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The Mayor of Casterbridge
by Thomas Hardy
The Mayor of Casterbridge Chapter 1 Summary
A young man and woman are traveling together along a road. The woman is carrying a baby. The man is looking for work as a hay trusser on a farm. They stop for supper at a fair. The woman proposes that they get bowls of furmity for dinner ("furmity" is kind of like oatmeal with sugar, raisins, currants, and milk in it – basically a sweet but nutritious bowl of wheat glop). The man asks the furmity lady to spike his bowl with rum. He has bowl after bowl of rum-spiked furmity (you'd think he'd be tired of the glop, but it seems he can't get enough). He's soon quite drunk and starts ranting to anyone who will listen about how marriage sucks. His wife seems used to his bad temper and pretty much ignores him – until he starts talking about how he'd like to sell his wife to anyone willing to buy her. She says he's made that joke a few too many times. He insists that he's serious. The other people in the furmity tent think this is just the funniest thing, and they start joking about auctioning off the man's wife. The man, whom his wife calls "Michael," says he won't take less than five guineas for her. (Historical context note! A "guinea" is a British pound plus one shilling. Five guineas would be a lot of money for a poor person at the time.) A sailor shows up and says he'll buy the wife, slapping five guineas on the table. Michael is surprised – he wasn't totally serious, but he's drunk and stubborn enough to agree. His wife, whom he calls Susan, thinks this is a binding legal agreement. When Michael picks up the money, she picks up the baby and leaves with the sailor. Everyone else in the furmity tent is kind of shocked that Michael actually went through with it, and they all leave. Michael passes out at the table.
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