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

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Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Plot flaws and missed opportunities in The Mayor of Casterbridge

Not completely sure why but Thomas Hardy's The Mayor of Casterbridge doesn't seem to have the depth or emotion of his other major works, particularly Tess and Jude (which it's been many years since I've read) - possibly because Mayor seems much more plot-driven. Hardy gets it off to an excellent start with the famous scene in which Henchard gets drunk and sells his wife (and infant daughter) at auction at a county fair. Then we flash forward about 20 years and wife, now widowed, and daughter turn up in Casterbridge, looking for Henchard, who's become the eponymous mayor. Hardy has a lot of plot mechanics to handle, but it seems to me that in his doing so he never (at least in first third of the novel) gives us access to the interior lives of his characters. Best example, when the daughter visits H in his home end tells him his "distant relative" Susan is in town and would like to see him he doesn't have any kind of emotional reaction at all - and when then do meet, in the ruins of a Roman amphitheater near town, they immediately launch into discussion of an elaborate plot by which H will court her as if she's a stranger in town and then they will re-marry, but they won't tell the (20+ year old) daughter the whole sordid tale because what would she think of them! There's just no feeling at all - and in fact it seems that TH misses a # of opportunities to make the plot more challenging and dramatic: there's hints about another woman whom the mayor had been "courting," and no doubt that will develop more as a plot element, but shouldn't the mayor be torn in some way between love and duty? Shouldn't he feel in some way potentially threatened or blackmailed by Susan? Why would his first instinct be to marry her - and not to want to make her go away? Not that I mean to re-write Hardy, but if the first third of this novel is a set-up the second third seems like a set of missed opportunities.

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