A cruel joke at a country fair goes too far when a drunken laborer auctions off his wife and child to the highest bidder. So begins The Mayor of Casterbridge, Thomas Hardy's gripping tale of a man's rise and fall amid the natural beauty and human brutality of a rural English community. First published serially in 1886, the novel was praised by critics for its realism and poetic style. Most agreed, however, that its plot hinges upon unlikely turns of events. Hardy replied, "It is not improbabilities of incident but improbabilities of character that matter." In this book — originally subtitled "A Story of a Man of Character" — the author perpetually tests his characters with frequent intrusions by the hand of fate. Rich in descriptive powers and steeped in irony, this timeless tale offers a spellbinding portrayal of ambition, rivalry, revenge, and repentance.