The Evolution of Women in The Mayor of Casterbridge
Thomas Hardy’s novel The Mayor of Casterbridge takes place in a pretend town in Victorian England. The characters in his novel highly reflect the ideals and morals of the time period. However, during the Victorian Era, different types of women started to form. Hardy outlines the evolution of women during the Victorian Period through the characterization of Susan Henchard, Lucetta Templeman, and Elizabeth-Jane Newson.
Although her presence in the novel is brief, Susan Henchard represents a subservient Victorian woman. A very simple, plain-looking woman, she allows herself to be classified almost as a second-class citizen. As often thought about woman during this time period, “The woman is the weaker and the fleshlier, and she clings to the stronger and obscures his [man’s] vision” (Brady 97). At the beginning of the novel, Susan agrees to be sold to the sailor. As her husband, Michael Henchard, states, “But she is willing, providing she can have the child. She said so only the other day when I talked o’t” (10). Susan goes along with whatever her husband says, believing she must listen to every word he says. As Dana Allingham describes in her essay about women’s role in the novel, “Henchard’s auctioning off his wife to the highest bidder at Weydon Fair...verifies that in early nineteenth century England women of her in class in rural districts were regarded as little more than stock to be disposed of at their owners’ whims…” (1). Women during this time period were also less educated than men. They did not know any better than the treatment they were receiving. The traditional subordinate woman relied on her husband’s thoughts rather than create her own. Hardy classifies Susan as such a woman. As the text says, “she was simple-minded enough to think that the sale [of her and her baby to the sailor] was in a way binding. She was as guiltless o’ wrong-doing in that particular as a saint in the clouds” (293). Susan does not understand that the auction is not legally permanent. By law, she is still married to Mr. Henchard. Through marriage, a Victorian woman became under the “care” of her husband. She understands she must do whatever her husband tells her to do.
Contrastingly, Henchard’s other lover, Lucetta Templeman, is very different from Susan. Her flirtatious nature causes her to be the center of attention. Her more outgoing beauty catches the eye of many suitors. To the other ladies in the town, her personality was unacceptable. They considered her to have lower moral standards, just because of her nature and her mysterious French history. Lucetta describes her situation by saying, “Oh no...I was thinking of -- what happens sometimes when women get themselves in strange positions in the eyes of the world from no fault of their own.... It makes them anxious; for might not other women despise them?” (170). Her character represents the...