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Chapters 1 and 2

Chapter 1

It is the early 19th-century on a late summer evening. A man, his wife, and their child approach the village of Weydon-Priors after a long journey. The sturdy man appears to be a hay-trusser and carries a basket and a hay-knife. The attractive woman holds the child and whispers soothing words to quiet her, this being the only conversation between the three. As they walk along the road in silence, they grow nearer to the village where they hear some distant noises. The man inquires a local laborer about employment and housing, about which he receives negative responses, and he learns that Fair Day is coming to an end in town.
The family continues along, and they observe a quiet Fair field, in which little business is now being transacted. There are some entertainment booths still set up, but the family looks for a refreshment tent instead. They come across a furmity-booth (a mix of corn, grain, flour, milk, raisins, currants, and other ingredients) where the two adults order a bowl each. The man requests the lady-vendor to lace his portion with rum to make it more appetizing, and liking this extra ingredient, he orders bowl after bowl and continues to eat until he is sufficiently drunk.
He begins to rant and rave about his sorrows: marrying young, being poor, seeking employment. A horse auctioneer is overheard trying to make a sale, which gives the intoxicated man the idea that he too should have the option of selling his wife since she is of little use to him. The embarrassed wife tries to calm her husband, Michael, but he is undeterred, continuing to demand a buyer. Several bids are made, but a passing sailor makes the highest offer at five guineas. The shocked wife cautions Michael that if he accepts the money, she will indeed leave him, along with their daughter Elizabeth-Jane, but Michael is carefree. He pockets the money, causing the woman to harshly remove her wedding ring and fling it at him before she leaves with the new man. There is a sprinkling of comments from the witnesses of the transaction, but Michael as yet has no regrets. He stretches out at a table in the tent and is soon sound asleep.

Chapter 2

Henchard is awoken the next morning with a confused picture of yesterday's occurrences. The sight of his wife's wedding ring and the possession of the sailor's money inside his pocket confirm that his nightmare is reality. Unsure of his next actions, he surveys the still-asleep town and walks away from the Fair field.
As he exits, he tries to recollect better the evening's events. He wonders if he told anyone his name, but the real surprise is that his wife, Susan, took the transaction literally, owing to her simplicity. He is determined to find them and put up with whatever humiliation should stem from their recovery. He also swears an oath in a church to reflect the earnestness of his promise, stating that he, Michael Henchard, from this day forth counting 21 years (for each year of his life), will abstain completely from strong liquors as his personal punishment.
The search is difficult and fruitless. No one has seen his wife, their child, or the sailor, and even after spending all the sailor's money in the endeavor, Henchard is still without any leads (though perhaps if he had not been so cautious with revealing the actual facts, the results would have been much improved). When he finally makes his way to a seaport (after some months), he learns that characters resembling his description had left from there shortly before. Discontinuing his search upon learning this news, Henchard finally resolves to settle in the town of Casterbridge.

Browse all book notes

Historical Context
Main Characters
Points to Ponder
Did You Know
Plot Summary
Chapters 1 and 2
Chapters 3 and 4
Chapters 5 and 6
Chapters 7 and 8
Chapters 9 and 10
Chapters 11, 12, and 13
Chapters 14 and 15
Chapter 16
Chapters 17 and 18
Chapters 19 and 20
Chapters 21 and 22
Chapters 23 and 24
Chapters 25 and 26
Chapter 27
Chapters 28 and 29
Chapters 30 and 31
Chapters 32 and 33
Chapter 34
Chapters 35 and 36
Chapter 37
Chapter 38
Chapter 39
Chapters 40 and 41
Chapters 42 and 43
Chapter 44
Chapter 45


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