Study Guide

The Mayor of Casterbridge Gender

By Thomas Hardy

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The poor opinion, and but ill-concealed, that he entertained of the slim Farfrae's physical girth, strength, and dash, was more than counterbalanced by the immense respect he had for his brains. (14.27)

Henchard is much more stereotypically masculine than Farfrae – he's tall and strong, while Farfrae is shorter and slighter in build. Henchard has a "poor opinion" of Farfrae's physical status, but he admires his intelligence. They represent two very different versions of masculinity.

Sober and discreet, she was yet so hearty, that her homespun simplicity afforded none of those piquant problems which are afforded by the simplicity that is carefully constructed by art. When she walked abroad she seemed to be occupied with an inner chamber of ideas, and to have slight need for visible objects. (15.1)

Elizabeth-Jane has a very active life of the mind, which is why none of the young men are attracted to her at first. She doesn't bother with the kinds of artificial, flashy accessories that other ladies wear. She's too earnest and serious for that.

Everybody was attracted, and some said that her bygone simplicity was the art that conceals art, the "delicate imposition" of Rochefoucauld; she had produced an effect, a contrast, and it had been done on purpose. As a matter of fact this was not true, but it had its result; for as soon as young Casterbridge thought her artful it thought her worth notice. (15.4)

After a while, Elizabeth-Jane starts wearing fancier gloves and bonnets, and all the young men are suddenly attracted to her. They all assume the abrupt shift to a fancier style of dressing was done on purpose in order to create a contrast. It wasn't deliberate, but it doesn't matter: the narrator implies that young men like it when ladies dress for effect.

He showed a respect for the young girl's sex and years worthy of a better man. (19.14)

Henchard doesn't tell Elizabeth-Jane the whole story of the wife sale because (a) she's young, and (b) she's a girl. The narrator says this is a virtue in Henchard.

She started the pen in an elephantine march across the sheet. It was a splendid round, bold hand of her own conception, a style that would have stamped a woman as Minerva's own in more recent days. But other ideas reigned then: Henchard's creed was that proper young girls wrote ladies'-hand – nay, he believed that bristling characters were as innate and inseparable a part of refined womanhood as sex itself. (20.14)

Elizabeth-Jane's handwriting is very masculine – it's what was described in those days as "round-hand." She taught herself to write and did an excellent job by almost anyone's standards. But back in the day, most people thought that a proper, upper-class young lady should write in "ladies' hand," which was a fancier-looking (and harder to read) script. Check out the "Best of the Web" section for a link to what ladies' handwriting was supposed to look like.

The room disclosed was prettily furnished as a boudoir or small drawing-room, and on a sofa with two cylindrical pillows reclined a dark-haired, large-eyed, pretty woman, of unmistakably French extraction on one side or the other. She was probably somewhat older than Elizabeth, and had a sparkling light in her eye. (22.20)

Lucetta is extremely feminine, even sultry. Notice the dark hair and the large eyes, and that fact that she is "reclining" among pillows on a sofa. Lucetta is also introduced as being "unmistakably French." Check out Lucetta's "Character Analysis" section for more on her Frenchness.

Lucetta's face became – as a woman's face becomes when the man she loves rises upon her gaze like an apparition. (25.24)

The narrator suggests that women are unable to control their facial expressions when they're in love and the object of their affections appears.

She arranged herself picturesquely in the chair; first this way, then that; next so that the light fell over her head. Next she flung herself on the couch in the cyma-recta curve which so became her, and, with her arm over her head, looked toward the door. (22.79)

Lucetta is very conscious of her femininity, and tries to use it to her advantage. She artfully arranges herself like the subject of a painting so that Henchard's first impression when he comes in will be a good one. We find the preciseness of this description pretty funny.

His old feeling of supercilious pity for womankind in general was intensified by this suppliant appearing here as the double of the first. (35.27)

Henchard, as a tall, strong, bullish man, tends to feel superior to women since they are generally smaller and physically weaker. He feels a general "pity" for all of "womankind" because of their perceived weakness.

that flower of Nature, Elizabeth. (44.8)

In contrast to Lucetta, Elizabeth-Jane is very natural. Her beauty, like a flower's, comes from nature. She doesn't have to resort to the kind of artifice that Lucetta does to attract people.

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