‘A Tragedy Appropriate for Its Time’: Music and the Story of a ‘Man of Character’

  • Mark Asquith


The sign of the Three Mariners Inn which stands in the centre of Casterbridge depicts three sailors ‘represented by the artist as persons of two dimensions only… so that they were but a half-invisible film upon the reality of the grain, and knots, and nails, which composed the signboard’ (p. 57). It is to this inn that the three travellers — Farfrae, Susan and Elizabeth-Jane — gravitate when they first enter the town, leading the reader to connect their function in the narrative with the monolithic representations on the signboard. R. H. Hutton, reviewing the novel in the Spectator in 1886, found some ‘failure of art’ in the anaemic representation of these characters; but this is to misread Hardy’s aesthetic purpose, which appears to have been to use their particular human attributes to explore specific elements of Henchard’s temperament.1 For, in this novel Henchard dominates the narrative in the same way that his forcefulness enables him to eclipse those around him. Thus, when we consider the full title, The Life and Death of the Mayor of Casterbridge: A Story of a Man of Character, it is quite clear that Hardy’s narrative is not to focus on a human relationship, since none of the characters surrounding him is strong enough to sustain an equal part in any kind of alliance. His story is, rather, the connection between a man’s character and his destiny.


Wild Boar Impulsive Decision Dancing Matter Seed Drill Special Punishment 
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  1. 2.
    See Patterson, John, ‘The Mayor of Casterbridge as Tragedy’, Victorian Studies, 3 (December, 1959), 151–172. Virginia Woolf argues that ‘Henchard is pitted, not against another man, but against something outside himself which is opposed to men of his ambition and power.’ The Common Reader: Second Series, 9th edn (London: The Hogarth Press, 1974), p. 255.Google Scholar
  2. 4.
    Frederick R. Karl, ‘The Mayor of Casterbridge: A New Fiction Defined’, Modern Fiction Studies, 6 (Autumn, 1960), 195–213 (p. 207).Google Scholar
  3. 6.
    Sully, ‘The Aesthetic Aspects of Character’, Fortnightly Review (April, 1871), 247–283 (p. 267).Google Scholar
  4. 29.
    Moynahan, ‘The Mayor of Casterbridge and the Old Testament’s First Book of Samuel: A Study of some Literary Relationships’, PMLA, 71 (1956), 118–130.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. 31.
    Robert Kiely, ‘Vision and Viewpoint in The Mayor of Casterbridge’, Nineteenth Century Fiction, 23 (September, 1968), 189–200 (p. 193).CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. 37.
    Craig Raine, ‘Conscious Artistry in The Mayor of Casterbridge’, in New Perspectives on Thomas Hardy, edited by Charles P. C. Petit (London: Macmillan, 1994), pp. 156–171 (p. 167).CrossRefGoogle Scholar

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© Mark Asquith 2005

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  • Mark Asquith

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