Summary and Analysis
Chapter 41 - Henchard Lies to the Captain
Elizabeth-Jane visits Henchard on the morning of Lucetta's death. There Henchard, moved to genuine love for his stepdaughter, offers to prepare breakfast while she refreshes herself with sleep. He waits for her "as if it were an honor to have her in his house." While Elizabeth-Jane sleeps, Captain Newson, the sailor who had figured so prominently in Henchard's life, arrives. When he identifies himself, "Henchard's face and eyes seemed to die." Newson informs Henchard that, in order to be kind to Susan who had found their relationship untenable, he had arranged the story of his loss at sea. He is now wealthy, and has returned to claim his daughter. Impulsively, fearing that Elizabeth-Jane will leave him, Henchard tells Newson that Elizabeth-Jane had died more than a year before. Newson is terribly dejected and, taking Henchard's word at face value, leaves Casterbridge immediately. Elizabeth-Jane awakens but Henchard is afraid to ask her to stay for he is sure Newson will return and claim Elizabeth-Jane himself. He goes to Ten Hatches — the name of the junction where the river runs deep — and contemplates suicide. Suddenly he sees his exact image floating in the water. He has a superstitious change of heart and returns home to find Elizabeth-Jane awaiting him. He takes her to Ten Hatches where she discovers that the image he has seen is the effigy used in the skimmington-ride, thrown into the river by the revelers in order to destroy the evidence. Elizabeth-Jane quickly guesses Henchard's plans and asks to be allowed to live with him and take care of his needs. Henchard readily assents, and from that moment on becomes a new man. In his new cheerfulness he says that "it seems that even I be in Somebody's hand!"
The sea-captain who had looked for Henchard in the last chapter turns out to be Newson. Henchard is barely able to find a grain of happiness before it is threatened and wrenched from him. He is still impetuous, and the information he gives Newson of Elizabeth-Jane's death can only result in his utter estrangement from her if she should learn of it. He knows this, yet his reason for lying is prompted by love, an emotion which is, to say the least, alien to Henchard's temperament. The effect of Elizabeth-Jane's concern and care is like a medication upon Henchard. He finds a momentary belief in a Supreme Power, changes in outlook, and is, for the moment, rejuvenated. As the book nears its close, a false happiness is being built upon a foundation of lies. Hardy's penchant for the grotesque is shown once again in the appearance of the effigy at the moment of Henchard's thoughts of suicide.
Hardy's belief in the power of music is shown in the passage where Henchard's despair is deepest: "If he could have summoned music to his aid, his existence might even now have been borne."