I've always been a bit wary to read Hardy because his stories always seem so depressing and this book hasn't dissuaded me of that. He writes much more about the average person, the rural worker people and how poor and hard their lives are.
Henchard sold his wife and child at a country fair after a bout of heavy drinking. Wholly repentant by the morning he bitterly regrets his actions. However, unable to find them again he wanders into the town of Casterbridge, where through hard work he raises himself up to be the Mayor - from nothing at all.
I like Hardy's style of writing, his simplicity and subtle way of expressing himself and his characters. Some times it sounds very matter of fact. He gently weaves character traits into a person, and guides you through the story.
I felt sorry for Henchard. I wanted to bash him around the head too. I cannot dislike him though for all his mistakes and pig-headedness. He really was his own worst enemy. In the end I respected him, he was a self-made man but he was ashamed of his background and the poverty of his previous life pervaded his thoughts and confidence in himself.
The ending was powerful and gave me a sharp punch in the gut. I was already aware of the ending from watching a TV film of it a while ago, though I'd forgotten most of the story apart from the beginning and the ending. This was perhaps fortunate as the copy of the book actually tells you what happens at the end on the back cover. So a word of warning: Do not pick up the British TV-tie in edition with Alan Bates on the front cover unless you already know the conclusion!
I will definitely be reading more of Hardy's works from now on, he is an interesting man and I like reading about this other side of the Victorian society you never really get to hear about.