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The Return of the Native
Thomas Hardy

THE STORY, continued


Hardy now backs up to explain why another person has appeared at Clym and Eustacia's cottage this afternoon. Wildeve, again bewitched by Eustacia's spell, cannot resist seeing her. So as not to compromise her, he has decided to visit her openly, even when Clym might be at home.

When Wildeve enters, Eustacia gives him a cool reception. She shows him Clym, who has fallen asleep on a rug on the floor. Eustacia certainly sees the contrast between her dirty, weary husband and the buoyant, well-dressed Wildeve, but she is not ready to throw over Clym. She admits to Wildeve that the marriage is not working, but blames Clym's eye trouble. Wildeve makes it clear that he still loves her; she admits that she's not exactly unhappy to hear that, considering the state of her marriage. Moved by feelings they cannot express, they gaze enviously at the sleeping Clym, who seems to possess a sense of peace which neither of them can achieve.

They are startled by a knock on the door. Mrs. Yeobright is there, about to walk in on a scene which would confirm all her suspicions of Eustacia. Fate, seems once again to have dealt Eustacia an unfair blow. Her reactions whirl- she wants to hide Wildeve; she longs to be seen with him, no matter what her mother-in-law might think; she's unwilling to open the door to a woman who dislikes her so much.

When the knocking is repeated, Clym mumbles the word, "Mother," in his sleep. Eustacia's certain that he will answer the knock, and now it's more important that Wildeve must not be seen. Eustacia slips with her former lover out the back door, telling him quite firmly never to visit again. She waits by herself in the garden- partly because she might be in the way, partly because she is not eager to face Mrs. Yeobright. Throughout this scene, her emotions have been mixed, confused, contradictory.

Soon, Eustacia notices that the cottage is silent. Going in, she discovers that Clym never woke up. She rushes to open the door, but it is too late; there's no one there, nothing but the great hot silent heath.

Out of sight, Mrs. Yeobright is struggling homeward. She's half-mad with distress, because she glimpsed Eustacia's face through a window and, knowing that Clym was inside, she assumes that he willingly allowed his wife to keep the door barred against his mother.

By chance, little Johnny Nunsuch idly appears on the path beside Mrs. Yeobright. As she rambles on about Eustacia's coldheartedness and Clym's rejection, the boy tells her she is talking nonsense. As he describes how she looks to him- pale, sweating, and almost in convulsions- we suspect that there's more than a little weariness affecting her.

She finally sits down, scarcely able to breathe, and pulls out a small teacup, ironically one of a set which she was going to give as a peace offering to Clym and Eustacia. Johnny brings her some lukewarm pond water, but it is too nauseating to drink. Bored, the boy asks to leave, but Mrs. Yeobright sends him off with a dreadful message, " have seen a broken-hearted woman cast off by her son."

Alone, exposed to the draining sun, this once-proud, independent woman creeps along feebly.

Hardy, in this chapter, has been almost as hard on the reader as Fate has been on the characters. Helpless, we watch people make decisions which bring on disaster. It's frustrating to know what Mrs. Yeobright cannot- that her son loves her, that Eustacia did not mean for her to be shut out.

Why did Wildeve have to visit the cottage at that particular moment? Why didn't Clym wake up fully? Why did Mrs. Yeobright happen to see Eustacia in the window? These tiny tricks of fate seem to lead to cruel consequences.

Is Eustacia to blame for slipping away? Is Mrs. Yeobright to blame, because she was so stubborn in the beginning? As we have seen before, Hardy does not give simple answers to these questions. He wants his novel to be as puzzling as life itself is.

Often, Hardy's readers are shown that unfortunate happenings could be avoided "if only" some small thing had happened otherwise. If this makes you feel frustrated, it is just what the novelist wants you to feel. He does not believe we can control our lives.


Back at the cottage, Clym wakes up from a terrible dream. In it, Eustacia and he went to visit his mother, but could not get in, even though she was heard screaming for help. This dream- so close to the truth, if he only knew it!- makes him wonder why his mother still hasn't broken her silence. He decides to break down and go visit her this evening. When she hears this, Eustacia offers to go to Blooms-End herself. She hopes, of course, to apologize to Mrs. Yeobright, and clear up the whole matter before Clym can even hear about it. But Clym, puzzled, insists on going himself. Both, in different ways, want to take action, without knowing that it is already too late.

At sunset, Clym walks off on the darkened heath for several miles. Scenting his mother's perfume (how well he knows her!) he stops, and a faint moan reaches his ears. He discovers with shock his mother, lying in a heap at his feet. He carries her limp body toward Blooms-End, but decides he'd better stop and set her down in a small shed about a mile from her cottage. Making her as comfortable as possible on a bed of dried fern, he runs off to get help.

Soon, the country folk arrive. They discover that she has been bitten by an adder, or snake. Sam suggests an old folk remedy- frying other adders to produce fat for an ointment. Two freshly killed snakes, and one live one, are found. Mrs. Yeobright and the living snake stare at each other; it looks angry and evil, causing her to tremble. The country folk, too, see evil in the snake. Yet, while the remedy is being prepared, they chatter on, their familiar characters as unchanging, in their way, as Egdon Heath. Susan Nunsuch, Johnny's mother, brings a frying-pan, and the snakes are cooked. Clym, the man of progressive ideas, finds himself gently anointing his mother's wound with this crude ointment, if only because the doctor has not yet arrived.

Here is the reconciliation that both mother and son have desired for so long. But it's scarcely satisfying; she is barely conscious and may be dying; he doesn't know if he has been forgiven; she may not even be aware of his tender nursing. A cruel price has been paid for this reunion.

Notice that Hardy purposely turns this scene into a public event. Just as at the bonfire and at the Christmas party, the villagers have gathered to comment and observe, and thus we are reminded of the social context of the Yeobright's private tragedy. Ironically, the villagers may feel more comfortable with Mrs. Yeobright, who thinks herself superior, than with her son, who wants so badly to educate them. If she dies, it will be an event of major importance to the Egdon area. One generation will have passed on, leaving room for the new. If she dies, some of the values of the past may also die.


Alone at home, Eustacia is depressed, fearing there will be some ugly consequences of her not opening the door. Yet she doesn't blame herself, but Providence.

Deciding to walk out to meet Clym on his way homeward, she instead encounters Captain Vye. He reports that Wildeve has unexpectedly inherited a huge fortune from an uncle in Canada. Eustacia's grandfather calls her a fool for not hanging on to him, she wonders why Wildeve didn't tell her this news when he came to visit.

As she reflects, Wildeve himself re-appears. Casually, they walk together to meet Clym. When she asks him about the inheritance, he gallantly says he hadn't told her because her own fortunes were not so happy. She changes the subject and Wildeve explains his plans to invest most of the money and use the rest for a year's travel to the world's most exciting places- beginning, of course, with Paris. Without knowing of Eustacia's dreams of Paris, he too yearns toward it. These two people resemble each other, even in their longings. They begin to talk over the past; Wildeve hints that he would never have married Thomasin if Eustacia hadn't rejected him.

Suddenly, they see a light ahead, cast by the shed where Mrs. Yeobright lies. Hidden in the dark, they overhear the doctor tell Clym that his mother's in danger, not so much from the bite as from exhaustion. She is sinking fast. We hear Mrs. Yeobright's last gasp. Then little Johnny Nunsuch shrieks out her words to him: "she said I was to say that I had seed her, and she was a broken-hearted woman and cast off by her son." Clym sobs miserably. Eustacia, concealed in darkness (as we've seen her so often), is torn between comforting him and avoiding exposure.

Deciding to slip away, Eustacia faces putting the blame on herself at last. She tells Wildeve that she cannot speak to him any more. As he vanishes, she can see only one sight- the procession carrying the body of her mother-in-law. Figuratively, too, she sees only this because it is now the most important fact in her life. Book Four, titled "The Closed Door," concludes with the most terrible consequence of Eustacia's neglecting to open that door: Mrs. Yeobright's death.


By now, you can guess the meaning of Hardy's title. It seems likely that Eustacia's act will be discovered. Notice that Hardy often uses titles that give away what will happen. Perhaps he is less interested in surprising us with developments of plot than with reminding us of his themes. He wants us to think about what happens to Eustacia and whether or not she deserves her fate. He wants us to study, along with him, how tragedy can occur when ordinary people try to live fulfilling lives.


Weeks later, in the moonlight outside their cottage, we see Eustacia, who has been faithfully nursing the grief-torn Clym. When Humphrey stops by, she tells him that her husband's delirium has subsided, but he is still obsessed by thoughts of his mother. Eustacia goes back inside, where Clym twists and turns, accusing himself of causing Mrs. Yeobright's death. He says hopelessly, "If she had only come to see me!" Obviously, then, Eustacia still hasn't told him about the aborted visit. As Clym wails in despair and guilt, his wife is again and again reminded of her own guilt.

Thomasin arrives, hoping to comfort Clym, but he rises to new heights of grief. Eustacia holds her tongue, but Clym rages on, condemning himself, wildly picturing his mother dying, Eustacia feels even more guilty. When he calls on God to punish him, she knows that it is she who deserves punishment.

Thomasin gently urges her cousin to calm down. We learn that she is about to have a child; afterwards, she and Wildeve mean to begin their travels.

As we have seen throughout the novel, Hardy believes in the continuity of life itself at Egdon, no matter what happens to individuals. Mrs. Yeobright has died, but, as if to restore the natural balance, a new soul is about to enter the world. Wildeve's plans for a new lifestyle are being carried out, even though Eustacia's life has sunk into a dull round of duty.

For Clym, life has stopped. Reverting to his own concerns, he again repeats his mother's accusing last message; tortured, Eustacia begs him to stop. Thomasin, level-headed, reminds Clym that his mother often spoke in haste, and she'd probably forgiven him, nonetheless.

Wildeve drives up outside, and Eustacia goes out to tell him that Thomasin is coming in a few minutes. Wretchedly, she confesses that she has not yet told Clym the story of the closed door. She wants to tell him, but she's afraid that, in his present state, Clym might actually kill her. His overmastering grief, we see, is another example of the sort of passion that can destroy reason. Wildeve, typically the diplomat, suggests that Eustacia not confess until Clym is better; even then, she shouldn't reveal that Wildeve himself was on the scene that day. Eustacia, ever the pragmatic one, agrees.

When Thomasin and Wildeve drive off together, their shared future looks bright, with the promise of a child and exciting travel. Eustacia watches them sadly; her own future looks dark indeed.


Clym improves over the following month, if only because his grief wears out. Now, however he is unnaturally silent.

While Clym is working in the garden one evening, Eustacia brings the happy news that Thomasin has given birth to a baby girl. As you may suspect, however, simple-minded Christian also brings trouble, as he has so often before. He reports that he saw Mrs. Yeobright the day she died, setting out on the six-mile walk to Clym's place. Christian doesn't know why she was coming, but he suggests that Diggory, who has been away lately, might. This news, which might have comforted Clym, has come too late. If Christian weren't so addle-brained, and if Venn had not vanished, Clym might not have had to suffer his long ordeal of terrible remorse.

In any event, Clym sets off one day to Blooms-End because the property is now his legal responsibility. As he wanders through his childhood home, he looks fondly on the old family furnishings, which he knows Eustacia would want to get rid of. Great differences still exist between husband and wife.

Coincidentally, Venn appears at the cottage; he's shocked when he learns that Mrs. Yeobright is dead. The two men sit down in the large room where, only the previous Christmas, life had seemed so carefree. Change is one of Hardy's themes: change which brings the death of hopes, the death of people.

Diggory, we learn, spoke with Mrs. Yeobright the night before she died. He tells Clym that she didn't blame him at all. This news does not satisfy Clym. He wants to know what could have changed her mind, to make her give her bitter message to Johnny Nunsuch.

When Diggory leaves, the puzzle continues to eat away at Clym. After a sleepless night at Blooms- End, he decides to question Johnny again. The next morning he takes the path to the Nunsuch cottage, feeling a chill in the air- a possible bad omen.

When Susan answers Clym's knock, he recalls how she pricked Eustacia with a needle. In fact, Johnny is ill again, and his mother believes Eustacia is to blame. In a sense, she has her revenge on Eustacia now. Her son Johnny reveals to the astonished Clym that he saw the whole episode: Mrs. Yeobright resting at the Devil's Bellows, a gentleman entering Clym's cottage, Mrs. Yeobright knocking at the door, Eustacia watching her from a window.

Wildly, Clym ricochets from bewilderment to anger, finally shouting, "May all murderesses get the torment they deserve!" He doesn't have to use Eustacia's name; we know whom he means. Clym seems possessed by a mood in which anything is possible.

Distraught and dangerous as Clym becomes, the face of the heath in contrast is "imperturbable." Just as the action heats up to fever pitch, the novelist reminds us that a single man's tragedy means nothing to this ancient wasteland. Probably, he is suggesting that all of mankind's troubles and joys are insignificant, when compared with the long existence of the earth. What we most fear or love is forgotten in time. Mankind is probably not the center of the universe. The universe probably pays no attention to us.


Clym rushes home in a fury. When he enters Eustacia's room, she has just woken up and is seated at her mirror. In the glass, she sees his face, which is "ashy, haggard, and terrible." With a frightening kind of intimacy, the pallor of his face transfers immediately to his wife's. Instantly, each understands the other.

Eustacia, however, plays for time. She pretends not to understand his hints about Wildeve's visit; exasperated, Clym says that he's referring to the day Eustacia "shut the door against my mother and killed her." Coolly she asks if he means to kill her, but he answers no, for that would make a martyr of her; besides, death might cause her to meet Mrs. Yeobright in the after-life, and Clym wants them kept apart eternally. Matching his desperation with her own, Eustacia says she almost wishes he would kill her, since their marriage is such a disaster.

Clym will not be distracted, however; he wants to know what happened when his mother tried to visit. In her defiance, Eustacia refuses to explain. Clym breaks into her writing desk and finds, among her private letters, a single empty envelope addressed to Eustacia in Wildeve's handwriting.

In the wild scene that follows, Clym virtually accuses his wife of adultery; in revenge, she allows him to be tortured by his suspicions. Bitter remarks and recriminations flash back and forth.

Then, suddenly, Eustacia begins to cry and, trembling, offers her hand to her husband. We must remember how precious this hand is to Charley, how precious it has been to Clym. Reluctantly, he takes it, but he says he's been bewitched by her- in the past. Eustacia falls to her knees, begging for pity. Clym refuses until she names the man who was in the house with her. She will not. They remain at an impasse. They even disagree over which of them should move out. Eustacia finally decides to leave. In one of Hardy's most dramatically poignant moments, Clym, seeing that the woman who once fascinated him is too upset to tie her own bonnet, gently ties it for her. But his parting words are unyielding; Eustacia leaves without answering him.

Soon afterward, word comes to Clym that the Wildeves have named their baby girl "Eustacia Clementine." This is a cruel joke, in his eyes. The girl's two names will honor a marriage that has turned cold and hollow.


After showing Clym's uncontrollable anger- the passionate result of his pain and loss- Hardy concentrates now on Eustacia's misery. Again and again, he reminds us of the contrast between her present state and her earlier hopes. She wanders through "the dying ferns" which were so luxuriant when she and Clym decided to marry. Reaching her grandfather's cottage, which had always been her home, she finds it locked and empty. Charley is there, however, and he is stunned to see her desperate state. Previously, she only let him touch her as part of a deal; now, she leans on him for physical support. He opens up the house, lights a fire, and helps her eat and drink a little. Even his kindness reminds her of better times.

After lying on a couch lifelessly for a while, Eustacia goes upstairs to her old room. It hasn't changed, a fact which harshly reminds her of her own changed situation. Hardy stresses that it is autumn, the season of dying things. His heroine spies a pair of pistols in her grandfather's room. She quickly goes downstairs and considers committing suicide.

When she finally resolves to kill herself, however, and returns upstairs for the weapons, they are gone. Charley is standing outside; Eustacia realizes that the shy, uneducated boy has guessed her intentions. She asks him for the pistols, which he has locked up in the stable, but he refuses, because he loves Eustacia too much to let her kill herself. At this moment, when Eustacia has been feeling completely alone in the world, Charley's love revives her. He promises not to tell what has happened; she promises that the moment has passed.

That night, her grandfather kindly asks no questions when he sees her emotional state. Eustacia tells him only that she will stay again with him.

Note that the simple people whom Eustacia spurned, such as Charley and her grandfather, show sincere human feeling to her now, while the sophisticated Wildeve, the idealistic Clym, are not there when Eustacia hits rock bottom. Many readers feel that Hardy is saying here that human decency and generosity are more likely to be found among simple folk than in a cosmopolitan setting. Eustacia, as we have seen, does not appreciate such virtues as much as she might; this has hastened her downfall. Hardy may want us to see that her inability to enjoy and understand the humble people of Egdon is a great failing.

At this point, Eustacia is probably thinking only of herself and of her ruined hopes. Love has died, her marriage has ended, and she may never see Paris. She has returned to the center of the heath that she despises.


For days, Eustacia remains lifeless. Charley, happy to be her guardian, does every little thing he can to give her pleasure.

Eventually, she returns to her old habit of looking through her grandfather's telescope. In the past, she might have been searching eagerly for her lover, Wildeve. Now, by contrast, she sees her own furniture being moved by Clym to his mother's house. Rather than see promise, she watches a defeat. On another day, she sees Thomasin out walking, the baby in her arms, as a nursemaid follows. Eustacia's lonely, abandoned life contrasts with her old rival's maternal happiness.

Meanwhile, Charley has been preparing for November 5, expecting that Eustacia will want a good bonfire again as she did in the past. He does not know, of course, that for those two years, the bonfire was a signal to Wildeve. On the evening of Guy Fawkes Day, exactly one year after the beginning of this novel, Charley kindles the fire, even though Eustacia is inside the cottage, with the shutters closed.

Charley's good, if mistaken, intentions, set the plot going again, as if he is an unknowing agent of fate. On first seeing the fire blaze up, Eustacia asks Charley to put it out. She does not want to see Wildeve- or does she? She doesn't insist very hard, as Charley lets the fire blaze on. She seems numbed, willing to take whatever happens.

Skillfully the novelist unnerves Eustacia, and perhaps us too, with that sound we know so well- the splash of a stone in the pond. Eustacia, shocked, cannot move. Wildeve, still unseen, throws a second stone. She moves toward him.

In the firelight, separated by the earth-bank, they speak directly, urgently, with the familiarity of former lovers. Eustacia urges him to stay back; as though she's concealing herself; Wildeve, nevertheless, can see how unhappy she is. Eustacia, once so aggressive, almost mannish, and resilient, now breaks down in sobs. Wildeve offers to do anything he can to save her. He seems more under her power than he's ever been. She asks help to get secretly to Budmouth, from where she can travel at last to Paris. She seems unable to speak when he asks if he can go with her.

Perhaps she still feels bound by decency to her marriage; perhaps, after all, she still loves Clym. Perhaps she is simply not sure about Wildeve. Hardy doesn't tell us, possibly because Eustacia herself doesn't know. She knows she can use Wildeve "as a friend" or, more irrevocably, she can become his lover. She puts off this decision until later; if she does decide to let him come along, she tells him, he'll see a signal some night at eight o'clock. Then they can leave together at midnight that same night.

The chapter ends in confusion- Eustacia rushing away in a frenzy, Wildeve staring from the darkness as she disappears. Charley's bonfire, lit to divert her from her depression, has led her toward taking a step she had not considered before. Charley may have saved Eustacia from killing herself, but now, unwittingly, he's brought her into another kind of danger. Can Eustacia escape her imprisonment on Egdon Heath? Can we ever escape our own particular fates? That is the question Hardy poses now.


Meanwhile, Clym is already hoping that Eustacia will come back to him. As he cleans up his mother's house, the slightest sound causes him to think his wife has reappeared. Notice that, even though his anger has cooled, he still expects her to make the first move; Clym still can't admit he was wrong.

His suspicions about Wildeve have not weakened, but on November 5, the night of Charley's bonfire, in frustration Clym decides to visit The Quiet Woman, hoping that Wildeve will say something that might clear Eustacia's honor. By chance, Wildeve has already gone off (to Eustacia's cottage, we know) when Clym arrives. Clym talks to Thomasin about his marital difficulties, though he tactfully does not mention that Wildeve may be involved. Thomasin is horrified nevertheless. Always the peacemaker, she urges Clym to send for Eustacia and patch things up. Remember, it was also Thomasin who wanted peace between Clym and his mother. Gentle Thomasin, who has suffered much, does not want others to suffer.

Clym agrees to take her advice. That night at Blooms-End, he writes a rambling but heartfelt plea to Eustacia. He promises not to mention the past, if Eustacia will only return. Yet he puts the letter aside for a day, still hoping she will come back first. This decision, surely an act of pride, will turn out to be disastrous.

Meanwhile, Wildeve has come back home, where Thomasin waits with anxiety. She has noticed his recent gloominess, his feeling that Egdon Heath is a jail. She complains that he never takes her on his frequent walks. In fact, she confesses, she followed him this evening and heard him say, "Damn it, I'll go!" before vanishing into the darkness. Wildeve is angry at her for this, but when she begins to cry, explaining that she has heard rumors about him and Eustacia, Wildeve calms down. He does not like scenes, and neither does Thomasin. But though Wildeve prevents a quarrel, to avoid any messy emotional scenes, he obviously still has no intention of behaving as Thomasin would like him to. In fact, her fears may even make him realize that he must act soon, if he wants Eustacia. We can only guess, of course, for the Wildeves are happy to leave many things unsaid.


The next day, Eustacia is eager to leave Egdon. Clym could still change her mind, but he does not appear. Toward late afternoon, she packs a small bundle, as an ominous storm begins to rise upon the heath's horizon.

At eight, Eustacia signals Wildeve with a burning branch. An answering light appears instantly beside The Quiet Woman; Wildeve has been watching vigilantly. The plan is therefore set in motion- they will meet at midnight.

After supper, Eustacia goes to her bedroom to rest, while Captain Vye sits up, drinking alone. At about ten, Fairway appears, bearing Clym's letter to Eustacia. Ironically, he had the letter for a while, but he forgot it until now. If he had remembered earlier, Eustacia might have still been downstairs. As it is, Captain Vye assumes she's asleep and puts the letter on the mantelpiece, for her to see the next day. Hardy draws out the suspense hovering over this undelivered letter. Much later, as Captain Vye prepares for bed, he notices a light in her room, and later he hears her crying as she passes his door. He goes out into the hall to tell her about the letter, but it is too late. She has disappeared.

Alarmed, Vye discovers that the front door is unlocked. The letter still sits on the mantel, untouched; we realize that Eustacia has gone off without knowing that Clym wanted her back. Is it just a cruel coincidence? Hardy points out that her determination to leave is now so strong that even the letter really would not have stopped her. Neither does the bad weather, or the night, which has become black and heavy, making us think of death, or the dark forces of fate.

Alone at Rainbarrow, where we first met her, Eustacia stands storm-tossed, without and within. Questions whirl in her brain. What will she do for money? Will she have to humiliate herself by becoming Wildeve's mistress? Notice that she still has her pride and moral standards intact; mere passion would not drive her into his arms. She sobs aloud and talks wildly, saying that Wildeve is "not great enough" to satisfy her longings, or to cause her to break the vow of marriage. Yet, she has no money. In a frenzy, she blames fate, "things beyond [her] control" for ruining her life.

Suddenly, Hardy pulls back from the passion of this desperate scene to show Susan Nunsuch, warm and secure in her cottage. In strangely fascinating detail, he describes her making a small doll out of melted beeswax and giving it Eustacia's features. Believing in old superstitions, she is making a sort of voodoo doll. First, she sticks pins into the wax figure. Then she holds it over her fire with tongs, murmuring the Lord's Prayer backwards as the doll melts.

When Susan works her spell, we remember the many times that Eustacia has been associated with fire- and with fiery passion. Hardy may not be asking us to believe that the spell works in a literal way, but, just as the image is consumed by fire, so, is Eustacia consumed by the fire of her passions. And, just as the image is destroyed by superstitious Susan, Eustacia has probably been destroyed in part by the ignorance and superstition which have surrounded and suffocated her at Egdon.


As the storm gets worse, Clym anxiously waits at Blooms-End, hoping for a reply to his letter- maybe even a visit from Eustacia herself. He nonetheless falls asleep, only to be aroused by a female voice. Eagerly, he opens the door, thinking Eustacia has returned, but it is instead Thomasin, looking pitiful, with her baby in her arms. She reports that Wildeve means to run off with Eustacia, but he hasn't left yet; she wants Clym to persuade him not to go. He agrees.

As Clym is dressing, Captain Vye appears next, looking for Eustacia. He has just heard from Charley about the incident with the pistols, and fears that Eustacia has gone off to kill herself. Clym assures him they will find her at Wildeve's, but Vye decides to return home to wait for her. Clym heads for The Quiet Woman.

For some time, Thomasin tries to wait patiently. But unable to endure the suspense, she finally snatches up her daughter and plunges back into the pouring rain. Her journey is difficult, but her reaction to the wild weather is, unlike Eustacia's, accepting and rational. Despite her familiarity with the heath, though, she eventually gets lost, and, coincidentally, she comes upon Diggory Venn's empty van.

Suddenly, as if by magic, he appears. In the confusion of the stormy night, he doesn't recognize Thomasin at first. In fact, he says, some other woman had just passed by, sobbing; Thomasin intuitively knows it must have been Eustacia, and resolves to find her. Diggory takes the baby carefully, following Thomasin's firm, brusque instructions. Notice that she seems much stronger with this man than with her husband.

When they see a light, she thinks they've reached the inn, but Diggory stops her from heading on alone, and saves her from falling into a deep swamp. Once again, Venn has protected Thomasin from danger. Even so, she will not trust him with the secret of what is going on. Perhaps she simply is too loyal, or too proud, to tell a man who loves her that her husband is about to run away.


Notice the purposely deadpan tone of this chapter title. Suspense is high, but Hardy pretends that events are happening by themselves, that even he is not in control.

As we now learn, Wildeve had decided that money would solve everything. He planned to ease his conscience by leaving half his inheritance to Thomasin; then Eustacia could share the rest with him. Hardy, however, probably would not agree that money by itself is the answer to any human problem; Wildeve is shallow and deluded. He is also being stood up. He waits in the rain with his horse and gig until a quarter past midnight. At the sound of a footstep, he rushes forward, calling "Eustacia?"; the light from his lamp falls upon Clym. Hardy seems to be stressing that the unexpected is part of life. Wildeve awaits his love; instead, he finds her husband.

Suddenly, the two men are startled by the sound of a body falling into the nearby stream near a weir, or small dam. Clym immediately senses it must be Eustacia, alarming Wildeve.

Together, the rivals rush to the circular pool below the weir. Swollen by the storm, it has become a raging whirlpool. They glimpse a body in the water; Wildeve jumps in passionately, without thinking. Typically, Clym acts more rationally, first positioning the lamp and then wading in from a shallow area. Nonetheless, he too is drawn into the whirlpool.

Now Thomasin and Diggory arrive on the scene. Venn, hands the baby to Thomasin and tells her to rush home for help. Notice the symbolism behind the actions of each character in this scene: just as in their emotional lives, Wildeve is impulsive, Clym tries to be calm but is swept away, and Diggory plods through competently to the end.

Finally, Diggory seizes a body and drags it out. It is a man, with another man clutching onto his legs. As help arrives, the unconscious figures are laid upon the grass. It was Wildeve, holding on to Clym. Some readers think Wildeve grabbed Clym to save himself; others think he was trying to drag Clym down with him. Your answer will depend on your final assessment of Wildeve's character.

Quickly, the pool is probed with a pole, and an object is felt. Again, Venn goes into the water, and comes up with Eustacia's cold body.

The three victims are taken back to The Quiet Woman and laid close to the fire. Eventually, Clym alone comes back to life. Diggory, uncertain of the role he should play now, leaves and then wanders back. Thomasin has thoughtfully left a message that Diggory should have whatever he wants. He stands by the fireplace, pondering how things have changed since the raffle, the last time he was there. Like Hardy, Diggory sees the future is uncertain, appearances can deceive, and there is no such thing in human affairs as permanence. The nurse comes downstairs, to try to dry out the paper money found on Wildeve's body, but we realize that all his lucky money can't help him now.

Early in the morning, Charley appears for news of Eustacia. Looking dead himself, Clym allows Charley to view her corpse. Ironically, both Eustacia and Wildeve look as handsome as ever in death, although Wildeve's fingers show telling scars of a desperate failed attempt to hold on to life.

The atmosphere of peace is shattered, however, by Clym's eerie remark, that Eustacia is the second woman he's killed this year. Diggory tells him not to feel responsible, but Clym cannot listen. No matter how good his intentions were, the consequences have been tragic. He feels that no punishment will ever help him atone for being involved in the deaths of two women he loved.

Was Clym really at fault? Or was he the victim of chance occurrences? Could both things be true at once? Hardy lets you wrestle with that problem on your own.


Because of public demand, Hardy changed his intended ending in this short, final book. Readers who had been following this tale of Egdon Heath in magazine form, as it first appeared, did not want to be left with a completely unhappy conclusion. Against his original plan, Hardy now lets some light and joy into this novel of darkness and tragedy.


Their death makes Eustacia and Wildeve become legendary in the Egdon area, as if these two had really been larger than life. Yet Thomasin's private grief for her husband is gradually eased over the following year, by the delight of seeing baby Eustacia grow. Thomasin and her daughter move back to Blooms-End, where Clym keeps to himself in a couple of upstairs rooms. Thomasin is now wealthy and independent, with Wildeve's legacy, but she and her cousin live quite simply.

Unlike Eustacia, Clym does not blame fate for his situation; he bitterly reproaches himself. As another year passes, Clym is still only dimly aware of the happy domestic life shared by Thomasin and her daughter in their part of the house. He is studying again, using books with very large type because of his still-weak vision. Clym seems scarred, crippled almost by his tragedy.

One summer day, Diggory appears at Blooms-End. He's a new man, no longer stained with red. As Clym enters, Venn explains that he's given up the reddleman's trade to take over his late father's dairy herd. He and Thomasin are uneasy with each other, but Clym, typically, does not notice.

We learn that the common folk are going to put up a Maypole in an adjacent field for a festival the following day. That evening, Clym watches as the young people wreathe the pole with wildflowers.

The Maypole, Hardy notes, is a relic of pagan customs. Remember that we have already seen festivals associated with other seasons: the Christmas party in winter, the moonlight dance in summer, the bonfires of autumn. Now we will see the festival of spring, symbolic of fertility and renewed life. It suggests that new life may also be possible for Thomasin.

The next morning, Thomasin wakes to see the pole in place and smell the sweet fragrance of its flowers. The sight delights her, and, for the first time since Wildeve's death, she dresses in bright clothes. Clym compliments her. When she blushes, he suddenly wonders if she might be trying to attract him. It's an unsettling thought; love, for him, burnt itself out with Eustacia. As the brass band arrives, Clym slips away, unable to endure the good times. He doesn't return until dusk, when the scene is quiet again. Thomasin, he learns, had not joined the party, out of a sense of propriety.

Outside, one figure remains, strolling idly; it is Diggory. Thomasin tells him that she watched him dance and noticed that he had his pick of dancing partners all evening. Venn says he is waiting for the moon to rise so that he can find a glove dropped by an unnamed young woman, someone he did not dance with. Thomasin is astounded, particularly since he still has a long walk home ahead of him.

From inside the house, she watches as he searches. She tells herself that she is annoyed that he should behave so foolishly, now that he's respectable, but we may detect an undercurrent of jealousy. Finally, she sees Diggory find the glove and kiss it before putting it in his breast-pocket.


Days later, Thomasin tells Clym that she is still wondering about the identity of the owner of the glove, fretting that none of the dancers was good enough for Diggory. Thomasin's gentle, childish obsession is a touching sign of her awakening emotions- far different from the wild passions we've seen other lovers show.

Some time later, Thomasin cannot find one of her own gloves. Rachel, a young servant, confesses that she borrowed Thomasin's gloves for the Maypole dance and lost one. Diggory, Rachel adds, knew this. Stunned, Thomasin ponders this information all afternoon.

The next day, Diggory appears on horseback as Thomasin is playing with little Eustacia on the heath. Thomasin abruptly asks for the glove. Diggory pulls it out of his breast-pocket. As they go on talking they begin to tease each other, beginning a flirtation. Soon, the two are meeting regularly at this hollow of the heath, near the old Roman road. A new cycle of love begins in this ancient, timeless place.


Meanwhile, ironically, Clym has begun to feel that it may be his duty to marry Thomasin. He feels he does not love her, but he feels sorry for her, and, after all, his mother, always wanted them to get together. Some readers think Clym is fooling himself, talking himself into doing something he really wants to do anyway. Others feel he's being honest when he admits he is "a mere corpse of a lover."

Finally, Clym decides to let Thomasin decide. When he tries to bring up the subject with her, however, she has news of her own; she wants his approval of her decision to marry. Once more, Clym's indecision has made him delay an action until it's too late. He gives her his approval- until he learns that her choice is Venn. Clym, for all his idealistic love of his fellow man, secretly shares his mother's strain of snobbery, and he doesn't think Diggory is good enough. But Thomasin knows herself; she admits that she has "countrified ways," and says she "couldn't be happy anywhere else but Egdon." (How unlike Eustacia!)

To do him credit, Clym doesn't really want to be an obstacle; he appreciates Venn's honest, kind, steady qualities. Thomasin points out that Diggory is much more respectable in his new line of work. Some days later, Humphrey tells Clym that the lovers are meeting frequently. Finally, Thomasin takes matters into her own hands, telling Clym that a date for the wedding has been set.

In a strange footnote, Hardy sketches for the reader his originally intended ending, where Thomasin remains widow and Diggory goes on in his isolated, weird life as a reddleman. The novelist suggests that the "true" ending is "the more consistent conclusion." Happy or unhappy- which ending is in fact the "more consistent" with the rest of the book? We know what Hardy believes, but all readers may not agree with him.


On the morning of the wedding, the familiar crowd of villagers gathers at Fairway's cottage to make a goose-feather mattress for the newlyweds. As usual, Grandfer Cantle and Christian argue, and Fairway keeps the peace. The natures of the Egdon commonfolk do not change, as we know. Unexpectedly early, the wedding party passes by outside. This marriage has taken place rapidly, quite unlike Thomasin's first one. The villagers cheer the couple, an obviously popular pair.

That afternoon, Clym works alone upstairs on a sermon. He will not join the wedding feast in the evening, because he would not be happy in the company. Only two-and-a-half years earlier, it was unhappy Thomasin who would not participate in the Christmas party given for him. Hardy loves to remind us of these contrasts.

When the celebration begins at evening, Clym slips out unobserved and walks to a point where he can see Eustacia's former home. Charley, too, walks by, still depressed by Eustacia's death himself. He asks Clym for some keepsake that belonged to her. Back at Blooms-End, Clym gives the boy a lock of Eustacia's hair, which Charley kisses tearfully.

As the two go back out into the night, dim-sighted Clym asks Charley to describe what can be seen of the festivities through the window. The party is lively; no one misses Clym. Symbolically, perhaps, Clym has already begun his solitary life as a preacher, separated from the activities of ordinary people.

The following Sunday, Clym can be seen atop Rainbarrow, his wife's old lookout point. He is not waiting for romantic love, however; he is preaching about brotherly love to a group of heath men and women. This afternoon, his text is from the Bible, a reference to King Solomon's willingness to do his mother's will. Clym is still feeling guilty about his behavior toward his mother.

Hardy tells us that Clym will continue this new career, traveling widely. He will do well enough; some people will agree with his ideas, and everyone will be kind, because of what has happened to him.

As the story ends, you may probably agree that no character has been really wicked. On the other hand, no character has been blameless. Although Hardy's characters are very different from each other, they do have this in common- like all human beings, they are a mixture of selfishness and generosity, of cruelty and kindness. And they are all affected by the arbitrary workings of fate.


THE STORY, continued

ECC [The Return of the Native Contents] []

© Copyright 1984 by Barron's Educational Series, Inc.
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