SUSAN HENCHARD / NEWSON

(Critical analysis: Character and Function)

Chapters 10,11,12,13, 14,19,25, 45

Susan is a pallidly silent woman who walks with ‘little interest’ (3) she reaches ‘absolute indifference’ during the auction (11); she wears mourning clothes (21) and has an uncertain identity as ‘Mrs Henchard/Newson (24).  She is presented as being ‘weak in intellect (148/168) by Lucetta in her letter to Henchard and is also considered by Henchard to be guilty of ‘idiotic simplicity’ (17).  But for her daughter, she ‘would not be very sorry to quit a life she was growing thoroughly weary of.’ (29); with this in mind, the reader feels that it is most apt that she is nicknamed ‘The Ghost’ (95).  Moreover, she submits to Henchard, with considerable self-abasement:

“I am quite in your hands. Michael.” she said meekly.’ (84)

and she is self-deprecatingly humble, saying to Henchard that she is afraid ‘all this is taking up your time and giving trouble’ (94).

However she has a steely, meticulous determination which is revealed by tenacity of purpose and consistency and ‘the propriety of returning to [Henchard], if he lived, was unquestionable’ (29).  Even though she feels at one point that ‘Mr Henchard is too high for us to make ourselves known to him’ (49), she perseveres ‘for her daughter’s sake (67).  Hardy describes her as ‘the poor forgiving woman ‘(68) but do note that she does not forgive the Furmitv woman (24) – nor does she tell Henchard that he is forgiven.  He needs Susan’s speech – ‘a word’ (85) for forgiveness but he does not get it!

Susan is far more complex than the archetypal submissive woman.  She displays ‘honesty in dishonesty’ (144).  She hides her true relationship with Henchard from Elizabeth-Jane, by saying it was ‘by marriage’  She is not honest when questioned about Elizabeth-Jane’s hair colour (102) and she also ensures that Elizabeth-Jane does not change her name by acting ‘inconsistently: it might have been called falsely’ (102).

 Susan paradoxically really comes to life after her death when we read Mother Cuxsom’s poetic outburst and later, through her own writing, she posthumously strikes  Henchard with a crippling blow.  This is as it should be: the coup de grâce is given by the person who is closest to Henchard; the only person to refer to him affectionately as ‘Mike’ (12).

—oOo—

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