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Thomas Hardy


 

 

Thomas Hardy

British writer

born June 2, 1840, Higher Bockhampton, Dorset, Eng.
died Jan. 11, 1928, Dorchester, Dorset

Main
English novelist and poet who set much of his work in Wessex, his name for the counties of southwestern England.

Early life and works.
Hardy was the eldest of the four children of Thomas Hardy, a stonemason and jobbing builder, and his wife, Jemima (née Hand). He grew up in an isolated cottage on the edge of open heathland. Though he was often ill as a child, his early experience of rural life, with its seasonal rhythms and oral culture, was fundamental to much of his later writing. He spent a year at the village school at age eight and then moved on to schools in Dorchester, the nearby county town, where he received a good grounding in mathematics and Latin. In 1856 he was apprenticed to John Hicks, a local architect, and in 1862, shortly before his 22nd birthday, he moved to London and became a draftsman in the busy office of Arthur Blomfield, a leading ecclesiastical architect. Driven back to Dorset by ill health in 1867, he worked for Hicks again and then for the Weymouth architect G.R. Crickmay.

Though architecture brought Hardy both social and economic advancement, it was only in the mid-1860s that lack of funds and declining religious faith forced him to abandon his early ambitions of a university education and eventual ordination as an Anglican priest. His habits of intensive private study were then redirected toward the reading of poetry and the systematic development of his own poetic skills. The verses he wrote in the 1860s would emerge in revised form in later volumes (e.g., “Neutral Tones,” “Retty’s Phases”), but when none of them achieved immediate publication, Hardy reluctantly turned to prose.

In 1867–68 he wrote the class-conscious novel The Poor Man and the Lady, which was sympathetically considered by three London publishers but never published. George Meredith, as a publisher’s reader, advised Hardy to write a more shapely and less opinionated novel. The result was the densely plotted Desperate Remedies (1871), which was influenced by the contemporary “sensation” fiction of Wilkie Collins. In his next novel, however, the brief and affectionately humorous idyll Under the Greenwood Tree (1872), Hardy found a voice much more distinctively his own. In this book he evoked, within the simplest of marriage plots, an episode of social change (the displacement of a group of church musicians) that was a direct reflection of events involving his own father shortly before Hardy’s own birth.

In March 1870 Hardy had been sent to make an architectural assessment of the lonely and dilapidated Church of St. Juliot in Cornwall. There—in romantic circumstances later poignantly recalled in prose and verse—he first met the rector’s vivacious sister-in-law, Emma Lavinia Gifford, who became his wife four years later. She actively encouraged and assisted him in his literary endeavours, and his next novel, A Pair of Blue Eyes (1873), drew heavily upon the circumstances of their courtship for its wild Cornish setting and its melodramatic story of a young woman (somewhat resembling Emma Gifford) and the two men, friends become rivals, who successively pursue, misunderstand, and fail her.

Hardy’s break with architecture occurred in the summer of 1872, when he undertook to supply Tinsley’s Magazine with the 11 monthly installments of A Pair of Blue Eyes—an initially risky commitment to a literary career that was soon validated by an invitation to contribute a serial to the far more prestigious Cornhill Magazine. The resulting novel, Far from the Madding Crowd (1874), introduced Wessex for the first time and made Hardy famous by its agricultural settings and its distinctive blend of humorous, melodramatic, pastoral, and tragic elements. The book is a vigorous portrayal of the beautiful and impulsive Bathsheba Everdene and her marital choices among Sergeant Troy, the dashing but irresponsible soldier; William Boldwood, the deeply obsessive farmer; and Gabriel Oak, her loyal and resourceful shepherd.


Middle period.
Hardy and Emma Gifford were married, against the wishes of both their families, in September 1874. At first they moved rather restlessly about, living sometimes in London, sometimes in Dorset. His record as a novelist during this period was somewhat mixed. The Hand of Ethelberta (1876), an artificial social comedy turning on versions and inversions of the British class system, was poorly received and has never been widely popular. The Return of the Native (1878), on the other hand, was increasingly admired for its powerfully evoked setting of Egdon Heath, which was based on the sombre countryside Hardy had known as a child. The novel depicts the disastrous marriage between Eustacia Vye, who yearns romantically for passionate experiences beyond the hated heath, and Clym Yeobright, the returning native, who is blinded to his wife’s needs by a naively idealistic zeal for the moral improvement of Egdon’s impervious inhabitants. Hardy’s next works were The Trumpet-Major (1880), set in the Napoleonic period, and two more novels generally considered “minor”—A Laodicean (1881) and Two on a Tower (1882). The serious illness which hampered completion of A Laodicean decided the Hardys to move to Wimborne in 1881 and to Dorchester in 1883.

It was not easy for Hardy to establish himself as a member of the professional middle class in a town where his humbler background was well known. He signaled his determination to stay by accepting an appointment as a local magistrate and by designing and building Max Gate, the house just outside Dorchester in which he lived until his death. Hardy’s novel The Mayor of Casterbridge (1886) incorporates recognizable details of Dorchester’s history and topography. The busy market-town of Casterbridge becomes the setting for a tragic struggle, at once economic and deeply personal, between the powerful but unstable Michael Henchard, who has risen from workman to mayor by sheer natural energy, and the more shrewdly calculating Donald Farfrae, who starts out in Casterbridge as Henchard’s protégé but ultimately dispossesses him of everything that he had once owned and loved. In Hardy’s next novel, The Woodlanders (1887), socioeconomic issues again become central as the permutations of sexual advance and retreat are played out among the very trees from which the characters make their living, and Giles Winterborne’s loss of livelihood is integrally bound up with his loss of Grace Melbury and, finally, of life itself.

Wessex Tales (1888) was the first collection of the short stories that Hardy had long been publishing in magazines. His subsequent short-story collections are A Group of Noble Dames (1891), Life’s Little Ironies (1894), and A Changed Man (1913). Hardy’s short novel The Well-Beloved (serialized 1892, revised for volume publication 1897) displays a hostility to marriage that was related to increasing frictions within his own marriage.


Late novels.
The closing phase of Hardy’s career in fiction was marked by the publication of Tess of the d’Urbervilles (1891) and Jude the Obscure (1895), which are generally considered his finest novels. Though Tess is the most richly “poetic” of Hardy’s novels, and Jude the most bleakly written, both books offer deeply sympathetic representations of working-class figures: Tess Durbeyfield, the erring milkmaid, and Jude Fawley, the studious stonemason. In powerful, implicitly moralized narratives, Hardy traces these characters’ initially hopeful, momentarily ecstatic, but persistently troubled journeys toward eventual deprivation and death.

Though technically belonging to the 19th century, these novels anticipate the 20th century in regard to the nature and treatment of their subject matter. Tess profoundly questions society’s sexual mores by its compassionate portrayal and even advocacy of a heroine who is seduced, and perhaps raped, by the son of her employer. She has an illegitimate child, suffers rejection by the man she loves and marries, and is finally hanged for murdering her original seducer. In Jude the Obscure the class-ridden educational system of the day is challenged by the defeat of Jude’s earnest aspirations to knowledge, while conventional morality is affronted by the way in which the sympathetically presented Jude and Sue change partners, live together, and have children with little regard for the institution of marriage. Both books encountered some brutally hostile reviews, and Hardy’s sensitivity to such attacks partly precipitated his long-contemplated transition from fiction to poetry.


Poetry.
Hardy seems always to have rated poetry above fiction, and Wessex Poems (1898), his first significant public appearance as a poet, included verse written during his years as a novelist as well as revised versions of poems dating from the 1860s. As a collection it was often perceived as miscellaneous and uneven—an impression reinforced by the author’s own idiosyncratic illustrations—and acceptance of Hardy’s verse was slowed, then and later, by the persistence of his reputation as a novelist. Poems of the Past and the Present (1901) contained nearly twice as many poems as its predecessor, most of them newly written. Some of the poems are explicitly or implicitly grouped by subject or theme. There are, for example, 11 “War Poems” prompted by the South African War (e.g., “Drummer Hodge,” “The Souls of the Slain”) and a sequence of disenchantedly “philosophical” poems (e.g., “The Mother Mourns,” “The Subalterns,” “To an Unborn Pauper Child”). In Time’s Laughingstocks (1909), the poems are again arranged under headings, but on principles that often remain elusive. Indeed, there is no clear line of development in Hardy’s poetry from immaturity to maturity; his style undergoes no significant change over time. His best poems can be found mixed together with inferior verse in any particular volume, and new poems are often juxtaposed to reworkings of poems written or drafted years before. The range of poems within any particular volume is also extremely broad—from lyric to meditation to ballad to satirical vignette to dramatic monologue or dialogue—and Hardy persistently experiments with different, often invented, stanza forms and metres.

In 1903, 1905, and 1908 Hardy successively published the three volumes of The Dynasts, a huge poetic drama that is written mostly in blank verse and subtitled “an epic-drama of the War with Napoleon”—though it was not intended for actual performance. The sequence of major historical events—Trafalgar, Austerlitz, Waterloo, and so on—is diversified by prose episodes involving ordinary soldiers and civilians and by an ongoing cosmic commentary from such personified “Intelligences” as the “Spirit of the Years” and the “Spirit of the Pities.” Hardy, who once described his poems as a “series of seemings” rather than expressions of a single consistent viewpoint, found in the contrasted moral and philosophical positions of the various Intelligences a means of articulating his own intellectual ambiguities. The Dynasts as a whole served to project his central vision of a universe governed by the purposeless movements of a blind, unconscious force that he called the Immanent Will. Though subsequent criticism has tended to find its structures cumbersome and its verse inert, The Dynasts remains an impressive—and highly readable—achievement, and its publication certainly reinforced both Hardy’s “national” image (he was appointed to the Order of Merit in 1910) and his enormous fame worldwide.

The sudden death of Emma Hardy in 1912 brought to an end some 20 years of domestic estrangement. It also stirred Hardy to profundities of regret and remorse and to the composition of “After a Journey,” “The Voice,” and the other “Poems of 1912–13,” which are by general consent regarded as the peak of his poetic achievement. In 1914 Hardy married Florence Emily Dugdale, who was 38 years his junior. While his second wife sometimes found her situation difficult—as when the inclusion of “Poems of 1912–13” in the collection Satires of Circumstance (1914) publicly proclaimed her husband’s continuing devotion to her predecessor—her attention to Hardy’s health, comfort, and privacy made a crucial contribution to his remarkable productivity in old age. Late in his eighth decade he published a fifth volume of verse, Moments of Vision (1917), and wrote in secret an official “life” of himself for posthumous publication under the name of his widow. In his ninth decade Hardy published two more poetry collections, Late Lyrics and Earlier (1922) and Human Shows (1925), and put together the posthumously published Winter Words (1928). Following his death, on Jan. 11, 1928, his cremated remains were interred with national pomp in Westminster Abbey, while his separated heart was buried in the churchyard of his native parish.


Assessment.
The continuing popularity of Hardy’s novels owes much to their richly varied yet always accessible style and their combination of romantic plots with convincingly presented characters. Equally important—particularly in terms of their suitability to film and television adaptation—is their nostalgic evocation of a vanished rural world through the creation of highly particularized regional settings. Hardy’s verse has been slower to win full acceptance, but his unique status as a major 20th-century poet as well as a major 19th-century novelist is now universally recognized.

 

 

Far from the Madding Crowd

Thomas Hardy
1840-1928

The pressures of late Victorian modernity, felt acutely in Hardy's later work, barely touch the world of Far From the Madding Crowd. The minor rustic characters seem to come from an earlier age, and Hardy here first applies the name "Wessex" to the topographical and imaginative landscape where his greatest novels are set.
However, Hardy's vision already encompasses injustice and tragedy. Fleeing from her husband, Bathsheba Everdene spends a foggy night beside a swamp, and shivers to see at sunrise its "rotting tree stumps" and the "oozing gills" of the fungi growing there. Nature has its poisons, as humanity has its ills. Of the five main characters, two are pathologically destructive: Sergeant Troy is dashing, but selfish and heartless, and Farmer Boldwood is in love only with his own obsessional desire. Fanny Robin, an innocent betrayed, prefigures Hardy's vindication of the "fallen woman" in Tess, but where Tess becomes defiant, Fanny remains passive. Even Bathsheba, independently minded, kind-hearted, and inconstant, causes more sorrow than joy. Only Gabriel Oak is thoroughly good, and he must wait until the last chapter for his reward. Plot and characters are strongly rather than subtly drawn, but the vivid presence of the natural and cultural background isstriking.

 

 

The Mayor of Casterbridge

Thomas Hardy
1840-1928

Michael Henchard, the most worldly and strong-willed of Hardy's heroes, begins and ends with nothing. Henchard rises to become the mayor and leading corn dealer of the provincial town of Casterbridge. He falls because of his impulsive, unreflecting nature. Desperate to secure the loyalty of those he needs, he alienates them by the demands he makes and the lies he tells. Donald Farfrae, a scientifically-minded young Scotsman who becomes his rival in love and commerce, arouses all the ill-judged excesses of Henchard's temperament: having passionately befriended him, the Mayor turns on him in near-murderous rage. The novel's psychological study, notable for this intense friendship between men, is set against its portrayal of provincial town life. In this intimate milieu, private indiscretion leads inexorably to public disgrace, as the melodramatic plot moves from concealment to revelation. Henchard attempts, in vain, to cover up his past. His former lover Lucetta, who arrives in town and takes up with Farfrae, has her fatal secret exposed when a mob parades crude effigies of her and Henchard through the streets.
The novel chronicles a pre-industrial world where conjurors were consulted about the weather and where the suburban streets of the county town were lined by "green-thatched barns, with doorways as high as the gates of Solomon's temple." Henchard's defeat by the rational, modernizing Farfrae marks the end of this world.

 

 

The Woodlanders

Thomas Hardy
1840-1928

At the opening of The Woodlonders, the village barber travels to the hamlet of Little Hintock, to make Marty South an offer. Felice Charmond, the lady of the manor, has offered two sovereigns for Marty's hair. Marty is working by firelight, making hazel spars for thatching; at eighteen pence per thousand, it will take her three weeks to earn two sovereigns. At first she refuses, but discovering that the man she loves is to be betrothed to another, she takes the scissors and cuts off her tresses.
The Woodlanders charts the defeat of the way of life personified by Marty, a poor laborer defenseless against power and money. The future lies with the restless, mobile, adventurous characters: Felice and Fitzpiers ("the young medical gentleman in league with the devil"), and Grace Melbury, the Hintock timber merchant's daughter who is sent to acquire accomplishments at a finishing school. Felice comes to a bad end, but Fitzpiers and Grace, whose marriage seems at first to be a disaster, recover their equilibrium—if not their happiness—and move away into the world beyond the Hintock woods.
The novel is a complex elegy for everything represented by Marty and the man she loves in vain, Giles Winterborne. When Grace, newly, fashionably, and unhappily married, meets Giles, who has taken to the road as an itinerant cider maker, the encounter with her former lover fills her with regret not only for the man she might have wed, but for the life she knows she can no longer live.

 

Tess of the D'Urbervilles

Thomas Hardy
1840-1928

Hardy's novel is as famous for its heroine as for its notoriously tragic plot, and Tess remains a moving and absorbing read today. Originally shunned by critics upon its publication in 1891 because of "immorality,"the novel traces the difficult life of Tess Durbeyfield, whose victimization at the hands of men eventually leads to her horrific downfall. As with Jude the Obscure, Tess spares the reader none of the bitterness inherent in English country life, and Hardy's often romanticized love for the landscape of Wessex is balanced by the novel's grimly realistic depiction of social injustice.
When Tess' father discovers that his own family, the Durbeyfields, are related to a prominent local dynasty, he agrees that his daughter should contact the heir, Alec D'Urberville, with tragic results. He seduces her, and soon abandons her, leaving her an unmarried single mother. While she briefly finds happiness with another man, the seemingly upright Angel Clare, he too rejects her upon hearing of her sexual past, leaving her in poverty and misery. Forced back into the arms of Alec, Tess must sacrifice her personal happiness for economic survival, but when her feelings of injustice overwhelm her in a moment of passion,the consequences are tragic.
In Tess, Hardy presents a world in which the human spirit is battered down by the forces, not of fate, but of social hierarchy.Tess'eventual death, one of the most famous in literature, is a direct result of human cruelty and as such represents one of the most moving indictments of the lives of nineteenth-century English women in all of literature. Hardy's skill lies in presenting what might otherwise seem almost unbearable misfortune in a way that leaves the reader with a resounding sense of beauty and humanity even in the midst of arbitrary cruelty.

 


TESS OF THE D'URBERVILLES: A Pure Woman Faithfully Presented

 

Type of work: Novel
Author: Thomas Hardy (1849-1928)
Òyðå of plot: Philosophical realism
Time of plot: Late nineteenth century
Locale: England
First published: 1891

 

A powerful and tragic novel that shows how crass circumstances influence the destinies of people, Tess of the D'Urbervilles is also a moral indictment of the smug Victorian attitude toward sexual purity.

 

Principal Characters

Tess Durbeyfield, a naive country girl. When her father learns that his family is descended from an ancient landed house, the mother, hoping to better her struggling family financially, sends Tess to work for the Stoke-d'Urber-villes, who have recently moved to the locality. In this household the innocent girl, attractive and mature beyond her years, meets Alec D'Urberville, a dissolute young man. From this time on she is the rather stoical victim of personal disasters. Seduced by Alec, she gives birth to his child. Later she works on a dairy farm, where she meets Angel Clare and reluctantly agrees to marry him, even though she is afraid of his reaction if he learns about her past. As she fears, he is disillusioned by learning of her lack of innocence and virtue. Although deserted by her husband, she never loses her unselfish love for him. Eventually, pursued by the relentless Alec, she capitulates to his blandishments and goes to live with him at a prosperous resort. When Angel Clare returns to her, she stabs Alec and spends a few happy days with Clare before she is captured and hanged for her crime.
Angel Clare, Tess's husband. Professing a dislike for effete, worn-out families and outdated traditions, he is determined not to follow family tradition and become a clergyman or a scholar. Instead, he wishes to learn what he can about farming, in hopes of having a farm of his own. When he meets Tess at a dairy farm, he teaches her various philosophical theories which he has gleaned from his reading. He learns that she is descended from the D'Urbervilles and is pleased by the information. After urging reluctant Tess to marry him, at the same time refusing to let her tell him about her past life, he persuades her to accept him; later he learns to his great mortification about her relations with Alec. Although he himself has confessed to an episode with a woman in London, he is not so forgiving as Tess. After several days he deserts her and goes to Brazil. Finally, no longer so provincial in his moral views, he remorsefully comes back to Tess, but he returns too late to make amends for his selfish actions toward her.
Alec D'Urberville, Tess's seducer. Lusting after the beautiful girl and making brazen propositions, he boldly pursues her. At first she resists his advancements, but she is unable to stop him from having his way in a lonely wood where he has taken her. For a time he reforms and assumes the unlikely role of an evangelist. Meeting Tess again, he lusts after her more than ever and hounds her at every turn until she accepts him as her protector. Desperate when Angel Clare returns, she kills her hated lover.
Jack Durbeyfield, a carter of Marlott, Tess's indolent father. After learning of his distinguished forebears, he gives up work almost entirely and spends much time drinking beer in the Rolliver Tavern. He thinks that a man who has grand and noble "skillentons" in a family vault at Kingsbere-sub-Greenhill should not have to work.
Joan Durbeyfield, Tess's mother. After her hard labor at her modest home, she likes to sit at Rolliver's Tavern while her husband drinks a few pints and brags about his ancestors. A practical woman in a harsh world, she is probably right when she tells Tess not to reveal her past to Angel Clare.
Sorrow, Tess's child by Alec D'Urberville. The infant lives only a few days. Tess herself performs the rite of baptism before the baby dies.
Eliza-Louisa, called Liza-Lu, Tess's younger sister. It is Tess's hope, before her death, that Angel Clare will marry her sister. Liza-Lu waits with Angel during the hour of Tess's execution for the murder of Alec D'Urberville.
Abraham, Hope, and Modesty, the son and young daughters of the Durbeyfields.
The Reverend James Clare, Angel Clare's father, a devout man of simple faith but limited vision.
Mrs. Clare, a woman of good works and restricted interests. She shows little understanding of her son Angel.
Felix and Cuthbert Clare, Angel Clare's conventional, rather snobbish brothers. They are patronizing in their attitude toward him and disapprove of his marriage to Tess Durbeyfield.
Mercy Chant, a young woman interested in church work and charity, whom Angel Clare's parents thought a proper wife for him. Later she marries his brother Cuthbert.
Mrs. Stoke-D'Urberville, the blind widow of a man who grew rich in trade and added the name of the extinct D'Urberville barony to his own. Her chief interests in life are her wayward son Alec and her poultry.
Car Darch, also called Dark Car, a vulgar village woman. Because of her previous relations with Alec D'Urberville she is jealous of Tess Durbeyfield. Her nickname is Queen of Spades.
Nancy, her sister, nicknamed Queen of Diamonds.
Mr. Tringham, the elderly parson and antiquarian who half-jokingly tells Jack Durbeyfield that he is descended from the noble D'Urberville family.
Richard Crick, the owner of Talbothays Farm, where Angel Clare is learning dairy farming. Farmer Crick also hires Tess Durbeyfield as a dairymaid after the death of her child. Tess and Angel are married at Talbothays.
Christiana Crick, Farmer Crick's kind, hearty wife.
Marian, a stout, red-faced dairymaid at Talbothays Farm. Later she takes to drink and becomes a field worker at Flintcomb-Ash Farm. She and Izz Huett write Angel Clare an anonymous letter in which they tell him that his wife is being pursued by Alec D'Urberville.
Izz Huett, a dairymaid at Talbothays Farm. In love with Angel Clare, she openly declares her feelings after he has deserted Tess. He is tempted to take Izz with him to Brazil, but he soon changes his mind. She and Marian write Angel a letter warning him to look after his wife.
Retty Priddle, the youngest of the dairymaids at Talbothays Farm. Also in love with Angel Clare, she tries to drown herself after his marriage.
Farmer Groby, the tight-fisted, harsh owner of Flintcomb-Ash Farm, where Tess works in the fields after Angel Clare has deserted her.

 

The Story

It was a proud day when Jack Durbeyfield learned that he was descended from the famous D'Urberville family. Durbeyfield had never done more work than was necessary to keep his family supplied with meager food and himself with beer, but from that day on, he ceased doing even that small amount of work. His wife joined him in thinking that such a high family should live better with less effort, and she persuaded their oldest daughter, Tess, to visit the Stoke-D'Urbervilles, a wealthy family that had assumed the D'Urberville name because no one else claimed it. It was her mother's hope that Tess would make a good impression on the rich D'Urbervilles and perhaps a good marriage with one of the sons.
When Tess met her supposed relatives, however, she found only a blind mother and a dapper son who made Tess uncomfortable by his improper remarks to her. The son, Alec, tricked the innocent young Tess into working as a poultry maid; he did not let her know that his mother was unaware of Tess's identity. After a short time, Tess decided to look for work elsewhere to support her parents and her brothers and sisters. She knew that Alec meant her no good. Alec, however, was more clever than she and managed at last to get her alone and then possessed her.
When Tess returned to her home and told her mother of her terrible experience, her mother's only worry was that Alec was not going to marry Tess. The poor girl worked in the fields, facing the slander of her associates bravely. Her trouble was made worse by the fact that Alec followed her from place to place, trying to possess her again. By traveling to different farms during the harvest season, Tess managed to elude Alec long enough to give birth to her baby without his knowledge. The baby did not live long, however, and a few months after its death, Tess went to a dairy farm far to the south to be a dairymaid.
At the dairy farm, Tess was liked and well treated. Angel Clare, a pastor's son who had rejected the ministry to study farming, was also at the farm. It was his wish to own a farm someday, and he was working on different kinds of farms so that he could learn something of the many kinds of work required of a general farmer. Although all the dairymaids were attracted to Angel, Tess interested him the most. He thought her a beautiful and innocent young maiden, as she was, for it was her innocence that had caused her trouble with Alec.
Tess felt that she was wicked, however, and rejected the attentions Angel paid to her. She urged him to turn to one of the other girls for companionship. It was unthinkable that the son of a minister would marry a dairymaid, but Angel did not care much about family tradition. Despite her pleas, he continued to pay court to Tess. At last, against the wishes of his parents, Angel asked Tess to be his wife. Not only did he love her, but he also realized that a farm girl would be a help to him on his own land. Although Tess was in love with Angel by this time, the memory of her night with Alec caused her to refuse Angel again and again. At last, his insistence, coupled with the written pleas of her parents to marry someone who could help the family financially, won her over, and she agreed to marry him.
On the night before the wedding, which Tess had postponed many times because she felt unworthy, she wrote Angel a letter, revealing everything about herself and Alec. She slipped the letter under his door; she was sure that when he read it, he would renounce her forever. In the morning, however, Angel acted as tenderly as before, and Tess loved him more than ever for his forgiving nature. When she realized that Angel had not found the letter, she attempted to tell him about her past. Angel only teased her about wanting to confess, thinking that such a pure girl could have no black sins in her history.
They were married without Angel's learning about Alec and her dead baby.
On their wedding night, Angel told Tess about an evening of debauchery in his own past. Tess forgave him and then told about her affair with Alec, thinking that he would forgive her as she had him; but such was not the case. Angel was at first stunned and then so hurt that he could not even speak to Tess. Finally, he told her that she was not the woman he loved, the one he had married, but a stranger with whom he could not live, at least for the present. He took her to her home and left her there. Then he went to his home and on to Brazil, where he planned to buy a farm. At first, Tess and Angel did not tell their parents the reason for their separation. When Tess finally told her mother, the ignorant woman blamed Tess for losing her husband by confessing something he need never have known.
Angel had left Tess some money and some jewels that had been given to him by his godmother. Tess put the jewels in the bank; she spent the money on her parents. When it was gone, her family went hungry once more, for her father still thought himself too highborn to work for a living. Again, Tess went from farm to farm, performing hard labor in the fields to get enough food to keep herself and her family alive.
While she was working in the fields, she met Alec again. He had met Angel's minister father and, repenting his evil ways, had become an itinerant preacher. The sight of Tess, for whom he had always lusted, caused a lapse in his new religious fervor, and he began to pursue her once again. Frightened, Tess wrote to Angel, sending the letter to his parents to forward to him. She told Angel that she loved him and needed him and that an enemy was pursuing her. She begged him to forgive her and to return to her.
The letter took several months to reach Angel. Meanwhile, Alec was so kind to Tess and so generous to her family that she began to relent in her feelings toward him. At last, when she did not receive an answer from Angel, she wrote him a note saying that he was cruel not to forgive her and that now she would not forgive his treatment of her. Then she went to Alec again and lived with him as his wife.
It was thus that Angel found her. He had come to tell her that he had forgiven her and that he still loved her. When he found her with Alec, however, he turned away, more hurt than before.
Tess, too, was bitterly unhappy. She now hated Alec because once again he had been the cause of her husband's repudiation of her. Feeling that she could find happiness only if Alec were dead, she stabbed him as he slept. Then she ran out of the house and followed Angel, who was aimlessly walking down a road leading out of the town. When they met and Tess told him what she had done, Angel forgave her everything, even the murder of Alec, and they went on together. They were happy with each other for a few days, although Angel knew that the authorities would soon find Tess.
When the officers finally found them, Tess was asleep. Angel asked the officers to wait until she awoke. As soon as she opened her eyes, Tess saw the strangers and knew that they had come for her and that she would be hanged, but she was not unhappy. She had had a few days with the husband she truly loved, and now she was ready for her punishment. She stood up bravely and faced her captors. She was not afraid.

 

Critical Evaluation

English fiction assumed a new dimension in the hands of Thomas Hardy. From its beginnings, it had been a middle-class genre; it was written for and about the bourgeois, with the working class and the aristocracy assuming only minor roles. The British novelist explored the workings of society in the space between the upper reaches of the gentry and the new urban shopkeepers. In the eighteenth century, Daniel Defoe treated the rogue on his or her way to wealth; Henry Fielding was concerned with the manners of the gentry; and Samuel Richardson dramatized romantic, middle-class sentimentality. In the nineteenth century, Jane Austen's subject matter was the comedy of manners among a very closely knit segment of the rural gentry; the farm laboring classes were conspicuous by their absence. After Walter Scott and his historical romances, the great Victorian novelists—the Brontes, Thackeray, Dickens, Trollope, and George Eliot— were all concerned with the nuances of middle-class feelings and morality, treating their themes either romantically or comically.
Although he certainly drew on the work and experience of his predecessors, Hardy opened and explored fresh areas: indeed, he was constantly hounded by critics and censors for his realistic treatment of sexuality and the problems of faith. After his last novel, Jude the Obscure, was attacked for its immorality, he was driven from the field. The final thirty years or so of his life were devoted entirely to poetry. Even more important than this new honesty and openness toward sex and religion, however, was Hardy's development of the tragic possibilities of the novel and his opening of it to the experience of the rural laborer and artisan. Moreover, his rendering of nature, influenced by Greek thought and Darwin's On the Origin of the Species, radically departed from the nineteenth century view of nature as benevolent and purposeful. Hardy's novels, written between 1868 and 1895, have a unity of thought and feeling challenging all the accepted truths of his time. He was part of and perhaps the most formidable spokesman for that group of artists—including the Rossettis, Swinburne, Wilde, Yeats, and Housman—which reacted against the materialism, pieties, and unexamined faith of the Victorian Age. As he said of the age in his poem "The Darkling Thrush": "The land's sharp features seemed to be/ The Century's corpse outleant. . . ." Finally, he can be viewed not only as the last Victorian but also as the first modern writer, defining the themes that were to occupy such great successors as Joseph Conrad and D. H. Lawrence.
Tess ofthe D' Urbervilles ranks as one of Hardy's finest achievements, along with Far from the Madding Crowd, The Return of the Native, The Mayor of Casterbridge, and Jude the Obscure. Together with the last novel mentioned, it forms his most powerful indictment of Victorian notions of virtue and social justice. Its subtitle, A Pure Woman Faithfully Presented, is itself a mockery of a moral sense that works in rigid categories. Mesmerized and seduced by Alec D'Urberville, the mother of a bastard child, the married mistress of Alec, and a murderess who is eventually hanged, Tess is yet revealed as an innocent victim of nature, chance, and a social and religious system that denies human feeling. Her purity is not only a matter of ethics—for Hardy finds her without sin—but also one of soul. Tess maintains a kind of gentle attitude toward everyone, and even when she is treated with the grossest injustice, she responds with forgiveness. It is not until the conclusion of the novel when she has been deprived once again of her beloved, Angel Clare (a love that the reader has great difficulty in accepting, since he lacks any recognizable human passion), that she is ultimately overcome by forces beyond her control and murders Alec. Like her sister in tragedy, Sophocles' Antigone, she is driven by a higher justice to assert herself. That she must make reparation according to a law that she cannot accept does not disturb her, and like Antigone's, her death is a triumph rather than a defeat.
It is precisely at this point that Hardy most effectively challenges Victorian metaphysics. In Tess, readers witness a woman disposed of by irrational and accidental forces. The Victorians tried to deny such forces—not always easily, to be sure—through a devotion to reason in matters of law, science, and religion; these impulses were anomalies that could not be admitted if their world-view were to stand. To insist, moreover, as Tess does, that she is not to be judged by human law is a radical attack on a culture that rested uncertainly on a fragile social contract. To compound the enigma, Tess acquiesces in the judgment and gives her life—for society does not really take it—with a sense of peace and fulfillment.
Thus Hardy exposed the primitive passions and laws of nature to his readers. He called into question not only their idea of law but also their notion of human nature. Indeed, Hardy seems to suggest that no matter the success of politics in removing social abuses, there remains an element in man that cannot be legislated: his instinctual nature that drives him to demand justice for his being, despite the consequences. For Victorian civilization to accept Tess, therefore, would be to admit its own myopia— which it was not yet prepared to do.

 

 

Jude the Obscure

Thomas Hardy
1840-1928

Jude the Obscure is the angriest and most experimental of Hardy's novels, preoccupied with themes of desire and displacement. When Jude Fawley leaves rural Marygreen and Alfredston behind him for the spires of Christ minster City, a university town, he chooses to walk rather than ride the last four miles. He is physically pacing out the distance he is traveling, a distance only accurately measured in ambition and hope, or in the beautiful enthusiasm of one who knows not the obstacles on the path ahead.
When the stonemason Jude enters the city, he brings with him his class and its history. At first it enriches him; when he reads the monumental architectural pages of the college buildings, he does so through an artisan's eyes. Gradually, his class works to define limits for his ambition—the letter from the Master of "Biblioll College"warning Jude to remain "in your own sphere" provides one cruelly pragmatic moment of discovery. Jude's own broken marriage and his unconventional relationship with a free-spirited cousin ends in cruel tragedy, and the nature of Jude's response is telling.
Interwoven with despair, resentment, anger, and pride is a sense of exile all the more painful for being inarticulate. Forbidden access to the "world of learning," yet knowing such a world exists, Jude Fawley is doubly exiled, displaced by his desires from his social roots and hobbled by those roots in achieving hisdesires.

 

JUDE THE OBSCURE

Type of work: Novel
Author: Thomas Hardy (1840-1928)
Type of plot: Philosophical realism
Time of plot: Nineteenth century
Locale: Wessex
First published: 1895

 

Hardy's sexual frankness and unconventional treatment of the theme of marriage in this novel outraged readers when the book was first published; now Jude the Obscure is seen as one of the author's most powerful achievements. A somber, at times grim novel, it is rich in its portrayal of suffering, powerful in its evocation of nature, and tragic in its vision of a universe where men are powerless to avert the fates inflicted by impersonal external forces.

 

Principal Characters

Jude Fawley, a village stonemason who is thwarted in every attempt to find success and happiness. His chief desire from the time of his youth is to become a religious scholar, but because of his sensuous temperament he is forced into an early marriage. After his first wife leaves him he falls in love with his cousin and lives with her illegally for several years. The weight of social disapproval dooms their life together. After the tragic death of their children his cousin leaves him also, and Jude, having turned to drink, dies a miserable death.
Arabella Donn, a country girl who tricks Jude into his first marriage. She has nothing in common with Jude and soon leaves him to go to Australia. She later returns but makes no immediate demands on him, preferring to marry another and advance her station in life. After the death of her second husband and the separation of Jude and his cousin, she tricks him into marrying her a second time. But instead of helping to brighten the last of his life she increases his misery and is planning her next marriage even before his death.
Sue Bridehead, Jude's cousin. Although priding herself on being a free-thinker, she marries a much older man out of a sense of obligation and leaves him shortly afterward because of her revulsion toward him. She lives with Jude for several years and bears him three children. She is a strong influence on him and through her unorthodox thought becomes the primary reason for his giving up his attempts to enter the ministry. After the tragic death of her children, she undergoes a complete change in personality; now wanting to conform, she returns to her first husband.
Richard Phillotson, a village schoolmaster who instills in Jude his first desires to learn. He falls in love with Sue after she becomes his assistant and marries her in spite of obvious differences in age, thought, and belief. When she expresses her desire to live with Jude, he allows her a divorce, although it causes his own downfall. He gladly remarries her when she wants to come back to him, even though he is fully aware that she does not love him.
Little Father Time, the son of Jude and Arabella. He is a precocious child who seems to feel the weight of the world on his shoulders. Having been sent to Jude by Arabella when she married the second time, he is bothered by a sense of being unwanted and feels that he is a source of anxiety for his elders. This feeling becomes so intensified that he hangs himself and the two younger children.
Drusilla Fawley, Jude's great-grandaunt, who raises him after the death of his parents. During his youth she constantly warns him against ever marrying because the Fawleys have never had successful marriages.
Army and Sarah, friends of Arabella. They give her the idea of tricking Jude into marriage.
Mr. Donn, Arabella's father. Although he has nothing to do with the first trick on Jude, he helps Arabella carry out the second one.
Gillingham, a friend and confidant of Phillotson, whose advice Phillotson never takes.
Mrs. Edlin, a neighbor of Drusilla Fawley; she is always ready to help Jude and Sue when they need her.
Vilbert, a quack doctor. He serves as Jude's first source of disillusionment about life.
Cartlett, Arabella's second husband.

 

The Story

In the nineteenth century, eleven-year-old Jude Fawley said good-bye to his schoolmaster, Richard Phillotson, who was leaving the small English village of Marygreen for Christminster to study for a degree. Young Jude was hungry for learning and yearned to go to Christminster too, but he had to help his great-grandaunt, Drusilla Faw-ley, in her bakery. At Christminster, Phillotson did not forget his former pupil. He sent Jude some classical grammars, which the boy studied eagerly.
Anticipating a career as a religious scholar, Jude apprenticed himself, at age nineteen, to a stonemason engaged in the restoration of medieval churches in a nearby town. Returning to Mary green one evening, he met three young girls who were washing pigs' chitterlings by a stream bank. One of the girls, Arabella Donn, caught Jude's fancy, and he arranged to meet her later. The young man was swept off his feet and tricked into marriage, but he soon realized that he had married a vulgar country girl with whom he had nothing in common. Embittered, he tried unsuccessfully to commit suicide; when he began to drink, Arabella left him.
Now free, Jude decided to carry out his original purpose. With this idea in mind, he went to Christminster, where he took work as a stonemason. He had heard that his cousin. Sue Bridehead, lived in Christminster, but he did not seek her out because his aunt had warned him against her and because he was a married man. Eventually, he met her and was charmed. She was an artist employed in an ecclesiastical warehouse. Jude also met Phillotson, again working as a simple schoolteacher. At Jude's suggestion, Sue became Phillotson's assistant. The teacher soon lost his heart to his bright and intellectually independent young helper. Jude was hurt by evidence of intimacy between the two. Disappointed in love and ambition, he turned to drink and was dismissed by his employer. He went back to Mary green.
At Marygreen, Jude was persuaded by a minister to enter the church as a licentiate. Sue, meanwhile, had won a scholarship to a teacher's college at Melchester; she wrote Jude and asked him to come to see her. Jude worked at stonemasonry in Melchester in order to be near Sue, even though she told him she had promised to marry Phillotson after her schooling. Dismissed from college after an innocent escapade with Jude, Sue influenced him away from the church with her unorthodox beliefs. Shortly afterward, she married Phillotson. Jude was despondent and returned to Christminster, where he came upon Arabella working in a bar. Jude heard that Sue's married life was unbearable. He continued his studies for the ministry and thought a great deal about Sue.
Succumbing completely to his passion for Sue, Jude at last forsook the ministry. His Aunt Drusilla died, and at the funeral, Jude and Sue realized that they could not remain separated. Sympathizing with the lovers, Phillotson released Sue, who now lived apart from her husband. The lovers went to Aldbrickham, a large city where they would not be recognized. Phillotson gave Sue a divorce and subsequently lost his teaching position. Jude gave Arabella a divorce so that she might marry again.
Sue and Jude now contemplated marriage, but they were unwilling to be joined by a church ceremony because of Sue's dislike for any binding contract. The pair lived together happily, and Jude continued his simple stonework. One day, Arabella appeared and told Jude that her marriage had not materialized. Sue was jealous and promised Jude that she would marry him. Arabella's problem was solved by eventual marriage, but out of fear of her husband, she sent her young child by Jude to live with him and Sue. The pathetic boy, nicknamed Little Father Time, joined the unconventional Fawley household.
Jude's business began to decline, and he lost a contract to restore a rural church when the vestry discovered that he and Sue were unmarried. Forced to move on, they traveled from place to place and from job to job. At the end of two and a half years of this itinerant life, the pair had two children of their own and a third on the way. They were a family of five, including Little Father Time. Jude was in failing health, and became a baker; Sue sold cakes in the shape of Gothic ornaments at a fair in a village near Christminster. At the fair, Sue met Arabella, who was now a widow. Arabella reported Sue's poverty to Phillotson, who was once more the village teacher in Marygreen.
Jude took his family to Christminster, where the celebration of Remembrance Week was under way. Utterly defeated by failure, Jude still had a love for the atmosphere of learning that pervaded the city.
The family had difficulty finding lodgings and were forced to separate. Sue's landlady, learning that Sue was an unmarried mother and fearful that she might have the trouble of childbirth in her rooming house, told Sue to find other lodgings. Sue's attitude turned bitter, and she told Little Father Time that children should not be brought into the world. When she returned from a meal with Jude. she found that the boy had hanged the two babies and himself. She collapsed and gave premature birth to a dead baby.
Her experience brought about a change in Sue's point of view. Believing she had sinned and wishing now to conform, she asked Jude to live apart from her. She also expressed the desire to return to Phillotson, whom she believed, in her misery, to be still her husband. She returned to Phillotson, and the two remarried. Jude was utterly lost and began drinking heavily. In a drunken stupor, he was again tricked by Arabella into marriage. His lungs failed; it was evident that he would die soon. Arabella would not communicate with Sue, whom Jude desired to see once more, and so Jude traveled in the rain to see her. The lovers had a last meeting. She then made complete atonement for her past mistakes by becoming Phillotson's wife completely. This development was reported to Jude, who died in desperate misery of mind and body. Fate had grown tired of its sport with a luckless man.

 

Critical Evaluation

A unique transitional figure between the literary worlds of the Victorian and the modern, Thomas Hardy was an undistinguished architect whose novels and poems were to become his chief profession. Although his rustic characters and some of his poems exhibit a humorous hand at work, invading most of his creations are a brooding irony reflecting life's disappointments and a pessimistic belief that man is a victim of a neutral force that darkly rules the universe. Hardy divided his novels into three groups: Novels of Ingenuity (such as Desperate Remedies); Romances and Fantasies (for example, A Pair of Blue Eyes); and Novels of Character and Environment. This last class includes his best and most famous works, Tess of the D'Urbervilles, The Return of the Native, Far from the Madding Crowd, The Mayor of Casterbridge, and Jude the Obscure.
First published in a modified form as an 1894 serial in Harper's, Jude the Obscure is considered by many critics to be Hardy's top-ranking novel. Today, however, it is read less often than many of his works, and it was the outraged reception of Jude the Obscure that turned Hardy from the novel to a concentration on poetry. His disgust at the critical reaction was bitter and enduring.
The best explanation of the book's basic framework was stated by Hardy himself in his preface: the novel, meant for adults, was intended "to tell, without a mincing of words, of a deadly war waged between flesh and spirit; and to point to the tragedy of unfulfilled aims." To these, readers may add two other important themes: an attack on convention and society and an examination of man's essential loneliness.
The flesh-spirit division bedevils Jude throughout the novel. His relationship with Arabella represents his strong sexual propensities, while his attraction to intellectual pursuits and his high principles reveal his spiritual side. His obsession with Sue is a reflection of both sides of his personality, for while he is attracted by her mind and emotion. he 1 s al so drawn to her physically. At the crucial moments of his life. Jude's fleshly desires are strong enough to supersede his greatest ambitions. His initial attempt at a university career is halted when he succumbs to Arabella, and his plans for the ministry end when he kisses Sue and decides that as long as he loves another man's wife he cannot be a soldier and servant of a religion that is so suspicious of sexual love.
"The tragedy of unfulfilled aims" is forcefully present in both Jude and Sue. For years Jude. in a truly dedicated and scholarly fashion, devotes himself to preparing to enter Christminster (Hard's name for Oxford). Even when he frees himself from the sexual entanglement with Arabella, his hopes for an education are dashed, for the master of the college advises him to ""remain in your own sphere." Through no fault of his own and despite his seeming ability, he is again denied what he so desperately seeks. The fact of his birth as a poor person is unchangeable, and Jude must accept its results. His second great desire, a spiritual (as well as sexual) union with Sue, is also doomed. When Jude first sees Sue's picture, he thinks of her as a saint, and he eventually derives many of his maturing intellectual concepts from her. His passion for Sue is true and full; yet Sue's deeply flawed character necessitates her self-destruction as well as the destruction of Jude. She drains Jude while simultaneously serving as a source of his growth, for she is irresponsible, cold, and cruel. She is an imperfect being, afraid not only of her physical side but of her very ideas. She tells Jude that she does not have the courage of her convictions, and when he adopts her iconoclastic stance, she abandons it and demonstrates how conventional she really is. Her pagan shouts, her free thought, her brave spirit prove as much a sham as Christminster's promises. Her tragedy, the gap between what she is and what she might have been, is not hers alone but is shared by Jude and becomes his.
As an attack on convention and society, Jude the Obscure focuses on three major areas: the British university system, marriage, and religion. Jude's exclusion from Christminster is an indictment of the structure of an institution that allegedly symbolizes the noble part of man's mind yet actually stands only for a closed, tightly knit social club. In its criticism of marriage, a union that Hardy said should be dissolved by either side if it became a burden, the novel reveals how false is the view of marriage as a sacred contract. Marriage, as in Jude's merger with Arabella, is often the fruit of a temporary urge, but its harvest can be lifelong and ruinous. Sue's fear of marriage also suggests that the bond can be one of suffocation. Perhaps most important are the novel's charges against Christianity. The fundamental hollow-ness and hypocrisy of Christianity, Hardy asserts, damn it dreadfully. A farmer thrashes Jude for lovingly letting the birds feed, and the sounds of the beating echo from the church tower that the same farmer had helped finance. Hardy's scorn for such inconsistencies is evident throughout the book, and he proposes that the only valuable part of Christianity is its idea that love makes life more bearable.
Mirroring the development of these themes is the final impression that the book is also a cry of loneliness. Jude's hopelessness is in the final analysis a result of his alienation not only from Arabella and Sue but from his environment. Used in connection with Jude, the word "obscure," in addition to conveying his association with darkness, his lack of distinction in the eyes of the world, and his humble station, suggests that he is not understood, that he is hidden from others and is only faintly perceptible. In Hardy's world, the happiest people are those who are most in touch with their environment, a condition that usually occurs in the least reflective characters. Jude, however, is always grasping for the ideal and ignores the unpleasantness about him as much as he possibly can; this inevitably places him on the path to isolation. Hardy hints that such is the price man must pay for the refusal to accept his status without questioning. All the ills that Hardy ascribes to this world are, he feels, merely a reflection of the ills of the universe. Man ruins society because he is imperfect and caught in the grip of a fatal and deterministic movement of the stars. Defending his dark outlook, Hardy tells us: "If a way to the better there be, it demands a full look at the worst." In a philosophy which he terms evolutionary meliorism, Hardy further amplifies this concept in both a brighter and a more pessimistic vein. That philosophy proposes not only that man may improve, but that he must find the way to that better condition if he is to survive.

 

 

Return of the Native

Thomas Hardy
1840-1928

With his verbose, ornate style and sensitivity to class issues, Hardy seems a typical Victorian novelist. But the depth of his writing revealed a sensibility at odds with the strict Victorian social and sexual mores, tending towards atheism and subjective morality rather than an absolutist Christianity. This philosophy was out of place in Victorian England, predating the social and cultural upheaval of modernism. The novel is deeply rooted in the attitude, speech, and folk customs of the residents of the tract of windswept upland in Hardy's Wessex known as Egdon Heath. It is the return to the heath of the educated Clym Yeobright that supplies the title of the novel, which is a tragic story of relationships and differences in perception. The plot centers on Yeobright and Eustacia Vye, who determines to leave her true love, Damon Wildeve, to seek a new life with Yeobright, away from the heath. But escalating tragedy ultimately results in Yeobright becoming an itinerant moral preacher. In contrast, Diggory Venn, whose job it is to sell red sheep-dye to farmers, represents the embodiment of the heath, the omnipresent observer who mysteriously appears from time to time. Hardy's characters are all disturbingly unreliable—nothing is certain, nothing is objective. His depiction of the people, as well as of the heath, transcends the bounds of traditional Victorian certainty and produces a work where everything—even the ending—is ambiguous.

 


THE RETURN OF THE NATIVE
 

Type of work: Novel
Author: Thomas Hardy (1840-1928)
Type of plot: Romantic tragedy
Time of plot: Mid-nineteenth century
Locale: Egdon Heath, in southern England
First published: 1878

 

In this novel Thomas Hardy creates two strong opposing forces: Egdon Heath, a somber tract of wasteland symbolic of an impersonal fate, and Eustacia Vye, a beautiful, romantic young woman representing the opposing human element. Her marriage to the idealistic Clym Yeobright is doomed both by the external forces of nature and the intense, differing needs of the two characters. Eustacia's death by drowning in the company ofWildeve, her lover, is the fitting symbolic end to her life.

 

Principal Characters

Clement Yeobright, called Clym, a native of Egdon Heath who returns to visit with his mother and cousin after having made a career for himself as a successful diamond merchant in Paris. His success and his education make him an outstanding figure among the humble people who live scattered about the wild heath, and his return for a visit is a great occasion for them. During his stay he decides to remain, finding that the heath and its people mean far more to him than worldly success in Paris; his intention is to become a teacher and open a school to educate the people among whom he grew up, a superstitious and ignorant, if lovable and kindly set. A sensitive and somewhat rash young man, he falls in love with Eustacia Vye, a beautiful and passionate woman. In her Clym sees a perfect helpmeet for a schoolmaster, but she sees in him only a chance to escape the heath and to live abroad. Clym and Eustacia Vye are married, over the protests of his mother. These protests arouse the anger of Clym, who after his marriage does not communicate with her. Disaster, in the form of partial blindness, strikes Clym, but he accepts his plight philosophically and turns to the homely task of furze cutting to earn a living. Unhappy in her lot, Eustacia turns against him. On one occasion she refuses to let his mother into the house, an inhospitable act that indirectly causes the death of the older woman. Stricken by his mother's death and, a short time later, by his wife's suicide, Clym becomes a lay preacher to the people of the heath.
Eustacia Vye, the self-seeking and sensuous young woman who marries Clym Yeobright. Unhappy on the heath, bored by life with her grandfather, she tries to escape. First she seeks an opportunity to do so by marrying Clym. When he cannot and will not leave the heath, she turns to a former fiance, now a married man. At the last, however, she cannot demean herself by unfaithfulness to her husband; instead of running away with her lover she commits suicide by plunging into a millpond.
Damon Wildeve, a former engineer, still a young man, who settles unhappily upon the heath as keeper of the Quiet Woman Inn. Selfish and uninspired, when he loses Eustacia Vye to Clym Yeobright he marries Thomasin Yeobright, Clym's cousin, out of spite. The marriage is an unhappy one, for Wildeve still pursues Eustacia, also unhappy because her husband cannot give her the life she wishes. Wildeve's pursuit of illicit love ends in his own death, for he drowns while trying to save Eustacia's life after she throws herself into a pond rather than elope to Paris as his mistress.
Thomasin Yeobright, called Tamsin, Clym's cousin, reared with Clym by his mother. A simple and faithful girl who loves Damon Wildeve despite his treatment of her, she is also faithful to the conventions and clings to her marriage even after it turns out badly. At her husband's death she inherits a small fortune left by his uncle shortly before Wildeve's end. She finds happiness eventually in a second marriage and in her little daughter.
Diggory Venn, an itinerant young reddleman in love with Thomasin Yeobright. Once of good family and some little fortune, he has fallen upon evil days. His lonely existence gives him opportunity to act in his love's behalf, and he tries to circumvent Wildeve's pursuit of Eustacia Vye. Having saved up a little money, he becomes a dairyman and presents himself, after a decent time, as Thoma-sin's suitor, following her husband's death. His patience, love, and understanding are rewarded when she accepts him.
Mrs. Yeobright, Clym Yeobright's mother and Thomasin Yeobright's aunt. In her good sense she opposes both their marriages, although the young people misinterpret her motives as selfish. Being of a forgiving nature, she tries to be reconciled with her son and his wife, as she became with Thomasin and her husband. But Eustacia refuses her overtures and is indirectly the cause of the older woman's death; Mrs. Yeobright dies of exposure and snakebite after having been refused admittance to her son's home.
Captain Vye, Eustacia Vye's grandfather, a retired seaman who brings his granddaughter to live on the heath with no thought of how such a place will affect her. He is a self-contained old man with little knowledge of the intense personality of his charge; therefore he makes no effort to prevent her tragedy.
Johnny Nunsuch, a little boy who plays upon the heath and unwittingly becomes involved as a witness to the fate of the Yeobrights, Eustacia Vye, and Damon Wildeve. His testimony concerning Mrs. Yeobright's last words brings about the separation of Clym Yeobright and his wife.

Mrs. Nunsuch, Johnny's mother. Convinced that Eustacia Vye is a witch who has cast a spell upon the child, Mrs. Nunsuch, an uneducated, superstitious woman, resorts to black arts to exorcise the spell. On the night of Eustacia Vye's death she forms a doll in the girl's image and destroys it in a fire.
Granfer Cantle, an ancient, Christian Cantle. his elderly youngest son, Oily Dowden, Sam, a turf cutter, Humphrey, a furze cutter, and Timothy Fairway, residents of Egdon Heath. They voice much of the rural wisdom and observe the folk customs of the region.

 

The Story

Egdon Heath was a gloomy wasteland in southern England. Against this majestic but solemn, brooding background a small group of people were to work out their tragic drama in the impersonal presence of nature.
Fifth of November bonfires were glowing in the twilight as Diggory Venn, the reddleman, drove his van across the Heath. Tired and ill, Thomasin Yeobright lay in the rear of his van. She was a young girl whom Diggory loved, but she had rejected his proposal in order to marry Damon Wildeve, proprietor of the Quiet Woman Inn. Now Diggory was carrying the girl to her home at Blooms-End. The girl had gone to marry Wildeve in a nearby town, but the ceremony had not taken place because of an irregularity in the license. Shocked and shamed, Thomasin had asked her old sweetheart, Diggory, to take her home.
Mrs. Yeobright, Thomasin's aunt and guardian, heard the story from the reddleman. Concerned for the girl's welfare, she decided that the wedding should take place as soon as possible. Mrs. Yeobright had good cause to worry, for Wildeve's intentions were not wholly honorable. Later in the evening, after Wildeve had assured the Yeobrights, rather casually, that he intended to go through with his promise, his attention was turned to a bonfire blazing on Mistover Knap. There old Cap'n Vye lived with his beautiful granddaughter, Eustacia. At dusk, the girl had started a fire on the Heath as a signal to her lover, Wildeve, to come to her. Although he had intended to break with Eustacia, he decided to obey her summons.
Meanwhile, Eustacia was waiting for Wildeve in the company of young Johnny Nunsuch. When Wildeve threw a pebble in the pond to announce his arrival, Eustacia told Johnny to go home. The meeting between Wildeve and Eustacia was unsatisfactory for both. He complained that she gave him no peace. She, in turn, resented his desertion. Meanwhile, Johnny Nunsuch, frightened by strange lights he saw on the Heath, went back to Mistover Knap to ask Eustacia to let her servant accompany him home, but he kept silent when he came upon Eustacia and Wildeve. Retracing his steps, he stumbled into a sand pit where the reddleman's van stood. Diggory learned from the boy of the meeting between Eustacia and Wildeve. Later, he overheard Eustacia declare her hatred of the Heath to Wildeve, who asked her to run away with him to America. Her reply was vague, but the reddleman decided to see Eustacia without delay to beg her to let Thomasin have Wildeve.
Diggory's visit to Eustacia was fruitless. He then approached Mrs. Yeobright, declared again his love for her niece, and offered to marry Thomasin. Mrs. Yeobright refused the reddleman's offer because she felt that the girl should marry Wildeve. She confronted the innkeeper with vague references to another suitor, with the result that Wildeve's interest in Thomasin awakened once more.
Shortly afterward, Mrs. Yeobright's son, Clym, returned from Paris, and a welcome-home party gave Eustacia the chance to view this stranger about whom she had heard so much. Uninvited, she went to the party disguised as one of the mummers. Clym was fascinated by this interesting and mysterious young woman disguised as a man. Eustacia dreamed of marrying Clym and going with him to Paris. She even broke off with Wildeve, who, stung by her rejection, promptly married Thomasin to spite her.
Clym Yeobright decided not to go back to France. Instead, he planned to open a school. Mrs. Yeobright strongly opposed her son's decision. When Clym learned that Eustacia had been stabbed in church by a woman who thought that Eustacia was bewitching her children, his decision to educate these ignorant people was strengthened. Much against his mother's wishes, Clym visited Eustacia's home to ask her to teach in his school. Eustacia refused because she hated the Heath and the country peasants; as the result of his visit, however, Clym fell completely in love with the beautiful but heartless Eustacia.
Mrs. Yeobright blamed Eustacia for Clym's wish to stay on the Heath. When bitter feeling grew between mother and son, he decided to leave home. His marriage to Eustacia made the break complete. Later, Mrs. Yeobright relented somewhat and gave a neighbor, Christian Cantle, a sum of money to be delivered in equal portions to Clym and Thomasin. Christian foolishly lost the money to Wildeve in a game of dice. Fortunately, Diggory won the money from Wildeve, but, thinking that all of it belonged to Thomasin, he gave it to her. Mrs. Yeobright knew that Wildeve had duped Christian. She did not know that the reddleman had won the money away from the innkeeper, and she mistakenly supposed that Wildeve had given the money to Eustacia. She met Eustacia and asked the girl if she had received any money from Wildeve. Eustacia was enraged by the question; in the course of her reply to Mrs. Yeobright's charge, she said that she would never have condescended to marry Clym had she known that she would have to remain on the Heath. The two women parted angrily.
Eustacia's unhappiness was increased by Clym's near-blindness, a condition brought on by too much reading, for she feared that this meant she would never get to Paris. When Clym became a woodcutter, Eustacia's feeling of degradation was complete. Bored with her life, she went by herself one evening to a gypsying. There she accidentally met Wildeve and again felt an attraction to him. The reddleman saw Eustacia and Wildeve together, told Mrs. Yeobright of the meeting, and begged her to make peace with Eustacia for Clym's sake. She agreed to try.
Nevertheless, Mrs. Yeobright's walk at noon across the hot, dry Heath to see her son and daughter-in-law proved fatal. When she arrived in sight of Clym's house, she saw her son from a distance as he entered the front door. Then, while she rested on a knoll near the house, she saw another man entering, but she was too far away to recognize Wildeve. After resting for twenty minutes, Mrs. Yeobright went on to Clym's cottage and knocked. No one came to the door. Heartbroken by what she considered a rebuff by her own son, Mrs. Yeobright started home across the Heath. Overcome by exhaustion and grief, she sat down to rest, and a poisonous adder bit her. She died without knowing that inside her son's house Clym had been asleep, worn out by his morning's work. Eustacia did not go to the door because, as she later explained to her husband, she had thought he would answer the knock. The real reason for Eustacia's failure to go to the door was fear of the consequences if Mrs. Yeobright found Eustacia and Wildeve together.
Clym awoke with the decision to visit his mother. Starting out across the Heath toward her house, he stumbled over her body. His grief was tempered by bewilderment over the reason for her being on the Heath at that time. When Clym discovered that Eustacia had failed to let his mother in and that Wildeve had been in the cottage, he ordered Eustacia out of his house. She went quietly because she felt in part responsible for Mrs. Yeobright's death.
Eustacia took refuge in her grandfather's house, where a faithful servant thwarted her in an attempt to commit suicide. In utter despair over her own wretched life and over the misery she had caused others, Eustacia turned to Wildeve, who had unexpectedly inherited eleven thousand pounds and who still wanted her to run away with him. One night, she left her grandfather's house in order to keep a prearranged meeting with the innkeeper; but in her departure, she failed to receive a letter of reconciliation which Thomasin had persuaded Clym to send to her. On her way to keep her rendezvous with Wildeve, she lost her way in the inky blackness of the Heath and either fell accidentally or jumped into a small lake and was drowned. Wildeve, who happened to be near the lake when she fell in, jumped in to save her and also was drowned.
(Originally, The Return of the Native ended with the death of Eustacia and of Wildeve; but in order to satisfy his romantic readers, Hardy made additions to the story in a later edition. The faithful Diggory married Thomasin. Clym, unable to abolish ignorance and superstition on the Heath by teaching, became in the end an itinerant preacher.)

 

Critical Evaluation

Thomas Hardy was born in Dorset, England, on June 2, 1840. Although he attended several grammar schools and studied French at King's College, Hardy had little formal education. Later, however, he read extensively in the Bible, the classics, and recent scientific publications. He was an architect's apprentice from 1856 to 1874 and later an ecclesiastical architect. During this time, he wrote poetry, which was not published until after he was a well-known novelist. His first novel, Desperate Remedies, was published in 1872. In 1872, he married Emma Gif-ford; after her death in 1912, he married Florence Dugdale. When storms of protest arose over the pessimism and the violation of strict Victorian sexual mores in Tess of the D'Urbervilles and Jude the Obscure, Hardy gave up the novel but continued to write poetry. He died on January 11, 1928, and his ashes were placed in the poets' corner at Westminster Abbey. Among his best works are Far from the Madding Crowd and The Return of the Native. In The Return of the Native, there is a strong conflict between nature or fate, represented by Egdon Heath, and human nature, represented by the characters in the novel, especially Eustacia. The title of the first chapter, "A Face on Which Time Makes But Little Impression," establishes the heath's role as much more significant than merely a setting for the action. The word "face" suggests that the heath assumes anthropomorphic proportions and becomes, in essence, a major character in the novel; somber and dark, "the storm was its lover, and the wind its friend." And, while the characters struggle and become tired and disillusioned—or die—the heath remains indifferent and unchanged.
The heath, then, is a symbol of permanence. Other aspects of the setting also become symbolic, and they intensify the somber tone of the novel. The dominance of dark imagery adds to the novel's pessimism: The bonfires on the heath provide small areas of light in the blackness of the night, yet the furze burns quickly and is soon extinguished, like the momentary happiness of Eustacia and Clym and the wild passion of Eustacia and Wildeve. The moon's eclipse on the night Clym proposes to Eustacia foreshadows the eclipse of their love. On the night of Eustacia's death, the violent storm echoes her violent emotions as she cries out against her fate.
Like his character Eustacia, Hardy often seems to blame fate for many of the catastrophes of life. Many critics believe that in this novel fate is completely dominant and that the characters are helpless victims of its malevolence. Such a view, however, seems inadequate. Admittedly, fate does play a significant role; for example, Eustacia accidentally meets Wildeve at the maypole dance. Mrs. Yeobright just happens to choose an extremely hot day to visit Clym, just happens to arrive when Wildeve is there, and just happens to be bitten by the adder when she collapses from fatigue. Eustacia does not receive Clym's letter because her grandfather believes she is asleep. Much of the novel's tragedy, however, can be traced to the characters' motivations, decisions, and actions.
Mrs. Yeobright may seem victimized by Eustacia's failure to open the door to her, but one must remember that Mrs. Yeobright never accepts Eustacia and attempts to turn Clym against her. She feels socially superior to Eustacia, distrusts her because she is a free spirit, calls her lazy and irresponsible, hints that she is behaving indiscreetly with Wildeve, and, in general, is jealous of her because she wants to keep Clym to herself. She refuses to attend Clym's wedding and treats Eustacia in a condescending manner as they speak together near the pool. She then harbors her grudge and keeps away from her son and his wife long enough for the gulf between them to widen greatly.
Clym, too, brings much of his trouble upon himself. He is flattered by Eustacia's attention and passion for him but never really sees her as an individual totally different from himself. Without regard for her hatred of the heath and her longing for the excitement of Paris, he assumes that she will be a vital part of his teaching mission. After their marriage, he ignores her and devotes his time to his studies, which, perhaps, helps to bring about the physical blindness that becomes symbolic of his blindness to reality. Martyring himself as a furze cutter, he intensifies Eustacia's hatred for the heath and fails to see that his physical fatigue and his degrading work deal a crushing blow to his marriage. Even his desire to teach is selfish and unrealistic; he tries to escape from life's conflicts into an abstraction of truth, and he desires to impose his views on others. The view of Clym at the end of the novel is ironic; as an itinerant preacher "less than thirty-three," he may suggest a Christ figure; yet in his self-righteousness, he fails to find the meaning of love.
Eustacia, who blames fate for her tragedy, is the novel's most ambiguous character; even the author seems to have ambivalent feelings toward her. She is an exciting, passionate "queen of the night" whose romanticism makes her long to "be loved to madness" by a man great enough to embody her dreams. Allowing her imagination to convince her that Clym can master this role, she marries him, hoping to manipulate him, as she had manipulated Wildeve, and thus get to Paris. After her marriage, however, her liaison with Wildeve is at first innocent; only after Clym banishes her from his house does she agree to accept Wildeve's offer to help her leave the heath. Despite her desperation, Eustacia refuses to be humbled. Realizing that a lack of money will cause her to lose her honor for a man who is "not great enough" to meet her desires, she drowns herself to avoid humiliation. It is more believable that she dies willingly than that her death is accidental because only in death does she seem to find peace.
Although Eustacia has lost in her battle with the heath, her struggle proves that she is a strong, defiant character who is defeated partly by forces beyond her control and partly by her own refusal to give up her dream. Despite her selfishness and hauteur, her lively spirit gives life to the novel and makes her, in the end, its tragic but unforgettable heroine.

 

 

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