Summary and Analysis Chapter 17



Elizabeth-Jane is covered with shame when someone hints that "she had not been quite in her place" in dancing with such pleasure in "a mixed throng." Donald accompanies Elizabeth-Jane to her home after she has left the dance. He reveals the break between Henchard and himself and states that he would ask her something special if only he were richer. Elizabeth-Jane asks him not to leave Casterbridge. She hurries home and thinks intensely about him.

Donald soon makes the break complete by purchasing his own hay and corn business. However, since he feels that Henchard has been very kind to him, he decides not to compete with him commercially. He is sure that there is ample business for both of them. He even turns away his first customer, a man who had dealt with Henchard within the last three months. Henchard now holds no affection for Donald and considers him an enemy, but his abuse of Donald finds little sympathy in the town council. He immediately forbids Elizabeth-Jane to have any further relationship with Donald and in a crisp letter informs Donald of his stepdaughter's promise to obey his request.

Donald's business prospers, and though he had not attempted to come into competition with Henchard, he is forced "to close with Henchard in mortal commercial combat" when Henchard begins a price war. Before long, to add to Henchard's bitterness, Donald is given an official business stall at the market. He cannot bear to hear Farfrae's name mentioned at home.


This chapter brings the Henchard-Farfrae relationship to a complete break. Though Donald still has friendly feelings toward Henchard, Henchard considers him an enemy and forces him to engage in highly commercial competition. We also see that Henchard's friends and council members are not impressed with his statement that he will meet Donald's competition head-on. Apparently he has caused each one of them some pain in the past. This is probably the strongest hint so far that Henchard's fluctuating temperament has not earned him one friend. There are also two slight hints that Susan had wanted Elizabeth-Jane and Donald to get to know each other better.

This chapter contains the statement: "Character is Fate, said Novalis," one of the most widely discussed comments Hardy ever made in his novels. It appears to conflict with Hardy's emphasis on chance and impersonal forces as factors in man's fate, but it is certainly consistent with the character of Henchard throughout.


voot foot.

wo'th a varden worth a farthing.

sniff and snaff haven't agreed to more than accepting his gentlemanly attentions (especially in regard to matrimonial plans), would be the sense of the expression.

modus vivendi working arrangement; a way of living (Latin).

Novalis Baron Friedrich von Hardenburg (1772-1801) whose pen-name was Novalis; poet and novelist.

Faust the main character in Goethe's monumental drama.

Bellerophon character in Greek legends who killed his brother and fled from the society of mankind.