born June 2, 1840, Higher Bockhampton, Dorset, Eng.
died Jan. 11, 1928, Dorchester, Dorset
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
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
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.
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
Tess of the D'Urbervilles
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
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
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.
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
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
Abraham, Hope, and Modesty, the son and young daughters of the
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
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
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.
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.
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
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
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
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
JUDE THE OBSCURE
Type of work: Novel
Author: Thomas Hardy (1840-1928)
Type of plot: Philosophical realism
Time of plot: Nineteenth century
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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
"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
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.
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
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
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.
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
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
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.)
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
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
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