The Mayor of Casterbridge: Narrative Style

(Structure and Form)

One approach to the narrative pattern of ‘The Mayor of Casterbridge’ reveals the prevailing structures of ownership and production, of work and social relations, within the Victorian countryside.  This suggests that Hardy’s writing is ‘rooted in a definable historical process…not historical reality’ (George Wotton).  This view leads us to think of Hardy’s realism as being more the reality of ideology and social portrayal than that of history.

It has been said the novel was written and recklessly damaged to suit weekly, short episode, serialisation in The Graphic and later Harpers Weekly – magazines which steered its readers away from recognising sexual components in relationships and provided eventful instalments.  Hardy made changes for subsequent book publication e.g.

Elizabeth Jane is given more insight and her dialect is reduced

‘a hole in a sovereign’ is added.

Lucetta’s pregnancy is foregrounded

A greater tragic tone is added to the final chapters.  As a result of prevalent literary considerations and notions of tragedy: Hardy was aware of Aristotle’s Three Unities: action, place and time.   Here is an instance of Form (in this case tragedy) being inextricably linked to Narrative Structure:

Unity of Action has been referred to as ‘that rapid movement, that quick sequence of cause and effect.’ (Kenneth Graham).  Each scene had to have a direct relation with the whole novel – which itself had to be an integrated puzzle. This led to Hardy, who said ‘a story should be like an organism’, dispensing with the sub-plot.

Some further distinctive narrative features:

The other Unities i.e. of place and time

Dramatic irony: for instance, where the development of the plot allows the reader to possess more information about what is happening than some of the characters themselves.

Elisions of narrative which include Susan’s secretiveness, Henchard’s and Farfrae’s lack of family history

Hardy’s use of circumstance to purify & chasten character.

The third person omniscient narrator.


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