Study Guide

The Mayor of Casterbridge Chapter 1

By Thomas Hardy

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Chapter 1

  • 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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