“Of love it may be said, the less earthly the less demonstrative. In its absolutely indestructible form it reaches a profundity in which all exhibition of itself is painful.”
The Return of the Native by Thomas Hardy is the first classic I've read and completely finished in recent months. It was the perfect choice as my first classic "back in the game" of regular blogging and reminded me why I love classics so much in the first place. Because while YA and genre fiction is fun and entertaining, it doesn't give me as much satisfaction and love as a classic does. Not to mention, Hardy is a superb writer and never disappoints me.
I've come to expect a number of things from Hardy when I read one of his novels-well-developed and rounded characters, a beautiful backdrop, and tragedy. The Return of the Native lives up to those things (although, I still think Jude the Obscure wins for being the most tragic of all the Hardy novels I've read).
The novel takes place in Egdon Heath-a beautiful piece of country that provides the dramatic backdrop to the actions of the characters. The main conflict of the novel centers on a very elaborate love triangle...err...square. Or something of that sort. The lonely Diggory Venn is a reddlemen in the area and is desperately in love with Thomasin Yeobright. She, while acknowledging the fact that Venn loves her, has already pledged herself to Wildeve (a man who has already messed up their wedding day once as the novel opens). However, Wildeve is also a bit confused about his feelings, as he also loves a woman named Eustacia Vye. It all comes to a head when Thomasin's cousin, Clym Yeobright "returns" from Paris and catches the attention of Eustacia (he is the native the title refers to). The rest of the novel is one of deception, false hopes, and the loss of hope as the characters struggle to understand their identities and who they actually love.
What I loved most about this novel is the way Hardy constructed the two quietest characters. The first, Thomasin Yeobright, is a woman who is very quiet. She is insistent on marrying Wildeve, even after he made her look quite scandalous, because it is the right thing to do. After that decision, she is a character that things happen to. She lives her life, relatively content in the decision she made, and things happen around her to change her life. The second quiet character, Venn, is one that I quite loved. He's very central in the beginning and end of the novel, but disappears for a bit in the middle. When the reader first meets him, he is pining for dear Thomasin and even proposes marriage to her. Once he learns that she won't have him, he insists on making sure that her life is as happy as possible. There are a couple of instances where he interferes in the actions of Wildeve or Eustacia to ensure Thomasin's happiness. That's the kind of man I can admire. He is more concerned with her happiness than winning her hand.
The other character I quite enjoyed is Thomasin's aunt and Clym's mother, Mrs. Yeobright. She appeared to be one of those meddling type of women, who assume their thoughts and wishes are the only way, and it must be done as they say. She is not content with the decisions either of her two charges take and winds up quite lonely. Her story was certainly one of the most tragic-I imagine watching your children pull away from you is quite a miserable experience.
As for Clym...I really liked him and his hopes. He came back from Paris with the hopes of opening a school to educate his people-and he was focused on that dream throughout all the actions of the novel. He didn't waver from pursuing that dream, even with Eustacia's pressure to go back to Paris. His fate, by the end of the novel, was also quite tragic and I felt badly for him.
In all, the novel is really about the idea of hopes and dreams-and what steps you are willing to take to achieve them. All of the characters are consumed by something out of reach and it is their decision to either let the dream go (like dear Venn and his love for Thomasin), or to continue to pursue it, no matter the cost (like Eustacia's constant brooding and desire to leave Egdon Heath for Paris). Whether they get what they want or something else entirely is something I won't tell you.
This is definitely one of my favorite Hardys so far, and an excellent piece of Victorian fiction. I cannot recommend it enough!
“How I have tried and tried to be a splendid woman, and how destiny has
been against me! ...I do not deserve my lot! ...O, the cruelty of
putting me into this ill-conceived world! I was capable of much; but I
have been injured and blighted and crushed by things beyond my control!
O, how hard it is of Heaven to devise such tortures for me, who have
done no harm to heaven at all!”