The Mayor of Casterbridge
Thomas Hardy
Contributed by Bobbie Heil
Chapter 5

They walk to the town’s largest hotel, the King’s Arms, and through the window, they see a dinner banquet with the mayor of Casterbridge, Mr. Henchard, in the prime seat. Elizabeth-Jane observes that the mayor has a strange laugh and her mother notices that his two wine glasses remain empty. Susan is content to see that her first husband has matured greatly, in age and physical appearance. The younger woman is surprised that now that they have found their relation, the older is intent on leaving without any further interaction.

Elizabeth-Jane is fascinated with the mayor and insists on remaining in town to befriend him. She learns from a bystander that the mayor’s abstinence from strong liquors is owing to an oath he made years ago whose hold on him will end shortly in a few years. Moreover, the townspeople tell her that Henchard is the most powerful member of the town council and privy to all the largest agricultural transactions. But she also learns of the current misfortune: Henchard’s wheat being of poor quality of late. Several concerned citizens question the mayor about the bad crop, to which Henchard replies that he is himself a victim like his customers. He tries to appease the crowd by promising that once his new corn manager arrives, mistakes of this type will no longer occur. He further attests that if he could turn grown wheat into wholesome wheat, he would, but since it is impossible, nothing can be done about the situation.

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