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The Return of the Nativeby Thomas Hardy
Synopses & Reviews
The Return of the Native combines all of the great themes of Thomas Hardy's works. Wonderful descriptions of the English countryside underscore a rural tale of doomed love, passion, and melancholy. The novel opens with the famous portrait of Egdon Heath, the wild, haunted Wessex moor that D. H. Lawrence called 'the real stuff of tragedy' of the book. The heath's changing face mirrors the fortunes of the farmers, innkeepers, sons, mothers, and lovers that populate the novel. The 'native' is Clym Yeobright, coming home from a successful, cosmopolitan life in Paris, a place far removed from the unforgiving landscape of Egdon Heath. He finds that his cousin, Thomasin, is about to marry Damon Wildeve, a rakish and confused man with a lover, Eustacia Vye, whom he cannot forget. Eustacia is willful, ambitious, and dangerously alluring. Hardy describes her as 'the raw material of a divinity. . . . She had Pagan eyes, full of nocturnal mysteries.' As the characters are drawn together, they scheme and maneuver, often under the eye of Diggory Venn, the reddleman whose relentless virtue must find its reward at the violent climax of the novel.
The Return of the Native was first published in Belgravia magazine in twelve parts in 1878 and revised by Hardy in 1895 and in 1912, when he produced the definitive Wessex Edition of all of his novels. Described on publication by Harper's magazine as 'delightful reading,' it has retained its power to move and absorb the reader and stands with The Mayor of Casterbridge and Jude the Obscure among the finest of Hardy's works.
This fine novel sets in opposition two of Thomas Hardy's most unforgettable creations:his heroine, the sensuous, free-spirited Eustacia Vye, and the solemn, majestic stretch of upland in Dorsetshire he called Egdon Heath.The famous opening reveals the haunting power of that dark, forbidding moon where proud Eustacia fervently awaits a clandestine meeting with her lover, Damon Wildeve.But Eustacia's dreams of escape are not to be realized--neither Wildeve nor the retuming native Clym Yeobright can bring her salvation.Injured by forces beyond their control, Hardy's characters struggle vainly in the net of destiny.In the end, only the face of the lonely heath remains untouched by fate in this masterpiece of tragic passion, a tale that perfectly epitomizes the author's own unique and melancholy genius.
From the Paperback edition.
About the Author
Thomas Hardy was born on June 2, 1840, in a thatched-roof cottage in upper Bockhampton, Dorset, England, a prophetic birthplace that lay in the center of 'Wessex,' the fictional region of southwest England which would serve as the backdrop for his novels. The eldest son of a prosperous builder and stonemason, Hardy was educated at the village school and apprenticed at the age of sixteen to local architect and church restorer John Hicks. In 1862 he went to London to pursue his architectural career; he also began writing at this time. Hardy returned to Dorset in 1867 to become assistant to John Hicks and wrote his first novel, The Poor Man and the Lady, of which only fragments remain. Although George Meredith, who was reader for Chapman & Hall publishers, advised against its publication, he encouraged Hardy to keep writing, preferably a story with a more complicated plot. Over the next several years he produced three more novels: Desperate Remedies (1871) and Under the Greenwood Tree (1872) were published anonymously, but A Pair of Blue Eyes (1873) bore the author's name.
In November 1872, Leslie Stephen, the distinguished critic and editor, wrote to Hardy inviting him to contribute a novel for serialization in the Cornhill Magazine, a prestigious monthly that had published the work of such established writers as Anthony Trollope. Hardy accepted and in his letter to Stephen added that 'the chief characters would probably be a young woman-farmer, a shepherd, and a sergeant of cavalry.' He wrote Far from the Madding Crowd both in and out of doors at Bockhamptom as if possessed. 'Occasionally without a scrap of paper at the very moment when [I] felt volumes . . . [I] would use large dead leaves, white chips left by the woodcutters, or pieces of stone or slate that came to hand,' Hardy later recalled. Published anonymously in 1874, Far from the Madding Crowd sold out in just over two months and marked the turning point in Hardy's literary career. As Virginia Woolf later noted: 'The subject was right; the method was right; the poet and the countryman, the sensual man, the sombre reflective man, the man of learning, all enlisted to produce a book which, however fashions may chop and change, must hold its place among the great English novels.'
The success of Far from the Madding Crowd in 1874 encouraged Hardy to abandon architecture and devote himself entirely to the craft of fiction. His next novel, The Hand of Ethelberta (1876), also appeared in the Cornhill Magazine but did not repeat the success of its predecessor. In 1874 Hardy married Emma Lavinia Gifford, and the couple soon settled in an idyllic cottage overlooking the Dorset Stour, at Sturminster Newton, where Hardy wrote The Return of the Native (1878). In 1878 he moved to London. Although he became a well-known figure in literary circles and was considered a catch for hostesses, Hardy wrote three disappointing 'minor' novels during his years there: The Trumpet-Major (1880), A Laodicean (1881), and Two on a Tower (1882). This fallow period in his career seemed to lift in 1885 with his return to Dorset to live at Max Gate. Over the next three years he published The Mayor of Casterbridge (1886), which many regard as his greatest tragic novel, The Woodlanders (1887), and his first collection of short stories, Wessex Tales (1888). In 1891 Tess of the d'Urbervilles appeared, and in 1895 Hardy's final novel, Jude the Obscure, came out. The book sent shock waves of indignation rolling across Victorian England. It was denounced as pornography and subjected the author to an avalanche of abuse. Hardy's disgust at the public's reaction led him to announce in 1896 that he would never again write fiction.
During the remaining years of his life, Hardy devoted himself to poetry, publishing his first book of verse, Wessex Poems, in 1898. A second collection, Poems of the Past and Present, appeared in 1901. Over the next five years Hardy wrote The Dynasts, an epic drama about the Napoleonic War. In 1912 he made a final revision of his novels for the authoritative Wessex Editions. Hardy's wife died suddenly the same year. In February 1914 he married his longtime secretary, Florence Emily Dugdale. Over the next decade Hardy continued to write poetry and to work on his autobiography, The Early Life of Thomas Hardy, which was supposedly authored by his second wife and published posthumously. Thomas Hardy died in Dorset on January 11, 1928. His heart was buried in the Wessex countryside in the parish churchyard at Stinsford; his ashes were placed next to those of Charles Dickens in the Poets' Corner of Westminster Abbey.
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