32 of 34 people found the following review helpful
The narrative genius of Hardy,
This review is from: The Return of the Native (Modern Library Classics) (Paperback)
There are two and a half sets of lovers in Thomas Hardy's "The Return of the Native," which, if your math is correct and your idea of the number of lovers in a set concurs with mine, makes five people. Romance, deceit, misunderstanding, and misfortune affect their destinies, and those to whom the novel is cruelest come to tragic ends because they refuse to forgive themselves or others for mistakes.
The central tragic figure is Eustacia Vye, a young woman who has come to live on Egdon Heath with her cantankerous grandfather. Despising the dreariness of the heath and generally secluding herself from the local populace, she is somewhat of an outsider and not well liked by some in the community. She was in love with Damon Wildeve, a former engineer who now owns an inn and is not too happy about it; but their affair has since cooled and Wildeve has turned his attention to a girl named Thomasin Yeobright. Wildeve and Thomasin's wedding is aborted when the marriage license turns out to be invalid, and Thomasin, running home to her aunt in shame and anger, is caught on the rebound by Diggory Venn, her long-time admirer. A word about Venn's profession is in order: He is a "reddleman," who, not unlike the ice cream man in the summertime, rides around the heath in a van selling a strange product that shades its vendor most memorably.
Completing the quintet is Thomasin's cousin Clym Yeobright, an Egdon Heath native who is returning permanently after living for some time in Paris as a diamond merchant. Destiny eventually unites Clym and Eustacia in love, but Clym's mother does not approve of the union; she doesn't like Eustacia, and she fears their being married would prevent or discourage Clym from returning to his lucrative career in Paris. They get married anyway, as do Wildeve and Thomasin on a second try, leaving Venn as the fifth wheel but still not out of the running.
The catalyst for the tragedy of the novel involves an attempted reconciliation between Clym's mother and Eustacia, which results in the kind of ugly situation that could be cleared up by simple explanations and apologies but instead is exacerbated by normal circumstances. On top of this, Wildeve realizes he still loves Eustacia and is willing to help her in any course of action, no matter how lacking in judgment, that she thinks is an appropriate response to her plight.
This novel swells with Hardy's typical narrative genius, but no less impressive than the plot, the characters, the dialogue, and the prose, is the barren but hauntingly beautiful setting of Egdon Heath. Like the famous Casterbridge of his later novel, it is a world unto itself, defined by its own peculiar topography and populated by denizens who, with their own special jargon, customs, and folklore, act as a sort of Greek chorus towards the drama of the principal characters, commenting on events with humor and gravity. The heathmen and women don't much mind the hardships of life; they're the kind of people that will joyfully dance around their bonfires on the barrows even without musical accompaniment.