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At a country fair near Casterbridge, Wessex, a young hay-trusser named Michael Henchard overindulges in rum-laced furmity and auctions off his wife, Susan and baby daughter, Elizabeth-Jane to a sailor, Newson for five guineas. Once sober the next day, he realises that his wife and daughter are gone, he swears not to touch liquor again for as many years (21) as he has lived so far. Eighteen years later, Henchard, now a successful grain merchant, is the eponymous Mayor of Casterbridge, known for his staunch sobriety. All these years, Henchard has kept the details surrounding the "loss" of his wife a secret. While travelling to the island of Jersey on business, Henchard falls in love with a young woman named Lucetta. Just as Henchard is about to send for Lucetta, Susan unexpectedly appears in Casterbridge with her daughter....