The Return of the Native by Thomas Hardy

The Return of the Native Thomas HardyThe Return of the Native: “A Saturday afternoon in November was approaching the time of twilight, and the vast tract of unenclosed wild known as Egdon Heath embrowned itself moment by moment.”

Oh my, I was laughing after finishing this novel, which perhaps wasn’t the reaction that Hardy had envisioned.  But the drama!  The high drama!  I was beginning to wonder what other circumstance of fate (which actually didn’t seem like fate but a deliberate thwarting of anyone’s happiness) was going to occur to cause yet another catastrophe.  It was a medley of characters making the same mistakes over and over again and never learning one thing from them.

Yet, on a positive note, it is the first Hardy novel that I’ve enjoyed and while there is drama and trauma and tragedy, there are a few characters one can respect and more than a few who behave like regular human beings.  However, there are many who don’t, as well, and of course being Hardy, those characters populate the main story.

The Siren John William Waterhouse

The Siren (1900) John William Waterhouse ~ source Wikiart

Thomasin Yeobright married Damon Wildeve, a tradesman of Egdon Heath …. but wait!  Thomasin did NOT marry Wildeve, as she was carried off by Diggory Venn in her flight from an embarrassing misunderstanding on her wedding day and there is a possible scandal if the union is not completed.  But Wildeve cannot extricate Eustacia Vye from his thoughts, a beautiful woman of the Heath and his former paramour, who is as removed from the world and reality as she is selfish.  But then Clym Yeobright, cousin of Thomasin and son of Mrs. Yeobright, returns from his grand employment in Paris, a bright star of the future in the eyes of many, including Eustacia who views him as the vehicle for her escape from the Heath, a place and lifestyle she despises, to the glittering glamour of a cosmopolitan city, her life dream.  The return of the native is rejoiced by all, until Clym decides his native Egdon is loved more dearly than any meaningless city job and his decision to stay in Egdon Heath percipitates a chain of events that echo a falling of dominos from which few can escape the ensuing calamities.

The Return of the Native

This is one of the so called Rainbarrows above Duddle Heath, one of the heaths close to Hardy’s birthplace that became Egdon Heath in the novel. The Rainbarrow has a superb view over the valley of the Frome and this is where Eustacia Vye watched and looked for Wildeve ~ source Wikimedia Commons

As for the title of the novel, it is a curious conundrum, in that it can initially appear that the story will revolve around Clym.  However Clym as a character turns out to be less important than his RETURN which is the catalyst for the chain of catastrophes that follow.  This novel certainly plays like a Greek tragedy with characters making decisions that are nearly always fatal to their happiness and often endanger others.

And one cannot leave the novel without considering the character of Eustacia Vye.  Is she a witch, a seductress, a sociopath or simply a flawed and broken human being?  A hedonist she is certainly, as she seeks people and situations that will bring her the things she desires.  However, Hardy made her more complex than that, in a way that I find somewhat inconsistent.  Initially, her behaviour is completely self-centred with no regard for anyone but her own needs, moving from man to man based on their ability to raise her station in life and therefore, she assumes, securing her happiness.  However, she refuses to acknowledge the hints that Clym has no intention of returning to Paris, and when they marry, despite her dismay at his decision, there is a care of him and an odd type of bond, that seem to contradict her original character.  Complex, yes, but believable ……  I wonder ……

"Unconscious of her presence, he still went on singing." Eustacia watches Clym cut furze in this illustration by Arthur Hopkins for the original Belgravia edition (Plate 8, July 1878).

“Unconscious of her presence, he still went on singing.” Eustacia watches Clym cut furze in this illustration by Arthur Hopkins for the original Belgravia edition (Plate 8, July 1878). ~ source Wikipedia

I must say that this is the first Hardy novel that I’ve mildly enjoyed, my experiences with Far from the Madding Crowd and Under the Greenwood Tree certainly not endearing me to his tone and overly dramatized plot construction.  Yet, I will persevere as there is a sort of inexplicable appeal for his work that sometimes defies common sense.  While I’m not hooked, I’m certainly interested.

If anyone has read any other Hardy novels that they could recommend, I’d be grateful for any guidance you could give!

32 thoughts on “The Return of the Native by Thomas Hardy

  1. I read Tess a long time ago. Many of my friends praise Far from the… and like you, I feel that inexplicable appeal, and I’d like to give one of his books, probably Far from…, a try.

    What you say about probable and improbable characters is interesting. Also the hyperbolic drama and your comparison to Greek tragedy make me think if he meant to be a realistic writer or was trying to break up with the limits of realism. But until I don’t read at least one of his books, it’s difficult to see how that fares in the whole of the book. Ethan Fromm, for example, is so believable. (I learned from you, I think, that she mixed up parts of something that really happened)

    • I’d like to read Tess but I’m a little bit scared of Jude the Obscure. I’ve heard that it’s terribly depressing.

      I get the feeling (and this is my completely uninformed opinion) that Hardy was an unhappy person and saw what was sad and depressing in life rather than the goodness. He saw it with a clear eye and was very insightful but nevertheless I don’t find his outlook or stories very balanced. I hope his books weren’t written for the aspect of shock value because that would be disappointing. I would love to hear your thoughts if you ever read any of this novels!

      Ah, Ethan Frome! I get the impression that Wharton was rather cranky when she wrote it, just like I feel Charlotte Brontë was rather cranky and disillusioned when she wrote Villette. I supposed writing can be very cathartic!

      • True, true, LOL. They let it all out in their books, don’t they? Oh, you’ll hear me when I get to one of his books.
        Henry James, Thomas Hardy, most of the XIX century writers I’ve read, the realists if you wish, they can’t help but showing us “reality” as they know it.
        All authors in a way propose a view of life, and as you say, if they are sad and unhappy, there’s a high possibility that’s the way they see life and people in their books.
        I’m excited about the quality of his prose. Why not? If I end up disliking him, I think he has earned at least a try on my part.
        Probably that’s something I appreciate about my beloved Galdós, writing a bit later than Hardy, but also in the XIX century. I find more balance in his books, his characters are written with lots of humor, there’s also some tenderness, something to counterbalance the tragedies and sadness of life.

        • Eh, Henry James … 😝 He’s an author I have less desire to read than Hardy but Laurie enjoys his works so I’ll try to read another of his novels, read her post about it, and hopefully like it better than the last one. But not soon.

          Well, with your recommendation, I’m excited to be initiated to Galdos although I hope the translation does him justice. Balance is always a good thing! 😉

          • My friends who have read the available translation of Fortunata and Jacinta, love it, which tells me that the quality of the book is retained.
            Last person who read it loved Anna Karenina and compared it to it,(comparison is fitting.)
            Henry James is another guy that leaves his personality in his books (or book, hahaha, for I have only read The Ambassadors!) I frankly read it in Spanish and it got to me better, after, I saw and felt what English and Spanish reviews noted. I read it also because a blogger friend, Janakay, loves James. We both talked about how he is a writer for a mature reader, and how if one is ready, his books are not difficult but compelling. James is not bubbly but he can be humorous too at times, and his deep insights are also genuine and not contrived. These two will show up in my future reading, that’s my intention.

          • I tried to order F & J but it was $30 on Amazon for the Penguin edition. Yikes!!! I think I’ll look in some used bookstores first!

            That’s good to know that Janakay likes him too. It’s helpful to read other people’s reactions which often helps you appreciate the work more. Books don’t have to be pleasant for me but I do have to see some sort of redemption in them. We can learn from both positive and negative circumstances, as long as we learn. If we learn nothing, what’s the point, which is definitely what bothers me with Hardy’s characters.

          • Thanks, Silvia! I bought it but had to ship to my U.S. address so it may be awhile before I cross the border to get it. But when I do, I suspect I’ll devour it. I loved Anna Karenina and F & J sounds riveting!

  2. Hardy is an ass, pure and simple. I have no respect for him, his writings or anything associated with him. I’ve given 2 of his books a fair shake and both left me wanting to throw Hardy under a bus, even while I acknowledged his skill. Or perhaps his skill made me even angrier that he wasted it the way he did.

    Basically, you won’t get any positive recommendations from me about Hardy 🙂

    • I wish you would have told me what you REALLY think, lol! 😉

      Yes, he does have skill, doesn’t he? I think I’m having more patience with people’s foibles as I grow older though. But who knows, I might be throwing Hardy under a bus after his next novel. I certainly need a long break between reading them!

      I am curious as to which Hardys you read ……???

      • Off the top of my head, I’ve read Tess and Madding. I stopped after those because I knew I’d just rant and rant if I had to review any more stuff by Hardy.

        See, I don’t see what Hardy chose to do with his talent as a foible. I see it as a direct assault on everything that is good and right. A foible is your neighbors playing their music too loud. What Hardy did is try to destroy any Good he could and that I call evil.

        If you enjoy his stuff, go for more. I just happen to be of the temperament that simply can’t accept what I see in his writing without exploding (hence these comments :-D).

        • You are righ, in that Hardy appears to take what’s bad in the world and focus only on that. However, people who make tragic decisions do exist and it’s important to be reminded of that. Where he and I part ways is where there should be some sort of wisdom within that, a lesson, if you will, that points people to a higher path. With Hardy, everything is just a mess and that’s it.

          The Picture of Dorian Gray is a good example of a very dark novel but related in a way that one can learn something from it. People have a chance at redemption at least. Not so with Hardy.

  3. Your review is not exactly conducive to further recommendation. And anyways, Hardy always makes me laugh. I don’t know if that makes me a better recommendator for you, or worse. See Wuthering Expectations; plenty of Hardy there. Plenty.

    Having said all that, forget the novels and jump to Hardy’s Selected Poems. Or Collected Poems, even, or Complete Poems. Much of what is ridiculous or exasperating in Hardy dissolves when put in lyric form.

    • No, no, I do want further novel recommendations. I just might laugh when reading, that’s all! 😂 I will check out your blog; I would love to read what you’ve said about him!

      Poetry …. yes, I can do that. Especially if I might enjoy it. His descriptions in his novels are marvellous so I can believe his poetry might be lovely. Thanks for the recommendation!

  4. This makes me want to revisit Return of the Native. I missed a lot from it bc it was my first Hardy and it was during a time when I only started reading the classics w/ intention. The first chapter of Return caused me to run in fear; but I was encouraged to continue. I’m glad I did.

    I remember Eustacia had issues, and I did not like her. But I need to reread it to better understand her…and all of the characters. I think I was shocked that Hardy could image people this messed up!

    Yep, that’s Hardy…writing Greek tragedy.

    So you know I recall that Far From is my favorite, and I like Return, and all of them. The Mayor of Casterbridge was worthy, in my opinion. I haven’t read The Trumpet Major, Under the Greenwood, and A Laodicean.

    • I do hope you read it again! Definitely I think you’d like it even more now. Eustacia is inconsistent and inconsistent characters bother me in novels. It makes me wonder how much Hardy really KNEW people. It’s weird because his main characters always seems SOOOO overdrawn to me yet his minor characters seem so real. I need to read a biography on him; I believe Tomalin has a good one.

      Well, I despised Far From The Madding Crowd, so there you go. Life has enough people who make bad decisions and never learn from them …. it’s depressing to have that emphasized in a book to the nth degree. I’m interested in The Mayor of Casterbridge. Have you read Jude the Obscure? I will approach that one with trepidation!

  5. I’ve never read any Hardy, so I can’t give you any suggestions. I have always assumed his books will be depressing and so I avoid them. But you actually make it seem like it could be fun to read if take with the right spirit. 😀

  6. I’ve read this one, but I kind of forgotten it until you reminded me. But Tess and Jude the Obscure both struck me as great, though in that inexorable tragic kind of way,… And definitely stuck with me.

    I’ll also second Tom’s recommendation: the poetry is pretty amazing (though not much less dark!)

  7. The only book of Hardy’s I enjoyed was Far From the Madding Crowd. It is the only one who had characters I respected and had a satisfactory ending. I read Return of the Native so long ago I remember nothing about it. I’m not a huge Hardy fan so I’ll probably not be reading it any time soon.

    • I remain completely puzzled as to why people enjoy Far From the Madding Crowd. A good honest man wastes his life loving a highly flawed, unbalanced, unempathetic woman with good business sense (kind of)?? Experiences of neurotic behaviour (in the case of Sargent Troy)? Many poor (and blind) decisions by all? I don’t get it. I liked the townspeople in that novel but that was it. I did take the novel more seriously than Return so perhaps that’s why my negative reaction was stronger to it.

      Not a huge Hardy fan either. I’ll read him again but probably not for a long while!

        • I’m slowly going through some of your Hardy posts. Your thoughts have been invaluable for a “beginning” understanding of Hardy’s purpose and give more insight into his writing. I’m getting the feeling I should read his novels in chronological order …. that might add more enlightenment. I believe I’m bothered by his heavy-handedness. He picks a few aspects of human character and magnifies them until they seem enormous, completely squeezing out other characteristics which can add subtlety and be even more valuable. Perhaps it’s for effect but then the effect seems to lack credibility.

          I remember we were having another conversation on a blog (probably at least a year ago or more) where there was a question if Hardy disliked women. I’m still not certain what I think. His women are not as one-dimensional as Dickens’ women can be, but I can’t seem much to admire in them…… I must read more Hardy!

        • I don’t think Hardy is going to talk either of us into adopting his pessimism.

          I remember that conversation. It was strange. Hardy is pretty much as hard on his men as on his women. Fate, meaning Hardy, crushes everyone.

  8. “a medley of characters making the same mistakes over and over again and never learning one thing from them”

    I think that sums up Hardy very well, at least from my limited exposure to his works (one book and several TV adaptations). The book I read was also FFTMC, a trainwreck but strangely hard to put down. The 1998 adaptation is one of my mom’s favorite films…I’ve seen it a couple of times and find it too depressing. From our discussions, it seems to be more of a fascination for her than an “enjoyment” (like one would enjoy Jane Austen or Charles Dickens). There’s the premise that people make one or two bad decisions which spiral into something bigger, and that impacts even the (relatively) innocent people around them, like Boldwood and Fanny. I guess FFTMC has a light at the end of the tunnel, though, which is horribly lacking in Tess.

    • I really disliked FFTMC …. it read like a soap opera to me. At this point I’ll read more of his novels but I’m thinking of trying to read them in chronological order. While they’re rather depressing, they are so overdone that I can’t take them truly seriously so they don’t affect me as much as a more balanced work would. So reading Hardy with long breaks is doable for me. Are you planning to read any more of his novels.

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