This double perspective of the town symbolizes the ambiguity of protagonist Michael Henchard’s own rise and fall. From one perspective his downfall seems to be brought about by a cruel but clear-cut fate; from another, by the muddle of his own character and choices. The tensions created by these opposite perspectives create the power of the novel.
Recurring geographical features of the town include High Street; St. Peter’s Church; the market house; the town hall, in which magistrates preside over the police court; two inns, the Mariner’s Arms and the King’s Arms Hotel; and the Bull Stake, an open area. The buildings are typically either timber houses with overhanging stories dating from Tudor times, or stone Georgian structures. Stores serve a variety of agricultural needs. The houses have no front yards, opening straight onto sidewalks, though they often have long rear courtyards and gardens.
Casterbridge corresponds to the real Dorchester in the county of Dorset in southwestern England. Hardy knew the town intimately, for it was there he received his high school education, practiced as an architect, and built his own house, Max Gate.
Henchard’s house. Home of Michael Henchard on Casterbridge’s Corn Street–a suitable address for the town’s official corn factor. The house’s change of ownership from Henchard to the grain merchant Donald Farfrae marks the decisive change of balance of power between the men.
High-Place Hall. Old stone house near Casterbridge’s market that Lucetta Le Sueur leases on her departure from Jersey, one of the British Channel Islands off the French coast. The hall is built in the fashion of a country mansion but sits in the center of town, thereby symbolizing the ambiguity of Lucetta’s position. From its windows, Lucetta and Elizabeth-Jane Newson watch the commercial transactions of Henchard and Farfrae. The hidden relationships of these four characters is suggested by the hidden entrance to the house.
The Ring. Old Roman amphitheater immediately outside Casterbridge’s southern boundary, just off the Budmouth (Weymouth) road. The amphitheater is described as being as large as the Colosseum in Rome; what goes on inside it is hidden, but such secretiveness does little good: It is a “dismal privacy,” as if ghosts were watching it. Likewise, Henchard’s first meeting with Susan, his later meeting with Lucetta, his spying on Farfrae’s meeting with Elizabeth-Jane, and his observing Newson’s return never lead to anything open and healthful, and contribute only to the continuation of the secrets and lies that finally enmesh him.
Durnover. Casterbridge’s only suburb, located to the east and northeast of the town, along the river. The river itself embodies “mournful phases” of Casterbridge life, and the slum area of Mixen Lane abuts it. A form of public humiliation known as a skimmity ride is planned in Durnovers’ low-class pub, Peter’s Finger; Henchard finds lodgings with Jopp in Durnover when both are down on their luck; the “chorus of yokels” lives in Durnover.
Bridges. Casterbridge’s two bridges symbolize the town’s social class divisions and tragedies. The brick bridge at the end of High Street is frequented by low-class characters down on their luck, while the stone bridge, situated in the meadows, is a more secluded place, one to which the better classes go when in misfortune. People occasionally jump off the bridges to commit suicide, and their bodies end up in Blackwater Pool or Ten Hatches Hole, which is where Henchard sees his straw effigy or double after the skimmity ride, a ghastly omen of his own impending death.
Weydon Priors. Village in Upper Wessex, some six days’ walk from Casterbridge, that is the only important location outside Casterbridge in the novel. Weydon Priors is in economic decline, marked by the decline of its annual fair and individualized in the downfall of the Furmity woman, who knows Henchard’s dark secret. Her arrest in Casterbridge, where their fated paths cross, precipitates Henchard’s downfall.