This 1886 novel may be Hardy's most intense and gripping narrative. We first see the central character, Michael Henchard, as a drunken and unemployed hay-trusser who sells his wife Susan and his daughter Elizabeth-Jane at a fair. When he is eventually reunited with the two, he has become the contented and prosperous mayor of a thriving market town. But the downward spiral begins. Henchard's fall is hastened by a series of coincidences and quarrels, and by his own jealousy and pride. Though the perspective on events that Hardy gives us is often that of other characters (Elizabeth-Jane in particular), Henchard remains the central focus; in the end he is a tragic figure, bankrupt, emotionally broken and a outcast from society. Prepared by one of the world's leading Hardy scholars, this edition includes a critical introduction and a range of background materials from the period. Historical documents (concerning such topics as the corn laws and the practice of wife-selling) and contemporary reviews help set this remarkable novel in the context out of which it emerged.