It is about a month after the night of the wedding reception. Elizabeth-Jane has grown somewhat accustomed to her new position. Newson has gone to live at Budmouth in sight of the sea. A maid tells Elizabeth-Jane that they now know who had abandoned the birdcage near the back entrance. One week after her marriage Elizabeth-Jane had found the birdcage and the starved goldfinch. She had been terribly upset by the discovery. The servant informs her that it was the "farmer's man who called on the evening of the wedding." Elizabeth-Jane realizes that Henchard had brought her a gift and feels anguish at her harshness to him. She and Donald set out to find him, and even though they travel a great distance in search of the man who had apparently "sunk into the earth," their efforts are fruitless. However, a good many miles from Casterbridge they discover Abel Whittle entering a cottage which is "of humble dwellings surely the humblest." They learn from Abel that Michael has died within the half-hour. Abel had followed Michael the night of the wedding reception and had taken care of him during his sickness, because Henchard had been kind to his mother when she was alive. He shows Elizabeth-Jane Henchard's crudely written but deeply moving will. Michael Henchard's last requests are that no formal ceremonies accompany his burial and that Elizabeth-Jane not be informed of his death. Though Elizabeth-Jane now feels deep sorrow at having been unkind to Michael, she nevertheless respects his strong determination and abides by the rude testament. She devotes the rest of her life to her husband and to the needs of the less fortunate.
This chapter shows Michael Henchard as a tragic figure. The reader understands that all Michael's sins have been expiated, not by his death, but through his suffering. His suffering, of course, is the direct result of his rash behavior as a young man. Yet there is an ennobling quality about his last actions, since they are motivated by love of another human being. His love and kindness toward Elizabeth-Jane are mirrored in Abel Whittle's tender care and devotion.
The symbolism of the starved goldfinch is quite effective since Henchard, himself, becomes sick and is unable to take nourishment. Furthermore, an added subtextual symbol is evident in the fact that Henchard, too, is starved to death for want of Elizabeth-Jane's love.
antipodean absences absences on the other side of the world. Probably the phrase refers to Australian penal colonies.
assize town a town where civil and criminal cases are tried by jury.
Minerva-eyes . . . face The sense is that Elizabeth-Jane has acquired wisdom, and that she imparts the spirit of wisdom in her movements.
Diana Multimammia many-breasted Diana. The sense is that the burial-mounds appeared to be the many breasts.
Capharnaum from Matthew; place of darkness.