The Mayor of Casterbridge

Thomas Hardy

Illustrated by Peter Reddick

Preface by the author

A meteoric social rise and fall is at the heart of Thomas Hardy’s The Mayor of Casterbridge. This stunning new Folio Society edition is part of our Wessex novels collection.


A shameful act of drunken impetuousness results in Michael Henchard losing his wife and daughter in an auction. This evil deed remains secret for years, during which time Henchard climbs the social ladder from working as a roving hay-trusser to becoming the upstanding Mayor of Casterbridge. An intricate tale of duplicity, comeuppance and regret, this novel puts its characters’ principles to the test. 

‘Hardy saw the passion in the lives of ordinary country people: shepherds, milkmaids, village musicians, and expressed it with great power and empathy.’

  1. Telegraph

Production Details

Bound in cloth blocked with a decorative motif
Set in Baskerville
336 pages
36 integrated black & white woodcut illustrations

Printed map endpapers
Printed slipcase
9˝ × 5¾˝

A shocking portrayal of humanity

That someone would sell their family to a sailor after a night on the ale seems shocking enough, but the cover-up and Henchard’s subsequent social ascent make the original act even more scandalous. Hardy rarely shies away from humanity’s darker side but his characters’ cruelties are particularly prevalent here as the bartered wife and child are forced into a new life far from home. However, the lessons meted out are suitably harsh, for Hardy makes it clear that past deeds never fade, and success and prosperity can be lost as quickly as gained. Henchard is punished for his misdemeanours to such an extent that, by the final chapters, he has become a deeply sorry, even sympathetic figure. 

The Wessex novels are sweeping sagas with characters who bare their souls and share their triumphs and declines in a dazzling emotional repertoire. Hardy deals with social injustice, marriage and religion in often disparate contexts, as well as developing strong, independent female characters who are not always merely victims of their circumstances but occasionally also conquerors of them. Above all, he portrays a fatalistic view of the world: his characters are ultimately at the whim of a higher power.  

A new collector’s set

The Mayor of Casterbridge is produced in series with the best of Thomas Hardy’s other Wessex novels – Tess of the d’Urbervilles, Far from the Madding Crowd and Jude the Obscure. The edition is illustrated with 36 of Peter Reddick’s delightful wood engravings and includes printed map endpapers depicting Wessex in glorious detail. Reddick’s motifs also appear on the cloth binding and are replicated on the slipcase. This is made from Fragrance of Grass paper, which is created using an ancient Chinese paper-making method that results in a unique appearance and texture.  

About Thomas Hardy

Thomas Hardy was born in Dorset, England in 1840 and was the eldest son of Thomas and Jemima Hardy. His rural upbringing instilled in him a love of the natural world and this was to combine with an appreciation of the built environment when he was apprenticed to a local architect, aged 16. He spent a brief period working in London as a draftsman before illness meant he had to return home in 1867. Throughout this time, Hardy developed his writing style and his second manuscript, Desperate Remedies (1871), was accepted and published. He wrote short stories and instalments for a tale called A Pair of Blue Eyes while writing further novels, and he was able to work solely as a writer when he left architecture. Wessex was first introduced in Far from the Madding Crowd (1874) and this and subsequent novels established Hardy as a household name. Tess of the d’Urbervilles (1891) and Jude the Obscure (1895) were his last two novels but he continued to write short stories and poems until his death in 1928. 

About Peter Reddick

Peter Reddick was born in Essex in 1924. He studied at the Royal Liberty School in Gidea Park until he was 18 and he then registered as a conscientious objector and undertook land work during the Second World War. It was during this time that his interest in wood engraving developed and he taught himself to engrave by cutting a length of tree trunk into rounds. Once the war was over, he returned to his studies, attending the Guildford and Cardiff schools of art and then the Slade School of Art in London. He focused on illustration but also worked as a tutor to supplement his income while demand for his work increased. Reddick illustrated more than 50 books during his career, including 18 volumes of Thomas Hardy works. He was a founder of the Spike Island art space in Bristol, a hub for contemporary art and design which showcases new and established artists. Reddick was a chairman of the studio until 2006 and he died in 2010. 


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