Return Of The Native Essay Questions

  • 1

    Analyse the evidence which suggests that Eustacia had supernatural qualities. What impact do these suggestions have on her as a character?

    There is considerable evidence to support the implication that Eustacia has a supernatural association. Susan Nunsuch believes Eustacia to be a witch, as her attack in church testifies. Mrs. Yeobright also voices the speculation that Eustacia is a witch when describing her to Clym. Other locals find her equally bewitching.

    Though Hardy played down these references in a later draft to ensure the novel's publication, Eustacia does remain a singular character. Her use of fire to attract Wildeve, her death by drowning, and her sexual allure all give her a sense of otherworldliness. One could argue that her sexual allure is meant to explain the accusations leveled at Eustacia, though Hardy could never have been so explicit in his own time. Regardless of how natural or supernatural she is, Eustacia is defined less by who she is in the novel than by what she is not: a local on the heath who is willing to accept her place.

  • 2

    Select evidence to support the assertion that the heath is a character within the novel.

    As the whole of the novel's first chapter is devoted to the heath, its centrality to the story is inarguable. The heath often serves as a catalyst to events, such as the death of Mrs. Yeobright and the death of Eustacia. Further, the characters are often defined by their relationship to the heath. Thomasin, Diggory, and the locals have a symbiotic relationship with it, so that the changes in seasons help to understand their own personal changes. For instance, Thomasin becomes ready for new love when May comes around. Eustacia, on the other hand, is defined by her antagonism to the heath. Because she rages so terribly against it, she engineers her own demise at its hands. Though Hardy does not give the heath an explicit supernatural power, he does frequently personify it to help explain how it both informs and affects the lives around it, much like an actual character would.

  • 3

    What purpose do the heath dwellers serve in the text?

    The lower class residents parallel the chorus from Greek tragedies, and the commoners in Shakespeare’s plays. Often, they impart information – such as Cantle relating the birth of Thomasin’s baby. They also provide deeper perspective on the events of the story than the main characters could. In particular, some of the novel's themes - like education, modernity, and religion - are emphasized because the outside perspective allows the reader new ways to interpret the story. The heath dwellers are also catalysts to the wider action: Christian Cantle’s gambling prompts the Yeobright rift, and Johnny Nunsuch facilitates the meeting of Eustacia and Wildeve with his fire.

  • 4

    "Clym’s true analogy would appear to have been less with Oedipus and Prometheus than with Hamlet." - John Paterson

    Consider the novel in the light of this statement.

    Clym certainly has qualities reminiscent of all three characters mentioned in Paterson's statement. His anxiety to please his mother is arguably excessive, and accounts for the large emotions that facilitate the tragic end. By seeing his relationship with Mrs. Yeobright as equal to that with Eustacia, Clym disappoints both women. In this way, his situation is certainly a manifestation of the Oedipus complex.

    His connection to Prometheus lies in the way he brings home tales of Paris that captivate Eustacia and expedite her desire to leave Egdon. However, this information has a deadly side as well, since it creates an expectation in her that he cannot fulfill, thus facilitating the tragic end.

    However, what are most directly responsible for the tragic end are Clym's self-absorption and procrastination, both qualities that tie him to Hamlet. Because he can only see the world through his own perspective, he does not realize how much unhappiness Eustacia feels, and hence unwittingly treats her cruelly. Further, he procrastinates both in forming a school in Budmouth, as he initially plans, and in reuniting with his mother and later with Eustacia. More agency in any of these situations would have changed the course of events, but he is too defined by his brooding and self-obsession to take swifter action, as someone like Diggory might.

  • 5

    Explore instances of humor in the text, and explain what they contribute to the story.

    Though this is undoubtedly a tragic novel, there are many humorous situations that reinforce the idea that even great human tragedies are minor in the scheme of time and the heath. The humor is mostly linked to the heath dwellers, whom Hardy uses similarly to the way Shakespeare used his common characters. They both bring a broad humor, and represent the absurdity of human concerns.

    Christian’s Cantle’s mournful dialogue on being single provides an excellent example of bathos, and also helps to develop the theme of superstition with in the novel. These people will continue to live the way they do no matter what tragedy happens in the meanwhile.

  • 6

    How does money complicate the relationships within the novel?

    In exploring the conflict between traditional life and the modern world, Hardy does not explore class as much as he does other situations. However, money provides an interesting lens into the novel, since characters seem happiest when money is not a concern, and when they put relationships before material wealth. Money – or at least the life one can have with it – captivates several of the characters, and causes mostly suffering.

    Money corrupts the naïve Christian Cantle as he descends swiftly into gambling Mrs. Yeobright's money. Eustacia is swayed by the idea of the life of a Parisian diamond merchant much more than one as the wife of a country schoolteacher. Her passion for the potential which Clym afford wanes quickly, and her desire for Wildeve is rekindled at his vast inheritance. Her unhappiness - caused by a lack of material options on the heath - is a major contributing factor to her tragic end. Even Thomasin trades her girlish innocence for a mature pragmatism when she marries Wildeve over Diggory, since the former can provide more for her. In choosing status over affection, characters tend to sow the seeds of future unhappiness.

  • 7

    Which male character do you consider to be the most – or least - convincing in the novel?

    This novel is often criticized for a melodramatic tone and larger-than-life characters. Most answers to this question should consider major characters such as Damon Wildeve, Diggory Venn or Clym Yeobright. Wildeve is credible in his selfish indecisiveness between the affections of Thomasin and Eustacia. His cruelty is entirely believable. Venn is enigmatic, loyal, honourable and constant, though he often seems to have a heroic power to arrive exactly when needed. Yeobright is arrogant, naïve, and yet apparently educated and worldly. Though the most travelled of the male characters, he is often the most narrow minded. His lack of emotional literacy is astonishing in a man so keen to educate others, suggesting that he is comprised of contradictory personalities that make him difficult to fully believe.

  • 8

    How does Hardy depict tradition in the novel? Does he approve of it or condemn it?

    Most certainly, Hardy is enamored of tradition and its power. He sets his narrative against a backdrop of traditions, some of which are as timeless as the heath itself. We are told of the dying trade of the reddleman, of the enduring rituals of the mummers, and of the Mayday celebrations, amongst many other examples. With each event and custom, Hardy reflects on how these actions are ingrained within the people and the environment. Mrs. Yeobright casts a shoe at Thomasin for her wedding, not knowing why she makes such a gesture other than that tradition demands it. The bonfires which commemorate Guy Fawkes have been a feature of heath life since Druid times, and their flames still keep human passions kindled. However, Hardy is willing to express skeptcisim about tradition - he criticizes the mummers for lacking any true passion, and suggests that traditional fear of witches can lead poeople like Susan Nunsuch to cruelty. The best answer to this question is that Hardy presents tradition with all of its contradictions intact, more interest in honesty than judgment.

  • 9

    To what degree does The Return of the Native follow the structure of Greek tragedy?

    Hardy initially intended to structure the novel in imitation of Greek tragedy, using a five book structure and characters of high social standing. Even though he revised some of these elements to ensure publication, the novel still conforms to Greek tragedy in certain structural ways, and in its depiction of the tragic force. The final version still maintains the use of a chorus that comments on the action, and uses many messengers, as Greek plays did. Further, its sense of tragedy - the forces in life that can destroy men no matter their inner strength - is very much akin to the perspective espoused by many of the most enduring Greek tragedies.

  • 10

    How does Hardy depict education in the novel?

    Hardy presents a contradictory perspective on education in the novel, by exploring both arguments for it and against it. Education, as equated with wealth and worldliness, is admired by most people, though the locals on the heath are wary of such attitudes compromising their more natural, Earthly lifestyle. In fact, some of them, like Captain Vye, see education as dangerous. Hardy does suggest that education cannot easily coexist with natural qualities through his depiction of Clym's good looks, which are compromised by his intellectual pursuits. Clym's educational philosophy is implicity criticized when it drives him to blindness and failure. Hardy does not seem to firmly answer the question of education, other than by suggesting that there is no answer that works for everyone.

  • The Return of the Native is Thomas Hardy's sixth published novel. It first appeared in the magazine Belgravia, a publication known for its sensationalism, and was presented in twelve monthly installments from January to December 1878. Because of the novel's controversial themes, Hardy had some difficulty finding a publisher; reviews, however, though somewhat mixed, were generally positive. In the twentieth century, The Return of the Native became one of Hardy's most popular novels.[1]

    Plot summary[edit]

    The novel takes place entirely in the environs of Egdon Heath, and, with the exception of the epilogue, Aftercourses, covers exactly a year and a day. The narrative begins on the evening of Guy Fawkes Night as Diggory Venn is slowly crossing the heath with his van, which is being drawn by ponies. In his van is a passenger. When darkness falls, the country folk light bonfires on the surrounding hills, emphasising—not for the last time—the pagan spirit of the heath and its denizens.

    Venn is a reddleman; he travels the country supplying farmers with a red mineral called reddle (dialect term for red ochre) that farmers use to mark their sheep. Although his trade has stained him red from head to foot, underneath his devilish colouring he is a handsome, shrewd, well-meaning young man. His passenger is a young woman named Thomasin Yeobright, whom Venn is taking home. Earlier that day, Thomasin had planned to marry Damon Wildeve, a local innkeeper known for his fickleness; however, an inconsistency in the marriage licence delayed the marriage. Thomasin, in distress, ran after the reddleman's van and asked him to take her home. Venn himself is in love with Thomasin, and unsuccessfully wooed her two years before. Now, although he believes Wildeve is unworthy of her love, he is so devoted to her that he is willing to help her secure the man of her choice.

    At length, Venn reaches Bloom's End, the home of Thomasin's aunt, Mrs. Yeobright. She is a good woman, if somewhat proud and inflexible, and she wants the best for Thomasin. In former months she opposed her niece's choice of husband, and publicly forbade the banns; now, since Thomasin has compromised herself by leaving town with Wildeve and returning unmarried, the best outcome Mrs. Yeobright can envision is for the postponed marriage to be duly solemnised as soon as possible. She and Venn both begin working on Wildeve to make sure he keeps his promise to Thomasin.

    Wildeve, however, is still preoccupied with Eustacia Vye, an exotically beautiful young woman living with her grandfather in a lonely house on Egdon Heath. Eustacia is a black-haired, queenly woman, whose Italian father came from Corfu, and who grew up in Budmouth, a fashionable seaside resort. She holds herself aloof from most of the heathfolk; they, in turn, consider her an oddity, and some even think she's a witch. She is nothing like Thomasin, who is sweet-natured. She loathes the heath, yet roams it constantly, carrying a spyglass and an hourglass. The previous year, she and Wildeve were lovers; however, even during the height of her passion for him, she knew she only loved him because there was no better object available. When Wildeve broke off the relationship to court Thomasin, Eustacia's interest in him briefly returned. The two meet on Guy Fawkes night, and Wildeve asks her to run off to America with him. She demurs.

    Eustacia drops Wildeve when Mrs. Yeobright's son Clym, a successful diamond merchant, returns from Paris to his native Egdon Heath. Although he has no plans to return to Paris or the diamond trade and is, in fact, planning to become a schoolmaster for the rural poor, Eustacia sees him as a way to escape the hated heath and begin a grander, richer existence in a glamorous new location. With some difficulty, she arranges to meet Clym, and the two soon fall in love. When Mrs. Yeobright objects, Clym quarrels with her; later, she quarrels with Eustacia as well.

    When he sees that Eustacia is lost to him, Wildeve marries Thomasin, who gives birth to a daughter the next summer. Clym and Eustacia also marry and move to a small cottage five miles away, where they enjoy a brief period of happiness. The seeds of rancour soon begin to germinate, however: Clym studies night and day to prepare for his new career as a schoolmaster while Eustacia clings to the hope that he'll give up the idea and take her abroad. Instead, he nearly blinds himself with too much reading, then further mortifies his wife by deciding to eke out a living, at least temporarily, as a furze-cutter. Eustacia, her dreams blasted, finds herself living in a hut on the heath, chained by marriage to a lowly labouring man.

    At this point, Wildeve reappears; he has unexpectedly inherited a large sum of money, and is now in a better position to fulfill Eustacia's hopes. He comes calling on the Yeobrights in the middle of one hot August day and, although Clym is at home, he is fast asleep on the hearth after a gruelling session of furze-cutting. While Eustacia and Wildeve are talking, Mrs. Yeobright knocks on the door; she has decided to pay a courtesy call in the hopes of healing the estrangement between herself and her son. Eustacia looks out at her and then, in some alarm, ushers her visitor out at the back door. She hears Clym calling to his mother and, thinking his mother's knocking has awakened him, remains in the garden for a few moments. When Eustacia goes back inside, she finds Clym still asleep and his mother gone. Clym, she now realises, merely cried out his mother's name in his sleep.

    Mrs Yeobright, it turns out, saw Eustacia looking out the window at her; she also saw Clym's gear by the door, and so knew they were both at home. Now, thinking she has been deliberately barred from her son's home, she miserably begins the long, hot walk home. Later that evening, Clym, unaware of her attempted visit, heads for Bloom's End and on the way finds her crumpled beside the path, dying from an adder's bite. When she expires that night from the combined effects of snake venom and heat exhaustion, Clym's grief and remorse make him physically ill for several weeks. Eustacia, racked with guilt, dares not tell him of her role in the tragedy; when he eventually finds out from a neighbour's child about his mother's visit—and Wildeve's—he rushes home to accuse his wife of murder and adultery. Eustacia refuses to explain her actions; instead, she tells him You are no blessing, my husband and reproaches him for his cruelty. She then moves back to her grandfather's house, where she struggles with her despair while she awaits some word from Clym.

    Wildeve visits her again on Guy Fawkes night, and offers to help her get to Paris. Eustacia realises that if she lets Wildeve help her, she'll be obliged to become his mistress. She tells him she will send him a signal by night if she decides to accept. Clym's anger, meanwhile, has cooled and he sends Eustacia a letter the next day offering reconciliation. The letter arrives a few minutes too late; by the time her grandfather tries to give it to her, she has already signalled to Wildeve and set off through wind and rain to meet him. She walks along weeping, however, knowing she is about to break her marriage vows for a man who is unworthy of her.

    Wildeve readies a horse and gig and waits for Eustacia in the dark. Thomasin, guessing his plans, sends Clym to intercept him; she also, by chance, encounters Diggory Venn as she dashes across the heath herself in pursuit of her husband. Eustacia does not appear; instead, she falls or throws herself into nearby Shadwater Weir. Clym and Wildeve hear the splash and hurry to investigate. Wildeve plunges recklessly after Eustacia without bothering to remove his coat, while Clym, proceeding more cautiously, nevertheless is also soon at the mercy of the raging waters. Venn arrives in time to save Clym, but is too late for the others. When Clym revives, he accuses himself of murdering his wife and mother.

    In the epilogue, Venn gives up being a reddleman to become a dairy farmer. Two years later, Thomasin marries him and they settle down happily together. Clym, now a sad, solitary figure, eventually takes up preaching.

    Alternative ending[edit]

    In a footnote towards the end of the novel in some compendium editions, Hardy writes:[2]

    The writer may state here that the original conception of the story did not design a marriage between Thomasin and Venn. He was to have retained his isolated and weird character to the last … Thomasin remaining a widow ... But certain circumstances of serial publication led to a change of intent. Readers can therefore choose between the endings, and those with an austere artistic code can assume the more consistent conclusion to be the true one.


    With its deeply flawed heroine and its (for the time) open acknowledgement of illicit sexual relationships, The Return of the Native raised some eyebrows when it first appeared as a serial in Victorian Britain. Although he intended to structure the novel into five books, thus mirroring the classical tragic format, Hardy submitted to the tastes of the serial-reading public sufficiently to tack on a happy ending for Diggory Venn and Thomasin in a sixth book, Aftercourses. In Hardy's original conception, Venn retains his weird reddleman's character, while Thomasin lives out her days as a widow.[3]

    Hardy's choice of themes—sexual politics, thwarted desire, and the conflicting demands of nature and society—makes this a truly modern novel. Underlying these modern themes, however, is a classical sense of tragedy: Hardy scrupulously observes the three unities of time, place, and action and suggests that the struggles of those trying to escape their destinies will only hasten their destruction.[4] To emphasise this main part he uses as setting an ancient heath steeped in pre-Christian history and supplies a Chorus consisting of Grandfer Cantle, Timothy Fairway, and the rest of the heathfolk. Eustacia, who manipulates fate in hopes of leaving Egdon Heath for a larger existence in Paris, instead becomes an eternal resident when she drowns in Shadwater Weir; Wildeve shares not only Eustacia's dream of escape, but also her fate; and Clym, the would-be educational reformer, survives the Weir but lives on as a lonely, remorseful man.

    Some critics—notably D. H. Lawrence—see the novel as a study of the way communities control their misfits. In Egdon Heath, most people (particularly the women) look askance at the proud, unconventional Eustacia. Mrs. Yeobright considers her too odd and unreliable to be a suitable bride for her son, and Susan Nunsuch, who frankly believes her to be a witch, tries to protect her children from Eustacia's supposedly baleful influence by stabbing her with a stocking pin and later burning her in effigy. Clym at first laughs at such superstitions, but later embraces the majority opinion when he rejects his wife as a murderer and adulteress. In this view, Eustacia dies because she has internalised the community's values to the extent that, unable to escape Egdon without confirming her status as a fallen woman, she chooses suicide. She thereby ends her sorrows while at the same time—by drowning in the weir like any woman instead of floating, witchlike—she proves her essential innocence to the community.[5]

    Character list[edit]

    • Clement (Clym) Yeobright—A man of about thirty who gives up a business career in Paris to return to his native Egdon Heath to become a “schoolmaster to the poor and ignorant” (Hardy himself gave up a successful career as a London architect and returned to his native Dorchester to become a writer). "The beauty here visible would in no time be ruthlessly overrun by its parasite, thought." Clym is the "native" to which the book's title refers.
    • Eustacia Vye—A raven-haired young beauty, of half-Italian ancestry, who chafes against her life on the heath and longs to escape it to lead the more adventure-filled life of the world. Some of the heathfolk think she is a witch. Hardy describes her as "the raw material of a divinity" whose "celestial imperiousness, love, wrath, and fervour had proved to be somewhat thrown away on netherward Egdon."
    • Mrs. Yeobright—Clym’s mother, a widow of inflexible standards. Thomasin has lived with her for many years, but Clym is her only child. She strongly disapproves of Eustacia.
    • Thomasin (Tamsin) Yeobright—Clym’s cousin and Mrs. Yeobright's niece, a young girl of gentle ways and conventional expectations. In Hardy's original manuscript, Wildeve tricks her with a false marriage to seduce her. "Mrs Yeobright saw a little figure...undefended except by the power of her own hope."
    • Damon Wildeve—Eustacia's former lover and Thomasin's first husband. He is an ex-engineer who has failed in his profession and who now keeps an inn, "The Quiet Woman"—so-called because its sign depicts a decapitated woman carrying her own head. He has a wandering eye and an appetite for women. "A lady killing career."
    • Diggory Venn—A resourceful man of twenty-four and a reddleman (a travelling seller of reddle, red chalk used for marking sheep). He selflessly protects Thomasin throughout the novel despite the fact that she refused to marry him two years before. He keeps a watchful eye on Eustacia to make sure Wildeve doesn't go back to her. At the end, he renounces his trade to become a dairy farmer like his father, and in doing so loses the red skin. He is then seen as a suitable husband for Thomasin. Venn's red coloration and frequent narrative references to his 'Mephistophelean' or diabolical character are symbolic and important. In one particularly significant chapter ("The Morning and Evening of an Eventful Day"), Venn displays an increasingly unlikely string of good luck, repeatedly rolling dice and defeating a rival. This event makes Venn something of a deus ex machina, as well as a quasi-magical figure. While Hardy abandons these aspects of Venn's character by the end of the novel, during his 'reddleman' phase, Venn lends elements of magical realism and what modern readers would understand to be superheroic elements to the novel.
    • Captain Drew—Eustacia’s grandfather and a former naval officer (renamed Captain Vye in later editions).
    • Timothy Fairway—A sententious man of middle age who is greatly respected by the other heathfolk.
    • Grandfer Cantle—A somewhat senile and always lively ex-soldier of about sixty-nine.
    • Christian Cantle—Grandfer Cantle's fearful and timid thirty-one-year-old son.
    • Humphrey—Clym's eventual colleague, a furze cutter (furze is a low, prickly shrub more commonly called gorse).
    • Susan Nunsuch—Eustacia's nearest neighbour and bitterest enemy who convinces herself that Eustacia's witchery has caused her son's sickliness. In a memorable scene, Susan tries to protect him by making a wax effigy of Eustacia, sticking it full of pins, and melting it in her fireplace while uttering the Lord's Prayer backward. Eustacia drowns later that night.
    • Johnny Nunsuch—Susan’s son, a young boy. He encounters Mrs. Yeobright during her fatal walk home and, in obedience to her wishes, reports her last words to Clym: I am a broken-hearted woman cast off by my son.
    • Charley—A sixteen-year-old boy who works for Captain Drew and who admires Eustacia, largely from afar.
    • Egdon Heath—The setting for all the novel's events; considered by some critics to be the leading character as well.[6] It is profoundly ancient, the scene of intense but long-forgotten pagan lives. As its tumuli attest, it is also a graveyard that has swallowed countless generations of inhabitants without changing much itself. To Thomasin, Clym, and Diggory, it is a benign, natural place; in Eustacia's eyes, it becomes a malevolent presence intent on destroying her.


    The Return of the Native was filmed for Hallmark Hall of Fame and broadcast on television in 1994. It was filmed in Exmoor National Park. The film stars Catherine Zeta Jones as Eustacia Vye, Clive Owen as Damon Wildeve, Ray Stevenson as Clym Yeobright, and Joan Plowright as Mrs. Yeobright. Jack Gold directed.[7]

    In 2010 a film adaptation of The Return of the Native was directed by Ben Westbrook. It is set in the Appalachian Mountains in the 1930s during The Great Depression.[8]

    The novel has also been adapted for the stage several times.

    In popular culture[edit]

    • Monty Python's 1973 record, Matching Tie and Handkerchief includes a sketch called "Novel Writing". In the sketch, a crowd gathers to watch Thomas Hardy begin his latest novel while an enthusiastic sports announcer provides a running commentary. The novel is The Return of the Native.
    • In the early 1970s, Granada Television produced a half-hour documentary in its "Parade" art series entitled Egdon Heath in which an actor portraying Gustav Holst walks across the barren heath while the music from his tone poem Egdon Heath is playing, and sees scenes and characters from the novel which inspired the music.
    • In J. D. Salinger's novel The Catcher in the Rye this novel is mentioned by Holden Caulfield. Caulfield singles out the character, Eustacia Vye, a wild-spirited and confident woman, who is portrayed as an outsider in the community. Holden indicates that he likes a book that makes you feel as if the author is a friend that you could call. He adds that he’d like to call Thomas Hardy, and also that he likes “that Eustacia Vye.” Later he wonders what a nun would think of her.[9]
    • In 1993, the British traditional singer Johnny Collins recorded Diggery Venn the Raddle Man (sic) on his album Pedlar of Songs.
    • In 1994, the Seattle band Thrones released a single entitled "Reddleman".
    • Kansas band The Rainmakers released a song called "Reddleman Coming".
    • The indie band Nightmare of You's 2009 CD Infomaniac contains a song called "Eustacia Vye".
    • Musician Patrick Wolf's song "House" references the novel.


    External links[edit]

    "Unconscious of her presence, he still went on singing." Eustacia watches Clym cut furze in this illustration by Arthur Hopkins for the original Belgravia edition (Plate 8, July 1878).
    1. ^Oxford Reader's Companion to Hardy (Norman Page, editor). Oxford, England: Oxford University Press, 2001, pp. 375–7.
    2. ^Hardy, Thomas (1995). The return of the native. Ware: Wordsworth Editions Ltd. p. 328. ISBN 1853262382. 
    3. ^Oxford Reader's Companion to Hardy, ibid.
    4. ^Asquith, Mark. "A drama of grandeur and unity: Egdon Heath in The Return of the Native". The English Review, 14.1 (Sept 2003): 21(3)
    5. ^Malton, Sara A. "The woman shall bear her iniquity: Death as social discipline in The Return of the Native". Studies in the Novel, Summer 2000.
    6. ^Asquith, Mark. ibid.
    7. ^[1]The Return of the Native IMDb Movie database listing
    8. ^[2]The Return of the Native IMDb Movie database listing
    9. ^Salinger, J. D. The Catcher in the Rye. Little Brown and Company. 1951 page 19 & 110

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