I am new to Thomas Hardy, but one thing I have learned from researching him and his work, is that Hardy was very experimental in his writing. He completed a whole collection of novels to explore different aspects of novels. A large number of them focused more on the development of his characters and exploring human nature.
There are generally two main directions a novel is developed: focused on characters, or focused on plot. These appeal to a large amount of people and usually readers are really drawn to one or the other (I'm not saying that you would never read or enjoy the other, but we usually have a preference).
Personally, I would much rather read a story with highly developed characters. I like character development and I think it is one of the hardest things for writers to accomplish. Creating a three-dimensional, likable, appealing character is no easy feat. There are certain challenges to making a character realistic, and to truly capture all aspects of human emotion and motive.
So I am starting to like Hardy's style in The Mayor of Casterbridge. I feel like Hardy is exploring all different angles of human nature within all of his main characters. Their motives are explained and their lives are the story. It is not based on plot, but on the actions each character takes. Personally, I find this more realistic. I find that our lives are dictated by the choices we make, not by what happens around us. Circumstances do not change us, our actions and responses do.
Thus, I love what Hardy is trying to accomplish. His main character, the mayor Henchard, has made some horrible decisions to change the course of his life. In the first few pages, the reader watches as Henchard, his wife, and daughter stop in for food and drink in a rough tavern. There, Henchard gets carried away with his drinking and eventually becomes drunk. As he drinks more and more, Henchard rants about the uselessness and burden of his wife. In his drunken state, he auctions off his wife and daughter to the highest bidder. A seaman buys the two women and when Henchard wakes the next morning, he realizes what he has done.
He makes a vow not to drink for twenty years before moving south and starting over, in Casterbridge.
He makes a new life for himself and rises to prosperity. He is eventually elected mayor and seems to have everything going for him. Of course, his wife and daughter return to find him and Henchard has to come to terms with the decisions he made. The perfect life he built for himself begins to unravel.
It is an interesting premise and I am curious to see where Hardy's characters take themselves. I am curious to see how their actions shape the story around them and change the course of their lives.
I guess I shall see.