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A Database of Victorian Fiction, 1837–1901

A Database of Victorian Fiction, 1837–1901

Title: The Return of the Native

Author and Title: Thomas Hardy. The Return of the Native

First Edition: London: Smith, Elder, 1878. 3 volumes, 31s. 6d.

Serialization: Belgravia, illustrated by Arthur Hopkins, January 1878 to December 1878 (monthly)

Summary: Illustrated with a map. The story takes place in Egdon Heath and opens with Diggory Venn, a reddleman, escorting his van toward the local town. Asleep in the back is Thomasin Yeobright, who was supposed to marry Damon Wildeve, a local inn owner, that day in a neighboring town. Their wedding could not come to fruition due to a mistake on the wedding license, but Thomasin and her aunt, Mrs. Yeobright, harbor suspicions that Wildeve does not truly intend to marry her. Venn, who has an unrequited romantic interest in Thomasin, delivers her back to her aunt’s house, Bloom’s End. Despite being rejected by Thomasin a few years ago, Venn is an upstanding and honest man whose genuine interest in Thomasin’s happiness makes him willing to step aside in favor of Wildeve. Mrs. Yeobright had previously opposed publicly the marriage of Thomasin and Wildeve. Though she eventually agrees to the union, her opposition leaves her and Wildeve at odds. Because Thomasin left town to marry Wildeve and has now returned unmarried, she must stay out of the public’s eye until Wildeve can obtain a new license and marry her. In the meantime, though, Wildeve rekindles a flirtation with his former lover, Eustacia Vye. Eustacia and Wildeve previously courted, but their interest in each other faltered out of boredom and lack of alternative partners. Eustacia yearns for a life more exotic and interesting than the one Egdon Heath can provide. Because she grew up in Budmouth, a nearby seaside town, and believes herself to be destined for greater things, many of the locals believe she is a witch. Upon hearing that Wildeve was to marry Thomasin, her interest in him is rekindled, as is his in her. Mrs. Yeobright’s son Clym Yeobright returns from living and working in Paris. The locals conjure Clym to be an exotic man-of-the-world, and their description intrigues Eustacia. Clym returns to Egdon Heath, however, to give up his trade as a diamond merchant and become a rural schoolmaster, but Eustacia believes he is her ticket out of the rural town and into the social life of Paris. Eustacia sneaks into Clym’s homecoming party and the two meet and eventually fall in love. Mrs. Yeobright opposes Clym’s interest in Eustacia, driving a wedge between her and her son. Despite her objection, Clym and Eustacia get married. When Wildeve sees Eustacia and Clym together, he marries Thomasin. Clym begins to read heavily in preparation for his new occupation as a schoolmaster, causing his eyes to become irritated and he temporarily loses his vision. While he rests and waits for his eyes to recover, he takes the job of cutting furze, a position of manual labor which embarrasses Eustacia, whose lofty dreams of moving to Paris crumble before her eyes. Wildeve unexpectedly inherits a large sum of money and calls upon Eustacia while Clym is taking a nap after a hard day of work. Meanwhile, Mrs. Yeobright has decided to make amends with her son and walks the long distance to his house in the heat of the day to visit. Eustacia, after a recent encounter with Mrs. Yeobright in which the two exchange heated words, does not immediately open the door when Mrs. Yeobright knocks. Eustacia does not want to be seen with Wildeve because of their romantic history and she believes Clym will wake up from his nap and answer the door. However, Clym does not wake up, and Mrs. Yeobright leaves brokenhearted, thinking that her son has turned her away intentionally. On the way back to her house, she is overcome with exhaustion and, while resting by the side of the road, is bitten by a poisonous snake. Clym goes to visit his mother that evening to make amends and finds her dying on the side of the road. A neighbor boy eventually tells Clym about Mrs. Yeobright’s visit and Wildeve’s presence at his house. Clym angerly confronts Eustacia and the two passionately argue. Eustacia returns to live with her grandfather. Wildeve offers to help Eustacia escape to Budmouth and to accompany her as her lover. Eustacia accepts. On the designated night of their departure, Clym sends a letter to Eustacia in an attempt to repair their relationship, but the letter never reaches her. Thomasin guesses that Wildeve is about to leave her, so she sends warning to Clym, who attempts to intercept Wildeve and Eustacia. Wildeve is a few minutes late in arriving to pick up Eustacia, and she throws herself into the local weir out of despair. Wildeve and Clym both jump in after her, but they are unable to save her. Wildeve drowns in the process. After a little time passes, Thomasin marries Venn, who has become a dairy farmer. Clym becomes an open-air preacher, using his tragic experiences as a moral guide for others. (SCT)

Title Tags:

References: BL; EC; Illinois; Sutherland; Vann


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