the return of the native

Title: the return of the native
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THOMAS HARDY: THE AUTHOR AND HIS TIMES Today's readers may find Thomas Hardy's outlook stern and grim. Hardy, however, was beloved in his own time. In an age when the Industrial Revolution was bringing dramatic and sometimes disturbing change to England, he celebrated the nation's roots in its rural past. In an age when new ideas like Darwin's theory of evolution challenged traditional religious beliefs, Hardy showed that even the simplest people have always wrestled with similar timeless questions: How are we to live? What determines our fate? Are we really independent beings? He spoke directly to the concerns of people trembling on the brink of a new era. Though he dealt with serious questions, Hardy was an immensely popular novelist because he believed in telling a good story. And he liked to write about ordinary people. Their problems, their triumphs or defeats, were in his view the most important material for any novelist. Born in 1840, Hardy grew up in middle-class comfort near the provincial English town of Dorchester. His father was a stone mason, successful enough that he could afford to employ assistants. His mother, who wanted a better class of life, made certain that her son was educated in the classics. Young Hardy showed a gift for language early, but when it came time to choose a career, he went off to become an architect, spending some years in London. As he worked at that trade, however, his literary talent inevitably asserted itself. He started to publish fiction; he began to get recognition for it. Eventually, after marrying Emma Gifford, a church organist from London, he returned to the Wessex countryside, the scene of The Return of the Native. Until his death at 87, he remained in the area, writing novels and, later, poetry, living simply and quietly despite world-wide fame. His writing, however, reveals a mind and a soul that are anything but quiet. He questions the conventions of his day--marriage, for instance. He probes into the complexities of human psychology, of religion, of political theory. Though he lived in isolation, he was in touch with all the intellectual upheavals of the age. And it was an exciting, puzzling time. The recent invention of the steam engine had made travel fast and easy, and people suddenly had a different perception of distance, even of time. Suddenly, factories were springing up everywhere, and the quick money offered by new industries drew people from the farmlands to city slums. Typical English life, which had been rural, now took on a new character. People began to see themselves and their fellow men in a different light. The British government responded to these social changes by passing laws to guarantee conditions we take for granted today: voting rights for all social classes; regulations to promote health and sanitation; and programs to help the poor, the ill, and the elderly. Many of the ideas in the air could fairly be called "liberal," and they probably have much to do with Clym Yeobright's ideas in The Return of the Native. The nineteenth century also faced Darwin's shocking (or exciting, depending on one's point of view) theory of evolution. The Bible seemed to be brought into question, as Darwin suggested that man had evolved from a lower animal rather than being created by God in God's own image. Organized religion staggered from this blow. And evolutionary theory was just one of many scientific discoveries that were changing the way people thought about the nature of existence. Hardy was well aware of these intellectual trends. Though he wrote about uneducated rural characters in lonely hamlets, he wrote from the point of view of a thinker who questions traditional beliefs. This voice is, clearly, that of an agnostic. He does not know whether or not God exists; he does not know if the universe works upon principles of justice. Grim as his philosophical views may be, Hardy delights us with his lively individuals and his love of the English countryside. Like Shakespeare, he has a fine ear for local dialects. He had a painter's eye for dramatic scenes in nature. His heart goes out to the enduring decency of simple country people who work hard and do not indulge themselves in idleness or selfishness. Is he too hard on characters like Eustacia Vye, who yearns for the city life Hardy spurned, or on Damon Wildeve, who cares for little but money and pleasure? Perhaps. Hardy often seems to be a stern and rigorous moralist. To balance this, however, he finds some hope in the homely virtues of characters like Thomasin Yeobright or Diggory Venn. Though Hardy isn't exactly a cheerful writer, his novels are hard to put down. The reader is gripped by a sense of life rushing irrevocably onward. We become involved in the characters' dilemmas, and with them we feel torn between what people think they want and what life actually brings them in the end. Unquestionably, Hardy speaks directly and powerfully to some need within us all. We, too, question fate. We, too, hope that unselfishness will be rewarded. The Return of the Native, condemned by critics when it first appeared, may be Hardy's greatest novel. It has faults, many of which may strike you right away. But the story and its unforgettable characters will lodge in your consciousness. You may find yourself thinking, "Yes, this is how life is." You may even begin to see the eternal questions which Hardy ponders cropping up in your own daily life. You are about to read a tale of country life, but it is really a story of the greater world in which human beings have always lived, and will forever live. THE RETURN OF THE NATIVE: THE PLOT 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 headstrong women. 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 endured. THE RETURN OF THE NATIVE: 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. THE RETURN OF THE NATIVE: 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. THE RETURN OF THE NATIVE: 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. THE RETURN OF THE NATIVE: 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 remains strong. 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. THE RETURN OF THE NATIVE: 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 Wildeve. 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. THE RETURN OF THE NATIVE: 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 guardian angel. 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: SETTING 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 granted. 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 RETURN OF THE NATIVE: THEMES 1. 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. 2. 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. 3. 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. 4. 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. 5. PASSION 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. 6. 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. 7. 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. 8. 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. 9. 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. THE RETURN OF THE NATIVE: STYLE 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. THE RETURN OF THE NATIVE: 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 bad. 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 really stands. THE RETURN OF THE NATIVE: 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 RETURN OF THE NATIVE: 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.) THE RETURN OF THE NATIVE: 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. THE RETURN OF THE NATIVE: 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. THE RETURN OF THE NATIVE: 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? THE RETURN OF THE NATIVE: 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. THE RETURN OF THE NATIVE: 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. THE RETURN OF THE NATIVE: 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. THE RETURN OF THE NATIVE: 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. THE RETURN OF THE NATIVE: 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. THE RETURN OF THE NATIVE: 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. THE RETURN OF THE NATIVE: 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. THE RETURN OF THE NATIVE: 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. THE RETURN OF THE NATIVE: 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. THE RETURN OF THE NATIVE: 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. THE RETURN OF THE NATIVE: 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. THE RETURN OF THE NATIVE: 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. THE RETURN OF THE NATIVE: 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. THE RETURN OF THE NATIVE: 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. THE RETURN OF THE NATIVE: 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