Summary and Analysis Chapter 40



Henchard is unable to sleep due to his consternation at having fought with Donald. He makes his way into Casterbridge and there sees the skimmington-ride. He immediately understands its meaning and the possible consequences. He goes directly to Donald's house, learns of Lucetta's illness, and tries to inform the inhabitants of Donald's true whereabouts. However, because of his recent unspeakable behavior, no one will believe him. He therefore sets out at a fast run to intercept Donald, knowing Lucetta's life could depend on her husband's presence.

He finally meets Donald at a lonely road-crossing. But, when Henchard tells Donald of his wife's sickness, Donald refuses to believe him. He feels that Henchard may have set a trap for him in order to finish what he had not done previously. "The very agitation and abruptness of Henchard" make Farfrae even more suspicious. He leaves toward his destination with Michael Henchard running after the gig, begging him to return.

Henchard returns and despairingly curses himself "like a less scrupulous Job." Throughout the night he makes inquiries about Lucetta's condition. Donald returns and that night stays beside his wife. During Donald's vigil, Lucetta informs him of her past relationship with Henchard. The extent of the information she imparts to Donald remains "Farfrae's secret alone."

Henchard has gone to his lodgings and there thinks of Elizabeth-Jane as his only comfort: "she seemed to him as a pin-point of light." Jopp informs him that "a kind of traveller, or sea-captain of some sort" had called on Henchard. Henchard dismisses the information and that night, unable to sleep, paces to and fro before Donald's house. At dawn Michael learns that Lucetta has died.


This chapter is indeed a sad one. Hardy is bitterly denouncing man's evil treatment of his brother. One sentence in particular reinforces this judgment: "He went across, the sparrows in his way scarcely flying up from the road-litter, so little did they believe in human aggression at so early a time."

The introduction of a sea-captain creates a new pause for thought. Since Hardy seldom introduces a character unless there is an organic part for him to play in the unfolding plot, the reader assumes that the sea-captain will have some effect on the future action.


a less scrupulous Job The biblical character Job, who only lived to do right, cursed the day of his birth when he was punished by God for no apparent reason. Hence, Henchard, not quite as conscientious in his desire to do good, also curses himself as Job did.

well-be-doing a man who is well off, doing well.

Lucifer the planet Venus when it appears as the morning star.