Setting in The Mayor of Casterbridge

Suzanne Keen, Assistant Professor of English, Washington and Lee University

The location of the action and the movements of characters through a sequence of different locales link placement and possibility in all of Hardy's novels. Although The Life and Death of the Mayor of Casterbridge: A Story of a Man of Character has been seen as primarily a character study, Hardy's settings can take on agency more powerful and complicated even than individual characters. Few novelists so successfully convince readers that they have entered a fictional territory, a world with idiosyncratic places, landscapes, and geographical features (even as Hardy compromises the sense of actuality he evokes by employing intricate plots and coincidences). The Mayor of Casterbridge differs from Jude the Obscure and Tess of the D'Urbervilles in that the plot remains fixed on the stage of Casterbridge, while characters appear, disappear, and reappear within its boundaries. In The Mayor of Casterbridge, Hardy does not avail himself of the advantages of episodic shifts in setting. He compresses all of the symbolic and narrative functions of changed place and shifted genre into a single narrative annex.

One of the most important surprises of the novel comes when the reader realizes that Casterbridge has an area within it, Mixen Lane, where behavior impossible in any other public space not only occurs, but alters the outcome of the novel. Because Hardy demarcates the annex from the main world of the text so explicitly, the alternative place Mixen Lane heightens the significance of spaces in a fictional world already rigorously organized by locations. [131]

References

Suzanne Keen. Victorian Renovations of the Novel: Narrative Annexes and the Boundaries of Representation. Cambridge UP, 1998.


Victorian Overview Thomas Hardy

Last modified 20 September 2000