Title: The Mayor of Casterbridge
Author: Thomas Hardy
Source: Personal library
Summary (From back of book):
Rooted in an actual case of wife-selling in early nineteenth-century England, the story builds into an awesome Sophoclean drama of guilt and revenge, in which the strong, willful Henchard rises to a position of wealth and power -- only to achieve a most bitter downfall. Proud, obsessed, ultimately committed to his own destruction, Henchard is, as Albert Guerard has said, "Hardy's Lord Jim ... his only tragic hero and one of the greatest tragic heroes in all fiction."
My Two Cents:
It's easy to see why this is considered by many to be Hardy's greatest novel. It blends all the classic qualities of Hardy's work -- fatalism, the plights of the lower classes and rural workers, a rustic setting -- and weaves a story that is compelling for the reader. As usual, Hardy's clear writing style full of stark description makes reading even the unpleasant scenes a joy.
Michael Henchard is probably my favorite Hardy protagonist of the four (Jude, Tess, Bathsheba and Michael) that I have met. He has an unwavering pride and ambition, but also a severe conscience that allows his remorse for his past wrongs to interfere with his plans for the future. As the novel opens, the reader is meant to hate Michael for his deplorable actions. Even as the early action unfolds, I didn't feel sorry for and even wished for Michael's downfall. However, as things really get rolling, I began to wish that things would look up for Michael and that he would stop being so hard on himself.
This change in opinion, I think, is why Michael is my favorite Hardy protagonist. Tess is a pitiable character from day one and there's really no change throughout the novel. Jude is much the same and an obvious victim of nothing but his circumstances. I just wasn't fond of Bathsheba at all, even though she's a unique female protagonist. But Michael is master of his own fortunes and his dynamic character changes make him much more interesting to watch.
If you are a fan of Hardy, fatalism or just want a really good story, I'd suggest picking up The Mayor of Casterbridge.