Until the near end of the novel, disliking most of the major characters in The Mayor of Casterbridge is easy for a reader to do, if only because these characters’ failures are borne from such sailing ambition (and the uneven pitch of their hearts), that readers have been rolling their eyes at this cast for centuries. These same flaws – made palatable by their truth – pull the novel from a dusty cannon shelf to modern times, where a popular culture in love with the mostly propitious world of Jane Austen can, I suspect, better relate to the baser and earthier motives driving Hardy’s plot, even if it’s only a third as romantic. Vanity, paranoid rage, ignorance, anger, lust, misplaced trust, blind infatuation, and simple caste loathing – all parade the streets of Casterbridge in the daylight of believability, giving these wonderful, hopeless characters a humanity so ripe it makes their failures as wincing as they are compelling. Hearts are changed in Casterbridge more often than clothes, apparently, and if the town is mostly lost to modern times, as the narrator suggests, surely it isn’t for having been built on the same ephemeral foundation. More likely, too much of humanity has walked this ground before, as so many more have done it since. An excellent book.