The Mayor of Casterbridge By Thomas Hardy Summary and Analysis Chapter 12 - Henchard Tells Farfrae of His Past

Summary

Henchard returns home to find Donald Farfrae working late over the books. He brings Donald into his home and they have dinner together. After dinner, as they sit beside the fire, Henchard reveals his past to his new-found friend. Donald agrees that Henchard should try to make amends to Susan. However, Henchard further reveals that during his years as a lonely "widower" he had established a relationship with a young woman on the island of Jersey, who had once nursed him through a long illness. Their affair had become known, causing the young woman to suffer much from the scandal. Henchard, after hearing of her sufferings in her letters, proposed marriage to her if she would take the chance that Susan would not return. She readily agreed to this, but now Henchard realizes that his first duty is to Susan and that he cannot marry the other woman. Because she is in bad financial straits, he wishes to help her as best he can. Donald agrees to write a kindly letter to the young lady since Henchard would probably do a bad job of it. Yet Donald thinks that Henchard should tell Elizabeth-Jane that she is his daughter; Henchard cannot agree to that. Henchard mails the letter with a check, and as he returns home speaks aloud to himself: "Can it be that it will go off so easily! . . . Poor thing — God knows! Now then, to make amends to Susan!"

Analysis

Hardy remains true to the character he has established for Henchard. Henchard is still the mercurial man he always was. He has known Donald Farfrae for only one day, yet he tells him what he has told no other living man. Henchard rationalizes that he is lonely. Since Donald is the only man he is genuinely fond of, it is fitting that he reveal himself to his friend. The reader knows, though, that it is really Henchard's characteristic spur-of-the-moment trait that causes him to talk of his past. Farfrae changes his plan to eat alone "gracefully," but he has already seen that Henchard's impulsiveness can mean inconvenience.

With the introduction of the young woman in Jersey, a new complication is brought into the story. Indeed, the mere fact that Henchard confides in Farfrae is another plot twist which at first does not seem too important. Hardy does not attempt to show the reunion with Susan in an optimistic light. Even Henchard's last remarks foreshadow some difficulties.

Glossary

espaliers trellises or stakes on which small fruit trees or plants are trained to grow in a flattened-out state.

"like Job, I could curse the day that gave me birth." from the Book of Job, in which Job, in the midst of his suffering, actually curses the day of his birth.

sequestrated taken over for the purpose of settling claims.

mun Scotch and British dialect: must.

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