Summary and Analysis
Michael Henchard installs Susan and Elizabeth-Jane in a cottage located in the western part of Casterbridge. The cottage is pleasant and well furnished. Henchard has even acquired a servant for Susan, to help create an aura of respectability.
As soon as Elizabeth-Jane and Susan are established in the cottage, Henchard calls upon them and stays for tea. Henchard pursues his courtship for a respectable period of time. It gives him some pleasure that Elizabeth-Jane has accepted the events and knows nothing of the truth, but Susan feels regretful at having deceived her child. One day Henchard asks Susan to name the day of their marriage. Susan fears that she is causing him too much trouble. Indeed, she had never planned on anything so elaborate as a remarriage. Henchard is resolved to make amends to Susan, provide a comfortable home for Elizabeth-Jane, and demean himself by marrying a woman who in the eyes of the town would seem to be beneath his status. He tells her that since he has acquired an excellent new business manager, he will have more time to devote to his family in the future.
The townspeople begin to talk about the upcoming marriage, and "Mrs. Newson" is nicknamed "The Ghost," because of her fragile, pale appearance. On a drizzly day in November, Susan and Henchard are remarried. The townspeople waiting outside the church comment upon Henchard's foolishness in marrying a woman so far beneath him. Christopher Coney makes a remark typical of the town's feelings: "'Tis five-and-forty years since I had my settlement in this here town," said Coney; "but daze me if ever I see a man wait so long before to take so little!" He and the other rustics expatiate humorously on the disparity.
The culmination of Henchard's dogged attempts to make amends to Susan is realized in their marriage. However, the chapter is written to give the reader a feeling of malaise. Susan does not think it at all humorous that Elizabeth-Jane has been deceived by them, and in her futile way almost asks Henchard to drop the idea of marriage. However, because Henchard is still a man of stubborn will, he insists upon going through with it. The rain adds to the oppressiveness.
The townspeople also help to give the reader a sense of uneasiness about the proceedings. It has to be admitted that Hardy may be exaggerating somewhat the townspeople's ability to observe so much of hidden history from the appearance of the couple, but the mere mention of the word "bluebeardy" with its associations of cruelty and ruthlessness is enough to create the feeling of impending trouble.
There is a good deal of Hardy's earthy poetry in the villagers' comments. The reader will appreciate the author's artfulness by reading some of this aloud, especially Mrs. Cuxsom's wonderful passage, beginning: "And dostn't mind how mother would sing."
'en dialect for "him."
zilver-snuffers silver snuffers; a snuffer is a scissors-like instrument used for clipping the wick of a candle.
cow-barton a cow-yard.
"She'll wish her cake dough . . . " She'll wish she hadn't done it.
twanking whining; in this sense weak and helpless.
jumps or night-rail jumps would be equal to corset-stays, and a night-rail equivalent to a night-gown.
small table ninepenny cheap drinks.