Summary and Analysis
Chapter 3 - Susan and Elizabeth — Jane Eighteen Years After
It is approximately eighteen years later. Susan Henchard, her face less round and her hair thinner, who now calls herself "Mrs. Newson," is again walking along the dusty road into Weydon-Priors. She walks hand in hand with her daughter, Elizabeth-Jane, young, "well-formed," pretty, and vivacious. The two women are dressed in black, and we learn that Richard Newson, Susan's "husband" who bought her many years ago, has been lost at sea. "Mrs. Newson" is in quest of a "relation," as she has told Elizabeth-Jane, whose name is Michael Henchard, whom she had last seen at the fair in Weydon-Priors. However, she has not told Elizabeth-Jane of her true relationship to Henchard, the hay-trusser.
On the fairgrounds, whose trade has considerably diminished with the passage of time, Susan comes upon the "furmity woman." The furmity woman, now an old crone "rentless" and "dirty," barely able to make a living, does not recognize Susan. Over Elizabeth-Jane's protest, Susan asks her about Michael Henchard. At first the hag does not recollect the shameful event. However, upon reflection she recalls that a man who had figured in such an event had returned about a year after the sale. He left word with her that if a woman were to ask for him, the furmity woman should tell her that he has gone to Casterbridge. Elizabeth-Jane and Susan find lodging for the night before setting out for Casterbridge.
This short chapter, which depicts Susan's determination to locate her real husband, serves to explain the long passage of time and to raise two rather interesting problems. There must be a definite need for Susan to find Henchard, or else under the circumstances she would never want to see him again. Also, we wonder what kind of complication will arise if she does find him. Perhaps he has remarried.
Elizabeth-Jane says to her mother: "Don't speak to her — it isn't respectable!" when Susan approaches the furmity woman, Mrs. Goodenough. This would indicate that Elizabeth-Jane might be excessively concerned about propriety.