So I have just finished listening to the tapes. Here is the first page:
"The Mayor of Casterbridge" has a wonderful introduction with Michael and Susan Henchard walking down the road to Weydon-Priors, not speaking. When they arrived at the fair, Michael bought furmity (laced) and, in this drunken state, sold his wife and child to a sailor Richard Newson. When Newson ended up lost at sea, Susan and Elizabeth-Jane returned to Casterbridge and discovered that Michael was the mayor. He married Susan again and eventually Elizabeth-Jane discovered that Michael was her father. But after Susan died, it was discovered that Michael's daughter had died and Elizabeth-Jane was actually Newson's daughter.
But the plot thickens!
Michael had had an affair with Lucetta, and after Susan's death, Lucetta arrived in town expecting to marry Michael. But she fell in love with his adversary, Donald Farfrae, and married him. Donald had started as Michael's manager but took over his business, his house, and finally his woman.
The subtitle of this book is 'the story of a man of character' and that has confused many people. But the word "character" means simply 'the qualities that make a person who he is'. Michael had many flaws and no self-esteem, causing him to lose everything.
When the town learned that Lucetta, who has married Donald, had been involved with Michael they organized a 'skimmington'. What is a 'skimmington'?
A skimmington is a procession made through a village intended to bring ridicule on and make an example of a nagging wife or an unfaithful husband.
I really loved this book. Michael was a real 'rascal' and all the bad choices that he made, came back to haunt him. There were always twists and interesting surprises. This might be my favourite Hardy!