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Susan from The Mayor of Casterbridge by Thomas Hardy


Susan is an honest but simple-minded woman who, as a young woman, is married to Michael Henchard but sold (along with her baby girl Elizabeth-Jane) at a drunken auction to a sailor by the name of Newson. She believes there is something legally binding about the sale, and goes to live with Newson as his wife. The baby Elizabeth-Jane dies three months later, and Susan has a daughter with Newson whom she names Elizabeth-Jane. It is this second Elizabeth-Jane whom she later passes off as Henchard's daughter.After living for years with Newson in Canada, the family of three returns to England. One spring, Newson (who believes his wife is having second thoughts about the validity of their marriage) is lost at sea. The impoverished "Widow Newson" returns with Elizabeth-Jane, who is now about eighteen years old. A reader who cares to do the maths will realise immediately that there's something fishy about Elizabeth-Jane's age. In any case, Susan has never told Elizabeth-Jane about Henchard or her first marriage, and certainly never told her about the auction incident.Because she has no way to earn a living, Susan approaches Henchard for help. She does not correct his assumption that he is Elizabeth-Jane's father, nor does she tell anyone about the auction incident. Henchard sends her a gift of five guineas (the amount for which he sold her to Newson and sets her up as a genteel new arrival to town). He courts her and remarries her. She does not tell him the truth about Elizabeth-Jane until her death a year or two later, when she writes a deathbed confession and seals it in an envelope to be opened only on Elizabeth-Jane's wedding day.

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