If The Return of the Native can be thought of as a student’s idea of tragedy, with Hardy borrowing features from and alluding to classical stories, The Mayor of Casterbridge is perhaps best approached as the work of a man at once a schoolmaster and an innovator. Hardy did not know what to do with all of the tragic tradition he inherited and tried to marshal in The Return of the Native, and the structure is overladen with reminders of analogies. With The Mayor of Casterbridge, Hardy knew what to accept from tradition, and how to incorporate his borrowings into a vital structure. In The Return of the Native, the setting has an uncertainness, as do the relationships between characters and between characters and their environment, which is not overcome by Hardy’s self-conscious elaboration of a potentially tragic situation. The Return of the Native, for all its brilliance in conception and frequent brilliance in execution, presents a blurred aesthetic experience. But in The Mayor of Casterbridge, Hardy avoids committing again the artistic errors of The Return of the Native. The setting is less metaphysical but no less suggestive; and as opposed to the double focus of Clym and Eustacia, Henchard far exceeds Farfrae as a concentrator of aesthetic effect. Hardy also organizes the interaction of plot and character and allusions so skillfully that this novel both successfully follows classical precedent and stands independently as an example of universal tragedy.
KeywordsCyclic Theory Entire Action Artistic Error Condensed Sequence Single Scene
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- 4.Norman Friedman argues this point in “Criticism and the Novel: Hardy, Hemingway, Crane, Woolf, Conrad,” Antioch Review 18 (1958): 348–52.Google Scholar
- Lawrence J. Starzyk, “Hardy’s Mayor: The Antitraditional Basis of Tragedy,” 4(1972):592–607.Google Scholar
- Duane D. Edwards, “The Mayor of Caster-bridge as Aeschylean Tragedy,” 4(1972):608–18.Google Scholar