While the book is a seminal text for British teenagers at school, Thomas Hardy’s the Mayor of Casterbridge is a surprising read, and one that keeps on giving.
Why you should read it:
The Mayor of Casterbridge
Thomas Hardy was one of the great realist writers and poets of the Victorian era. Unlike one of his most famous contemporaries, Charles Dickens, Hardy contemplated the same social dysfunction and ruin due to the industrial revolution but in the opposite way. Hardy set his mostly tragic novels in the idyllic county of Wessex, a fictional geographic location though with historical overtones as the Earldom existed in pre Norman times and was the kingdom of some of the most influential rulers of the British Isles from the Viking Cnut, Alfred the Great, Edward the Confessor and Harold, the last Anglo Saxon king before William I’s invasion. By looking back at times when England was great and society was honest, hard working and agriculture centric, Hardy indirectly, yet very vehemently condemned the industrial revolution.
Hardy’s novels tend to have tragic plot lines, Tess of the D’Urbervilles (1891), Jude the Obscure (1895), Far from the Madding Crowd (1874), and last but by no means least, The Mayor of Casterbridge. (1886) The latter is considered his greatest achievement, and as a fan of the book myself I can guarantee that it works on many levels.
The plot line is full of twists and turns, illicit affairs, epiphanies, redemptions and ultimately death. The lives, emotions and fortunes of the main characters intertwine like rose branches in a rose garden and sometimes they are as hard to navigate. Without giving too much away, I remember when I first read the book that by half way through I was so enthralled by the plot I likened it to Eastenders, a very famous British Soap.
The book’s main themes such as misogyny, expiation, industrialization, loss of virtue, honesty, redemption and love are all relevant themes today. Though ripe for moralizing on industrialisation, the upcoming economies, Africa and the dangers they face I will just reiterate that if you’re looking for a very modern read in Victorian surroundings and full of surprises this book will not disappoint.
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