DESCRIPTION: Casterbridge and its environs


(Analysis of Language, Form, Structure & Context)

Historical perspective in the description of Casterbridge

It has a ‘past-marked prospect’ (82/93) where ‘old Rome is present in every street, alley and precinct’. The river runs beside the ruins of the Franciscan priory, the place of the gallows and where the mobs used to gather at executions (147).  Weydon Priors has remains of prehistoric forts 16. The Amphitheatre casts its shadow on the present 80/2 and 288.  Casterbridge has ‘ancient defences’ 31 and is an ‘old hoary place’ 59 & 60 with a rebellious people.

Social Nuances

Hardy said that he aimed to ‘depict the men and their natures rather than their dialect forms.’  He uses dialectal speech to put a world view: into relief; to the test; into parody; exaggeration etc.  Use of Dorset dialect underlines the stock characters (including the simple-minded fool: Whittle) who reveal the hidden intimacies behind idealised middle class rectitude e.g. Mrs Cuxsom’s elegy and the skimmitv ride.  Whittle’s great elegy foregrounds the power of human feeling on which the edifice of Casterbridge depends.

Physical description of Casterbridge

It is integrated with the land: it is ‘the pole, focus or nerve-knot (62/70) whilst bees and butterflies fly directly down the High Street to get to lower fields (65).  The High Street is described (68-71). Henchard’s house (70-1).  Carrefour (174& 190).  The river (145 & 341). Ten Hatches Weir (341-2).  This is rural England in the mid nineteenth century.


The Amphitheatre (The Ring) (/80)

Function in Roman times – the roman struggles of The Ring transferred to the markeL place’s ‘mortal commercial combat’ (116/). It was a place of execution in the eighteenth century.

Henchard rises to eminence but his personality remains constant. The Ring is correlated to the Mayor’s personality.  His lonely vigils within the two mighty earthworks exemplify his defensive ego (modern reader’s cultural context) where he isolates himself from human contact.  At the end of the novel, he ‘had no wish to make an arena a second time, of a world that had become a mere painted scene to him’ (320/369).  He is ‘unmanned’ in the Ring when he finds his desire for revenge vanquished by Lucetta’s vulnerability (250/288).

The Bull-baiting backdrop

Bull-baiting by dogs is a sinister part of the backdrop to Casterbridge (220).  The bull is directly identified with Henchard.  Mayoral power and masculine strength are compromised by the moral ‘splotches of mud’:

·         his diplomacy ‘was as wrong-headed as a buffalo’s’ (115/130)

·         the suspicion of impropriety, to Elizabeth-Jane, is ‘like a red rag to bull.’ (216/248)

·         the bull ‘now rather to be pitied’. Henchard1 is pitied by Abel 271

·         he drove me back as if I were a bull breaking fence.’ (269/311)

·         Also note that Henchard becomes a ‘netted lion’ (303/) and a ‘fangless lion’ (309/357)

Like the bull’s behaviour, Henchard’s attitude to Elizabeth-Jane changes from raging animal to pitiful spectacle.   Hardy would have been aware of Darwin’s theory of sexual selection (writer’s cultural context) which describes, when there is a surplus of males, display qualities are marked – Farfrae sings and dances and understands the poetry of motion (106/12 1).  Whilst Henchard has the power to conquer, Farfrae, antithetically, has the power to charm.

Henchard’s House

The house’s ‘gnarled’ espaliers (88) symbolically link Henchard to the essence of Casterbridge which is framed by ‘gnarled trees’ 31.  Doors in the town are usually left open (/68). Henchard’s House is the visual equivalent of his old-fashioned solidity – ‘red and grey old brick’. He is described as having a ‘red and black visage’ (/94).  There is massive dignity in being open to onlookers ‘through passage to the end of the garden.’ One can trace Henchard’s progress through his dwellings – from homelessness, his house, Jopp’s (the seedsman’s shop) and the decayed hovel which, like Wordsworth’s ‘The Ruined Collage’ is an emblem of decline and dissolution.

High-Place Hall

High-Place House’s prospect is not considered seemly (141/160), whilst High Place Hall, itself, symbolically reveals the key features of Lucetta: it is grandly classical and respectable but opens into ‘one of the little-used alleyways of the town.’ (141/161), thus revealing her duality and duplicity.  It overlooks the market place which is the central arena. It is furnished to reflect Lucetta’s light-heartedness with brass inlays to the piano, the sofa with cylindrical pillows (151 & 2/)

The Market Place:

The Market Place dominates action – like ‘the regulation Open Place in spectacular dramas.’  It alludes, through reference to combat and being the modem central arena, to the defunct amphitheatre.  The Hay Wagon Collision images Henchard’s loss of substance when his wagon’s contents are spilled out.  By way of antithesis, Farfrae’s: empty wagon symbolises his emotional state.

Hierarchy of the Public Houses:

The King’s Arms symbolises prosperity, political and social success: it is at the top of the hierarchy but also has, at the mayoral dinner, the lower end of table (40) for minor tradesmen.

The Mariners is literally and metaphorically ‘just below’ The King’s Arms(43) which is ‘too good’ for Susan and Elizabeth-Jane who ‘can’t meet it’: it is frequented by ‘a secondary set of worthies’ and Christopher Coney (with his level-headed, warm, cheery wit), Buzzford (who privides a  cynical historical perspective), Mrs Cuxsom and Solomon Longways are part of the ‘inferior set’ which occupy the symbolic ‘unlighted’ end (58).

St Peter’s Finger  is featured in Chapter 32 ‘The two Bridges’.  It is described blasphemously and ironically, in a meaningfully one-sentence paragraph, as ‘a church’ (295) where even the landlady is ‘martyred’ 296.   It is a place of corruption, crime and its ‘denizens’ destabilise the town’s hierarchy: the scandal of Lucetta’s letters spreads in the simile ‘like a miasmic fog through Mixen Lane and thence up the back streets of Casterbridge.’ (308)

The river

The river is ‘slow, noiseless and dark’.  It (145 & 341) suggests Henchard’s melancholic subconscious. Consider whether he is the missing condemned criminal – i.e. the corpse. He is impatient with himself for admitting this and quickly leaves by climbing the internal steep path back to the conscious necessity for a plan.  The river (147) and Ten Hatches Weir symbolise the depth of Henchard’s melancholic subconscious and link it with the novel’s historical perspective.

Ten-Hatches Weir and the effigy

This is a scene (297/342) soaked in nineteenth century melodrama (Form). It is a reworking of the nineteenth century doppelganger (cultural context) where the alter ego appears dead: this is a realisation of Henchard’s self-alienation. In Ten-Hatches-Hole he loses his own identity/name.  Meeting one’s double in folklore presages (context) death or consciousness of one’ errant soul – Henchard strives for unity of being.  Modem business methods destroy both Henchard’s financial position and the narrative identity he has repressively created for himself – his dominant personality is in the process of collapsing. The double is born out of ‘the bad faith with which one disowns half one’s life, which then carries on living.’ Elaine Showalter suggests the effigy is the symbolic shell of the discarded male self.  The idea of a double appears elsewhere e.g. Lucetta is perceived as ‘her wraith or double’ (134/153).


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