Author: Thomas Hardy
Publication Date: 1878
Page Length: Approximately 420 pages
Return of the Native is a classic novel written by Thomas Hardy, published in 1878. Set in the fictional county of Wessex, England, during the 19th century, the story explores themes of love, fate, and the influence of nature on human lives. Through its richly developed characters and captivating plot, the novel provides a thought-provoking reflection on the human condition.
The narrative encompasses six books that are divided into numerous chapters, each contributing to the overall story arc.
Book One: The Three Women
The novel opens with a vivid depiction of Egdon Heath, a wild and haunting landscape that serves as the backdrop for the events to unfold. We are introduced to the protagonist, Clym Yeobright, who returns to his native heath after years spent living in Paris. Clym, a well-educated man, aspires to elevate the lives of the local folk through education.
We are also introduced to several key characters, including Clym's mother, Mrs. Yeobright, a strong-willed and proud woman, and Eustacia Vye, a beautiful and mysterious woman who dreams of a life beyond the confines of Egdon Heath. Another important character is Thomasin Yeobright, Clym's cousin, who faces her own challenges as she navigates love and societal expectations.
Clym and Eustacia develop a mutual attraction, and their relationship becomes the focal point of Book One. However, obstacles arise when Clym's mother disapproves of his relationship with Eustacia due to her own ambitions for her son. The first book ends with Mrs. Yeobright visiting the couple, but Clym's failure to meet her on the route results in her turning back in a fit of anger and disappointment.
Book Two: The Arrival
Book Two focuses on the turmoil caused by Mrs. Yeobright's visit and her subsequent death. Misunderstandings and tragic circumstances culminate in her untimely demise, leaving Clym devastated and isolated from his family. The bond between him and Eustacia begins to weaken, fueling a sense of melancholy that permeates the narrative.
Book Three: The Fascination
In Book Three, Eustacia learns about Mrs. Yeobright's death and feels an overwhelming sense of guilt, as she believes her actions may have contributed to the tragic outcome. Meanwhile, Diggory Venn, a reddleman who harbors unrequited love for Thomasin, witnesses Eustacia's despair and offers his support.
As Eustacia's relationship with Clym further deteriorates, she is drawn closer to Wildeve, another character with whom she shares a complex history. Clym, consumed by guilt and remorse, decides to make a living as a furze-cutter, abandoning his aspirations as an educator.
Book Four: The Closed Door
The emergence of the reddleman Diggory Venn as a crucial figure takes center stage in Book Four. Venn's unwavering dedication to Thomasin is finally recognized, and the two form a bond, leading to their marriage. However, complications arise when Thomasin discovers she is pregnant with Wildeve's child. Despite this revelation, Venn demonstrates his unyielding love.
Book Five: The Departure
Book Five explores the unraveling of Clym and Eustacia's marriage. Eustacia, feeling trapped and disillusioned, longs for a different life and becomes involved in a complicated web of deceit. Clym, meanwhile, falls ill and is cared for by his mother's nurse, a gentle and nurturing woman named Susan.
Eustacia's longing for escape intensifies, and she initiates a plan with Wildeve to leave Egdon Heath together. However, her plan is foiled when she mistakenly lights a signal fire, leading to a tragic accident that results in her death.
Book Six: The Convert
The final book deals with the aftermath of Eustacia's death and the transformations undergone by the remaining characters. Clym, consumed by grief, is reconciled with his family, and his relationship with Thomasin strengthens. The novel concludes with Clym finding solace in his new role as a preacher and dedicating his life to the betterment of others.
Overall, Return of the Native skillfully weaves together the lives and fates of its characters, offering a profound exploration of human desires, societal expectations, and the impact of choices. Hardy's portrayal of the atmospheric Egdon Heath and his complex cast of characters make this novel an enduring work of literature, captivating readers with its tragic love story and timeless themes.