This essay will answer the preceding question by discussing how the key characters and places develop and are affected by the passage of time in the first few chapters of the book. The author of the book is Thomas Hardy, a very descriptive writer, although this is one of his faster paced books. It was written in the 1880’s and is set in the 1830’s.
The book begins with Michael Henchard walking along a dusty road with his wife Susan. She is carrying a baby called Elizabeth -Jane. After getting to the fair taking place in the village Henchard becomes drunk and sells his wife. The next day he regrets what he has done and consequently swears an oath that he will not touch a drop of liquor for 21 years. At this point in the book (chapters 2-3) there is an 18 year gap in the book.
The book is set in the summer of around 1830 we know this because “before the 19th century had reached one-third of its span.” As it was set in the 1830’s the landscape would have been very different from today. This is demonstrated from the start of the book.
Michael and Susan Henchard are “plainly but not ill clad” This tells us that they are not badly off. On the other hand they are covered in a “thick hoar of dust” telling us that the roads are unpaved. This also implies that although the Henchards are not badly off they cannot afford transport indicating that it is still expensive at this time. Henchard is described as “of fine figure, swarthy, and stern in aspect.” His clothing is old fashioned “short jacket of brown corduroy” and a “waistcoat with white horn buttons.” He is described as a “skilled countryman” and a “general labourer.” He seems an old fashioned man who does not welcome change. The couple do not communicate and the book comments on “the perfect silence they preserved.” They do not seem to have a good relationship “but seemed to have no idea of taking his arm, nor he of offering it.” This is portrayed as a normal state as she “appeared to receive it as a natural thing.” Susan Henchard is carrying a baby called Elizabeth-Jane.
As the Henchards continue they come across a Turnip-Hoer implying that the residents still live off the land a rural village. The hoer is very pecimistic about the state of the village Weydon-Priors “there were four houses cleared away last year and three this.” This pecimism that trade in the village is dwindling due to the continuingly growing amount of trade going to the bigger towns. There are further signs of decline at the village fair “Which showed standing-places and pens where many hundreds of horses and sheep had been exhibited and sold in the forenoon, but were now in a great part taken away.”
They enter a furmity tent. Henchard has his furmity laced, becomes drunk and begins to talk about selling is wife. We can tell his wife is used to this kind of thing because she “seems accustomed to these remarks.” She does not argue with him about these harsh words demonstrating what a quiet person she is. The furmity lady is described as a haggish witch whose pot stood on three legs as she stirred with a large spoon. She might have been in control of the situation as Henchard went on to sell his wife.
The following morning Henchard wakes up and finds his wifes’ ring on the floor confirming his suspicion that the happenings of last night were not merely a bad dream. He had sold his wife to a sailor called Newson who represented the modern world. Hardy emphasises this by choosing a name that can be broken down into “New son.” This is ironic as Henchard is anti change and the new world.
As Henchard emerges from the tent and looks around him he starts to notice things that two tired walkers may not have done. On one side there was an open down plantation. On the other, upland stretching away down into valleys dotted with burrows and trenched with the remains of a pre-historic fort showing us that there has been people living here for thousands of years and how time has turned the forts into ruins. This all gives it a sense of history, time passing and its effects. Henchard left the village and came to a small chapel where he swore an oath that he would not touch a drop of liquor for 21 years. He left and there is an 18-year gap in the Book.
Now two people both adults walked along the little road leading to Weydon Priors. The first was Susan who had aged significantly and now was an old women of about 40 whose “skin had undergone textural change” demonstrating the number of years that had passed. The other was Elizabeth-Jane who was now of a similar age to Susan when she’d last walked along the road. These two demonstrated the passage of time perfectly. Both are wearing black and we discover the reason for this as we get to the fair. Mr Newson was lost at sea and presumed dead, so Susan has decided to look for Henchard. As the book approaches the fair we learn that its trade has continued to dwindle and this is demonstrated by the once successful furmity lady.
There is no tent and now she sat on the floor with only her pot for company grovelling for every halfpenny. This shows that despite the locals attempts keep things the way they were the real trade is no in the cities demonstrating the unstoppable power of time and progress. The furmity lady does not remember such an “insignificant” thing as the sale of a wife saying “if it had of been a big thing” showing the attitude towards such things at the time. She did however remember Henchard returning and saying that if a women ever asked he was in Casterbridge.
On arrival at Casterbridge they were met by a great wall of trees “a dense stockdale of limes and chestnuts” which represented a wall between present and past. They walked on for a bit and soon found themselves in one of the main shopping streets and noticed that the shops were largely agricultural “horse-embrocations at the chemist’s; at the glover’s and the leather-cutter’s, hedging-gloves, thatchers’ kneecaps’ ploughmen’s leggings, villagers’ pattens and clogs.” It was almost as if Casterbridge had stood still unaffected by the passage of time.
As the story develops we find that Henchard is now the Mayor of Casterbridge. We also see that Henchard has kept his vow and his liquor glasses are not filled. Despite being Mayor Henchard has lost none of his love of tradition. He still does everything the old fashioned way from the clothes that he wore to the way that he runs the town. At this point in the story the other main character Donald Farfrae a Scot is introduced. Farfrae is the very opposite of Henchard. He is a traveller in search of wealth and possesses the intelligence that Henchard is missing “In my business tis true that strength and and bustle build up a firm. But judgement and knowledge are what keeps it established. Unluckily, I am bad at Science, Farfrae; bad at figures – a rule of thumb sort of man. You are just the reverse.” Elizabeth-Jane goes on to marry Farfrae but faults of Character and his guilty past aswell as change in commerce eventually drag him down.
In conclusion, although people tried to keep things as they always had been the passage of time is unstoppable and the victims of it are the people. Weydon Priors resources had gradually gone to the towns and cities and it had continued to decline. Hardys’ view was that time had been unkind to Susan who had a troublesome and disturbing life. The most successful person at stopping the progress of time was Henchard who managed to keep himself and the town of Casterbridge the same for 20 years. Time however eventually dragged him down too as he was unable to adapt to changes in rural commerce. For the most part time is portrayed as an unstoppable force that preys on the people around it.