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  • The Return of the Native
  • Written by Thomas Hardy
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  • Written by Thomas Hardy
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ABOUT THE BOOK ABOUT THE BOOK
ABOUT THE AUTHOR ABOUT THE AUTHOR
PRAISE PRAISE
READER'S GUIDE READER'S GUIDE
Synopsis|Excerpt

Synopsis

Eustacia Vye longs to escape from Egdon Heath, but the man she chooses to save her longs to stay. Out of their struggle, the unfulfilled passion of his heroine, and the daily rhythms of late-nineteenth-century rural life, Hardy builds a drama fully worthy of the magnificent stage on which he places it.

The Return of the Native is dominated by the brooding presence of Egdon Heath, located in Thomas Hardy’s imaginary Wessex, and in no other book did Hardy’s extraordinary feeling for landscape blend so perfectly with his austere, stoic vision of human fate.

Once more he treats his favorite theme of the mismatched couple with masterly pathos and understatement.

(Book Jacket Status: Jacketed)

Excerpt

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. Overhead the hollow stretch of whitish cloud shutting out the sky was as a tent which had the whole heath for its floor.

The heaven being spread with this pallid screen and the earth with the darkest vegetation, their meeting-line at the horizon was clearly marked. In such contrast the heath wore the appearance of an instalment of night which had taken up its place before its astronomical hour was come: darkness had to a great extent arrived hereon, while day stood distinct in the sky. Looking upwards, a furze-cutter would have been inclined to continue work; looking down, he would have decided to finish his faggot and go home. The distant rims of the world and of the firmament seemed to be a division in time no less than a division in matter. The face of the heath by its mere complexion added half an hour to evening; it could in like manner retard the dawn, sadden noon, anticipate the frowning of storms scarcely generated, and intensify the opacity of a moonless midnight to a cause of shaking dread.

In fact, precisely at this transitional point of its nightly roll into darkness the great and particular glory of the Egdon waste began, and nobody could be said to understand the heath who had not been there at such a time. It could best be felt when it could not clearly be seen, its complete effect and explanation lying in this and the succeeding hours before the next dawn: then, and only then, did it tell its true tale. The spot was, indeed, a near relation of night, and when night showed itself an apparent tendency to gravitate together could be perceived in its shades and the scene. The sombre stretch of rounds and hollows seemed to rise and meet the evening gloom in pure sympathy, the heath exhaling darkness as rapidly as the heavens precipitated it. And so the obscurity in the air and the obscurity in the land closed together in a black fraternization towards which each advanced half-way.

The place became full of a watchful intentness now; for when other things sank brooding to sleep the heath appeared slowly to awake and listen. Every night its Titanic form seemed to await something; but it had waited thus, unmoved, during so many centuries, through the crises of so many things, that it could only be imagined to await one last crisis—the final overthrow.
Thomas Hardy

About Thomas Hardy

Thomas Hardy - The Return of the Native
Thomas Hardy, whose writing immortalized the Wessex countryside and dramatized his sense of the inevitable tragedy of life, was born at Upper Bockhampton, near Stinsford in Dorset in 1840, the eldest child of a prosperous stonemason. As a youth he trained as an architect and in 1862 obtained a post in London. During his time he began seriously to write poetry, which remained his first literary love and his last. In 1867-68, his first novel was refused publication, but Under the Greenwood Tree (1872), his first Wessex novel, did well enough to convince him to continue writing. In 1874, Far from the Maddening Crowd, published serially and anonymously in the Cornhill Magazine, became a great success. Hardy married Emma Gifford in 1878, and in 1885 they settled at Max Gate in Dorchester, where he lived the rest of his life. There he had wrote The Return of the Native (1878), The Mayor of Casterbridge (1886), Tess of the d’Urbervilles (1891), and Jude the Obscure (1895).

With Tess, Hardy clashed with the expectations of his audience; a storm of abuse broke over the “infidelity” and “obscenity” of this great novel he had subtitled “A Pure Woman Faithfully Presented.” Jude the Obscure aroused even greater indignation and was denounced as pornography. Hardy’s disgust at the reaction to Jude led him to announce in 1869 that he would never write fiction ever again. He published Wessex Poems in 1898, Poems of the Past and Present in 1901, and from 1903 to 1908, The Dynast, a huge drama in which Hardy’s conception of the Immanent Will, implicit in the tragic novels, is most clearly stated.

In 1912 Hardy’s wife, Emma died. The marriage was childless and had been a troubled one, but in the years after her death, Hardy memorialized her in several poems. At seventy-four he married his longtime secretary, Florence Dugdale, herself a writer of children’s books and articles, with whom he live happily until his death in 1928. His heart was buried in the Wessex Countryside; his ashes were placed next to Charles Dickens’s in the Poet’s Corner of Westminster Abbey.
Praise

Praise

"This is the quality Hardy shares with the great writers...this setting behind the small action the terrific action of unfathomed nature."
--D. H. Lawrence
Discussion Questions

Discussion Guides

1. What does Egdon Heath symbolize to you? How does each character relate to the heath? To what extent does the landscape control the actions of the characters or influence them? How do the characters resist or succumb to the landscape? What is the role of urban life in the novel?

2. Discuss Clym's spiritual odyssey. How does it shed light on Hardy's concerns in the novel? Would you describe Clym as idealistic? How does his attitude compare to that of the people of Egdon Heath or that of Eustacia?

3. Why does Eustacia hate Egdon Heath? Is she too headstrong? How much control does Eustacia have over events that shape her life? Over the lives of others? Do you think Eustacia symbolizes human limitation or potential? Do you think her death is a reconciliation of sorts, or not?

4. Discuss the role of fate or chance in the novel. Is Hardy sympathetic to the victims of chance in this novel? To what extent are events caused by the force of a character's personality (e.g., Eustacia), rather than by chance? To what extent do actions produce results opposite from that desired? Do you think there is a connection between this use of irony and the role of fate in the novel?

5. Discuss the novel's opening scene, in which Hardy describes Egdon Heath. How does this establish the emotional tone of the book? How does it foreshadow the action within the novel?

6. Why is Eustacia interested in Clym? How does this set the wheels of the plot in motion? How does this affect the other characters, like Thomasin and particularly Clym's mother? What is Wildeve's role in Mrs. Yeobright's fate?


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