The Mayor of Casterbridge by Thomas Hardy


thomas_hardy-the-mayor-of-casterbridgeThe first book I read for my 2019 reading challenge, The Mayor of Casterbridge, is compelling because of its characters. Though there are many, it focuses on a man named Michael Henchard, a man none of us would envy. It is the story of a mistake he made as a young man and how this mistake haunted him, even when he achieved success and power.

The first chapter in which he made the mistake stood out to me in color. Henchard’s great mistake was to sell his wife and daughter to a sailor for some coin. Word choice made the drama play out before me in shades of brown and gray. It is one of the best introductory chapters I’ve read, setting a consistent foundation for the novel to follow.

Chapter one makes Henchard look pathetic, rather than evil. The colors in word choice reveal that he is not taking the quarrel seriously. He thinks it’s one of many others he’s had with his wife. By the end of the chapter, when Henchard wakes up to find his wife’s wedding ring on the pub floor, I did not hate him. I pitied him.

Consumed by remorse for his great mistake, Henchard achieved power but never shed his chains. His jealousy of competition, his desperation to regain the trust of his daughter, and the defeated manner in which he ended his life—it all made him real. Though I wanted to hate him, I had the sense he needed someone to love him found no one willing.

Sometimes the protagonist of a great novel is not himself great or impressive; sometimes he’s a man you wouldn’t trust with your life, your money, or an ounce of your time. Memorable characters are defined by flaws. They become famous because we want to slap or hug them. The best characters tap into the saddest aspects of humanity.

The novel has a depth I’ve noticed in many classics which began as serialized publications, such as Dickens’ work. The Mayor of Casterbridge was long enough to keep me immersed, but not so long that I wanted to fling it away and read something else. It pulled me into the amusing society aptly painted by Hardy’s word choice. Punctuated with love triangles, humorous mistakes, and the ever-present threat of gossip, it was never boring.

The Mayor of Casterbridge has made it to my list of favorite novels, along with Swann’s Way and David Copperfield. These books are about more than characters. They’re about setting and time period, prose and morality. An attentive read of these books reveals why they made it to the title of classic. Written at a time when life was slower, these novels have elegance that will never grow outdated.

I have already started my second read for the challenge, The Story of King Arthur and His Knights by Howard Pyle. This trip through literary history is being enjoyable as I had planned. Wait for a post about King Arthur in the next week or two.

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David Copperfield: The Call to Action


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In my final reflection on David Copperfield (for now), I want to muse on a paragraph which appears to me as a living, direct link to the author and what he stood for. It is a reflection on the homeless of his time–and ours.

In context: still a child, David Copperfield has escaped horrific months of factory work. Alone, he fled London on foot to find an aunt he has never met. She will adopt and protect him, putting an end to his darkest years, but they have marked him forever.

The journey to find her is grueling; he is forced to sell the coat off his back in order to buy food. Once he is taken in by his aunt and given a roof over his head, he reflects before going to sleep:

I remember how I thought of all the solitary places under the night sky where I had slept, and how I prayed that I never might be homeless any more, and never might forget the houseless. I remember how I seemed to float, then, down the melancholy glory of that track upon the sea, away into the world of dreams.

Though the first part of this paragraph seems most relevant, I will share all of it because it sets the scene: Copperfield is a child, and his final thought before drifting off is that he might not forget the poor. He hopes never to forget the sensation of feeling unloved and belonging nowhere.

I believe it was written as a call to action. Dickens is telling his readers never to forget the poor. His words are relevant to us, as well.

The poor are still around us, though they look different. You may not see a David Copperfield walking through the countryside, but you will find other children who don’t eat enough, their families enduring hard times in silence.

It might be tricky nowadays to spot someone in need. What, then, can we do to make a difference? Besides prayer and donation to trusted causes, I think the answer is kindness. Many of us forget to practice the virtue of charity, when a smile might be the light needed to relieve a stranger’s pain.

Dickens was not perfect–reading his biography, we see he had flaws. However, the flawed man can make a difference. I hope we can all smile at the strangers around us despite our imperfections. It might give them strength to make it through another day.

I’m not done taking apart David Copperfield for truths between the lines. However, I am ready to dissect other books. There is so much to be learned–both from the classics that never died and in modern works.

Seek truth between the lines and explore the margins. Books will always be relevant. Pay attention to their calls of action, because many stories are timeless for a reason.


Here are my other musings on David Copperfield, if you are interested in reading them:

David Copperfield: Intro


david copperfield coverThe Personal History, Adventures, Experience, and Observation of David Copperfield the Younger of Blunderstone Rookery. This is the original title of Charles Dickens’ eighth novel, published in serial form in the year 1850. Now sold as a 700-page book, it was originally released in 19 monthly one-shilling installments. This makes for a delightfully long story in which even the villains trigger a certain empathy.

Dickens himself called it his favorite among all his novels, and countless readers over the years have agreed; I myself found it to be moving, not only because there wasn’t a dull moment, but his word choice–as usual–took my breath away.

Based on Dickens’ own past, particularly the chapters which describe a troubled childhood, the story immerses you–as any good book should. Even if I had not enjoyed the story, I would have kept reading because of the style in which he wrote. His style is known to be vivid; he forms creative parallels to make readers feel emotions, even those of characters we don’t like.

Reading this book, I felt their anger, love, heartbreak, infatuation–and it took me a long time to finish, because I had the constant urge to stop and jot the paragraphs in my journal. Some scenes were so bold that I sensed I had lived them–they were part of my past–and I had to record them, borrowing words from one who was a master at using them.

As I wrote Dickens’ words, I couldn’t help contemplating them on a deep level, finding poetry between the lines–in the pauses–the things not said. They found new meaning as I took them apart from the rest of the book. I realized that, as a reader, there is little like the beauty of a paragraph: words, black ink, old or fresh, promising a tale, promising a description that our own minds wouldn’t have come up with.

I would like to share a few of the notes I made. In the next few days, I want to show anyone interested what I found beautiful and why I thought it so–not as complex analysis, but because I want to share. Perhaps you will find enjoyment in the passages. Perhaps they will encourage you to read the book, but it will be enough if they make you stop and ponder, as they did for me.

I do this because I hope to one day write something this powerful. I do this because I have deep love for words and the magic they create. I do it because I love Dickens’ work and wish he was not dead.

Most of all, I do it because words are beautiful. They ought to be appreciated. I believe they can uncover depths in us, timeless depths. Check back if you want to read my thoughts as I share them. I hope they will make you pause for one moment of your day.

A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens


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Merry Christmas! I hope you’ve had a blessed day!

Every year at around this time, I read A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens. It is my favorite book, because Scrooge’s experiences with the Ghosts of Christmas make me reflect on my own life.

The link between his story and our lives might be difficult to admit. Scrooge was such an unpleasant man that the Ghost of Christmas Future showed him nobody would attend his funeral. Instead they would steal the curtains from his bed and the shirt off his dead body.

Of course, Ebenezer Scrooge is an extreme example. It’s also true that we can never make everybody like us. We can, however, admit our flaws and try to improve ourselves. It is difficult to do, so much so that many never try, putting themselves in danger of ending up like Scrooge.

It was greed that made him disagreeable, but are we blind to our own flaws?

I have many things about myself that need fixing, and so do you. It’s useful to ask on occasion what the Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present and Future would say if it were us they’d come to visit instead of poor old Scrooge. It’s easy enough to judge him, but the message is universal.

Books have the ability to help us grow and change through characters and their choices. A Christmas Carol is poignant, relevant, and can be read in one or two days. The short length does not lessen the impact of the story: if read well, it will make you think.

I’m not perfect and neither are you. In that matter, we can relate to Ebenezer Scrooge. We’re human and in constant need of improvement.

A Christmas Carol is timeless for its wit and its message of hope: no matter how old we are or what we’ve done, there’s time to start over–Scrooge did!