Though Hardy's handling of tragedy in The Mayor of Casterbridge relies on scenes that could be blocked for stage performance, his plotting and character study requires the representation of interiority. Characteristically, he makes plot devices of the vehicles of characters' private expression. The public nature of domestic life in Casterbridge makes it difficult for characters to speak confidentially with one another, especially with those of the opposite sex.
The one space that the novel provides for lovers, or anyone else, to make contact with any privacy at all is the "space" of the letter. No fewer than sixteen notes or letters crisscross the novel. Though Hardy invariably reveals their contents to the reader, their privacy is respected within the fiction. Even when the sender remains anonymous, as Susan does when she brings Elizabeth-Jane and Farfrae together, the letters reach their intended readers. In one instance, another of Susan's letters reaches its recipient (Henchard) too soon, disrupting the relationship of "father" and daughter and indirectly undoing the courtship of Elizabeth-Jane and Farfrae. Though Henchard reads aloud from Lucetta's letters to Farfrae in an excruciating scene, Henchard does not reveal the identity of the writer. He comes close to breaking the rules of privacy that protect letters; indeed, Lucetta, who eavesdrops on part of the scene, thinks he has violated that trust. Yet technically he keeps it. In the primary world of Casterbridge, letters function as specially protected spaces where secrets, plans, and requests can be communicated in true privacy.
Just as it seems that Henchard will keep his word and Lucetta's secret, Jopp carries the packet of letters into the annex, where the rules of communal knowledge and action override respect for individual privacy. In the annex, Jopp violates the norm established in the rest of the plot by reading Lucetta's incriminating letters aloud, exposing her (and Henchard) to a judgmental audience.
Suzanne Keen. Victorian Renovations of the Novel: Narrative Annexes and the Boundaries of Representation. Cambridge UP, 1998.
Last modified 2000