Contingencies in Casterbridge

"The Mayor of Casterbridge" gallops apace, although I approach it with a growing sense of doom since my flatmate Anthony told me that it was a terribly sad book. I don't know why I believed that, totally against form and precedent, Hardy would have written a Jane Austen novel in which everything ends happily after some witty convulsions of plot. But I did. And now I fear for these poor characters.

There is a strange aversion to implicitness in the prose that I hadn't remembered from my one other experience with Hardy, although it may very well be characteristic. An example, from a scene in which Henchard reads a letter from an ex while his wife lies in her sickbed:

"Henchard breathed heavily. 'Poor thing - better you had not known me! Upon my heart and soul, if ever I should be left in a position to carry out that marriage with thee, I ought to do it - I ought to do it, indeed.'

The contingency that he had in his mind was of course the death of Mrs. Henchard."

Of course. Thanks for the clarification.

This novel is pretty much the opposite of a Henry James novel. In Henry James you wade through miles of text and then think, "Wait, did that really just happen?", aware that if you returned to the passage you would find all evidence of the event to be tricksy and double-edged, yielding multiple possible interpretations. The Hardy of "The Mayor of Casterbridge" would follow up such a passage with a paragraph break and the statement, "And then they had sex. Twice."

Is this a conscious narrative choice on Hardy's part? If so, to what end?

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