Clym Yeobright is the native returning to the heath wastelands of fictional Wessex, after "making it" in exotic Paris as a diamond dealer. There he finds his country cousin Thomasin entangled in a romantic triangle with aloof outsider Eustachia Vye and scheming innkeeper Wildeve (Hardy as always goes way off the beaten track with his character names). Clym has his own secret--he has no plans to return to Paris--and when he gets pulled back into the tight knit ebb and flow of personalities and relationships in the small and sometimes constricting confines of the community, the web of romance, tragedy, marriage, love, hate, understandings, misunderstandings and death expands.
Hardy's characters are powerful actors with free will driven by morality but confined by the social boundaries and expectations of family, class, and community. They make mistakes but they also make tough decisions without flinching from them--and when they do they understand the consequences and suffer from them. For example when Eustachia keeps a secret from her husband that results in his mother's death and nearly drives him mad, she defends her action but punishes herself more severely than he could ever have done. There is no place in Hardy's world for escaping the consequences or shirking the sure hand of responsibility or fate.
Despite the seemingly bottomless doom and relentless spiral of tragedy, Hardy's power as a writer keeps the reader's eye riveted. His description of people and place is precise in its realism, and his capture of dialogue and emotion is sure and passionate, and the community, events, and people are by turn recognizable and real in a way that never strikes a false note that this is "just" a fiction about a people and a place that do not exist. They do at times find humor and pleasure in their world and their place in it even in the midst of tragedy, and that is the true measure of Native's position as a classic.
What did you think of this review?