on 29 May 2008
I had to read this one at university, ten years ago, and it was my first taste of Hardy. I found it quite difficult to get though at first, mainly due to those long Hardy sentences, but undoubtedly it is a very fine novel, full of haunting and powerful images. I love, in particular, the way that Egdon Heath becomes almost a living, breathing entity.
The description of the Native's mother walking on the Heath in the scorching sun is one of the best pieces of writing I have read in the English language, and has stayed with me, as other vivid images from the book have done - even if I can't remember exactly how they fit in with the rets of the novel.
It took me a while to love this book. It was a set text for my A-levels, which is never the best way to meet a book, and the first chapter was not exactly encouraging. Hardy's language, which is filled with allusions to classical mythology, takes some getting used to. And the first chapter is entirely about a heath. Egdon Heath, and some references to obscure mythology for good measure. Throughout the school year, it grew on me - what melodramatic sixteen year old girl would not identify with melodramatic seventeen-year-old Eustacia Vye? - but it wasn't until I took it out in the sun and just simply read it without it being interrupted by class discussions that suddenly I realised I loved this book!
Rerurn of the Native is the story of two mismatched couples and a mother-in-law. Clym is the returning native, back from selling diamonds in Paris and disillusioned with that world. To Eustacia, who longs for excitement, he represents escape. Thomasin is Clym's cousin, a sweet country girl who has got herself entangled with Damon Wildeve, local rake. Oh, and Eustacia and Wildeve have history. And then there is Diggory Venn, an impoverished 'reddleman' (whose job it is to paint the colours on sheep!) one step outside society, who is Thomasin's staunchest and secret advocate.
I loved - if that's the right word - Eustacia's conflicts with Mrs. Yeobright, Clym's mother. The relationship between these two proud women, and a rather oblivious son, really rings true. The characterisation overall is fantastic, and every character is three-dimensional. We watch them fall out over misunderstandings and conflicts of interest, all the while empathising with each party. Even Wildeve, although you've got to love to hate him too.
I also loved the rural world that Hardy evokes, Egdon Heath, which it seems you can never really leave! It was interesting to read about that lost way of life, skimmity-riding and reddlemen! At times, it seems like the heath is alive and interacting with events and characters. A lot of the most important moments are deeply entrenched in the living nature of the heath. All very pagan, in keeping with the novel's intended purpose as a modern tragedy, in keeping with the traditions of Greek tragedy. The rustic characters are pretty funny too. I always smile when I think of Susan poking Eustacia with a knitting needle in church to see if she's a witch!
on 20 July 2006
This book is one of Hardy's finest; it invokes the landscape better than any of his other novels, particularly Egdon Heath and the people living at, and on its edges. The scenes using the heath are outstanding - the bonfire which is used to "summon" Clem to Eustacia, the games of dice which end up using the light from glow-worms, and the dreadful deadly walk over the heath by Clem's mother in high summer are just tremendous. The novel requires insight and probably doesn't suit adolescents; but for adults, I recommend it.
on 25 October 1998
In this gripping story Hardy writes of his native Wessex with a clear passion and understanding. Indeed in this story of mis-loves and ironic coincidence the superbly described 'Egdon Heath' is given characteristics which are only matched by the books' main character, Eustacia Vye. The Heath is not just the setting for the novel but very much the sobering counter balance to Vye's passionate nature. During the novel she tries unsuccessfuly to defeat the Heath which holds her prisoner. I have read this book as a set text piece for A-level and expected a hard going read, but I was instantly captured by the tangible world Hardy creates. I would recommend this novel to anyone who can appreciate the English word at it's very best.
on 23 October 2012
What a wonderful book. I read this whilst on holiday in a countryside village which turned out to be the perfect place to read it. I couldn't put it down. It's well plotted with interesting characters. The dialogue and interplay between the background characters is particularly entertaining.
It certainly has its dark side with the brooding menace of the moor either constricting or exalting each character depending upon their personality and mood. There is also a slightly disturbing voyeuristic theme to it with characters assuming they are alone in the vast empty wilderness but often being secretly spied upon.
Rich and engrossing.
on 14 November 2011
The setting for the story is the region of Egdon Heath. The Heath itself is almost a character in itself, and a very dark and malevolent one at that. The `native' of the title is Clym Yeobright, a young man who has spent several years away from the heath where he grew up in order to live and work in Paris, though, having grown disillusioned with that life he chooses to return and train as a schoolmaster.
The early part of the novel, though, doesn't feature Clym at all. Instead, the first part of the story sets us up my meeting who I would really regard as the main character of the novel: Eustacia Vye. We learn about Eustacia's character by her attitude towards Mr Wildeve, who has just postponed his wedding because he may still have feelings for Eustacia. Meanwhile, the girl who was to marry Wildeve is picked up by my personal favourite character of the book: Diggory Venn (the reddleman). It's only in the second main section of the book that we learn who the main characters are as other drift into the background.
It is quite a classic Hardy novel in that the central theme is that of love in a fatalistic setting. As ever, his use of the English language is exquisite, which makes every paragreaph a pleasure to read. Because some of Hardy's characters seem to be very similar to those in his other writings, one may consider criticising him for not being original in his character creation; I would not, though. All of his main characters are realistic and readily identifiable in people I know, have known, and in some cases there are characteristics that I see in myself.
As the novel progresses, each of the characters, driven by their own desires of betterment, drive themselves to the point of destructive obsession. While the book is most similar to Far From The Madding Crowd in terms of the `love polygons' that Hardy creates, by this time in his writing career, Hardy was not afraid of a tragic ending. Indeed here, there is a tragic end for at least one of the characters, though the very very end of the book does contain a positive note which I actually felt spoiled it a little. Hardy himself does actually include a small footnote to say that this "additional" ending was somewhat forced upon him by the fact that book was originally published as a serial.
While maybe not as good as Tess or Mayor, this is still one of the best novels I have ever read and would heartily recommend it to you.
on 24 November 2010
Fab book, of course.
READ BY ALAN RICKMAN.
That man could read the phone book and it'd be a best seller.
Seriously, BUY THIS.
You will not regret it.
on 8 February 2013
I was challenged to read Return of the Native about 30 years ago, but found it tough going and have never managed to stay interested enough to get even halfway through - the only "classic" I've ever given up on. Finally bought this set, thinking I could read along to the sublime voice of Alan Rickman. It worked! Have finally finished the book (only slightly cheating, but it really was sloooow going) and, as a bonus, have that wonderful voice to soothe me to sleep any night I want...
I do not give away any details of the plot in this review of the Penguin Classics edition. This edition comprises the original three-volume version of 1878; the work had previously been published in twelve monthly instalments in `The Belgravia' magazine in the same year. (Hardy regularly made changes to his texts in subsequent editions.) The Penguin Classics set tries to use the original text, "to present each novel as the creation of its own period and without revisions of later times."
I've read Dostoevsky and Tolstoy, Mann and Zweig, Conrad and Trollope, but this is the first time I have read any work of Thomas Hardy. And this was inspired by a Christmas holiday in Dorset close to where Hardy wrote the novel and close too to many of the places in which it is set. (A friend spent much of his childhood living at the Silent Woman Inn on the heath road between Wareham and Bere Regis.) And I must say how impressed I was with the first chapter. Here's an example therefrom of Hardy's descriptive powers:
"To recline on a stump of thorn in the central valley of Egdon, between afternoon and night, as now, where the eye could reach nothing of the world outside the summits and shoulders of heathland which filled the whole circumference of its glance, 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 story is of three men and two women circling each other in a dance of fate and circumstance in rural Dorset. At some points, for example Book 2, chapter 7, it has vestiges of a farce, but I cannot comment as to whether this was Hardy's intention. Sure, there is tragedy here, even - as one commentator argues (see below) - Greek tragedy, but there is some dry Austenesque humour too within these pages.
As with Conrad, I found one has to adapt to reading Hardy. His excellent use of language is not everyday. There are persistent references to biblical, classical, or Renaissance persons and deeds, which presumably meant much to the Victorian reader, but which count for little today. Alas, some extended pieces can become longueurs and some combinations of words grate to the modern mind: "spasmodic abandonment", anyone? He can also be abstruse: "His features were attractive in the light of symbols, as sounds intrinsically common become attractive in language, and as shapes intrinsically simple become interesting in writing."
But there is much glorious writing in this novel too and vividly strong and realistic characterisations of all the main players. This enabled the narrative to move this reader almost to tears on at least two occasions, despite the contrivances of the plot. And it is the narrative plot that is the book's weakest element: too often it cannot carry the burden of its intended direction - a reason, perhaps, for why there has been a lack of film or television adaptations of the book. (And yet Dickens's plots too can suffer from this malady.)
This Penguin edition's sixteen-page introduction by Penny Boumelha - and, as with all `introductions' to classic works, this should be read AFTER the work - digs deep into the novel's workings. She sees it as a novel about failure: "the book seems repeatedly, almost obsessively, focussed on the gap between what its characters want and attempt, and what the world in which they live in will allow." She also cleverly remarks how the returning native becomes ever more isolated as the novel progresses, so that at the end he is virtually blind and withdrawn from society, whereas the journey of Venn the reddleman is the opposite.
On the use and meaning of Hardy's biblical, classical, and Renaissance allusions in the text, Boumelha argues that they underline Clym's quasi-Oedipus status; that "the allusions seek to demand for this realist text and this society of agricultural labourers something of the dignity and grandeur that legendary heroes and tragic forms might be thought to have."
I cannot say that I found Tony Slade's notes in this Penguin edition of particular use, nor his references to Hardy's later emendations of the text. Indeed, often they gave away later details of the plot. But the edition's two appendices are of interest. The first demonstrates the personal reverberations between Hardy's life and his words, that the novel "is something other than a detached historical novel"; the second looks at the original illustrations used for the story's serialisation and Hardy's own map of Egdon Heath. A glossary explaining local rustic terms ends this volume.
So, having read one Hardy novel and enjoyed the experience, I am tempted to move on to another ... but which one?
Set on the great, bleak expanse of Egdon Heath, this is a gothic tale of love, despair and misunderstandings.
Centred on the imperious Eustacia Vye, resentful at having to live in this god-forsaken place, we see her at first carrying on a clandestine romance with the affianced Damon Wildeve. And then into the picture comes the returned native, Clym Yeobright, cousin of Damon's fiancee. He has been carving out a successful career in Paris, and would seem an ideal match for the beautiful Eustacia who yearns to travel...
Forming something of a 'Greek chorus' are the local people, with their amusing conversations, folk customs and superstitions. And the omnipresent 'reddleman', Diggory Venn; a seller of sheep dye, and former (unsuccessful) suitor to Thomasin Yeobright, he seems to be always prowling about the heath looking out for his loved one.
At times a little over the top in emotion, this comes to an extremely good and touching ending.