The Return of the Native

Monday, July 23, 2012

The Return of the Native
by Thomas Hardy

Damn this man can write tragedy! In this novel Hardy creates a love triangle (quadrangle?) that is both beautiful and disastrous. Using his incredible gift for lyrical prose he takes us into the wild land of Egdon Health.

Diggory Venn, a local reddleman, is in love with Thomasin Yeobright. She in turn is in love with Wildeve, a restless self-centered man. He is torn between his feelings for her and his love for Eustacia Vye. Add Thomasin’s cousin Clym Yeobright, the man who catches Eustacia’s eye, to the mix and you’ve got quite the quandary.

Each of the characters is wonderfully developed. We feel Eustacia’s restlessness and Thomasin’s earnest devotion. We long for Venn to find love and Clym to find happiness. We watch their lives unfold with a mix of apprehension and excitement, wondering all the while if the characters are falling in love purely for the escape they offer each other or if their feelings are true. Do they want something because someone else wants it or because it’s truly their heart’s desire?

“The sentiment which lurks more or less in all animate nature – that of not desiring the undesired of other – was lively as a passion in the supsersublte epicurean heart of Eustacia.”

I loved how the health is one of the main characters in the book and all of the characters are shaped by their reaction to it. Eustacia desperately wants to leave it and will do anything to get away. Clym returns from Paris aching for the wild health he loved so much in his childhood. Thomasin feels that she is a country girl and is comfortable living in the health. Only Hardy could make the background setting of a drama such a definitive character in the action. He even describes the effect the health has on the women who live there…
“An environment which would have made a contented woman a poet, a suffering woman a devotee, a pious woman a psalmist, even a giddy woman thoughtful, made a rebellious woman saturnine.”


All of the characters desperately want what they can’t have. Another person, money, success, peace, travel, etc. Even Clym’s mother Mrs. Yeobright longs for different partners for her son and niece. She wants their happiness, but when they’ve chosen their lot in life she has such a hard time accepting it that she perpetuates unhappiness in their lives. Each character is destroyed by their own longing except for Venn. Early in the book he comes to terms with the fact that he’ll never have the woman he truly wants. He accepts that and decides that he’ll do everything he can to make her happy from a distance. Then, in the end he’s the only one who ends up getting what he wanted. It’s a beautiful picture of selfless love.


This book is so beautiful and poignant I just can’t get over it. It’s definitely a new favorite of mine. I’d recommend it if you enjoy Victorian literature, tragic love stories or just gorgeous prose.
 “Love was to her the one cordial which could drive away the eating loneliness of her days.”

“Humanity appears upon the scene, hand-in-hand with trouble.”

“What a strange sort of love to be entirely free from that quality of selfishness which is frequently the chief constituent of the passion and sometimes its only one.”

I read this as part of the Victorian Celebration hosted by Allie at A Literary Odyssey.

p.s. Amanda's recommendation is one of the main reasons I made this books a priority. She was so right!


Kristi said...

Wow...5 stars! That's impressive. I have this one on my kindle. I haven't read any Hardy yet, but I suspect I'll love him too because we seem to share pretty similar reading taste. Which Hardy book would best to read first?

And, I love the first line of your review!

Sandy Nawrot said...

This would be a book I'd normally pick up, but you REALLY make it hard to resist! It sounds positively charming.

Amanda said...

I am so glad you loved it!!!! Right now, I'm not really reading blogs. I barely glance over them all and letting them get marked as read in my GR. But I saw you read this and I HAD to come see what you said! This is still, two years later, a favorite of mine, and I still remember Alan Rickman reading it all to me, haha! :D It's by far my favorite Hardy and I've read four of them now. It's so so good! :)

Jeanne said...

I reread this one just because I found the Alan Rickman audiobook at the public library. His voice really added something to the story.

Ryan said...

I think I've put this novel off far too long.

Melissa (Avid Reader) said...

Kristi - I've only read this one and Jude the Obscure, both were wonderful, but of the two I would say start with this one.

Sandy - I don't know if you would love this one, but if you read it, get the Alan Rickman audio version!

Amanda - Your recommendation is what made this one a must for me. Rickman's reading made all the difference, he's so good!

Jeanne - I agree, his reading was divine!

Ryan - It's worth bumping it up the list!

Aarti said...

Wow, five star review! I have only read one book by Hardy and I enjoyed it, so maybe I should read more deeply in his backlist.

Melissa (Avid Reader) said...

Aarti - I don't give too many 5 star reviews, but I know this is one I'll return to in the future.

Cat said...

You are so right - the man does tragedy so well. I haven't read this one yet but have just finished a reread of Tess of the D'Durbervilles - so sad!

Melissa (Avid Reader) said...

Cat - I'm been looking forward to that one and dreading it in equal measure. I've heard it's pretty heartbreaking.

Sharon said...

Thanks for this review - loved it! I've read Tess and Far From the Madding Crowd, but not The Return of the Native. This will be my next Hardy!

Melissa (Avid Reader) said...

Sharon - I haven't read Tess or Far, I need to get to both of them!