleak atmosphere to show Henchard’s pessimist characteristic expressively. Hardy generally uses nature and character interaction metaphorically in his works. “He is very much a rural novelist, dealing in open terrain: health, hills, farmland, and woodland. His characters move and work in a natural setting that provides not merely a background but an explanatory perspective.” (Irwin IX). For example; “These precincts embodied the mournful phases of Casterbridge life, as the South avenues embodied its cheerful moods. The whole way along here was sunless, even in summer time; in spring, white frosts lingered here when other places were steaming with warmth; while in winter it was the seed-field of all the aches, rheumatisms and torturing cramps of the year. The Casterbridge doctors must have pined away for want of sufficient nourishment but for the configuration of the landscape on the Northeastern side.” (98)

As a matter of fact, the analysis of The Mayor of Casterbridge within the structure of Feminist Literary Criticism is not as heartwarming as applying this critical approach to the works of female writers, since Hardy [1] is both male and pessimist.

To sum up, it is fairly obvious that by using different critical approaches one can reach various points which might be different from or contradictory to each other. With the help of Marxist Literary Criticism the economic, politic and social sides of the novel, with Feminist Literary Criticism being female in Patriarchal society and with Reader-Response Literary Criticism, the relationship between the reader and the novel have been focused on and the same scenes in the novel have been criticized differently. All in all, The Mayor of Casterbridge as a Wessex novel successfully points out the significant problems and conditions of the Victorian period.

[1]All quotations from Marx are taken from the Tucker anthology by Booker [5].

[1]The Turkish Translation of this part of the article was published as The Mayor of Casterbridge’teki Davetsiz Misafir”. BatıKültürveEdebiyatlarındaYüzyılDönümü. Ed. BattalArvasi, Ünal Kaya, GoncaKişmir. Ankara: Ankara ÜniversitesiBasımevi, 2017. (It was not only translated but also elaborated)

[1]All quotations from Wolfgang [7] are taken from Booker’s [5] Reader Response Literary Criticism.

[1]Referred by Birch as ‘Trans. Inst. Br. Geogr. N.S. 6, 348-58 (1981)’

[1]See the notes about The Mayor of Casterbridge by Irwin [2].

[1]See Booker’s [5] “Feminist Literary Criticism”

[1]See Booker’s [5] “Feminist Literary Criticism”


[1]All quotations from Gilbert and Gubar [13] are taken from Booker’s Feminist Literary Criticism.


1.       Hardy T (1994) The Mayor of Casterbridge. Wordsworth Editions Limited.

2.       Irwin M (2001) Introduction. The Mayor of Casterbridge. Wordsworth Editions Limited.

3.       Aristotle (350 B C) Poetics. Available at:

4.       Williams M (1977) The Review of English Studies. Oxford University Press 28: 113.

5.       Booker MK (1995) A Practical Introduction to Literary Theory and Criticism. Longman.

6.       Karl M, Engels F (1998) A critique of The German Ideology. Prometheous Books.

7.       Wolfgang I (1978) The Act of Reading: A Theory of Aesthetic Response. Johns Hopkins University Press.

8.       Birch B (1981) Wessex, Hardy and the Nature Novelists. JSTOR 6: 348-358.

9.       Welsh A (1975) Realism as a Practical and Cosmic Joke NOVEL: A Forum on Fiction. JSTOR 9: 23-39.

10.    Woolf V (1977) A Room of One’s Own. Grafton.

11.     Wagenknecht E (1942) “Pessimism” in Hardy and Conrad. JSTOR 3: 546-554.

12.    Gauthier X (1981) Is There Such a Thing as Women’s Writing? New French Feminisms, ed. Elaine Marks and Isabelle de Courtivron, New York: Schocken, pp: 161-164.

13.    Gilbert S, Gubar S (1979) The Madwoman in the Attic: The Woman Writer and the Nineteenth-Century Literary Imagination. Yale University Press: New Haven.