So, unfortunately, the theme of The Mayor of Casterbridge seems to be that people can’t change. The book is fun to read, though, because there are a lot of secrets revealed dramatically through the interactions of the characters. And because literature uses long sentences with awesome words in them in a way that other stuff I read does not.
See below for quotes from the book, links to other Hardy books, and more on when and why I read this one.
What stood out
I love the simile here: “The garden was silent, dewy, and full of perfume. It extended a long way back from the house, first as lawn and flower-beds, then as fruit-garden, where the long-tied espaliers, as old as the old house itself, had grown so stout, and cramped, and gnarled that they had pulled their stakes out of the ground and stood distorted and writhing in vegetable agony, like leafy Laocoons.”
Agent detection in action: “Henchard, like all his kind, was superstitious, and he could not help thinking that the concatenation of events this evening had produced was the scheme of some sinister intelligence bent on punishing him. Yet they had developed naturally.”
Be thankful for globalization. “The time was in the years immediately before foreign competition had revolutionized the trade in grain; when still, as from the earliest ages, the wheat quotations from month to month depended entirely upon the home harvest. A bad harvest, or the prospect of one, would double the price of corn in a few weeks; and the promise of a good yield would lower it as rapidly. Prices were like the roads of the period, steep in gradient, reflecting in their phases the local conditions, without engineering, levellings, or averages. The farmer’s income was ruled by the wheat-crop within his own horizon, and the wheat-crop by the weather. Thus in person, he became a sort of flesh-barometer, with feelers always directed to the sky and wind around him. The local atmosphere was everything to him; the atmospheres of other countries a matter of indifference. The people, too, who were not farmers, the rural multitude, saw in the god of the weather a more important personage than they do now. Indeed, the feeling of the peasantry in this matter was so intense as to be almost unrealizable in these equable days.”
I get this illusion when watching movie credits: “Henchard stared and stared into the racing river till the bridge seemed moving backward with him.”
Cognitive bias: “[W]e attribute to an enemy a power of consistent action which we never find in ourselves or in our friends; and forget that abortive efforts from want of heart are as possible to revenge as to generosity.”
Another good simile: “It was one of those excitements which, when they move a country town, leave permanent mark upon its chronicles, as a warm summer permanently marks the ring in the tree-trunk corresponding to its date.”
I wish we more often employed the plural noun form of ‘superficial’, ‘superficies’.
Some literary description of sound: “the purl of waters through the weirs meeting his ear”
Depressing thought: you either can be energetic but ignorant or wise but tired: “Externally there was nothing to hinder his making another start on the upward slope, and by his new lights achieving higher things than his soul in its half-formed state had been able to accomplish. But the ingenious machinery contrived by the Gods for reducing human possibilities of amelioration to a minimum—which arranges that wisdom to do shall come pari passu with the departure of zest for doing—stood in the way of all that. He had no wish to make an arena a second time of a world that had become a mere painted scene to him.”
Behold the recipe for equable serenity: “As the lively and sparkling emotions of her early married life cohered into an equable serenity, the finer movements of her nature found scope in discovering to the narrow-lived ones around her the secret (as she had once learnt it) of making limited opportunities endurable; which she deemed to consist in the cunning enlargement, by a species of microscopic treatment, of those minute forms of satisfaction that offer themselves to everybody not in positive pain; which, thus handled, have much of the same inspiring effect upon life as wider interests cursorily embraced.”
When and why I read it
I wanted to download something free from Gutenberg to read on my Kindle while on a trip to Bangkok. I enjoyed Far from the Madding Crowd in high school.
Genre: fiction (literature & classics)
Date started / date finished: 05-Mar-16 to 16-Mar-16
Length: 290 pages
Originally published in: 1886
Amazon link: The Mayor of Casterbridge
Gutenberg link: The Mayor of Casterbridge