The Return of the Native
In a neglected, wild area of the English countryside, bonfires are being lit to mark the coming of
winter. As the country folk celebrate this ancient custom, we learn that the emotional lives of several
people are in turmoil. Thomasin Yeobright, niece of the highly respectable Mrs. Yeobright, has been stood
up on her wedding day. Disgraced, she has returned home. Wildeve, the man she was engaged to, (against
her aunt's wishes), is a handsome lady-killer who has failed as an engineer and now runs an inn and
tavern named The Quiet Woman. He still pledges to marry Thomasin, but secretly he is torn between her
and Eustacia Vye, a strange and beautiful young woman who lives with her grandfather, a retired sea
captain. The Vyes' lonely cottage is situated in the middle of Egdon Heath, a great wasteland that is the
center of the novel's action.
For some weeks, Wildeve cannot make up his mind. Thomasin, for the sake of appearances, wants to
marry him, even though she is now well aware of his weakness. Eustacia, who has been passionately
attracted to him for a year, sees him as the only pleasure in her dull life in a part of the country she hates.
A curious character, Diggory Venn, hangs around watching developments. He once proposed to Thomasin
and was turned down, but he still hopes that she may give him another chance. Because Thomasin
rejected him, he gave up a comfortable life on a dairy farm and has taken up the trade of reddlemaking.
This occupation dyes his skin red, making him a social outcast.
As Christmas nears, word comes that Mrs. Yeobright's son, Clym, is returning from Paris for a visit.
Eustacia has never met him, but the tales of his success in the diamond business arouse her interest. Here
may be the heroic figure she's been waiting for all her life. He becomes a glamorous fantasy for her. To
meet him, she disguises herself as a boy and performs in a Christmas play at his mother's house. They
meet and find each other fascinating, although he does not yet learn her true identity.
Caring only for Thomasin's happiness, Diggory asks Eustacia to give up her hold on Wildeve. Since
Clym has arrived, she is bored with Wildeve, so she writes him a rejection letter. Stunned, he immediately
asks Thomasin once again to marry him. He gets her consent moments before Diggory arrives at her
door, hoping to propose to her himself.
Eustacia disguises herself and appears at the wedding. When she is asked, as a
"stranger," to act as an official witness, she triumphantly shows her face to Wildeve. He
thought his marriage would hurt her, despite what she had written to him. It is, however, just what she
wants to happen- at the moment.
Soon, Clym and Eustacia begin meeting each other on the heath. The countryside is coming into
flower, and their love begins to blossom. Worried, Mrs. Yeobright warns her son against Eustacia as an
idle creature. Clym is already in love, however, and mother and son quarrel bitterly. Eventually, he leaves
her house for good, setting up in a small cottage six miles away. After a passionate nighttime encounter,
Eustacia and Clym decide to marry immediately. He plans to remain in the Egdon area and become a
schoolmaster, a decision that disturbs both Mrs. Yeobright and Eustacia. The young woman is convinced,
however, that he will soon change his mind. She dreams of nothing more than escape to the excitement of
Clym's Parisian life.
On the night of their wedding there is a terrible misunderstanding. Mrs. Yeobright hopes to be
reconciled with her son by sending a wedding gift, his share of the inheritance from his father. An equal
amount of money is due Thomasin. Christian Cantle, a simple-minded fellow, is supposed to take both
sums to the wedding party. On the way, however, he stops by The Quiet Woman where he wins a raffle.
His luck makes him think that fortune is on his side. Soon after, he loses all the Yeobrights' money by
playing dice with Wildeve. Diggory immediately appears and wins the money back. Believing the whole
sum is Thomasin's, he gives it to her without explanation.
Mrs. Yeobright decides, on the basis of Christian's version of these events, that Wildeve must still
have both Clym and Thomasin's shares of the money. She suspects he has given Clym's share to Eustacia.
She asks her daughter-in-law, who angrily decides that Mrs. Yeobright is implying an improper
relationship between Eustacia and Wildeve. An argument cuts off all hope of friendship between the two
Almost immediately, Eustacia and Clym's marriage begins to founder. He has been studying too hard
for his new occupation and develops eye trouble. He is reduced to making a living by gathering wood on
the heath, just like one of the country folk. Eustacia becomes depressed, realizing that she has made a
horrible mistake and may never escape Egdon. The conflict with his mother preys upon Clym's mind.
To cheer herself up, Eustacia goes off alone to a night of dancing in a nearby village. There, she and
Wildeve meet accidentally and dance with abandon. They recall their former passion longingly. Diggory,
who sees them together, worries that the affair may be starting again. When Wildeve begins to walk by the
Yeobrights' cottage every night, Diggory harasses him from the darkness. Wildeve decides that it is safer
to visit Eustacia by daylight.
On an incredibly hot summer day, Mrs. Yeobright decides to walk over to her son's cottage to try to
make peace. Just before she arrives, Clym comes in from the fields and falls asleep, exhausted. Wildeve
shows up to see Eustacia. When Mrs. Yeobright knocks on the door, Eustacia flees with Wildeve to the
garden, thinking that Clym will awaken and let his mother in. In fact, Clym is fast asleep and the door is
never opened. But Mrs. Yeobright has seen Eustacia's face at a window and assumes that Clym and his
wife have purposely refused to let her in. Fatigued and angered, she starts back homeward.
As Mrs. Yeobright struggles in the afternoon heat, a little boy, Johnny Nunsuch, comes upon her; she
tells him that she has been abandoned by her son. That night, Clym decides to go to his mother and ask
forgiveness. On the way, he finds her collapsed and unconscious on the heath. He carries her to shelter
and calls the villagers for help. She has been bitten by a snake, but when the doctor arrives, he says that it
is exertion that is the real trouble. Mrs. Yeobright dies. Johnny relates what the woman told him about
her son abandoning her, and Clym decides that he is guilty of his mother's death.
After weeks of delirium, Clym finally calms down. Eustacia is miserable, sure that her role in Mrs.
Yeobright's death will be discovered, but she says nothing. By chance, Clym learns from Diggory that his
mother had intended to visit the day she died. He asks Johnny for more information and learns that Mrs.
Yeobright had indeed knocked on the door but was turned away. He also learns that Eustacia was in the
house with an unidentified man.
Furious, Clym accuses Eustacia of killing his mother. He wants to know what happened and the name
of the man. Eustacia refuses to talk. After a wild argument, she leaves Clym. He is distraught but he
cannot forgive her. Ironically, Thomasin has just had Wildeve's baby and named her Eustacia
Clementine, after her cousin and his wife.
Back at her grandfather's cottage, Eustacia contemplates suicide. Charley, the hired boy, who idolizes
her, prevents her from doing so. Soon, Wildeve visits. He has inherited a large sum of money and can now
travel the world. He offers to help her, hoping she will become his mistress and leave Egdon with him.
Eustacia cannot make up her mind.
Partly under Thomasin's influence, Clym decides to tell Eustacia that he wants her back. He writes a
letter but waits before sending it. Meanwhile, Eustacia signals Wildeve that she will leave with him at
midnight. Clym's letter finally arrives, but it is not delivered to her, since she has pretended to go to bed.
As a terrible storm begins to savage the heath, she slips out of the house to meet Wildeve. On the way,
however, she realizes that escape with him is no solution. Losing all hope, she begins to wander away.
Meanwhile, her grandfather has gone searching for her and goes to alert Clym. Thomasin is also out
in the storm, with her baby, urging Clym to prevent Wildeve from eloping with Eustacia. In the raging
storm, Clym does indeed meet up with Wildeve, just as the sound of a body falling into a pond is heard.
The two men rush over to try to save Eustacia from a swirling whirlpool. Diggory comes upon the
struggle at the pond; he dives in and pulls out the unconscious bodies of Clym and Wildeve. With help
that arrives, he finds Eustacia, too. Clym recovers, but the former lovers are dead. Clym now thinks
himself guilty of the deaths of two women.
A year and a half after the tragedy, Diggory has given up reddlemaking and become a dairy farmer.
At a Maypole celebration, he pretends to be in love with an unknown girl who has lost a glove. When
Thomasin discovers that the glove is hers, she realizes that she now loves Diggory. They are married, as
the villagers celebrate. Clym, who has renewed his studies, becomes a traveling preacher. His message is
that we should all love one another. He is respected for his ideas and also for the sorrows that he has
[The Return of the Native Contents]
- EUSTACIA VYE
Is Eustacia really a superior being, or does she merely think she is? Are her passions deeper than
other people's, or is she simply greedy? Is she doomed by fate or by her own selfishness? Few readers
have ever been able to decide for certain. That is the genius of Hardy's portrayal. If you are like most
readers, you will find this beautiful young woman fascinating one moment, exasperating the next. Even
the other characters of the novel find her unpredictable, and their reactions to her vary widely. Is she a
goddess or a witch?
Hardy skillfully avoids simple answers by showing us many sides of this complex character. At times,
he seems sympathetic to her frustrations with her narrow life, yet he does not shrink from showing her at
her worst. She is capable of deception, and she has a killing temper. She can be disloyal, she can wound
with a perfectly aimed insult, and she can exploit other people's good nature.
Why, then, does the reader simply not turn away from her? Perhaps because almost everyone can feel
pity for her at moments, such as before her death when she cries out, "How I have tried and tried to
be a splendid woman, and how destiny has been against me!... I do not deserve my lot!" If she had
been able to live in a great city, perhaps she would have been splendid. If she had found a society that
appreciated her rare qualities, rather than fearing or scorning them as the people of Egdon do, she might
have achieved great things.
Hardy's point, of course, is that those possibilities are not available. Like all of us, Eustacia must make
do with the situation that faces her: she must either accept or change her fate. Her tragedy is that she
refuses to accept it but fails to change it.
Usually, Hardy describes Eustacia in contrasts, to stress the divided nature of her soul, the conflicts
that torture her. Early in the novel, he writes, "As far as social ethics were concerned Eustacia
approached the savage state, though in emotion she was all the while an epicure. She had advanced to the
secret recesses of sensuousness, yet had hardly crossed the threshold of conventionality." He is
saying that, on the positive side she is a nonconformist, an independent spirit; but on the negative side,
emotion, passion, the heart's needs have become an obsession with her. She lives solely for romance.
"To be loved to madness- such was her great desire."
One side of her nature, however, all too poignantly recognizes that love itself is evanescent: she is
terrified of time. Think of her first appearance in the novel, eagerly searching with her telescope for
Damon. She is the very picture of a desperate woman searching for experience. She carries with her an
hourglass, even though, as Hardy takes pains to point out, she does have a modern watch. It is as if she
actually wants to see time, her dreaded enemy, as it dribbles away. At the moment which should be her
most blissful, when she and Clym decide to marry, she gazes toward the eclipsed moon and warns,
"See how our time is slipping, slipping, slipping!" She confides to her lover the deep (and
perceptive) fear that their love will not last.
Though she lives by certain illusions, another side of Eustacia is ruthlessly realistic. Perhaps her most
attractive quality is this inability to lie to herself about herself. Basically, she knows her own faults; she's
intelligent, perceptive, and honest. When she first meets Clym, she explains to him that she is depressed
by life. It's a simple statement, but it may well sum up all her difficulties. Life itself is somehow too much
for her unusually sensitive and demanding nature. Life doesn't give her what she wants. Life, as she
experiences it, is a prison.
Not surprisingly, readers disagree on many aspects of this puzzling, ambiguous character. Her actions
can be seen from many different perspectives. For example, some say that she sincerely loves Clym; yet
surely she also has a selfish motive in agreeing to marry him: in her mind, the marriage is associated with
an escape to Paris. Throughout the book, her mixed motives often lead to troubling actions.
No matter how many times you read this novel, you will probably never be certain just how you feel
about Eustacia Vye. She is too contradictory; she is too special and rare. Hardy himself is most eloquent
when he describes her in symbolic terms, as when he writes that she and Damon, walking together under
the full moon, "appeared amid the expanse like two pearls on a table of ebony." Equally
doomed, these two passionate beings shine brightly in a dark world only to be extinguished.
- DAMON WILDEVE
Romantic Wildeve is a striking contrast to Hardy's plain, honest country folk. His past is shady. He
has failed at his career as an engineer, perhaps because of laziness; he seems never to have failed with
women, however. More than anyone else in the novel, he cares about money and is usually strangely lucky
in getting it. This man has never had to work hard for anything.
Thoughtless, handsome, eager for what he cannot have, Damon Wildeve is not a strong or a likeable
character. He seems to have no friends and no family connections, although he is sexually irresistible to
many young women. He seems unusually sophisticated for the wilds of Egdon- much like Eustacia. The
crucial difference between them is his overriding weakness. He does not have her high standards or her
depth of feeling. In fact, Hardy often shows Wildeve taking rash steps almost frivolously, like someone
gambling with life. He just can't take other people's needs too seriously. He isn't evil, but he is so self-
centered that other people suffer.
What Wildeve wants most is comfort and pleasure, a life of ease. Even Eustacia, who partly shares
these desires, knows that he is really not very substantial; she's quickly diverted from him when Clym
arrives, and only returns to Wildeve when Clym disappoints her. When Wildeve dies, he is not mourned
long. His only legacy, a daughter, is ironically the product of a marriage to Thomasin that he really
wanted to avoid.
Yet perhaps we can feel sorry for Wildeve, caught up in the tragic web of circumstances, too weak to
resist the fate that sweeps him along. Is Wildeve a villain- a liar, gambler, and seducer? Or is he simply a
shallow man who has blundered into a more tumultuous world than he was meant for? Consider both
possibilities as you read the novel.
- THOMASIN YEOBRIGHT
Countrified and inexperienced, Thomasin seems to be less complex and interesting than the other
major characters. So far as we can tell, she is not as passionate as Eustacia, as intellectually profound as
Clym, as sophisticated as Wildeve, or as intuitively insightful as Mrs. Yeobright. Hardy likens her to a
bird, and she often flits through a scene, scattering good cheer but not pausing to alight. And yet, it is
Thomasin who gets (and perhaps deserves, in Hardy's view) a happy life, in conventional terms. As the
novel comes to a close, Thomasin feels fulfilled, as a loving mother and beloved wife. The more
ambitious characters have exposed themselves too openly to fate; she is content with her lot, rooted to the
heath where she has grown up, comfortable with the simple life of the Egdon area. She belongs. There is
no conflict between what she is and where she is.
Perhaps, in that sense, she is the most fortunate character in the novel. Unhappiness does come to
her, but only when some element intrudes that rubs against the grain of ordinary Egdon life- Wildeve's
attraction, Eustacia's rivalry, even Clym's return from Paris. Although she is drawn to Wildeve, he does
not belong on Egdon Heath, and ultimately she cannot be happy with someone who is so foreign to (and
contemptuous of) the ideas, people, and land that her life is tied to. Diggory, on the other hand- who
actually lives on the open heath- is a good match for her.
Uncomplicated as she may be, however, Thomasin is no fool. She marries Wildeve with her eyes
open; she has a pretty good idea of his faults. Without being told or shown, she recognizes when his
passion for Eustacia comes back to life. Eventually, when she is free, she comes to appreciate Diggory's
deep, slow, and silent commitment to her.
Perhaps more important than what she sees, however, is what she wants to see. For example, when
Clym and his mother are not speaking, she tries to act the role of peacemaker. When Clym is estranged
from Eustacia, again Thomasin urges reconciliation. She does not like conflict. Perhaps Hardy, who
doesn't support traditional Christian ideas in this novel, nonetheless believes somewhat in the New
Testament idea, "Blessed are the peacemakers." Thomasin is good because she is concerned
for the good of others. She is in harmony with her world; she wants to share that harmony.
Alone among the major characters, Thomasin represents the continuity of human life. Clym cannot
bring himself to marry again, but she can. Motherhood is important to her; she won't even let the hired
nurse carry her child. Why is she finally attracted to Diggory? He is a dairy farmer and has been a
reddleman- in both cases, working with the basics of sustaining life. These two are meant for each other;
for example, on the stormy night when Wildeve and Eustacia drown, Thomasin lets Diggory carry her
child. She shows no one else this basic form of trust.
Oddly, Thomasin has little personal history on the page before us- no parents, no siblings, no close
personal friends. Who is she? Who or what has influenced her most? In some ways, she resembles Mrs.
Yeobright; also, she is clearly affected by Clym's opinions. Finally, though, it may be best to see her, as
Hardy does, as a birdlike creature who finds Egdon Heath her native habitat. She flourishes there. To
understand her, we would have to understand the mysterious heath itself.
- CLYM YEOBRIGHT
Well-meaning, intelligent in certain ways, Clym Yeobright is not suited to life in the real world of his
day. He dislikes city life as "effeminate," but when he returns to Egdon, no one understands
his ambition to teach school. His ideas come from books rather than from direct experience with people.
Unfortunately, he does not really know himself, either. He thinks he is rational and controlled; but love
for Eustacia causes him to act rashly. He thinks he is morally right; but this leads him to be cruel to
others, whom he believes to be in the wrong.
Like his cousin Thomasin, Clym loves Egdon Heath, and the people there love him for his pure
nature. The most important influence in his life is his home, especially his mother, Mrs. Yeobright.
Temporarily, he leaves her to marry Eustacia, but in the end, even after her death, her influence on him
Hardy suggests that Clym is too sensitive. His constant thinking almost seems to weaken him
physically; his studying literally makes him an invalid for a while. His high ideas are not very practical.
In day-to-day experiences with other people, he often has little or no idea what they want, or what they are
thinking. Yet this does not make him ridiculous. We have to respect him because he is struggling to find
the truth of life. Though he is sometimes obtuse, he is never thoughtless. Perhaps he lacks the sense of
self that is necessary to survive. If Wildeve is too selfish, then Clym in contrast is too unselfish.
In the end, Clym dedicates himself to others, hoping to spread truth and comfort and to teach all men
to love each other. Ironically, he himself has failed with his mother and with Eustacia, the two people he
loved most. He is more successful at loving all mankind than at being a son or husband.
- MRS. YEOBRIGHT
Clym's mother has definite limitations. She is snobbish, even though her own social position would
not be very high outside Egdon. She is stubborn and likes to get her own way; she interferes, with
disastrous consequences. On the other hand, her judgments about people turn out to be remarkably
accurate. Also, her deep love for Clym and for Thomasin always wins out over her temper, and she is
willing to forgive. She has a strong sense of fairness; for example, she does her best to be polite to
Like her son and niece, Mrs. Yeobright feels at home in Egdon. Her life there is simple and
unpretentious, in tune with the community. She is part of an older generation, so perhaps we can forgive
her for trying to manipulate the young people. What chiefly motivates her is love for Clym. She wants him
to be successful financially, married to someone who will be devoted to him. And yet, without knowing it
consciously, she also probably wants to keep him for herself.
In addition to being a strong central character, Mrs. Yeobright is also a kind of symbol. She is the
last representative of her generation. Even at Egdon, change is on the way. For Hardy, she may well
embody both the faults and virtues of a particular time and place that's rapidly passing away.
- DIGGORY VENN
Strong and silent, Diggory Venn is not what he seems to be. At night, he looks like a demon, but he
has the morals of an angel. People think he is low on the social scale, but he can at any time return to
being a successful farmer. He is also "artful," able to disguise his true feelings, when he is
courting the one love of his life, Thomasin.
Diggory is, of course, almost too good to be true. To many readers, he almost appears to be a
supernatural being. He arrives in the nick of time, when ever Thomasin seems to be in danger. He can
move swiftly across the heath at night; he can beat the lucky gambler Wildeve, even with Wildeve's own
dice. It seems Diggory can almost read men's minds. Capable, insightful, loyal, he performs the role of a
It is easy to see why Hardy originally thought that Diggory should simply disappear at the end of the
novel, instead of settling down with Thomasin. Diggory is too fantastic a creation to fit easily into an
ordinary homelife. However, he says he has entered this strange life as a reddleman only because
Thomasin rejected him; to marry her, then, he returns to normal society.
Though his actions seem magical, Diggory's heart is totally human. It is part of his appeal that
Diggory steadfastly loves Thomasin. She is not clever or sophisticated, and she has been foolish. She is
generous, however, and her heart is in the right place. Diggory unlike Clym and Wildeve, falls in love for
reasons that may cause love to last. He combines Clym's sense of justice with a practical understanding of
how men and women actually live their lives.
[The Return of the Native Contents]
Huge, forbidding, strange- the wasteland of Egdon Heath is like a stage set for the action of this novel.
It offers wide spaces for movement, but it also has hiding-places for intimate scenes. Its many different
faces reflect or heighten the many different moods of the story. One can believe that the Heath has many
secrets, and has witnessed all possible varieties of human experience. It is a place of long life and of
sudden death, of fertile spring and short, vivid summer. No matter what feeling Hardy wants to express at
any particular point, the heath can offer it up.
Something about Egdon Heath depresses the restless, adventure-seeking characters of the novel,
Eustacia and Wildeve. But it is a comforting presence to unselfish people like Clym and Thomasin. As
you read, notice each character's reaction to the heath; it may say something about his or her inner nature.
The less intellectual country folk simply take the place for granted, just as they take their own souls for
Does Egdon Heath represent life? Time? The supernatural? Destiny? Readers have suggested these
and other possibilities. Perhaps it is not a symbol for anything, but merely a background, a small
universe, having no meaning, offering no answers. Part of the mysterious appeal of this novel is that
Hardy makes the heath seem so significant, but then never specifically explains his purposes. We must
use our own imaginations to try to understand and feel what the heath finally means.
- THE UNHAPPINESS OF ALL HUMAN LIFE
The only sustained happiness in the novel may come at the end, in Thomasin's and Diggory's
marriage, and Hardy had originally planned a less happy ending even for them. The lives of the other
major characters all end in tragic death, like Eustacia and Wildeve, or continue in sadness like Clym.
There are moments of ecstasy, from time to time, but they pass quickly away. Hardy's message seems to be
that people cannot expect to experience joy; they are fortunate if they can at least avoid great pain.
- THE POWER OF FATE OVER HUMAN INTENT
Often, characters, in the novel try to control the future. They try to arrange for their own happiness
and for that of others. Just as often, fate comes between a character and his or her best-laid plans. Is Hardy
saying that fate is ruled by evil intent? No. In this novel, fate seems simply not to care about human
beings. It intervenes just as often to thwart well-meaning plans as to upset wicked ones. Fate is more
powerful than the desires of individuals.
- A STUDY OF VANISHING RURAL LIFE
Egdon's colorful dialect, seasonal celebrations, superstitious folk beliefs- these were disappearing
even as Hardy wrote the novel. He loved his native countryside and tried to re-create both the land and
the people. But he is a faithful historian, and so he shows the bad with the good. He is not blind to the
faults of uneducated, unsophisticated country folk, he knows they can be cruelly prejudiced, as well as
loyal. They can be foolishly ignorant, as well as dependable. Like Clym, though, Hardy clearly prefers life
in the country to life in the cities. In spite of his realistic portrayals, a nostalgia colors the rustic scenes,
for Hardy is sorry to see the changes that progress will bring to the villages of his youth.
- THE GREATNESS OF UNKNOWN PEOPLE
Hardy's main characters are not much in the eyes of the world: an innkeeper, a curate's daughter, a
self-taught traveling preacher, a dissatisfied young girl. He believes, however, that obscure people have
lives just as important and troubling as the lives of famous people; that's why he brings in references to
classical and historical figures, to add a heroic dimension to the lives of these ordinary people. They feel
as deeply as great heroes do; their mistakes are as tragic; their deaths are no less (and no more)
significant. Writers in other periods had written about great kings or mythical heroes. Hardy wanted to
portray the intensity of life among ordinary people.
For Hardy, romantic passion can be dangerous. Another kind of passion, uncontrolled anger, can also
have unfortunate consequences. The only feelings which can be trusted are moderate, like Thomasin's
kindness and desire for people to be at peace with each other. Relationships between people are best not
when they are violent and sudden, but when they have a long history and have endured much, like the
love between Diggory and Thomasin. Love at first sight, as Eustacia and Clym find out, is likely to be a
mistake. Hot-tempered reactions are generally a mistake, as well. Hardy understands that passion is
fundamental to human nature- and he portrays passion so well that we cannot help but respond to it in
characters like Eustacia. But he stresses that we must try to act in the light of reason. We may fail- as
Clym does- but we must try. Moderation is the goal.
- A PORTRAIT OF CLYM
Well meaning if sometimes mistaken, Clym is Hardy's central character, the returning native of the
novel's title. He does not find happiness, but he does find a kind of wisdom through his suffering. In the
beginning, he is stubborn and proud. When he discovers that he can cause tragedy for others, he learns
humility. Hardy wants the reader to learn what Clym learns. We cannot always get what we want in life,
but neither can anyone else. Human beings should love one another and try not to cause each other pain.
- THE UNCHANGING NATURE OF HUMAN EXISTENCE
Often, Hardy pulls back from his story to talk about the past. He refers frequently to famous characters
in classical myths, the Bible, or history, perhaps to show that people in all civilizations have had much the
same problems and have probably had the same questions about existence. Ancient peoples have been
forgotten, and so will we. Egdon Heath is a symbol of this timelessness; throughout its seasons and cycles,
it remains essentially the same. There are storms, and there are bright summer days, but the true nature
of the heath never really alters. Human life, too, has its storms and bright days, but its essential nature
never changes, either.
- THE ROLE OF NATURE
For Hardy, nature could have many moods. He uses natural descriptions in several ways: to reflect a
character's inner emotions, to symbolize the conflicts of human life, to show the comparative
insignificance of human beings. Sometimes nature seems to help mankind; sometimes nature seems to
turn against us. It is as mysterious as fate. In this novel, Hardy investigates these and other aspects of
nature; but he also takes obvious delight in describing various kinds of natural beauty for their own sake.
Anyone with unusual skill likes to exercise that skill, and Hardy enjoys writing his famous descriptions:
the romantic loveliness and excitement of the heath by moonlight, the burning heat of the afternoon Mrs.
Yeobright dies, or the terror of the storm the night of Eustacia's death. Some characters, like Thomasin,
are in harmony with this beauty; others, like Eustacia, struggle against it. By making it a powerful
presence in this novel, Hardy shows us that nature is a force to be reckoned with.
- THE ROLE OF CHANCE
Is chance the same thing as fate? Different readers disagree on this question. Perhaps it is cruel,
deliberate fate that Eustacia, for instance, has been set down to live on the heath she loathes. It may be
mere capricious chance, however, that Mrs. Yeobright decides to visit on the very afternoon that Wildeve
also decides to come to Eustacia's cottage. In other words, fate seems to rule events according to some
vast pattern which is beyond human control. Chance seems to intervene in smaller, random ways, when
human beings are trying to act on their own. Many readers, however, feel that chance and fate are the
same thing in this novel. Things "just happen," without rhyme or reason, and that in itself is
the pattern of the universe.
This novel, written early in his long career, shows Hardy trying out different writing styles. He is
always ambitious, but he is not always successful. Occasionally, his poetic descriptions are pretentious and
long winded; they become top heavy. In other passages, he tries to record the earthy folk dialect of the
Egdon area, and sometimes his attempts to be accurate can become awkward; the dialect gets in the way.
But the achievements of his style far outweigh the few failures. His best descriptions are not simple
pictures; they're dramas of life. His most believable conversations have the force, the contradiction, the
illogic of actual conversations. He has also created a successful voice in which he can speak directly to the
reader. Sometimes it sounds a little formal, but generally it is a useful way to guide us along, as he
moves easily from discussions of philosophy, for example, to a portrayal of a simple country scene.
Does Hardy's writing move slowly? Perhaps it does, for us today, conditioned as we are by thirty-
second television commercials and three-minute pop songs. In Hardy's own day, however, readers
expected to spend long hours every evening in reading a novel, taking plenty of time to think about what
was happening. When a novel was published serially, in a magazine, as Hardy's novels first appeared, the
experience of reading a novel might go on for months. The pace of Hardy's long, complex sentences is a
reflection of the pace of the times.
You can look one by one at the elements of Hardy's prose- the use of dialect vocabulary, the vigorous
verbs, the careful explanations- and still not find the secret of his best work. Many readers will recall a
favorite scene as brilliantly written. But when they return to the book, the actual words used may not live
up to the impression they made. Hardy's gift is to summon up powerful images that take on a life of their
own, quite beyond style.
POINT OF VIEW
Hardy frequently interrupts his story to tell us what it means- but does he really tell us? One can not
always be certain that this author is explaining himself fully, even when he seems to be doing so. It's not
that he attempts to deceive the reader; rather, he wants to make it clear that life is unclear. He wants to
emphasize the mystery of existence. He doesn't believe that life offers simple, clear-cut answers, nor does
he imagine that human beings, or his characters, can be judged as either completely good or completely
His point of view, then, could rightly be called "ambiguous." He may directly criticize
Wildeve in one passage, for example, but then his narrative suggests that Wildeve is not responsible for
everything that happens to him and Eustacia. He may number all of Eustacia's worst faults, but somehow
most readers still feel that Hardy is, like Clym, fascinated with her.
He shows that life is filled with disasters and tragedies, but he says that new life will continually
spring up to replace the old.
Although Hardy frequently shows a sense of humor, many readers have felt that he puts too much
emphasis on the unhappy aspects of life. He would argue against that charge, saying that he simply
reported life as it is, and the true report just happens to be filled with unhappiness. Is that the thinking of
an objective observer, or a pessimist? As you read this novel, form your own opinion of where Hardy
FORM AND STRUCTURE
The Return of the Native looks at first like a typical nineteenth-century novel: long, with several plots,
and set in a wide landscape. But this tale is really very compact. The major action takes place in a year's
time. All of the characters live in the Egdon area, and the outside world does not intrude (we do not hear,
for example, about the national problems of England).
All of the major characters are bound together in a dense knot of relationships. The structure of this
book is concentrated, to reflect the tight organization of the action. Book First, the longest book, sets the
stage and introduces the characters. Book Second brings Clym and Eustacia together and sees the
marriage of Thomasin and Wildeve. Book Third shows the split between Clym and his mother and his
marriage to Eustacia. Book Fourth tells of the terrible accidents that lead to Mrs. Yeobright's death. Book
Fifth sees Clym and Eustacia separate, bringing about the tragic deaths that end the main action. Book
Sixth, a kind of epilogue, shows the marriage of Thomasin and Diggory.
The action is organized around seasonal celebrations, beginning and ending with the autumn
bonfires, as if to emphasize the dramatic changes that can take place in such short periods of time. The
story is told in straight chronological order, without the use of flashbacks or other devices. (This may
underscore the story's sense of the straightforward, irresistible movement of time itself.) Regularly, our
concentration upon the major characters is broken by the appearance of the country folk, as if for comic
relief, to stress the need for the reader to step back and consider the meaning of the tale.
THE AUTHOR AND HIS TIMES
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© Copyright 1984 by Barron's Educational Series, Inc.
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