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The Return of the Native
Thomas Hardy


THE STORY

As you read this novel, notice Hardy's book and chapter headings. Like many novelists of his time, he used these titles to give insights into his story. He divided the tale into six "books," almost like acts in a play. (The last, as we shall see later, was added because readers did not want a completely unhappy ending.)

BOOK ONE: THE THREE WOMEN

Hardy's women are almost always more interesting and believable than his male characters. This first book introduces us to three of the most famous: the mysterious and beautiful Eustacia Vye, the naive but strong-willed Thomasin Yeobright, and Mrs. Yeobright, Thomasin's seemingly arrogant and snobbish aunt. Each will come into conflict with the other two, because each is determined to have her own way.

CHAPTER 1: A FACE ON WHICH TIME MAKES BUT LITTLE IMPRESSION

This brief chapter is a brooding description of Egdon Heath, setting the scene for the tragic events to come. Readers rarely agree on the exact meaning of this first chapter, but don't be concerned. The vagueness is purposeful. You will see that, as the heath appears again and again throughout the novel, you will remember this first chapter and your understanding will grow and change.

In a passage that suggests a lot about his personal point of view, Hardy says that the heath is very much like human beings- "neither ghastly, hateful, nor ugly... but, like man, slighted and enduring." Is this a depressing view of mankind? Many people think so. Others, though, believe that calling mankind "slighted and enduring" places the emphasis on human bravery, on the determination to survive.

The chapter ends with Hardy's stress upon the heath's "ancient permanence." Other things have changed over the centuries; it has not. It represents something eternal. Time? Nature? Fate? Hardy doesn't say. Like a movie director, he moves his lens toward the white highway glowing on the heath at dusk, preparing us for the next chapter.

CHAPTER 2: HUMANITY APPEARS UPON THE SCENE, HAND IN HAND WITH TROUBLE

The action starts in mystery. Here, far from the sea, an old man in a naval uniform trudges along. He meets a man entirely covered in red, driving a cart.

NOTE: REDDLEMEN
Reddlemen went from farm to farm putting identifying red dyemarks on sheep. The red dye usually coated the reddleman's clothes and skin, so children feared the strange- looking, solitary figures. This one, Hardy notes, seems too "promising" for such a life. Another mystery.

Inside the cart, a woman moans. We learn little about these people; for a few pages, Hardy will leave us hanging, almost as if to slow us down to the leisurely pace of life in these Egdon valleys.

In the growing dark, the cart-man sees a form standing on the most prominent rise in the area, a "barrow" or hill. Then, in a flash, the unexplained figure takes flight. All we learn is that it's a woman and that she apparently runs away because a band of people is gathering at the barrow.

Why does she flee? Who is she? What are these people about to do, in the dark of night on a lonely hill? Hardy will begin to give some of these answers in the next few chapters. For now, notice how he is determined to make us think for ourselves, to notice every clue, every hint, every contradiction. By stimulating us to ask questions about the little things, he also gets us in the habit of asking larger questions, those questions about man's fate that probably don't have simple or concrete answers.

NOTE: HARDY'S VIEW OF THE INDIVIDUAL
This chapter indicates how Hardy feels about the human spirit. Our imagination, he says, ignores the group that is arriving and clings instead "to that vanished, solitary figure." In other words, it is the independent person, the one who does not become just another member of conventional society, who is most interesting to us. With that in mind, as you read the novel, ask yourself which characters are the most interesting to you personally- those who fit happily into the unchanging life of Egdon, or those who want something different?

CHAPTER 3: THE CUSTOM OF THE COUNTRY

As the chapter title indicates, we are now going to see a typical scene of rural life in the Egdon area early in the nineteenth century.

NOTE: HARDY'S RUSTIC SCENES
Hardy was scarcely born before these customs were dying out, but he had heard about them from older people. Clearly, he delights in recreating them. In fact, all of his scenes with country folk are funny, lively and natural. It may take a few pages for the Egdon dialect to become completely clear to you, but you will pick it up gradually, just as you would the special slang of a new school or city you move to.

Before anyone speaks, we see them building a giant bonfire. Other fires are also being lit across the low flat landscape. British readers would know that this is the custom of a particular holiday, November 5, or Guy Fawkes Day, commemorating a plot to blow up Parliament in the early seventeenth century.

NOTE: THE BONFIRE
The bonfire, like the heath itself, is a symbol of continuity. Springing out of an ancient pagan ritual, it is also a symbol, says Hardy, of "man's rebelliousness" against the coming of winter, almost a defiance of Nature.

As the country folk begin to talk and joke, we meet several colorful characters: Grandfer Cantle, an old man who wants only to sing and dance; his son, Christian, who is morbidly fearful and superstitious; Humphrey and Fairway, who are the salt of the earth, honest and unassuming; Olly Dowden, a decent, contented woman. These characters act like the chorus in classical Greek drama; they describe and comment upon the actions of their social superiors. Hardy is also using this bantering, gossipy scene for "exposition," a literary term for giving the background of the story. We learn about a young couple, Thomasin Yeobright and Damon Wildeve, who have just been married. We learn that the bride's aunt, Mrs. Yeobright, had opposed the marriage.

We learn that some folk are disturbed that the pair went to another village to marry and that they haven't been seen since. We also hear that soon Mrs. Yeobright's son Clym, clever and remembered with real affection, will be coming home for a visit. He is the "Native" of the novel's title.

Now that Hardy has laid down the events with which the plot begins, he skillfully brings other major characters briefly "on stage," to introduce us to them. As the bonfire dies down, our attention is drawn to a single bonfire blazing beside the cottage where Captain Vye lives with his granddaughter Eustacia. The villagers' dance is interrupted by the startling appearance of the reddleman. He asks directions to Mrs. Yeobright's house and leaves, but then the formidable figure of Mrs. Yeobright herself arrives, to ask gentle Olly to accompany her to The Quiet Woman inn where her newly married niece should be waiting by now.

Before going on to the next chapter, consider how much information has been packed into this one. We've met many characters and heard many tales, but we have also learned something about local feelings (such as the generally lackadaisical attitude toward regular church- going and the wry assumptions about married life). Some more mysteries have been raised (for example, why does the marriage take place elsewhere?). Other mysteries seem to have been solved, for now we know something about Eustacia, the solitary figure on the barrow, and Captain Vye, the old man on the road in Chapter 2. It's amazing that Hardy has achieved so much exposition in a scene of realistic merrymaking.

CHAPTER 4: THE HALT ON THE TURNPIKE ROAD

Mrs. Yeobright explains to Olly that she finally agreed to Thomasin's marriage because she decided that her niece should "marry where she wished." In reply to that, Olly, just before taking a separate path, comments that "her [Thomasin's] feelings got the better of her."

NOTE: HARDY'S DISTRUST OF FEELINGS
This seemingly casual remark is very important in Hardy's world. Should feelings be followed? Remember, divorce was inconceivable in this place and time. Should a lifetime decision be made solely upon the basis of one's personal desires? As you read, try to figure out Hardy's answer to this question.

At this point, there occurs one of those coincidences which disturb some readers of Hardy's novels. (We will see many more of them; consider whether this novelist thinks that human affairs really are determined by pure chance.) Just outside the inn, Mrs. Yeobright runs into the reddleman, who is identified as Diggory Venn. It turns out that Thomasin is the woman asleep in his cart. Now we have met the third of the important "three women." Thomasin's naturally hopeful face is marred by "a film of anxiety and grief." While Diggory is within earshot, Mrs. Yeobright seems calm, if concerned about this peculiar event. When he's gone, however, her sharp question- "Now, Thomasin, what's the meaning of this disgraceful performance?"- reveals just how upset she is.

CHAPTER 5: PERPLEXITY AMONG HONEST PEOPLE

Perplexity means "bewilderment." Honest people are often bewildered because they cannot imagine the motives of devious, tricky people. In this chapter we'll see both honest and devious behavior.

What has happened during Thomasin's wedding day? Even Thomasin cannot be sure. The parson said there was "some trifling irregularity" in the marriage license, and Thomasin panicked and ran away with Venn, who just happened to be near the church. Did she subconsciously not want the marriage to take place? Did she suspect that Wildeve really didn't want to marry her? We're left to guess. But unlike us, Mrs. Yeobright can ask questions directly, and characteristically she decides to have it out with Wildeve at once.

Now we meet Wildeve, who is unforgettably described as "one in whom no man would have seen anything to admire, and in whom no woman would have seen anything to dislike." That says it all. Do you need to know his color of eyes, the shape of his head, the color of his hair after that wonderful description? Everybody has known at least one Wildeve.

The scene that follows between Thomasin and Wildeve is strained. The guiltless Thomasin apologizes again and again; the obviously self-centered Wildeve complains that his "sensitiveness" has been hurt by the day's debacle. Nonetheless, he promises to make the marriage good, "carelessly" giving her his hand.

NOTE: THOMASIN'S REPUTATION
Why doesn't Thomasin walk out right then? Remember, she went off alone with Wildeve, supposedly to get married. At this point, her reputation is in grave danger. Social rules have changed since then, and we may find it difficult to understand her moral predicament precisely. But we still have some social rules we believe in today. Thomasin is like the people we know who will not, or cannot, break those rules and feel decent.

Suddenly, a grotesque thing happens. It might be comic, if it weren't so embarrassing: the townsfolk come, with all good intentions, to serenade the newlyweds. To save his reputation, Wildeve pretends the wedding went off smoothly. To Thomasin, he mutters, "we must marry after this"- hardly the reaction of a man head over heels in love.

CHAPTER 6: THE FIGURE AGAINST THE SKY

Hardy shifts his scene to give us a closer look at the figure who reappears at the top of the barrow. He emphasizes her mysteriousness, her concentration, her complete absence of fear in this wild and lonely place. The wind blowing through the dead heath-bells and the woman's deep sigh are linked as symbols of lost happiness. She looks through a telescope at Wildeve's window far below. Then, ignoring her watch, she looks to see that the sands of an hourglass she carries have run out. This is another haunting symbol of loss, of things coming to an end.

She heads home, dazed and seemingly distressed. A weary small boy tending the bonfire beside her house calls her by name- Eustacia. We finally hear her speak, after this long build-up, and what we hear is tension, determination, selfishness, guile. Although both her grandfather and the boy Johnny want Eustacia to put out her bonfire, she imperiously insists on keeping it burning- and she gets her way. Why does it matter so much to her? Soon we learn that the fire is meant to attract Wildeve. Eustacia warns Johnny to call her if he hears a frog jump into a pond nearby. When he does hear such a sound, Eustacia excitedly packs him off home, for the hopfrog is really a stone falling into the water, Wildeve's signal to Eustacia. To her "triumphant pleasure," he emerges out of the dark night.

The drama of their confrontation is skillfully muted. Each of these extremely passionate characters tries to suppress his or her emotion. Slowly, we learn the truth about their shared past. Damon had tired of her, we learn, and had ended their affair. But now Eustacia believes that Wildeve has broken off his wedding with Thomasin because he still loves her, Eustacia. When pressed, he agrees.

Is Wildeve lying? Can he change his mind so quickly? Does Eustacia have a dangerous power over him? The answer is complex. Hardy is showing us characters who let their impulses carry them away. Each of them is uneasy. Eustacia knows her former lover is untrustworthy; he knows her moods and pays no attention when she rages at him.

This uncomfortable scene ends with each holding back from the other, pretending to be less emotionally involved than the other. There is hostility, not flirtation, in their teasing. Wildeve slinks back into the night. The pleasure Eustacia felt when she first saw him has soured.

CHAPTER 7: QUEEN OF NIGHT

Many critics, frankly, have found this short chapter to be an embarrassment. It has no purpose but to describe Eustacia in terms that are extravagant and pretentious. If you're interested in how a writer develops, this chapter is a good example, at least of Hardy's case. The first part of the book has many passages of strained "purple" prose like this. As he wrote this novel, however, Hardy learned more of his craft, and his writing grows simpler and more effective.

The chapter does help us understand Hardy's intentions in creating Eustacia. She is a pagan, a creature of the night, a kind of goddess in human form. Unfortunately, she is a goddess rudely brought to earth- to Egdon, so different from her nature.

Eustacia has romance in her veins and in her upbringing. We learn that she is the orphan of an English mother (Vye's daughter) and a Greek musician. Their deaths forced her to leave the seaside resort, Budmouth, to live with Vye in Egdon. The heath bores her, and she imagines her earlier life, by contrast, as nothing but sunshine and gaiety.

We also learn that Eustacia is in love with love. This is a common human feeling, of course, but Eustacia takes it to extremes. She blames her own reckless, unconventional spirit on the fact that she's been disappointed by a cruel destiny. She realizes, in a moment of self-honesty, that she has fastened upon Wildeve simply for lack of anyone better.

So far, Eustacia doesn't seem to be a very appealing human being. Yet Hardy says that she is "not altogether unlovable" at times. Many readers agree. Why do you sympathize with this self-centered, reckless young woman (if you do)? What makes her interesting (if you think she is)? As you read on, try to decide what elements of her character really define her.

CHAPTER 8: THOSE WHO ARE FOUND WHERE THERE IS SAID TO BE NOBODY

Remember that the action is still taking place at night. As readers, we are still "in the dark" about certain things. So, too, are the characters of the story. Hardy may well be implying that people are always in darkness about the real truths of their lives.

In any event, poor Johnny now finds himself in a dark and difficult position. Walking home, he notices a peculiar light and puzzling sounds rising from a pit. He turns back to the Vyes' house, but sees Eustacia and Wildeve having their tryst, so he returns to the pit, where he discovers Diggory Venn, a terrifying image with his white eyes and teeth gleaming in his reddened face. Diggory discovers Johnny, who says enough for Venn to guess the truth about Eustacia's bonfire meeting with Wildeve.

The reddleman's thoughts are not explicitly revealed, but we can guess that he means to keep an eye on this secret relationship. Is he acting out of selfish motives, or does he just want to make sure that Thomasin is not hurt any further? Perhaps Hardy himself wasn't sure, at least at this point.

We can be sure of one thing, though. Chance, once again, has played a critical role. Johnny accidentally overhead the conversation. Diggory accidentally heard the story from the boy.

NOTE: VENN AS OBSERVER
It is often the outsider, the social outcast, who is able to understand more than other people. The reddleman is an observer, not a major actor; and as he watches the other characters' actions, he alone seems to foresee how they may be ruining their lives. In the eyes of the superstitious, he seems to be a devil, the embodiment of evil. But appearances, in Hardy's world, are deceiving. To the reader, Diggory Venn is more likely to become a symbol of good.

CHAPTER 9: LOVE LEADS A SHREWD MAN INTO STRATEGY

Hardy begins this chapter with a break in the action, perhaps to let the events and revelations of the preceding pages sink in on the reader. This break is not just an intermission, however. The novelist explains more about reddlemen, which brings us to Venn, back at his van in the pit, who does not fit the pattern. We watch him read an old letter- Thomasin's polite refusal of his proposal of marriage. Her reasons were that she liked but did not love him, and that her aunt had higher ambitions for her. Remember that Mrs. Yeobright also opposed Wildeve's proposal. How different would things be if Thomasin allowed herself to act on her own best impulses? Remember that she is young, unsophisticated, and basically well intentioned. As we read further, circumstances will be bringing her to greater maturity.

Meanwhile, we learn that Diggory became a reddleman, giving up his dairy farm, because of Thomasin's rejection. But he is still determined to help her to be happy. With that aim in mind, he becomes something of a spy, waiting every night to catch Eustacia and Wildeve meeting again.

After a week, they do. Diggory hides himself to overhear their disturbing discussion. Wildeve, to Eustacia's outrage, is asking her whether or not he should go ahead and marry Thomasin- not out of love but to save the girl from disgrace. Eustacia advises him not to marry Thomasin simply out of a sense of justice, but she now realizes that Wildeve did not call off the marriage for love of her. As he admits, it was only chance that the marriage license was incorrect.

In this scene, Wildeve is shown at his worst: self-centered, weak, moody. He has the gall to tell Eustacia that "there are two flowers where I thought there was only one"- Eustacia and Thomasin. Perhaps other women will love him as well, he muses. As for love, he admits that his feelings are inconstant. Eustacia, stretched on the rack by this indifference, shows remarkable self-control.

NOTE: EUSTACIA'S AND WILDEVE'S LOVE
Hardy never shows us these lovers when their love is in full summer bloom. We see the wreckage- bitterness, misunderstanding, petty cruelty. Perhaps the love they shared cannot really be put down on the page; perhaps Hardy purposely leaves room for each of us to imagine his or her own rare, blinding, whirlwind love. Or perhaps Hardy is simply more interested in investigating and dissecting a failed relationship. You may want to consider this possibility as you read about other relationships later in the novel.

We now see two people who are tortured by inability to live without- or with- each other. Each of the lovers wavers between love and distaste for the other. When one goes too far, the other retreats. They do agree that they hate the heath, however. Suddenly, Wildeve suggests that they run off to America together; he has relatives in Wisconsin. Eustacia turns the idea aside, for the moment. They move out of Diggory's hearing, almost seeming to sink into the heath, as if it has them in its power. Diggory, concerned for Thomasin's welfare, decides he will have it out with Eustacia.

CHAPTER 10: A DESPERATE ATTEMPT AT PERSUASION

At last, we see daylight in Egdon. Diggory waits patiently by Eustacia's cottage until curiosity brings her outside. As they walk, he tries a simple ruse. Pretending that an unknown "other woman" has a hold over Wildeve, he asks Eustacia to use her charms to persuade the man to marry Thomasin honorably. Eustacia laughs off the suggestion.

Next Venn tries flattery; he says that Eustacia's beauty will influence woman-loving Wildeve to do the proper thing. When she reacts with the blatant lie that she never sees Wildeve, Diggory blurts out that he overheard their rendezvous the night before.

Now that the cards are on the table, Eustacia and the reddleman speak frankly. She refuses to yield to Thomasin; she blames her boredom here on Egdon heath for making her ever fall in love with Wildeve. Diggory, proposes a solution; he knows of a wealthy widow in Eustacia's treasured town of Budmouth. Eustacia could live with this woman, as her companion thereby escaping the heath and meeting more suitable men. Eustacia rejects the notion, refuses to help Thomasin, and dismisses Venn with insults.

Eustacia looks off toward Wildeve's inn, shining attractively in the sunlight. She is hooked again, because the competition from Thomasin has turned a "hobby" into a flood of desire.

And what about society's disapproval? Hardy notes that this young woman is too isolated to care about public opinion. This chapter is the second time someone has suggested a plan of escape from the heath she despises, but Eustacia refuses this offer, just as she passed over Wildeve's idea of eloping to Wisconsin.

NOTE: EUSTACIA'S INABILITY TO ESCAPE
Perhaps Hardy believes that even independent people are unable to take action to change their fate. The heath has some power over Eustacia, that neither she nor the reader can fully understand. Maybe its mystery draws her. Maybe she realizes that these chances of "escape" will only create new prisons for her. Or maybe Eustacia isn't as independent as she thinks she is; Hardy's characters, like people in real life, don't always see themselves clearly.

CHAPTER 11: THE DISHONESTY OF AN HONEST WOMAN

By the kind of accident familiar to us by now, Diggory bumps into Mrs. Yeobright just as she heads toward The Quiet Woman, hoping to convince Wildeve to go through with the aborted marriage. Ironically, the reddleman gives her just the weapon she needs. He confesses his love for Thomasin and argues that marriage to him would solve the situation. Mrs. Yeobright argues that Thomasin must be married to Wildeve to avoid scandal. But when she meets with Wildeve, she announces that Thomasin has an anonymous other suitor, and that Wildeve should either marry Thomasin immediately or give her up. Typically, indecisive Wildeve says he must take a day or two to decide.

NOTE: ON WILDEVE
Consider this man for a moment. He is not actively evil or openly vicious. Yet all three of these strong women have humbled themselves before him. He rarely seems to be purposely cruel, but his weakness and self-centeredness often have cruel effects upon women. His sensuality makes him dangerous. Perhaps Hardy is saying that it is well to distrust the objects of passion, just as one should be wary of passion itself.

Mrs. Yeobright's ultimatum motivates Wildeve to make a nighttime visit to Eustacia. He impetuously repeats the offer to take her to America, but he lets the cat out of the bag, telling Eustacia that Thomasin has another offer. Instantly, Eustacia's attitude changes: the man who was so desirable is less so when her rival may no longer want him. Wildeve realizes what she is thinking, perhaps because this is the way his mind works as well. In any case, Eustacia becomes oddly lifeless. Almost bargaining now, Wildeve offers her a week to decide. Coldly, the lovers part. Eustacia, who always tries to face her feelings with honesty, is ashamed to find her passion waning because there is no competition. But she sees that the affair is dying; she is coming to her senses at last.

Unexpectedly, the chapter (and Book First) ends with a new twist in the action which arouses our curiosity about the book to follow. While drinking and gossiping down at The Quiet Woman, Captain Vye has heard that Mrs. Yeobright's son, Clym, is coming home the following week for Christmas. He tells Eustacia this news, explaining that the young man has been living "in that rookery of pomp and vanity, Paris..."

Hardy does not describe Eustacia's reaction, but every reader knows, from this wonderfully pregnant closing line, that her heart must have leapt into her mouth. If little Budmouth seems magical to Eustacia, how must the world-famed City of Light appear? We know her love for Wildeve is almost dead. She has said she only loved him because no better man was to be found in the area. Now, there appears on the horizon a tantalizing alternative. Skillfully, by saying no more, Hardy has raised our hopes, too. Perhaps Clym will be the answer to Eustacia's loneliness.

We're not likely to be too optimistic, though, after this chapter, for we have seen two fairly pessimistic Hardy themes. First, we saw that people's actions don't always have the consequences they intend. Diggory's offer of marriage, if anything, helped to throw Wildeve and Thomasin together. Mrs. Yeobright's threats had the unexpected effect of driving Wildeve swiftly back to Eustacia. Second, we've seen that people often desire something primarily because they can't have it. Often, when we get what we want, it is no longer desirable.

BOOK TWO: THE ARRIVAL

The first book has been the longest, perhaps necessarily so in order to set the background for the central action of the novel. In this book, we will meet the last of the major characters, Clym Yeobright.

CHAPTER 1: TIDINGS OF THE COMER

Drawing out our anticipation, Hardy does not introduce Clym right away. Instead, we see the humble furze-gatherers of the heath at work stacking up the furze, or sticks of wood, for Captain Vye. (Such men are socially beneath Eustacia- a point which will be important later on.)

Now, Hardy lets Eustacia idly overhear these men gossip about young Yeobright- his success in the diamond business, his good looks, his advanced ideas and education. Innocently, the furze-gatherers leap to the notion that Eustacia, who also reads a great deal, would be a good match for Clym. We also learn that the story of Thomasin's postponed marriage is now common knowledge around Egdon. She is in seclusion, and there is talk that she has decided to have nothing more to do with Wildeve.

As Hardy notes, this idle chatter has occupied only a few minutes. To the transfixed Eustacia, however, it has been enough to re-animate her world. She is dazed by the possibilities. A young, clever, successful man who might take her to fabled Paris? A man whom the country folk already see as similar to her? This must be fate. Not surprisingly, the chapter ends with her taking a walk to Blooms-End, the Yeobright family cottage.

She doesn't expect to see Clym himself, but, already dangerously fascinated, she at least wants to see the house where he was born. Her romantic imagination is working at full strength again. The headstrong 19-year-old who once swore passionately that she would never give up Wildeve is now concentrating all her thoughts on a man she has never even met.

CHAPTER 2: THE PEOPLE AT BLOOMS-END MAKE READY

The return of the native Clym is a major event in sleepy Egdon. Thomasin and Mrs. Yeobright discuss Clym as they meticulously select from storage the apples he likes best. Apparently, Mrs. Yeobright once hoped Thomasin and Clym would marry, we learn. Then, when no one is around to stare (remember Thomasin is still in shamed seclusion), they venture out on the heath to pick holly berries for the homecoming and Christmas celebrations.

As they work, their conversation takes many frustrating dead-ends. Mrs. Yeobright suspects that her niece no longer loves Wildeve, but Thomasin decides not to answer any questions about the matter. Mrs. Yeobright has decided not to reveal that Diggory has proposed again, although she does drop a hint. Thomasin decides that her cousin Clym should not be told anything about the wretched affair until she is safely married.

Don't you want to jump into the scene and interfere? We sense that these decisions are mistaken. Perhaps Thomasin, if she knew of the proposal, would consider marrying the kindly, selfless Venn rather than egocentric Wildeve, after what she's been through. Perhaps Clym, who is so clever, would help her figure out whether or not to marry Wildeve. There is nothing we can do, of course. We must watch helplessly as people make mistakes that will haunt them for years, if not forever.

Appropriately, the sun is setting as Thomasin and her aunt walk out to meet Clym on the road. Once again, important events will take place during the dark of night.

CHAPTER 3: HOW A LITTLE SOUND PRODUCED A GREAT DREAM

By another coincidence, in the darkness, Eustacia encounters Clym and his two relatives. They apparently don't recognize her, but Clym genially says, "Good night!" It is, as the chapter title indicates, truly a "little sound," but to Eustacia, "no event could have been more exciting." There is one slightly unsettling note- she overhears Clym, the sophisticate, praising the beauties of Egdon. The remark is an important clue to her fate, but she is too excited to pay attention to it now. At home, Eustacia asks her grandfather why they haven't been on good terms with the Yeobrights. He recalls that he offended Mrs. Yeobright once; more importantly, he tells Eustacia that the Yeobrights' mode of living is "countrified." This is the second indication that Clym is not what Eustacia imagines him to be. But she pays no attention; she still cherishes her illusions.

NOTE: EUSTACIA'S DREAM
That night Eustacia dreams of dancing with a man whose face is masked by a helmet. The heath appears behind them, and they dive into one of its pools, coming out beneath in a hollow lit with rainbows. She wakes up with alarm when the man shatters to pieces, never having revealed his face. She believes the figure was Yeobright, of course. But remember this dream; as you will see at the end of the fifth book, another more frightening interpretation is possible.

Hardy describes Eustacia's emotional state as in a precarious stage, halfway between indifference and love. She begins taking walks two or three times a day, her eyes peeled for a glimpse of Yeobright, but after five days of failure she gives up. Hardy ends the chapter with the observation that Fate (or Providence) sometimes likes to tease us, hinting that Eustacia will soon have the opportunity she has given up on. When she does finally meet Clym, therefore, it will not be entirely her own doing. Fate, Hardy emphasizes, will play a role.

CHAPTER 4: EUSTACIA IS LED ON TO AN ADVENTURE

Once again, Hardy stresses a date. The novel began on November 5; now it is December 23 and everyone is preparing for Christmas. By using holidays, Hardy has an opportunity to bring many elements of the community together so that we can see the whole spectrum of rural life.

At the beginning of the chapter, however, he focuses on Eustacia's frustration at not meeting Clym. A scheme does present itself, however. Bursting in on the pensive Eustacia, Charley, a young lad, announces that he and some other amateur actors have come to practice their parts for the annual Christmas play in Captain Vye's fuel-house. Eustacia is at first uninterested, but when the sound of rehearsal reaches her bored ears, she slips outside to eavesdrop. By chance, she learns from the players' conversation that their first performance of the holiday will take place at Mrs. Yeobright's home. Clym will be at the party, of course, but Eustacia has not been invited.

Later, when Charley enters to return the key, she has hatched a plan. Aware that the boy is dazzled by her, she asks him to let her play his role, the Turkish knight, for the appearance at Blooms-End, keeping it a secret from everyone else. Eustacia offers to pay for this, but Charley strikes a peculiar bargain. He will agree if she lets him kiss her hand and hold it for fifteen minutes. Charley's adoration reminds us, at this crucial point, how irresistible Eustacia can be.

The next evening, when the boy returns with his medieval costume, Eustacia indifferently lets him hold her hand for a few of the bargained-for minutes. Then she dresses as the Turkish knight and runs through her lines in front of Charley. She explains that she will simply show up in his place, already dressed in her disguise, and claim to be his cousin, saying that he's been sent on an errand by Eustacia Vye.

The chapter ends on a strange, touching note. Charley asks for another minute of holding Eustacia's hand; he can't bear to pull away and his time is fully used up to his regret. In his own meager way, Charley, too, gives in to passion. His lack of control mirrors Eustacia's much more extravagant lack of control. What about her feelings in this scene? Is she embarrassed by Charley's request? Characteristically, she hides her feelings. What we do see is that, when she sets her mind on something, she will not let minor obstacles (such as conventional ideas of behavior) stand in the way. To see Clym, she'll fulfill Charley's pathetic request. She will also disguise herself as a man. Some readers think this is an indication that she takes the male role, the dominant role, when she meets Clym. Others think it simply shows that she does not care what society thinks.

CHAPTER 5: THROUGH THE MOONLIGHT

Like the helmeted figure in her dream that ended as a nightmare, Eustacia has her visor down when she shows up in Charley's place the next night. When they arrive at Blooms-End, the mummers must wait outside while a boisterous party is in full swing. Hardy obviously enjoys giving the details of the rustic music and dancing, but the merrymaking goes on a bit too long for the waiting mummers. When someone suggests that they interrupt the party, Eustacia reacts angrily- and gives her identity away. The players, however, amiably promise to keep her secret.

Finally, the group is admitted, and the play begins. As the Turkish knight, Eustacia declaims her melodramatic lines, slays the Valiant Soldier, and is in turn dispatched by the hero, St. George, the patron saint of England. This dramatic defeat, however, gives her the opportunity she's been seeking. During her performance, she was unable to concentrate on the audience. Now, as a corpse, Eustacia can lie still and scan the crowd to find the face she is so eager to see. The suspense is heightened, for she is still searching as the chapter ends.

NOTE: SOCIAL CLASS IN EGDON
Notice the observations Hardy makes about social class in this chapter. When Eustacia snaps at her cohorts, both she and they accept that she is socially superior to them, without feeling any resentment. Eustacia is surprised that the party is so rowdy, but we learn that the Yeobrights have asked all their neighbours, not just the social elite. Clym and his mother even serve these guests themselves. Their graciousness and hospitality is contrasted to Eustacia's self-contained, isolated haughtiness. Yet the social distance between the Yeobrights and the humbler folk of Egdon is not lessened; the social order does not change easily in these pre-industrial rural towns.

CHAPTER 6: THE TWO STAND FACE TO FACE

As the play of St. George continues, Eustacia intently surveys the room. (Sadly, we note that Thomasin is upstairs, too ashamed to face her neighbors.) Eustacia is soon riveted by her first sight of Clym's face, lit by firelight as if he is a figure in a Rembrandt painting. Like the famous Dutch artist, Hardy uses physical details to reveal the character's inner nature. Clym's young face already shows experience beyond his years. Thought, Hardy warns, will soon destroy his handsomeness; his natural cheerfulness is at war with the depressing knowledge that he is gaining of the world. The novelist also points out that Clym's look shows "isolation"- and Eustacia, that other isolated person, is very much moved.

When the play ends, the country folk pay their respects to Clym. Clearly, Humphrey and the others deeply admire the young man. Overall, we feel the usual festive atmosphere of people whose lives are deeply intertwined.

Meanwhile, Eustacia has a problem: she can't eat with her helmet on, but she wants to keep her identity concealed. Clym, as host, tries to serve her. Imagine her strange situation. The man she is "determined to love" is being kind to her, but without knowing who she is. Clym, however, begins to suspect something about this young mummer.

Suddenly, as only Eustacia notices, Thomasin appears to ask Clym about something. Eustacia overhears just enough of the conversation to learn that Clym doesn't know about Thomasin's painful situation. From fantasy Eustacia is brought back to earth; her jealousy of Thomasin flares anew. She wonders if the cousins will fall in love, especially since they spend so much time alone together.

Ironically, Eustacia's ruse has deprived her of a powerful weapon, her feminine beauty. But now Clym has begun staring at her. Confused, she quietly slips out of the house into the moonlight. Clym, having guessed her sex, is right behind her. She admits that she is a woman, offering no other information, and refuses his invitation to return to the party.

The conversation is brief, but important. Eustacia's answers are straightforward and direct: her adventure was meant as an escape from the depression which "Life" causes for her. In their first meeting, Eustacia explains herself to Clym with complete honesty. He listens without seeming to be surprised or critical. There seems to be instant communication between them.

When Eustacia leaves, Clym walks up and down for a while by himself, apparently lost in thought. Eustacia too is in mental turmoil- happy, fearful, ashamed, jealous. When she nears home and catches sight of Rainbarrow, she remembers for the first time this evening that she had asked Wildeve to meet her up there- but it is too late now. She feels no remorse for standing him up; at this point, he means nothing to her. In fact, she wishes that she hadn't stopped him from marrying Thomasin; then there would be no dangerous competition for Clym.

Hardy's point is that one can never predict the outcome of events. Eustacia interfered with the Wildeve's marriage because he seemed to be her one hope at the time. She could not know that a more appealing man would soon appear. The future, Hardy shows us, is unpredictable; therefore man's attempts to control his own destiny are doomed to be futile.

THE STORY, continued

THE NOVEL


ECC [The Return of the Native Contents] [PinkMonkey.com]

© Copyright 1984 by Barron's Educational Series, Inc.
Electronically Enhanced Text © Copyright 1993, World Library, Inc.
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