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The Return of the Native (Modern Library) - Thomas Hardy ”I read a lot of classical books like The Return of the Native and all, and I like them,” says Holden Caulfield in The Catcher in the Rye. “I like that Eustacia Vye.”

Catherine Zeta Jones as Eustacia Vye

Eustacia Vye is a young maid filled with longing for the city of Paris, for new experiences,fresh sights, sounds that have never rang her ears before, and a lover to fill her heart with dewy-eyed passion. She lives on the moors of Wessex in the midst of a small collection of dwellings called Egdon Heath. For some, the moors are mystical and strangely beautiful filled with wildlife and wonder, but for Miss Vye the countryside provokes melancholy and despair. She is a beautiful lass, so beautiful that men are struck mute in her presence and left trembling in her wake.

”Her presence brought memories of such things as Bourbon roses, rubies, and tropical midnights; her moods recalled lotus-eaters and the march in ‘Athalie’; her motions, the ebb and flow of the sea; her voice, the viola. In a dim light, and with a slight rearrangement of her hair, her general figure might have stood for that of either of the higher female deities. The new moon behind her head, an old helmet upon it, a diadem of accidental dewdrops round her brow, would have been adjuncts sufficient to strike the note of Artemis, Athena, or Hear respectively, with as close an approximation to the antique as that which passes muster on many respected canvases.”

There is a sweet scene when a young lad named Charley strikes a deal with her to allow her to get her way. She offers him money.
He shook his head. ‘Money won’t do it.’
‘What will, then, Charley?’ said Eustacia in a disappointed tone.
‘You know what you forbad me at the maypoling, miss,’ murmured the lad, without looking at her.
‘Yes,’ said Eustacia, with a little more hauteur, ‘You wanted to join hands with me in the ring, if I recollect?’
‘Half an hour of that, and I’ll agree, miss.’
Eustacia regarded the youth steadfastly. He was three years younger than herself, but apparently not backward for his age. ‘Half an hour of what?’ she said, though she guessed what.
‘Holding your hand in mine.’
She was silent. ‘Make it a quarter of an hour,’ she said.
‘Yes Miss Eustacia--I will, if I may kiss it too.

That scene made me nostalgic for a time when holding a girl’s hand was the penultimate moment of an evening.

I’m not going to discuss plot, but to give you some idea of the complexity of passions cavorting on the moors I will outline the problems that lead to a host of heavy sighs, wildly beating hearts, and hands thrown over foreheads in exasperation. (Me included.)

Clym Yeobright, the returning native that inspires the title of this novel is in love with Eustacia Vye. Eustacia Vye is in love with Clym, but also burns a candle or in this case a pile of furze for Damon Wildeve. Damon Wildeve falls in love with Eustacia Vye, but throws her over for Thomasin Yeobright; and yet, continues to look longingly at Eustacia Vye. The man just can’t make up his mind. Diggory Venn the red faced reddleman is head over heels in love with Thomasin Yeobright. The writers for The Bold and the Beautiful have nothing on Hardy.

Map of the fictional Egdon Heath

Clym’s mother is incensed that he would give up his wonderful job in Paris to move back to Egdon Heath and then to add insult to injury that he would pick up with that Vye girl.”You are blinded Clym,” she said warmly. “It was a bad day for you when you first set eyes on her. And your scheme is merely a castle in the air built on purpose to justify this folly which has seized you, and to salve your conscience on the irrational situation you are in.” As I was reading this I kept thinking to myself Clym, my word, tell your mother to open up her eyes and see that Eustacia is a Bourbon rose and what is a red blooded English male supposed to do when faced with a Catherine Zeta Jones beauty? He marries her by god.

Clym has returned with the idea that he will open a school and teach the poor children of the district. He studies morning, noon, and night cramming all the knowledge he can into his noggin from the books he can find. His mother may have cursed him when she accused him of being blind because the result of that regimented schedule is that he becomes sick and loses his eyesight. As his eyesight gradually comes back he is eventually able to see well enough to cut furze or gorse to keep a bit of money coming in while waiting for his eyesight to recover. Gorse is a plant that grows on the heath that is edible for livestock to eat or could be used as kindling for fires. This is not the job that Eustacia expects her educated husband to be seen doing. She is embarrassed and lets him know.

Furze Cutter

Yeobright placed his hand on her arm. ‘Now, don’t you suppose, my inexperienced girl, that I cannot rebel, in high Promethean fashion, against the gods and fate as well as you. I have felt more steam and smoke of that sort than you have ever heard of. But the more I see of life the more do I perceive that there is nothing particularly great in its greatest walks, and therefore nothing particularly small in mine of furze-cutting. If I feel that the greatest blessings vouchsafed to us are not very valuable, how can I feel it to be any great hardship when they are taken away?’

I really liked Yeobright. He is a man out of place where he was born; and yet, even though he was successful in the city competing against the best and brightest he has a vision to return to where he was born and give back to his community. I love those stories today about those people who are smart enough and brave enough to rise above the slums they are raised in. They escape to trail blaze a pathway to success for others and return to the slums to raise up those less fortunate. They provide a role model for kids with parents who have long given up on improving their place on the cosmic scale. Unfortunately Yeobright is a man ahead of his time. In consequence of this relatively advanced position, Yeobright might have been called unfortunate. The rural world was not ripe for him. A man should be only partially before his time: to be completely to the vanward in aspirations is fatal to fame. Had Philip’s warlike son been intellectually so far ahead as to have attempted civilization without bloodshed, he would have been twice the godlike hero that he seemed, but nobody would have heard of an Alexander.


This book is considered one of Thomas Hardy’s masterpieces. The range of emotion expressed during the youthful exuberance of unmitigated passionate young love definitely drew me out of my comfort zone. The writing is superb even though the prose at times turns a darkening shade of purple. There is so much more to this book than what I have discussed today. These are mere samplings of the highlights this book has to offer. I stumbled through the first hundred pages, but then I started clicking with Hardy’s writing. I am so glad I hung in there to put a check mark by another must read classic.