Summary and Analysis
Henchard meets Susan in the ruins of an old Roman amphitheatre outside of town. The amphitheatre is very large and dark, and due to the gloomy superstitions connected with its grim history almost no one comes there except for "appointments of a furtive kind." It is for this reason — so no one will know of his meeting with Susan — that Henchard arranges for the interview in such a forbidding place as "the Ring."
Henchard's first words to Susan are: "I don't drink. You hear, Susan? — I don't drink now — I haven't since that night." During their discussion, Henchard learns that Susan had considered her alliance with Newson a binding one. She tells Henchard that if she had not thought that way, her life would have been "very wicked." Henchard says that he knows this and feels her to be an "innocent woman." He proposes that she and Elizabeth-Jane rent a house on High Street; after a courtship Susan and Michael will be remarried.
It is most important to Henchard that Elizabeth-Jane remain in complete ignorance of the past. When Susan and Henchard are remarried, Elizabeth-Jane will live with them as Henchard's stepdaughter. He considers this to be the best way of fooling the town. Of course he will pay all their expenses. Susan agrees. As she is leaving, Henchard asks: "But just one word. Do you forgive me, Susan?" Susan murmurs something indistinctly and Henchard replies: "Never mind — all in good time, . . . Judge me by my future works — good-bye!"
Hardy takes great care in describing the Roman amphitheatre and its unsavory history. He certainly does want the reader to feel the darkness and the gloom of the surroundings in order to emphasize the mystery of the events. Such melancholy settings are common in Hardy's work, and serve to underscore his fancy for the grotesque. This particular setting also reveals his awareness of the Roman element in Wessex.
As Susan leaves, it appears that Henchard has indeed repented and that all will soon be well.
the Ring referring to Maumbury Rings in Dorchester, which served as the public gallows for the first half of the 18th century. Its history goes back many centuries. Under the Romans it was an arena for gladiatorial and wild beast displays. there is a certain unwholesome aura surrounding the Ring due to its history.
Jotuns giants in Norse mythology.
rub o't rub of it: a problem, hindrance, doubt.
aeolian modulations Aeolus, in Greek mythology, was god of the winds. The aeolian harp was a stringed instrument constructed to produce musical sounds when exposed to the action of the wind.
must start genteel must begin in a manner appropriate to a well-bred person.