The Mayor of Casterbridge

Wife Selling Episode

narrate the wife selling episode and its consequences

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After arriving in Weydon-Priors, Michael learns that there is no work available, although, because it is Fair Day, there is some excitement in the village. The family goes to the fair-field, but ignores all the goings-on in favor of finding food. They decided to stop in a furmity tent, a place where they can buy some pudding. The man demands some liquor for his furmity, and drinks it lustily, ignoring his wife's pleas for lodging. Soon the man, who has been called Michael, complains loudly about his marriage and his poverty.

Outside, Michael hears an auction of horses, and he wonders why men can't sell their wives at auction. Some people inside the tent actually respond favorably to this question, and Michael openly offers his wife for sale (with the child as a bonus). Although the wife, named Susan, begs her husband not to do such a thing, Michael ignores her. A sailor soon speaks from the doorway. He will take Susan and Elizabeth-Jane (the child) for five pounds and five shillings--though he will not if Susan is unwilling. Susan sweeps out of the tent with Elizabeth-Jane and the sailor, cursing her husband.

As Michael drinks, the villagers wonder about the sailor and the woman's spirit. Michael says that he will never take his wife back, and begins to fall asleep in the tent. Eventually, the other villagers depart, leaving Michael there to sleep off his drunken state.