For such a long novel, The Mayor of Casterbridge has relatively few main characters: two men (Henchard and Farfrae) and three women (Susan, Lucetta, and Elizabeth-Jane). Their great differences of character make it difficult to generalize about gender roles in the novel. The characters themselves, though, often make sexist generalizations.
Questions About Gender
Elizabeth-Jane and Lucetta are both described as very feminine, but they could hardly be more opposite. How would you define their contrasting versions of femininity?
Farfrae and Henchard also represent two very different ideals of masculinity. How would you define these contrasting ideals?
Why would the novel present such contrasting versions of "masculine" and "feminine"?
We're told in Chapter 20 that Elizabeth-Jane writes in a masculine "round hand" instead of the half-illegible script that was typical of a woman's handwriting in the 19th century. Why is this an important detail? What does it reveal about Elizabeth-Jane, and about gender more generally?
Chew on This
The Mayor of Casterbridge presents several contrasting versions of masculinity and femininity to show how difficult it is to define or maintain hard-and-fast gender roles.
Although Elizabeth-Jane is naturally very feminine, she lacks the more superficial, artificial markers of femininity that are taught by society, such as feminine handwriting, fashionable dress, and accomplishments like dancing and singing.