It was presented in twelve months instalments from January to December 1878. It’s Thomas Hardy’s sixth published novel.
The novel takes place in the village Egdon Heath, and, with the exception of the epilogue, covers exactly one year and a day. The action starts in the night of Guy Fawkes Night as Diggory Venn is slowly crossing the Heath with his van. Inside sits a young woman, scared and exhausted by the looks of it. Everything happens in darkness, as the country folk light bonfires on the surrounding hills.
Every major decision, every “dark cloud”, every action and thought behind it are set in the night setting of the Heath.
Characters in “The return of the native”
Clement (Clym) Yeobright is a man about thirty, who gives up a business career in Paris to return to Egdon Heath. His dream is to become a schoolmaster. Being the embodiment of the native, he’s searching for fulfilment only to end up in misery and disappointment.
Eustacia Vye is a raven-haired beauty, whose sole purpose is to escape the Heath. She feels her development as a human being is limited by location, not by personal decision and action.
Mrs. Yeobright is Clym’s mother. She imposes respect the moment she enters “the stage”. Wise and pragmatic, she feels powerless, yet, does everything in her power to stand for what’s right. Family comes first. Paradoxically it’s in the middle of her family where she finds resentment and betrayal.
Thomasin (Tamsin) Yeobright is Clym’s cousin and Mrs Yeobright’s niece. She’s an innocent, young soul, dreaming of love and believing in righteousness.
Damon Wilvede is Eustacia’s former lover and Thomasin’s first husband. An ex-engineer, Damon tries his luck in business and keeps an inn, “The Quiet Woman”. Women are his weak spot, in general, and Eustacia Vye, in particular.
Diggory Venn is a travelling seller of red chalk used for making sheep. He protects Thomasin, although was rejected in a previous attempt of being with her. The happiness of his beloved one is his main priority, even if he is not the one standing next to her.
Captain Drew is Eustacia Vye’s grandfather and a former naval officer. He’s the only one who seems to defend Eustacia, though he fails to understand her actions.
Egdon Heath is considered to be a character in itself. Profoundly ancient, it is the scene of intense but long-forgotten pagan life. It can be both an enemy and a friend, healing some while punishing others.
Love and tradition in Egdon Heath
Egdon Heath is not a place depleted of human emotions, though here, emotions seem amplified and the consequences of wrong decisions are felt at every turn.
Love comes in many forms. There’s
- Yeobright’s love for her son and niece. It’s the protective kind of love, yet, not destructive and dismissive. Her concern is her family, and her actions are set in the shadow of love
- Clym’s love for Eustacia, which is honest and coming from a good place
- Damon Wildeve’s love for Eustacia, though it’s not the pure kind of love as it is a revengeful type, meaning to bring about the destruction
- Captain Drew’s love for his niece
- Diggory Venn’s love for Thomasin, reaching the boundaries of self-sacrifice. Selfless in nature and sincere in action, it’s the healing love that will reign in Egdon Heath
- Clym’s love for his mother
- Eustacia’s love for herself, which outshines any sort of feelings of care and attachment she has for her uncle
Egdon Heath is a village of honest and hard-working people, brought together by tradition. As tempted as we may be to think it’s the 19th century, respect, honesty, love, dedication and family are eternal elements, ingredients to any age and human settlement.
“The return of the native” – beyond appearance
Conflicting demands of nature and society is what makes “The return of the native” a modern novel.
The three spider webs, constantly present are the three unities of time, place and action. Thomas Hardy shows us what happens to the people trying to escape their destinies, as a judge standing on the side-lines, watching carefully as thoughts and decisions unfold.
Eustacia struggles not because she is different but because of the way she goes about it in reaching her goal. People are mere puppets in the “Eustacia’s show”. Still young and childish in manner, her actions seem to bare negative consequences for everybody entering her life.
Clym Yeobright is driven by his love for people. His marriage to Eustacia was doomed for failure from the beginning. It’s not Egdon Heath, nor his mother who contributed to its tragic end, but his blindness in the face of life and love. You don’t have to be a mind reader to sense, from the beginning, what comes next. He’s a disappointed “Martin Eden”, left to face his existence alone.
Takeaways from “The return of the native”
People’s reality, at the end of the novel, is the result of their actions. Love prevails, the innocent and honest kind of love, proving to us all that there’s always something good behind every cloud.
Trapped in their thoughts, there’s a feeling of relief that comes with the ending.
The novel is not a sad one. It’s a small caption in the lives of normal people, full of both good and bad, as is with every day in human life.
When searching for the answer to everything, one must look inside and build their way out. Searching on the outside and blaming things on circumstances will not help us advance.
We have the power of action and decision.
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