The Mayor of Casterbridge By Thomas Hardy Summary and Analysis Chapter 20 - Elizabeth-Jane Meets a Charming Stranger

Summary

Henchard becomes cold toward Elizabeth-Jane and critical of her lapses into country dialect, her bold handwriting, and her kindness to servants. His behavior to her worsens when the servant Nance Mockridge defiantly tells him Elizabeth-Jane had once worked as a waitress in a pub. The revelation that she had served at the Three Mariners is a bitter blow, and its bitterness is compounded by the news that he is not going to be chosen as an alderman at the end of his mayoralty, but that Donald Farfrae is to be offered a council seat. He begins to leave Elizabeth-Jane alone most of the time, preferring to have his meals with the farmers at the hotel. Henchard finally realizes that Farfrae could take Elizabeth-Jane off his hands, so he writes a letter to him stating that he may continue his courtship of Elizabeth-Jane.

Elizabeth-Jane is miserable, "a dumb, deep-feeling, great-eyed creature," and feels that Henchard disdains her because of her lack of education. Unknown to Henchard, she spends her empty hours patiently studying and reading. Between the intervals of study she visits her mother's grave. One morning as she stands before her mother's grave she meets a charming lady. The stranger's ways are so disarming and sympathetic that Elizabeth-Jane reveals her past and her present unhappiness. The listener is kind, but "her anxiety not to condemn Henchard while siding with Elizabeth" is "curious." The newcomer informs Elizabeth-Jane that she will become a resident of Casterbridge at High-Place Hall and that she would like the unhappy girl to stay with her as a companion. Elizabeth-Jane quickly assents and joyfully contemplates her new position.

Analysis

The plot movement has slowed momentarily, but much attention is given to Henchard's growing dislike of Elizabeth-Jane. The reader now feels the keenest sympathy for her. She, too, suffers from an arbitrary fate that uncannily destroys one's happiness and security. However, the arrival of the pretty stranger at this point introduces a new note in the story and provides a momentary hope for Elizabeth-Jane. We are now so aware of Hardy's practice of involving every new character in the action that we look forward to the events precipitated by the introduction of Elizabeth-Jane's new friend.

The reader should notice the breadth of Hardy's knowledge of history, art, and folklore, as his allusions here reveal.

Glossary

jowned jolted. The expression would seem to mean, "Damn it, so am I," or "Be damned, so am I!"

Princess Ida in Tennyson's poem The Princess.

wimbling boring a hole, or piercing as with a wimble.

the Constantines Emperors of Rome, father and son. Constantine the Great moved the capital of the Roman Empire from Rome To Byzantium, whose name was changed to Constantinople. Constantine II ruled for a short time after his father's death.

Karnac In Brittany: Carnac. Over two miles of parallel monoliths.

Austerlitz in 1805, the battle in which Napoleon defeated the Russians and the Austrians.

leery tired.

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