Summary and Analysis
Chapter 18 - Susan's Death
Elizabeth-Jane's fears for her mother are confirmed. Susan becomes seriously ill, too weak to leave her room. Henchard gets the town's "richest, busiest doctor," but Elizabeth-Jane now fears the worst. Henchard receives a letter from Jersey in which the young lady who had nursed him absolves him of any share in her troubles. She asks only that he meet her and return her letters which, though she only hints at it, could be compromising to her one day. The letter is signed, "Lucetta." Henchard brings the letters, but Lucetra does not arrive.
Susan, sensing her imminent death, writes a letter addressed to "Mr. Michael Henchard. Not to be opened till Elizabeth-Jane's wedding-day." As Elizabeth-Jane sits up with her mother one night, Susan confesses that it was she that sent the notes to Donald and her daughter: "It was not to make fools of you — it was done to bring you together. 'Twas I did it. I — wanted you to marry Mr. Farfrae . . . Well, I had a reason. 'Twill out one day. I wish it could have been in my time! But there — nothing is as you wish it! Henchard hates him."
Susan dies quietly one Sunday morning. The reader learns of her death through Donald's concern.
In this chapter Hardy ends Susan's struggle with life. However, he introduces new material which will create suspense and compensate for the loss of one of the characters. Lucetta makes an intriguing entry by sending Henchard a letter, then failing to meet him at the time and place proposed. Susan, prompted by some thought which we as yet do not know, writes a mysterious letter to Henchard with instructions to delay its opening until Elizabeth-Jane's wedding. Furthermore, utilizing Henchard's characteristic practicality, Hardy allows Henchard to think of marrying Lucetta after Susan's death. This is another grotesque touch whose enormity is only surpassed by the discussion of the townspeople at the end of the chapter. The theme of man's inability to cope with arbitrary causes is propounded succinctly as Elizabeth-Jane sits by her mother, ruminating over her own life. Elizabeth-Jane continues to grow in richness of character — she is now "the subtle-souled girl."
The village characters, despite their ghoulish humors, add interest and amusement with their running commentary in Hardy's unique rustic style.
doxology the character means "theology," but even then "theology" would not be the appropriate word.
varnished for 'natomies skeleton bones sold, varnished, and used in colleges or schools for the study of anatomy.