The Mayor of Casterbridge opens with an act of such heartlessness and cruelty that it still shocks readers today. Michael Henchard, an out-of-work hay-trusser, gets drunk at a fair and for five guineas sells his wife and child to a sailor. When the horror of his act sets in the following morning, the wretched Henchard swears he will not touch alcohol for twenty-one years. Through hard work and acumen, he becomes rich, respected, and eventually the mayor of Casterbridge. Eighteen years pass before Henchard's fateful oath comes back to claim its due. Upon the return to Casterbridge of his wife and daughter, Elizabeth-Jane, Henchard's fortunes steadily decline. He clashes with his business assistant, Donald Farfrae, who soon becomes his major rival. He ruins his business through impulsive speculations and takes to drinking again. One by one he forfeits his possessions and relationships to Farfrae. Soon Farfrae owns Henchard's business and his house, has gained the affection of his lover Lucetta, and has even become the mayor of Casterbridge. In a final insult, Farfrae marries Elizabeth-Jane. Having lost everything he once possessed, Henchard is forced to face himself in his most tragic and desperate moment.
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