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A daily record of what I'm thinking about what I'm reading

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Thursday, April 23, 2015

Is the Mayor of Casterbridge a "properly motivated" tragic hero?

Predictably, the plot (Mayor of Casterbridge) thickens: Henchard's daughter, Elizabeth, falls for the Scotsman who's essentially Henchard's business manager (Farfrae), which of course upsets Henchard - as he is jealous about F's popularity in town - and he orders the two to stay apart, which of course is a recipe for disaster as all readers know (so obvious it was even the running joke in the musical The Fantasticks); he essentially fires Farfrae, who sets up a rival business across town and although, at first, he refuses to take clients away from Henchard we see which way the pendulum is swinging - it's only a matter of time before Henchard will be impoverished and F prosperous. Conveniently, Hardy has Hanchard's wife, Susan, take ill and die, clearing away some plot excess baggage - just as Henchard receives a communication from the woman he'd dropped when Susan and daughter showed up on the scene. So he's a character headed toward all sorts of trouble: financial ruin, amorous blackmail at best, a daughter who's been in the dark about her strange family history and true parentage, a rival for the post of Mayor and for the town's business, and then we also remember that he had pledged sobriety for a fixed period (24 years?), a time which is almost up. So, like many great Hardy characters, he's a powerful man brought low, a man of sorrows - though, unlike Job, many are sorrows he's brought upon himself by his own actions. Is he a tragic figure? Hardy could have made him so - particularly if his drunken sale at auction of wife and daughter had proved years later to be his undoing - but it appears that he has fully atoned for that sin, bringing the long-estranged wife and daughter back into his life (though I don't know why he never sees a way to level with the now-mature daughter about her history - it's hardly a shame on her). Rather, though, his suffering is, or will be, because of his blunders and character flaws rather than because of his striving for greatness or over-reaching or excessive pride - the qualities of a classical tragic hero (or as my old prof Lionel Abel used to memorably put it: In order to be a properly motivated tragic hero, you have to have 2 kinds of motivation: a motivation because, and in order to.)

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