The Mayor of Casterbridge By Thomas Hardy Summary and Analysis Chapter 34 - Henchard Reads to Farfrae

Summary

Elizabeth-Jane meets Farfrae early one morning and warns him that Henchard may try "to do something — that would injure you." Donald makes light of the warning, but later receives a similar warning from the town clerk. We learn that Donald had offered the first fifty pounds if the town council would underwrite the remainder of the costs to install Henchard in a seed shop. Because of the disconcerting information Donald has to review the plans, and he cancels the negotiations with the owner of the seed shop. The disappointed owner tells Henchard that the council had planned to give him a new start but that Donald had ruined it.

Donald confides to Lucetta that he is upset because of Henchard's enmity. She suggests that they sell out and move away. Donald gives the thought consideration. At that moment Alderman Vatt arrives with the news that Mayor Chalkfield has died. He tells Donald that the council would like to elect him mayor.

Because it is the town's wish, Donald says he will accept the office if it is bestowed upon him. It seems that now, despite Lucetta's fears and his own worry over Henchard, he must stay because destiny requires it.

Lucetta meets Henchard by accident in the market-place. "Imprudence incarnate," she asks him once again to return her old letters. Henchard says he does not have them, but that he will consider her request. Next evening the town bell announces a new mayor. Henchard has remembered that the letters are among papers in the safe of his former house and arranges with Donald to come and retrieve them. Fortified with drink, Henchard arrives at Mayor Farfrae's home quite late. He gets the letters and morbidly reads their contents to Farfrae. This grotesque conduct seems to give Henchard pleasure, since at this point he holds the future happiness of Lucetta and Donald in his hand. However, he cannot bring himself to reveal to Donald that Lucetta had written the letters: "His quality was such that he could have annihilated them both in the heat of action; but to accomplish the deed by oral poison was beyond the nerve of his enmity."

Analysis

Henchard's bitterness now takes concrete form. The misunderstanding of the seed shop incident inflames him, and Farfrae's election as mayor adds still more to his enmity. When Lucetta imprudently asks Henchard for the letters, she unwittingly opens another means whereby Henchard can indulge his own self-pity and still flirt somewhat sadistically with the idea of revealing to Donald both the contents of the letters and the name of their author.

With his election as Mayor of Casterbridge, Farfrae now owns everything Henchard had owned when they met.

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