Book Review: THE RETURN OF THE NATIVE, by Thomas Hardy

I came across Hardy via The Catcher in the Rye:
...That doesn't happen much though...You take that book Of Human Bondage, by Somerset Maugham. I read it last summer. It's a pretty good book and all, but I wouldn't want to call Somerset Maugham up. I don't know. He isn't the kind of guy I'd want to call up, that's all. I'd rather call old Thomas Hardy up. I like that Eustacia Vye.
This reference sent me on a mission to find this Eustacia Vye, and find her I did.

THE RETURN OF THE NATIVE is set on a heath (I had to look up what exactly a "heath" is: "...an extensive area of rather level open uncultivated land usu. with poor coarse soil, inferior drainage, and a surface rich in peat or peaty humus"), in Hardy's own little fictional Wessex.

The story goes roughly as follows: Clym Yeobright returns to the heath after several years spent in Paris, to find romance, scandal and tragedy awaiting him. His cousin, Thomasin, has been disgraced by the innkeeper, Damon Wildeve, who is in love with the aloof and haughtily romantic Eustacia Vye, who harbors certain feelings for Clym himself, whose Parisian lifestyle makes him more attractive to Eustacia than any dashing good looks or riches could do. Lurking in the wings is Diggory Venn, the mysterious reddleman who is quite taken with Thomasin but has been rebuffed--nevertheless, he makes it his mission to see her happily wed to Wildeve, if not to himself.

Whew. As you can imagine, this could be updated rather easily to a romantic comedy starring, say, Ben Affleck and Sandra Bullock (though we'd have to fatten her up a bit to make a decent Eustacia Vye).

The many sets of star-crossed lovers and mistaken identities and narrowly missed opportunities make for a fantastic tale of romantic intrigue. Eustacia's lofty air, her idleness and her raven curls are a bit reminicent of Emma Bovary, but in a more frantic, funny way. Hardy uses the weather and the wildlife and the open loneliness of the heath to his story's advantage, setting the lovers' meetings against a pitchblack writhing sky, or a bare, blue one. The characters' feelings toward the landscape itself provide an interesting foundation for their actions and emotions--few things are more dramatic than Eustacia weeping on the heath at midnight, alone.

Also, THE NATIVE has the best chapter titles: "A Coalition Between Beauty and Oddness", "Sharp Words are Spoken and a Crisis Ensues", "She Goes Out to Battle Against Depression", "Rough Coercion is Employed" and more! I loved them, and took to reading them outloud, much to my husband's dismay.

I had little interest in Hardy before reading THE NATIVE, but now I shall go forth and hunt down his other novels, one by one, beginning with either Jude the Obscure (what a great title!) or Tess of D'Urbervilles (not so great--I can't spell that one). I'd rather like to call up old Thomas Hardy myself, though the fact that he's dead does present certain difficulties.


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