My rating: 4 of 5 stars
One of the few Hardy novels I had not read. Certainly you see how Hardy was developing the skill that led him to produce Tess of the d’Ubervilles and Jude the Obscure. Fascinating how the themes of the open country of the moors counterpoint the microcosm of urban life in this novel, mirroring inner human nature and social convention. It’s this use of geography that has, for me, been a hallmark of Hardy’s work, and certainly a major influence upon my own writing.
Once again I was impressed by Hardy’s modern approach to writing, employing deep character development and dark, socially unacceptable themes for the period. In this case the narrative explores an alcoholic’s cruel treatment of his wife and daughter, his attempt to redeem himself only to find himself incapable of rising above his baser nature. It is a mark of Hardy’s writing skill that the reader both loves and despises the character of Henchard, so that in the end Hardy presents a pitiable wretch for whom we are capable of weeping.
As a side note, the film adaptation of The Mayor of Casterbridge with Ciaran Hines as main character, Michael Henchard, is a faithful reproduction of the novel, beautifully produced, impeccable costuming, and well worth seeing.