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Return of the Native by Thomas Hardy

19th Century ficton set in rural England

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You can go home again--but it might not be a good idea

  • Jul 9, 2014
You know how in a Dickens novel pretty much every thing works out happily in the end?  Yeah, that doesn't happen here.  Hardy followed up his "comedy in chapters" (The Hand of Ethelberta), where superficially or potentially tragic events turned out for the good, with "Return of the native", where everything that appears tragic is tragic and almost nothing ends well.  What raises this to classic level is Hardy's unflinching (and daring for its time) realism as his characters think, act, and speak in words and ways that are recognizably human, personal, and even modern.  Hardy draws the reader into the pace of events in such a way that, like the best mystery novel, Native reaches a point of must-finish reading about half way through.  This is uncommon praise for "classic literature" and the tragic drama that Hardy is best known for writing.

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.

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July 12
Sounds like good reading in the tradition of Dickens with a twist!
July 10
I read some of Tess and Jude the Obscure and had some difficulty really getting into Hardy. Maybe I will give this one a look.
More Return of the Native by Thomas... reviews
review by . July 13, 2010
So Thomas Hardy is obsessed with stalling maidens who won't quite commit to marrying the bachelor charecters but string them along.   In this book the stalling overlaps into a marriage with a guy who almost goes blind.  The wife (named Bethsheba) starts thinking about running off to Paris with an old boyfriend to get away from her pathetic, blind husband and guilt about her mother in law.  Does it sound corny?  Its not.  I bet feminists will think the …
About the reviewer
Todd Stockslager ()
Ranked #37
I love reading and writing about what I have read, making the connections and marking the comparisons and contrasts. God has given man the amazing power to invent language and the means to record it which … more
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