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The Return of the Native
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2016/17 Group Reads - Archives > The Return of the Native - Book One

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Dianne | 91 comments I can honestly say I have not found a book to be more deliciously enjoyable in quite a long time. All of the best of Hardy is here, the glorious descriptions of nature, the gorgeous poetic language and brilliant turns of phrase, the passionate struggles and tragic misunderstandings. At this point in the novel, the title has little meaning, we merely know that the 'native' who is 'returning' is Clym Yeobright, who will soon arrive from Paris.

But meanwhile! We have the bizarrely thwarted marriage of Wildeve and Thomasin due to a technicality with the marriage license, which causes Thomasin to flee in the cart of Diggory Venn (former suitor) and causes Wildeve to flee into the arms of Eustacia, who, while capricious and condescending, seems to have captured his fickle attentions much more than his would-be wife. Eustacia, meanwhile, is described as being like a goddess, but don't think this is necessarily a statement of praise! For Eustacia is fickle and unfair as suits her whim, beautiful and brooding. She is a bold and fascinating character, seemingly one with the heath even as she claims to detest it. Our sad sack Thomasin however, retreating to her Aunt's house to weep, is a much less compelling character. She wants to marry Wildeve but it seems more out of concern for public perception than true love. Her Aunt wishes this marriage as well, seemingly for the same reason. Our even sadder sack Diggory Venn has left his career as a dairy farmer after Thomasin rejected him, and decides to intervene to, at first, encourage the marriage of Thomasin to Wildeve (out of concern for her happiness), and, failing this, to offer his own hand again through her Aunt, who is not amused by the offer.

A few questions on this section:

1. What is the role of the heath in the novel so far, and what power does it have over the characters?

2. The relationship of Eustacia and Wildeve is bizarre - they are attracted to each other, but is there real love there? Or is it really just a situation of lack of alternatives?

3. Thomasin initially rejected Venn in part because his station was 'beneath her' as a dairy farmer. Was it expected that women would always 'marry up' during this time period? If so, why would Venn have attempted to seek her hand?

4. Eustacia may not be divine, but she certainly does stand apart from everyone else on the heath. What message is Hardy trying to convey about her and her views on life?

5. How does Hardy use irony and coincidence so far in the novel?

6. Hardy carefully spells out the desires and frustrations of many of the characters and how they do not align - do you predict a happy ending for any of the characters so far? (yes, I know, I know this is Hardy, but perhaps one or two people can emerge without tragedy)


Dianne | 91 comments I had to share my favorite funny line so far, regarding poor Christian's rejection upon asking a woman to marry him:

"'Get out of my sight, you slack-twisted, slim-looking maphrotight fool' was the woman's words to me."

"Not encouraging, I own," said Fairway.


Dianne | 91 comments And my favorite classically Eustacia line:

"O deliver my heart from this fearful gloom and loneliness: send me great love from somewhere, else I shall die."


Ryan (rcs9182) | 22 comments My experience with Hardy so far has been "The Mayor of Casterbridge" and "Jude the Obscure" and I enjoyed both. I am enjoying our read so far, but I can't recall the epic descriptions Hardy employs in the former two titles that he does in this novel so far. Am I incorrect? Also, to what end are these descriptions absolutely necessary? I feel like I'm betraying Hardy, but in the first one-hundred pages of the novel it feels like he monopolizes the text with lengthy, and perhaps a bit superfluous descriptions of scenery. I wanted to hear more about the failed relationships or our characters, which Hardy does explore in his symbolic description of the English countryside, but I feel like it gets to be a bit excessive.


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Rosemarie | 2893 comments Mod
For me, the descriptions of the scenery were important because they set the stage, so to speak. I am a very visual reader so his descriptions help me to visualize the scene, and are actually one of my favourite parts of the book.


Ryan (rcs9182) | 22 comments Dianne wrote: "I can honestly say I have not found a book to be more deliciously enjoyable in quite a long time. All of the best of Hardy is here, the glorious descriptions of nature, the gorgeous poetic language..."

1. This feels a lot like "Wuethering Heights". The dark, dismal landscape of the heath/moors seems to reflect the dark, brooding, and somewhat miserable aesthetic of the characters.

2. I think this seems to be lack of alternatives. From what we've seen of marriage in the story so far, it seems to be more of a financial transaction rather than a union of two people. But just thinking about the interaction between Wildeve and Eustacia with regard to his wooing her into marriage: "Marry me and we can move elsewhere". I see what she can benefit from the marriage, but I'm curious as to what he gets from the deal. Either way, it seems to be a business negotiation more than anything else.

3. This is an interesting question and I'm completely basing my answer on "Emma" which I am also currently reading. I get the impression that custom was marriage was to occur within one's own social position or move up if they had the opportunity, thought it doesn't seem like this was too frequent of an occurrence. My question is, what profession was of Thomasain's social rank? I didn't get the impression that she was any sort of nobility nor was she considered poor and destitute.


Dianne | 91 comments Ryan wrote: "My experience with Hardy so far has been "The Mayor of Casterbridge" and "Jude the Obscure" and I enjoyed both. I am enjoying our read so far, but I can't recall the epic descriptions Hardy employs..."

Great question Ryan! I read Jude a million years ago and have never read Mayor. I did read Far From the Madding Crowd recently though, and recall the landscape having a similarly prominent role. I'm curious what others think about the role of the landscape in Hardy's novels generally. In this novel, it seems to almost be a character on its own, as well as having a heavy influence on the characters and their moods and perhaps even their destinies.

anyways, if you skim the heath descriptions ryan we won't hold it against you :)


Dianne | 91 comments Rosemarie wrote: "For me, the descriptions of the scenery were important because they set the stage, so to speak. I am a very visual reader so his descriptions help me to visualize the scene, and are actually one of..."

I found that there are actually quite a number of paintings based on the scenery described in Hardy's novels!

https://www.google.com/search?q=paint...


Ryan (rcs9182) | 22 comments Rosemarie wrote: "For me, the descriptions of the scenery were important because they set the stage, so to speak. I am a very visual reader so his descriptions help me to visualize the scene, and are actually one of..."

As someone who probably should've been born in the U.K., I agree with you. I do love the descriptions of the English countryside, I'm just not sure how imperative the length of them is to our understanding of the story.


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Everyman | 3582 comments Ryan wrote: "in the first one-hundred pages of the novel it feels like he monopolizes the text with lengthy, and perhaps a bit superfluous descriptions of scenery. "

I think he does this for several reasons.

One is that the heath is as much a character in the book as any of the humans; perhaps more so. The events of this book could not have taken place, or at least not with any of the depth and intensity of character they have, in a bucolic countryside or in a city.

The other, and related to that, is that the heath is a parent of the people who live there. It molds them, it affects almost every decision they make or action they take. It is, as they say, in their blood -- you can take heathdwellers out of the heath, but you cannot take the heath out of them. They cannot be properly understood until you properly understand the heath that has been so central to molding their lives and their ancestors' lives for centuries.


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Everyman | 3582 comments Dianne wrote: "Rosemarie wrote: "For me, the descriptions of the scenery were important because they set the stage, so to speak. I am a very visual reader so his descriptions help me to visualize the scene, and a..."

There is also a book filled with photos of the England of Hardy's day. The photos are well supported by text, but the photos are what makes the book so compelling.
Thomas Hardy's England by Jo Draper Thomas Hardy's England


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Everyman | 3582 comments Dianne wrote: "I found that there are actually quite a number of paintings based on the scenery described in Hardy's novels! ."

Those are some wonderful paintings, but I think most of them are more applicable to the more rural countryside of the other novels -- Tess, the Woodlanders, Jude the Obscure, etc. -- than to the moor of this book.

I modified your search a bit to "paintings of thomas hardy egdon heath"

https://www.google.com/search?q=paint...


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Everyman | 3582 comments Here is a recording of Gustov Holst's " Egdon Heath, Homage to Hardy op.47 (1927)"

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2kDF3...

Do you find it sufficiently mysterious and, well, creepy?


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Rosemarie | 2893 comments Mod
Thanks for the link to the paintings, Eman.


Dianne | 91 comments I echo Rosemarie, thanks Everyman!


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Everyman | 3582 comments Dianne wrote: "I echo Rosemarie, thanks Everyman!"

Just stealing from your idea!


Nicola | 311 comments I've just started listening to this so i won't read other's comments yet until I've finished the section but i wanted to comment on how gothic it feels right now; the dark sky, the lonely road, the disappearing girl...


LindaH | 97 comments Great questions , Dianne. I'm only writing about the first one though. I feel I need to think about what Hardy is up to, since he devotes a whole chapter or two to the heath. I'm a big Hardy fan. I know he deals with the big themes, like life and death, and especially Fate. In this case, he seems to be showing us something about time and space. He describes the fleeting moment of twilight on the Heath, when if you look down it s dark, up, day. I think, How will Time impact the lives of the characters? He also pictures the heath as spacious, wild and uncontained, yet he zooms in on a human figure, rooted in his individual drama, pulling in to human concerns. And in chapter three, we go from the large expansive darkness to a small point of light , the bonfire on one barrow.

The heath sounds so human in this paragraph, affecting time itself:

“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 and dread.”


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Nicola | 311 comments Well... I've just finished the first section.

Firstly the feeling which Hardy creates with his words is just amazing. I've read several of his novels and he seems to get better and better.

The characters though - such a bizare set of individuals. I was completely puzzled with the whole hysterical reaction about what looked like an honest mistake regarding the marriage and now I'm really confused. Is he refusing to marry her or is she refusing to be married?

And the witch on the heath; what a total screwball she is. I had to laugh at Venn's febble attempts to manipulate her though. How incredibly obvious could you get!? And she clearly doesn't care a straw about Wildeve, or possibly anything apart from how totally awesome she is and getting away from the heath and living the life of Riley somewhere super exotic. Like Budmouth :-)

Wonderful start and nobody's committed suicide yet but we still have a long way to go!


message 20: by Nicola (last edited Jun 07, 2017 02:39PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Nicola | 311 comments description

There isn't a tile for 'Death of a Character' though except one only for children but perhaps we could fudge that a bit.

So far we've got: Outsider Main Characters, A Woman's Desire for Independence (sort of), Nature, Class Issues, Sexy Symbolism, Wessex, Rural Dialect & Isolation. Terrible Marriage was a sneaky one as what we actually have is a Terrible Non Marriage! Cunning, Hardy, cunning :-)

Anyway, we just need Farming and we've already got our Bingo!


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Everyman | 3582 comments LindaH wrote: "He describes the fleeting moment of twilight on the Heath, when if you look down it s dark, up, day.."

Good point. It's a time of transition. And marriage, which is a focus of the human aspects of these first chapters, is also a time of transition. As, perhaps, is the return of a native from away back to the heath.


Dianne | 91 comments Nicola wrote: "I've just started listening to this so i won't read other's comments yet until I've finished the section but i wanted to comment on how gothic it feels right now; the dark sky, the lonely road, the..."

Agree! Eustacia in particular is quite the dark brooding character, full of mystery.


Dianne | 91 comments LindaH wrote: "Great questions , Dianne. I'm only writing about the first one though. I feel I need to think about what Hardy is up to, since he devotes a whole chapter or two to the heath. I'm a big Hardy fan. I..."

excellent analysis Linda thank you! I especially love your comments about twilight, an amorphous and ambiguous, undefined, transitional time.

Why were there so many bonfires? Was this to highlight a pagan theme? Was this common during the time? I have no idea.

excellent paragraph on the personification of the heath - it is probably MORE important than our main characters, in my view


Dianne | 91 comments Nicola wrote: "Well... I've just finished the first section.

Firstly the feeling which Hardy creates with his words is just amazing. I've read several of his novels and he seems to get better and better.

The c..."


it sounded to me like a legitimate license screwup although Eustacia wishes it was all about her. I suspect Thomasin is just mortified and fled, but wants to get married to save face if nothing else.


Dianne | 91 comments Nicola wrote: "Well... I've just finished the first section.

Firstly the feeling which Hardy creates with his words is just amazing. I've read several of his novels and he seems to get better and better.

The c..."


re no suicide - put it in the PRO column ha! I just finished North and South by Gaskell and people die like flies in that book! So far so good here, but perhaps not for long!


Dianne | 91 comments Nicola wrote: "

There isn't a tile for 'Death of a Character' though except one only for children but perhaps we could fudge that a bit.

So far we've got: Outsider Main Characters, A Woman's Desire for Independ..."



this is hilarious! But do tell, what is our Sexy Symbolism square??


Dianne | 91 comments Everyman wrote: "LindaH wrote: "He describes the fleeting moment of twilight on the Heath, when if you look down it s dark, up, day.."

Good point. It's a time of transition. And marriage, which is a focus of the h..."


Hardy has not built up any interest in Clym's return yet. Not for me, anyways! I am curious as to why he didn't built in some suspense about this in the first section of the book.


LindaH | 97 comments Nicola wrote: "

There isn't a tile for 'Death of a Character' though except one only for children but perhaps we could fudge that a bit.

So far we've got: Outsider Main Characters, A Woman's Desire for Independ..."


If we need it, don't we ha e The times they are a changin?

See next post.


LindaH | 97 comments “and to know that everything around and underneath had been from prehistoric times as unaltered as the stars overhead, gave ballast to the mind adrift on change, and harassed by the irrepressible New."

The mind adrift on change??

Sounds like Dylan to me.


LindaH | 97 comments Dianne wrote: "LindaH wrote: "Great questions , Dianne. I'm only writing about the first one though. I feel I need to think about what Hardy is up to, since he devotes a whole chapter or two to the heath. I'm a b..."

Bonfires were lit to commemorate Guy Fawkes, something to do with the tension between Catholic s and Protestant s. November 5. First sentence refers to November.

Know nothing else. Just checked.


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Robin P | 2205 comments Mod
Yes, and Hardy also says that the fires hark back to something older than the historical incident. There's a lot of pagan holdovers in his world.

I thought of a couple of Shakespeare plays while reading this. The first section is titled 3 Women, and where do we start? a heath. That conjured up Macbeth with the witches, and Eustacia sure has the supernatural side. Also I later thought of Midsummer Night's Dream. The locals are the humorous rustics, who are the comic relief to the main, dramatic and tragic characters. Eustacia here is Hippolyta, the Amazon queen, who can get a man but doesn't really need one. And various people are wandering around in the dark following other people that they think they love.

Thomasin seems to have no agency of her own, except for running away. Various people are trying to determine her future. It's interesting though that Diggory first tries to help her get her wish, so maybe he does love her disinterestedly. I think Eustacia would get bored with Wildeve pretty soon.

What great names these characters have!


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Nicola | 311 comments LindaH wrote: . Bonfires were lit to commemorate Guy Fawkes, something to do with the tension between Catholic s and Protestant s. November 5.."


The bonfires on November 5th are for people to throws Guys onto. Representatives of Guido Fawkes and the other conspirators who tried to blow up parliament.


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Everyman | 3582 comments Dianne wrote: "Why were there so many bonfires? Was this to highlight a pagan theme? Was this common during the time? I have no idea. ."

We're told in Chapter 3 when Christian Cantle says '“I don’t think Fifth-of-Novembers ought to be kept up by night except in towns. It should be by day in outstep, ill-accounted places like this!”

It was Guy Fawkes Night.
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Guy_Faw...


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Everyman | 3582 comments I'm a bit surprised at the country folk, particularly Christopher Cantle, being so afraid of the night. You would think that living outside of towns, where there is almost no unnatural light, they would be used to and comforted by night. But not on the heath: there night is a time of witches and mysterious and dangerous things to be abroad; a time to be snug in your home or the warmth of the local tavern.


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LindaH | 97 comments Nicola wrote: "LindaH wrote: . Bonfires were lit to commemorate Guy Fawkes, something to do with the tension between Catholic s and Protestant s. November 5.."


The bonfires on November 5th are for people to thr..."


I like "to throw Guys into". Thanks. Now I get it.. could the symbolism in this act have added to the fear and superstition that night on the heath?


LindaH | 97 comments Aha. Knowing about "throwing Guys in the fire" throws new light on how Vern heard the boy's explanation for the coin.

“Miss Vye gied it to me for keeping up her bonfire."


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Nicola | 311 comments Dianne wrote: this is hilarious! But do tell, what is our Sexy Symbolism square?? "

Oh the whole first chapter - the dark and brooding heath country being separated from heaven by clouds and 'exhaling darkness'. This land is representing and bonding with mans dark and primal nature, 'on which time makes but little impression'. Its 'Titanic form' awaiting during the night. And seen best in wintery tempest 'Then Egdon was aroused to reciprocity; for the storm was its lover, and the wind its friend'. 

Some of those people are fairly much in bed with the whole place. Even if they won't admit it.

Then there are all the bonfires but I'll leave those out. The sexy heath(cliffe) is enough for me. 


Nicola | 311 comments Robin wrote: "I thought of a couple of Shakespeare plays while reading this. The first section is titled 3 Women, and where do we start? a heath. That conjured up Macbeth with the witches, and Eustacia sure has the supernatural side. Also I later thought of Midsummer Night's Dream. The locals are the humorous rustics, who are the comic relief to the main, dramatic and tragic characters. Eustacia here is Hippolyta, the Amazon queen, who can get a man but doesn't really need one. And various people are wandering around in the dark following other people that they think they love. ."

Hmm, very true. I hadn't thought of it but now that you've mentioned it the whole 3 women thing does rather set the Shakespeare theme.


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Linda2 | 3744 comments Dianne wrote: "LindaH wrote: "Great questions , Dianne. I'm only writing about the first one though. I feel I need to think about what Hardy is up to, since he devotes a whole chapter or two to the heath. I'm a b..."

Samhain, the precursor to Halloween. Maybe the superstitions were blended with Guy Fawkes Day?

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/10...


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Linda2 | 3744 comments We're glad King James survived, otherwise no King James Bible. We would be staring at empty pages or reading the King Irving Bible. :-D


LindaH | 97 comments Re Dianne's question re Hardy's intentions with Eustacia:

Since the descriptions of Eustacia emphasize her loneliness, I thought this line about the heath in the first chapter might fit her:

“As with some persons who have long lived apart, solitude seemed to look out of its countenance. It had a lonely face, suggesting tragical possibilities."

Perhaps Hardy has some "tragical possibilities " in mind for her.


LindaH | 97 comments Robin wrote: "Yes, and Hardy also says that the fires hark back to something older than the historical incident. There's a lot of pagan holdovers in his world.

I thought of a couple of Shakespeare plays while r..."


Yes, I see the connections to both plays, Robin! Thanks for pointing them out. There are always things in an author's mind, whether conscious or not, that affect his writing.


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Ryan (rcs9182) | 22 comments Nicola wrote: "

There isn't a tile for 'Death of a Character' though except one only for children but perhaps we could fudge that a bit.

So far we've got: Outsider Main Characters, A Woman's Desire for Independ..."

I LOVE THIS!


Nicola | 311 comments Thinking about our BINGO I believe we could add Alcohol considering all of the boozing the men were doing at the start of the book. Not sure how I missed that one!


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Linda2 | 3744 comments LindaH wrote: "Nicola wrote: "

There isn't a tile for 'Death of a Character' though except one only for children but perhaps we could fudge that a bit.

So far we've got: Outsider Main Characters, A Woman's Desi..."


You could put it in the center instead of Free Square. Hardy talks about issues that other Victorian novelists avoid entirely or give euphemistic names. His last novel, Jude, was considered so shocking and received so poorly that he quit writing novels and devoted the rest of his life to publishing his poetry.


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Linda2 | 3744 comments Nicola wrote: "Thinking about our BINGO I believe we could add Alcohol considering all of the boozing the men were doing at the start of the book. Not sure how I missed that one!"

But it's not true of his books in general.


Nicola | 311 comments Rochelle wrote: But it's not true of his books in general. ."

I can't remember the ones I've read in perfect enough detail to say. I know that alcohol was a Bingo square in The Mayor of Casterbridge!


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Linda2 | 3744 comments Ah, right.


Roman Clodia Just to go back to the heath (sorry, I'm trailing behind in my reading!): I love the connections to both Macbeth's heath and the wood in Athens, but it also seems in Hardy to be setting a moral - or, better, amoral - compass for the book.

The heath is a 'vast tract of unenclosed wild', it is unaffected by time ('a face on which time makes but little impression'), and is described as 'Titanic', referencing the battle between the Titans and the Olympian gods that ended in the supremacy of the Olympians (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Titanom...), so that the Titans might be a figure for an unjust world, not organised by moral imperative - Hardy indicating that his world isn't based on the triumph of 'good' characters and the judgement of 'bad'.

Also, picking up on the Macbeth's witches idea, here, of course, the three women are in tension with each other, rather than bonded via their vision, so complicates the allusion.


Roman Clodia Oh, and the wood in Athens, another place where love is cruel and arbitrary, inconstant and sometimes foolish.


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