One of Thomas Hardy’s most powerful works, The Return of the Native centers famously on Egdon Heath, the wild, haunted Wessex moor that D. H. Lawrence called “the real stuff of tragedy.” The heath’s changing face mirrors the fortunes of the farmers, inn-keepers, sons, mothers, and lovers who populate the novel. The “native” is Clym Yeobright, who comes home from a cosmopolitan life in Paris. He; his cousin Thomasin; her fiancé, Damon Wildeve; and the willful Eustacia Vye are the protagonists in a tale of doomed love, passion, alienation, and melancholy as Hardy brilliantly explores that theme so familiar throughout his fiction: the diabolical role of chance in determining the course of a life.
This was read as part of the local Hardy reading group.
This is the first book that I’ve been able to read with some level of ease – the others’ I have struggled at one level or another. I was unable to complete the previous book (The Hand of Ethelbertha) at all.
It is a story of mixed connections, lost (and re-found) loves, disappointments and misunderstandings. Very few lives are not altered in some way. Eustacia Vye wishes to escape the desolation and isolation of Egdon Heath, and believes that Clym, returning from Paris, will be the ticket to her escape. However, his dislike of Paris – the main cause of his return – plus a subsequent illness, ensures that Eustacia is further chained to the Heath, her chances of escape ruined.
Clym’s cousin, Thomasin, becomes married Wildeve, despite his previous and unresolved dalliance with Eustacia. No one really ever settles, and it all ends in disaster.
The desolation and isolation of the Heath contributes to the pervading emptiness of everything. Some of the natives have come to accept the wide open spaces, and some, like Eustacia, cant wait to escape. The occasional appearance of the Reddleman (a man whose entire living, and colour is determined by the red ochre he sells to the farmers) adds a certain mysterious quality to the proceedings.
This is also a book of social standings – Eustacia thinks she is too good for the heath, Mrs Yeobright (Clym’s mother and Thomasin’s aunt) think that Diggory Venn, the reddleman, is not good enough for Thomasin because of his colouring and wandering lifestyle (despite both being temporary)