Academic journal article Style

Quantifying Tonal Analysis in the Mayor of Casterbridge

Academic journal article Style

Quantifying Tonal Analysis in the Mayor of Casterbridge

Article excerpt

Models of Tragedy and the Interpretive History of Mayor of Casterbridge

The Mayor of Casterbridge is in basic ways an unusual novel. Its protagonist, Michael Henchard, has personality traits and motivational dispositions that are more typical of antagonists than of protagonists, and Hardy's own perspective on the events seem remote and detached, thus discouraging the reader's own emotional involvement in the story. Because of these peculiar features, Mayor constitutes an especially difficult challenge to interpretive criticism, and it is a challenge that previous criticism has been only partially successful in meeting. The main interpretive models that have been made available for Mayor presuppose passional involvement with a protagonist and seek resolution in some kind of affirmation embodied in the protagonist's own experience--an affirmation of ethical order, grandeur, freedom, dignity, human amelioration, or a more complete humanity.

We collected data from 85 readers about the characters in Mayor and about the readers' emotional responses to the characters. This data suggests an interpretive structure very different from that which is embodied in the interpretive history of the novel. Our data suggest that readers of this particular novel do not commonly experience passional involvement with the protagonist or with the other characters. As many critics of the novel have recognized, Hardy identifies closely with the perspective of Henchard's step-daughter, Elizabeth-Jane, and, for Elizabeth-Jane, the spectacle of Henchard's career culminates in a state of compassionate, detached meditation. That also is a form of resolution, but it is a form different from that of passional involvement with the protagonist.

We shall first give an account of the interpretive history of the novel and then explain the alternatives suggested by our data. Our study of Mayor is part of a much larger study of characters in the Victorian novel, generally. The larger study provides the framework of norms within which we assess motives, personality, role assignments, and emotional responses in Mayor. Before going into detail about Mayor, we shall, therefore, explain the design of this larger study and the results we received from it.

To give the reader an adequate orientation to references in the interpretive history of the novel, we shall begin by concisely summarizing the plot. The actions in the plot of Mayor are like a roller coaster ride of wildly changing fortunes--especially the fortunes of Henchard, Susan, and Lucetta. In the opening chapter, Henchard is 21 years old. Embittered at being held back and burdened by family responsibilities, he gets drunk at a country fair and sells his wife and baby daughter. Within the next twenty years, he becomes a wealthy and respected corn merchant and is elected mayor of the market town Casterbridge. Meanwhile, his wife, Susan, has lived with Newson, the man who bought her. Her child from the marriage with Henchard has died, but she has had another child with Newson. Both children are named Elizabeth-Jane. Newson is lost at sea, and Susan returns to Henchard, deceiving him by telling him that Newson's child, now grown, is his child. He remarries her, but she dies soon after. Shortly after her death, Henchard tells Elizabeth-Jane that she is his daughter and asks her to take his name, but, almost immediately after that, he discovers that Elizabeth-Jane is not, in fact, his daughter. He does not tell her that he had been deceived in believing himself her father, but he becomes cold and hostile toward her. Since her arrival in Casterbridge, Elizabeth-Jane has been romantically interested in Henchard's young protege, Farfrae, who had come to Casterbridge without place or prospect, but Farfrae loses interest in Elizabeth-Jane and takes up instead with Lucetta, who previously, unbeknownst to him, was Henchard's mistress. Henchard began his relationship with Farfrae by being overbearingly friendly, but he becomes jealous of Farfrae's popularity. …

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