Hardy uses the bounded and separated zone of Mixen Lane not to announce a contrast between modern, up-to-date literacy and the backward orality of the folk, but to show how the folk's literacy and power may be exercised to regressive ends. Published shortly after the passage of the Third Reform Bill, The Mayor of Casterbridge reflects an earlier world in which the judgments of the people were confined to expression outside the political realm. The Bill that redistributed seats, regularized districts, and got rid of pocket boroughs controlled by patronage also enfranchised some farm laborers; due to the Secret Ballot Act of 1872, these new voters would cast their ballots in privacy. Although other historical circumstances are suggested by the fictional world of Casterbridge, most prominently in the mechanization of certain aspects of agriculture, this scene is reminiscent of the futile investigations into election fraud that preceded the 1884 Reform Bill, the third of the great extensions of the franchise. 
Suzanne Keen. Victorian Renovations of the Novel: Narrative Annexes and the Boundaries of Representation. Cambridge UP, 1998.
Last modified 20 September 2000