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VINE VOICEon 17 May 2008
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!
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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.
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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.
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on 10 January 2016
I am still reading this book, this one being my second, the first was The Woodlanders, which I loved and thought that I may be disappointed, but not at all. I am new to reading his books. I visited the house where he live as a child and was spellbound, so beautiful there, and I can understand where he found the inspiration to write about the old ways and the wonderful characters,I almost felt like I was in the woodland overhearing the gossip in Dorset dialect. The Return of the Native is equally endearing, and the reader gets caught up in the complex human relationships and the well described life of Egdon Heath.
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on 24 November 2010
Fab book, of course.

That man could read the phone book and it'd be a best seller.
Seriously, BUY THIS.
You will not regret it.
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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.
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on 14 June 2015
Hardy is my favourite English author. I have read all of Hardys works, poems and short stories to. The return of the native is my favourite book. Hardy paints the Wessex countryside with words, it is so atmospheric. I bought the book for my financial consultant, who was retiring. A post retirement ambition was to read more classic english literature. Both his daughters are english lit graduates and he felt he needed the knowledge to contribute to family discussions.
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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...
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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?
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on 20 January 2014
Returning, like the native, to Hardy's novels, after a 60-year break, I find I'm not as enthusiastic as I was - but I haven't finished it yet, so it's too early for a considered review. He was a great story-teller with an unsentimental view of human tragedy & joy, and his portrayal of the Wessex landscape and natives is delightful.
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