(A) Clym Yeobright
The Hero of the Novel
Clym Yeobright is the hero of the novel. When the story begins he is thirty three-years old. It is his return urn which the novel celebrates. He is young and he is attractive enough to make Eustasia fall in love with him at first sight. He has a significant place in the galaxy of Hardy’s tragic characters, like Jude, Henchard, Gabriel Oak and many others. That Hardy himself looked with love upon the figure of Clym is revealed by his Saying that Clym is, “the nicest among my characters.”
His Simplicity: Lack of Ambition
Clym’s father was an humble farmer, but his mother, Mrs. Yeobright, the daughter of a Curate came of a superior family. Clym has inherited the native simpli’city of his father. “Like him”, says Mrs. Yeobright, “you are getting weary of doing well.” In him, we find an inborn love for simplicity. The sophistications of life are not liked by him. “I cannot enjoy delicacies”, he says, “good things are wasted upon me.” Another notable trait of Clym’s character is his lack of ambition. As the manager of a diamond establishment in Paris, he had lived in the midst of a highly refined and ambitious circle; had be been ambitious, he would have striven hard to attain worldly success. But his inborn love of simplicity and lack of ambition drew his back to his native health.
Relentless and Self-Centred
From his father, Clym has also inherited his self-sacrificing nature, his willingness to work for the welfare of others, and his tenderness and kindness. From his mother, he has inherited his egotism and relentlessness. Thus heredity has played a significant role in contributing to the tragedy of his life by bestowing upon him contradictory qualities. It is for this reason that he is such a source of unhappiness and pain for Mrs. Yeobright, for Eustacia and for himself. Simple and unambitious, Clym is also egotistical; tenderness and kindness of heart is strangely blended in him with firmness. “You will find”, says Mrs. Yeobright to Eustacia, “though he is as gentle as a child with you now; he can be as hard as steel.”
A Promising Boy
As a child, Clym was promising. Much was expected of him. He had made himself known to many as an artist and a scholar, and, “an individual whose fame spreads three or four thousand yards in the time taken by the fame of others similarly situated to travel six or eight hundred, must, of necessity, have something in him.” “It was evident that if he was to be crowned with success in life, it would be in an original way, and if doomed to march to his ruin, he would do so in an original manner.” All expected great things from him, it was certain that he would not remain in the circumstances in which he was born.
His Unpractical Idealism
Clym, the young man going to Paris appeared to take a step towards a successful life, but in Hardy life offers only to deny. Clym’s idealism and his unpractical nature are his ruin. He’ leaves his job and begins his mission of educating and improving the people of Egdon. The relatively advanced intellect of Clym only hastens his misfortunes. He is a man much before his time. “Tlie rural world was not ripe for him. A man should be only partially before his time …….. In the interest of renown, the fonvardness should lie chiefly in the capacity to handle things.” Clym’s unpractical idealism prevents him from seeing and realising that the people of Egdon are not yet ripe for a favourable response to the changes contemplated by him.
Lacks Sense of Proportion
Clym does not possess well-proportioned mind of a prudent and successful man. He is carried away by his own theories and pre-conceived notions. Therefore Clym, “Preaching to Egdon folk that they might rise to a serene comprehensiveness without going through the process of enriching themselves, was not unlike arguing to ancient Chaldeans that in ascending from earth to the pure Empyrean it was not necessary to pass first into the intervening heaven of ether.” Had Clym been less idealistic and more practical, he would have been mediocre, but more successful and happy. With the intuitive grasp of a woman, Eustacia gives a correct estimate of Clym’s lack of proportion : “He is an enthusiast about ideas and careless about outward things.” His enthusiasm about ideas prompts him to leave his business as something idle, vain and effeminate, and lunch his noble mission of educating the Egdon-folk. Clym’s sincerity is not to be doubted, but it is a misplaced and misdirected sincerity. “I get up every morning and see the whole creation groaning and travailing in pain, as St. Paul says, and yet there am I, trafficking in glittering splendours with wealthy women and titled libertines, and pandering to the meanest vanities…….. I, who have health and strength enough for anything.” He, therefore, gives up his job, and returns to Egdon to do his duty towards the suffering humanity of Egdon with such tragic consequences. Such people can hardly do well in life.
Countenance of the Future
The inner struggle of Clym……. the struggle between the opposing forces of simplicity and egotism, tenderness and obstinacy……has left its impression on his face also. He is torn within. In him “an inner strenuousness was preying upon an outer symmetry and they rated his look as singular.” Thought, that disease of the flesh, slowly but steadily and relentlessly, casts wrinkles on his face. “The mind within was beginning to use it as a mere waste-tablet on which to trace its idiosyncracies as they developed themselves.” His is a face indicative not of the years passed, but of the experiences encountered: it conveys, “less the idea of so many years as its age, than of so much experience as its store.” His is a face that foreshadows the countenance of the generations to come: “In Clym Yeobright’s face could be dimly seen the typical countenance of the future…… Tlie view of life as a thing to be put up with replacing that zest for existence which was so intense in early civilization, must ultimately enter so thoroughly into the constitution of the advanced races that its facial expression will become accepted as a new artistic departure ….. Wlial the Greeks only suspected we know well, what their Aeschylus imagined our nursery children feel…. The lineaments which will get embodies in ideals based upon this recognition will probably be akin to those of Yeobright …. His features were attractive in the light of symbols as sounds intrinsically common become attractive in language, and as shapes intrinsically simple become interesting in writing. His face, interested one not as a picture, but as a page ; not by what it was, but by what it recorded …. As for his look, it was a natural cheerfulness striving against depression from without and not quite succeeding. Tlie look suggested isolation, but it revealed something more. As is usual with bright natures, the dirt that lies ignominiously chained within an ephemeral human carcass shown out of him like a ray.”
His Tragic Grandeur
Clym’s idealism is the tragic flaw in his character. His good qualities as well as his shortcomings owe their origin to this idealistic strain. His simplicity, his desire to be of use to others, his wholehearted dedication to his cause, his kindness and tenderness, his spirit of self-sacrifice, all result from his idealism, and from it also result his impracticability, obstinancy, and lack of balance. The tragic flaw in Clym’s character, combined with such “chance’ events as his marriage with Eustacia, loss of eyesight, Eustacia’s meeting with Wildeve, and the “closed-door’ scene, paves the way for his ruin. As miseries after miseries are heaped upon him, he rises to the grandeur of a tragic hero. His words spoken at the death of his mother show the fortitude and calm of a man who has risen above human pleasure and pain: “if there is any justice in God let Him kill me now. He has nearly blinded me, but that is not enough. If he would only strike me with more pain, I would believe in Him.” Similarly, when Eustacia also dies, Clym says : “They say that a time comes when men laugh at misery through long acquaintance with it. Surely that time will soon come to me.” On such occasions, Clym acquires a grandeur and majesty which reminds us of the lonely grandeur of Egdon Heath of and majesty which reminds us of the lonely grandeur of Egdon Heath of which Clym is the child or of King Lear in Shakespeare’s well-known tragedy.
(B) Mrs. Yeobright
A Woman of Character
Mrs. Yeobright, the mother of Clym, is a woman of character, firm and determined. She is also a tragic character who, in the end, dies broken-hearted. She is middle aged, and, it is said, Hardy drew her after his own mother. The daughter of a curate, she regards herself as superior to the Egdon folk among whom she is obliged to live, owing to her marriage with a native of Egdon. It appears that the solemn Egdon Heath has cast its tragic shadow on her also. The dominating influence of Egdon on the characters of the novel is seen in the very face of Mrs. Yeobright. The isolation, solitude and melancholy emanating from the sombre Heath are concentrated in her face.
Superiority-Complex in Her
Mrs. Yeobright possesses strongly marked qualities of character. Hardy compares her to the plannets which carry their atmosphere along with them in their orbits. Her influence is felt wherever she goes. As the daughter of a curate, she dreamed of making something of life, but Fate obliged her to marry a small farmer. She has, “well formed feature of the type usually found where perspicacity is the chief quality enthroned within…… The air with which she looked at the heath-men betokened a certain unconcern at their presence ….. thus indirectly implying that in some respect or other, they were not up to her love.” She has thus a feeling of her own superiority and the reason is obvious : “though her husband had been a small farrrer she herself was a curate’s daughter, who had once dreamt of doing better things.” The consciousness of her social superiority has given to Mrs. Yeobright an air of reserve and a feeling of pride in her family. She is not very communicative. This sense of family pride asserts itself when she turns down the proposal of Venn to marry Thomasin; it again prompts her to forbid the bans for the marriage of Thomasin and Wildeve, and it is again responsible for causing her that anxiety which she experiences when Wildeve does not marry Thomasin. Tims Mrs. Yeobright lives more by what she thinks others may think of her than by what she thinks of herself.
Her Firmness and Determination
The most remarkable feature of her character is her determination and firmness. She is a strong, determined character. It is tru’e that life does not offer her the opportunities to cultivate these inborn qualities of character: circumstances rather hamper their development. Her very strength becomes a source of weakness. Such are the circumstances of her life. “The malignant destiny, operating through chance, not only prevents the growth of these qualities but at each step of her life, baffles, confounds, shatters and ultimately vanquishes her, making all the while her very strength her weakness.” She herself suffers, and makes others suffer only because she is so determined and firm. It is the very strength of her character which makes her so unyielding in her quarrel with her son, and which comes in the way of a reconciliation.
A Loving Mother
The tragic weakness of Mrs. Yeobright’s character is her boundless love for her son. Clym is regarded by her as a part of her own self. She has sacrificed her all for his sake, placing all her hopes of happiness on him alone. Great is her anxiety on finding her son fallen into the snares of Eustacia. She is a shrewd judge of character. She understands well the real nature of Eustacia. She is \vorried not because she is jealous of Eustacia, but because she realises that Clym would never be happy with such a proud, wilful and impulsive woman. She tries her best to prevent his marriage but here also she is defeated by cruel destiny. Clym marries Eustacia against the wishes of her mother. Such is her love for his son that even this disobedience on his part is forgiven and forgotten by her. She goes out to seek reconciliation with Clym but chance again intervenes to make her life a tragedy. Thinking that her son has closed his doors against his mother, the old woman returns almost broken-hearted. Unable to walk, totally exhausted, she crawls back only to meet her death.
Her tragic Grandeur
The tragedy of Mrs. Yeobright is thus the tragic of well-meaning intentions frustrated by cruel chance. In her death, it is the mother’s heart throbbing within her, which lends to her a tragic grandeur. In her death she rises to the height of tragedy. Her tragedy brings to us a sense of waste. All that was good in her —her motherly love, her strength of character, resoluteness, determination, family pride-comes to nought; it rather becomes instrumental in causing her tragic death. The tragedy of so noble, so wise a character arouses the tragic emotions of pity and fear in ample measure. “Call her to mind, think of her, what goodness there was in her, it showed in every line of her face……. never in her against moments was there anything malicious in her look. She was angered quickly, but she forgave just as readily, and underneath her pride there was the meekness of a child.” This is very correct estimate of her character. She retains her grandeur and strength of character upto the very last. We admire her for her beroic strength, and we pity her for her tragedy and suffering.
The Villain of the Piece
Wildeve, endowed with the most attractive personality, is a character given to a low sensuality. He is the villain of the novel, if any human actor can be called a villain. He is instrumental in bringing unhappiness to Thomasin, and is also responsible for leading Eustacia to her ruin. At one time an engineer, Wildeve has at the time of the opening of the novel, reduced himself to the position of an inn-keeper, Though possessing a channing exterior, he has nothing channing about his character.
His Fascinating Personality
Wildeve has been presented by Hardy as a young man with an attractive outward form; he possesses well-polished tastes, is fond of fine dress, has a gift of the gab, and, “altogether he is one in whom no man would have seen anything to admire and in whom no woman would have seen anything to dislike.” He is a sort of ladykiller. Thomasin loves him, and Eustacia, the queen of night is facinated by him. Love as physical lust is the Achilles’ heel of Wildeve.
Some Redeeming Traits
Though at first sight Wildeve seems a Villain, yet he has many redeeming traits in his character. A spirit of adventure and love of independence characterise him even as an inn-keeper. He can work hard when he likes, and the, “Wildeve’s patch”……. the plot of Egdon land brought under cultivation by him after long and laborious years…….stands as a testimony to his capacity for hard work. He is ready to migrate to America, a clever, learned fellow in his own way….. almost as clever as Clym Yeobright used to be. He was brought up to better things than keeping an inn. Wildeve’s qualities of character, his graceful personality, polished manners, and love of adventure impress themselves upon the minds of readers, even when they condemn him for his various faults.
Cause of his Downfall
The chief cause of his down-fall, as diagnosed by himself, is “the curse of inflammability.” This is his greatest fault. He himself holds it responsible for his downfall, from an engineer to an innkeeper, though others, like Oily Dowden, are of the opinion that “he has come down by being too outwardly given.” Another trait of Wildeve, which accounts for the tragedy of his life, is his sensitiveness; he knows that he is, “cursed with sensitiveness’, it is both his weakness and his strength. There is something of the soldier in him. He finds the greatest impetus to action when he is confronted with difficulties. Says the novelist, “To be yearning for the difficult, to be weary of what offered itself: to care for the remote, to dislike the near, it was Wildeve’s nature always. Tins is the true work of the man of sentiment….. He might have been called the Rousseau of Egdon.”
The Touch of Romance
He may be sensual, but his is an adventurous and romantic sensuality. Whenever Wildeve is faced with obstacles in the way of his love, he makes greater efforts to get the object of his desire, “for obstacles were a ripening sun to his love.” He first turns from Eustacia to Thomasin, but when the licence-complication in the way of marriage arises, his interests are again directed to Eustacia. He prefers Eustacia to Thomasin, for Eustacia’s capricious and impulsive temperament appeals more to his romantic and adventurous nature.
His Character: The Cause of Tragedy
However, the evil in Wildeve’s nature is fully revealed when he leaves Thomasin even after marriage and turns again to Eustacia, who is now married to Clym. There is, no doubt, that it cannot be denied that chance plays its own part in Wildeve’s life to make it a tragedy. The sudden return of Clym from Paris to be his rival in love, the chance meeting with Eustacia at the dance, the chance fortune inherited by him, all contribute to his ultimate tragedy. But in Wildeve’s case character is also destiny. His own villainy and evil contribute a great deal to his tragic end.
(D) Thomasin Yeobright
A Foil to Eustacia
Young and pretty Thomasin, the niece of Mrs. Yeobright, is one of those women characters of Hardy who suffer long and silently. She is presented as a contrast to Eustacia. Her beauty, which is as appealing as Eustacia’s, is combined with mildness, lack of pride and rebelliousness, respect for social conventions, and a calm, patient and faithful love : Eustacia’s beauty, on the other hand, is impulsive, capricious, wayward and rebellious. Thomasin’s character finds its counterpart in Venn’s. Like Venn, she is faithful, honest, practical and rational in her approach to life’s problems: like him, she suffers in silence.
Delicate and Artistic: Bird like
Her sweetness and humility seem to have been inherited by her from her father, a musician who died in the prime of life. There is something delicate and artistic about her. Says the novelist: “All similes and allegories concerning her began and ended with birds. Tliere was as much variety in her motions as in their flight. Wlien she was musing, she was a kestrel, which hangs in the air by an invisible motion of its wings; when she was in a high wind, her light body was blown against trees and banks like a heron’s; when she was frightened, she darted noiselessly like a kingfisher, when she was serene, she skimmed like a swallow.”
Patient and Prudent
Thomasin has sweet, honest, and pretty face……..”a face suggestive of hopefulness, but clouded at times with anxiety and grief.” As Hardy remarks: “Tlie groundwork of the face was hopefulness, but over it lay a foreign substance ……. anxiety and grief.” Through her character, as through that of Venn, Hardy suggests the melioristic possibilities, that men can make the best of the worst by adapting themselves to their circumstances, by overcoming chance and crass casualty through their prudence, patience, calm and tact.
Her Humility: Gentleness
The most distinguishing feature of Thomasin’s character is her humble, gentle nature. She is soft and yielding. Her gentle nature can easily be influenced by Mrs. Yeobright, by Clym, as well as by Venn: she is easily influenced even by Wildevc. This mildness is both her strength and her weakness. She had no pride and rcbeHiousness in her. She shows remarkable patience and calm in her love of Wildeve. When Mrs. Yeobright is angry with Wildeve, she entreats her aunt not to be harsh with him, and to let her tackle him. She is both constant and sincere in her love : she is not a victim of any whims or capriciousness as Eustacia is. Her determination and her practical wisdom give her the strength to suffer long in silence, and her tact and prudence enable her ultimately to win happiness.
A Commonplace Character
Thomasin certainly does not attain to that grandeur which belongs to Eustacia, …..”the Queen of Night’. Eustacia’s life ends in tragedy, but she attains a tragic grandeur which makes her unforgettable. Such tragic heights do not belong to Thomasin, who seems a commonplace, mediocre character. We cannot forgive her for her rejection first of Clym and then of Diggory Venn. Had she accepted any one of the two, much tragedy and suffering would have been avoided. Moreover, she is a weak character and lacks the power and the ambition to mould life in accordance with her heart’s desire. Her compromise with life is best illustrated by her attitude to Egdon. Eustacia’ always regards the health as her cross, but to Thomasin, “there were not, as to Eustacia, demons in the air, and malice in every bush and bough. The drops which lashed her face were not scorpions. Egdon in the mass was no monster, but impersonal open ground.” Here is a life of calm acceptance and tactful adjustment, and in Hardy’s philosophy that is the way in which we can make the most of this sorry life of ours.
(E) Diggory Venn, The Reddleman-His Role
and Significance The Wisest Character in the Novel
and Significance The Wisest Character in the Novel
Diggory Venn, coloured red all over, is the representative of an old profession, and so also the representative of an old world existence. He was once a prosperous dairy farmer. He is still young with blue eyes and handsome figure. It was his rejection by Mrs. Yeobright as a suitor to the hand of Thomasin that compelled him to take to the profession of a reddleman, for,”Rejected suitors like to roam about”, as he does as a reddleman. He is faithful in love, generous and kind, but also . Hrewd and clever. Indeed, he is the wisest character in the novel, who sees through all others, and is able to manipulate them, not for his own good, but for the good of his beloved, Thomasin. Tactful, wise, patient, and generous, he is one of those characters who succeed in life, and attain to happiness in the end.
His Helpful Nature: His Pivotal Role
Venn, the reddleman, looks fantastic and we may be inclined to call him a minor character but in reality he is the pivot around which the plot of the novel revolves. The action and the movement of the plot are made possible through the strategy of Venn. He appears at unexpected moments and places, and his sudden appearances have a “Jack-in-the box” effect. He seeks to help Thomasin through what he calls his “silent system”. Through it he compels Wildeve to stay at home, and so helps Thomasin. It is he who brings Thomasin and Wildeve together and compels Wildeve to marry her by offering himself as a possible husband for Thomasin, at a crucial moment. Later on, he gambles for Thomasin’s guineas, wins them and delivers them to her. However, in this matter he unknowingly commits a mistake and so becomes the cause of much quarrel and misunderstanding. He is thus seen to be as much a victim of the irony of life as other characters in the novel.
His Love: Sincere and Faithful
Venn is the shrewdest of all the characters of the novel and he is superior to them all in moral stature as well. He is without doubt one of the finest characters of Hardy. There is a pathos attached to the silent perserverance with which he waits and wins Thomasin’s love ultimately. We can think of no higher conception of love than that of Venn’s who subduing his personal emotions tries to help his beloved and make her happy even at the risk of ruining his own happiness. He is a true and sincere love, free from even a trace of that selfishness which is generally the basis of life in this world. His disinterestedness well deserves respect and admiration.
His Honesty and Nobility
As Clym says, he is an honest man and at the same lime an astute man, a very rare combination. He has a lot of experience of the world. He is clever in the worldly sense of the term, yet he does not misuse his cleverness. He uses his cleverness not for his own good, but for the good of others.
His Ultimate Happiness
He has a calm temperament, presence of mind and clever thinking, although he has no education. He i.; also considerate and discreet. In the end, he is shown happy and contented, dancing, enjoying and drinking. In this way, he provides an element of meliorism in the world of this grim and terrible tragedy.
(F) Eustacia Vye-The Causes of her Tragedy
While Tess represents Hardy’s method of painting a character by light skillful touches, metaphorical illuminations and apt comparisons, Eustacia Vye is an example of character portrait through set-description. She is also an example of the tragedy of environment and of man’s rebellion against fate. Remove Eustacia from Egdon Heath and set her in Paris and there would be no tragedy. Or if Clym had not been such an idealist and gone back to Paris there would have been no trugedy. Or if Eustacia had not been so ambitious, so passionate, so rebellious, had she been a quiet girl like Thomasin, then also there would have been no tragedy. Eustacia’s tragedy represents Hardy’s view of life and man’s helpless struggle against fate.
Eustacia’s great personal beauty is responsible for the tragedy of Clym, Wildeve, and also the death of Mrs. Yeobright. The superstitous women of Egdon Heath look upon her as a witch. Certainly she is an evil influence in the life of everyone in the novel. Her beauty is described with great poetic power by Hardy. The chapter dealing with her personal charms is one of the most glorious in all Hardy. She has fair complexion and is soft as a cloud. She has dark and passionate eyes and beautiful mouth with sensuous lips. Her musical voice, graceful motions, dignified and queenly bearing, make her look like a goddess of Greek mythology. She reminds one of the lotus eaters and Cleopatra, of roses, rubies and tropical mid-nights.
Her Capricious Nature
Eustacia Vye is capricious and inconsistent. She is a woman of changing moods. She is inconsistent. First, she loves Wildeve then abandons him for Clym, breaks Wildeve’s marriage with Thomasin and then later herself brings about the marriage. As Dufiin points out, she loves too hotly and passionately to love long and faithfully. She herself feels this and is afraid that her love for Clym will not last long.
Self-centred and Self-willed
Eustacia has the elemental desire for happiness and she is willing to sacrifice every other consideration and the happiness of every other person for her own pleasure and satisfaction. She is determined to be happy at all cost. She is incapable of any selfless feeling. Even her love for her Clym, though sincere and deep, is a form of self-love. She does not care for Clym’s happiness but for her own. She could have made Clym happy by showing greater love for his mother. But she was not willing to pocket her own pride for his sake. Similarly, when Clym becomes blind, she is more sorry for herself than for Clym and feels angry and hurt when she finds Clym singing cheerfully and submitting patiently to his fate.
Lack of Moral Sense
Eustacia acts upon instinct and impulse. She is guided by passion. She has no faith in moral principles as such and she has no sense of moral obligation or duty, if it goes against her happiness. When she attracts Wildeve to herself and is responsible for the breaking of his marriage with Thomasin, her action is immoral, but she justifies her action merely because it gives her amusement. She does not care for the ruin of Thomasin’s life. She does not believe in fidelity for fidelity’s sake.
The Influence of Heredity on Her Character: Early Training
Eustacia had French blood in her and this is responsible for her passionate character love of beauty and pleasure, her sensuousness and desire for love. Her father was a bandmaster at Budmouth and led an extravagent life. He has a drunkard and died in. debt. The daughter inherited many of the qualities of her father.
At Budmouth, Eustacia was surrounded by gaity and pleasure. She saw gallant soldiers and music, and dance and love-making, etc., and all this deepened her iove of pleasure. Her education was very moderate and did not develop her intellectual, moral or spiritual nature. It only supplied her with heroes like Napoleon whom she admired. She wanted to conquer hearts and reign like a queen in society. This was her ambition.
She has two desires (1) to be the object of a great love and (2) to go to Paris and lead a life of luxury and enjoyment. She wants music, poetry, romance and passion. Without these she feels life is not worth-living. She wants to live in a blaze of splendour, not to flicker like a tiny lamp. When at the end of the novel she finds that these desires cannot be satisfied, she commits suicide.
In Egdon Heath, she is gloomy, because her life is dull. She has no society and no amusement. She flirts with Wildeve just because she wants some excitement. She hates Egdon. She has caught only its vapours, and regards it as her prison and as her Hades.
She has a contempt for the people of Egdon and refuses to submit to her fate. When there is quarrel between her and Mrs. Yeobright, she is as scornful and sharp in her tongue as Mrs. Yeobright. When there is quarrel between her and Clym she does now show a sense of guilt or repenlence, but replies to him with great spirit and defiance.
She is more cultured and refined than the people of Egdon, except Clym, and she, therefore excites our admiration and that of Wildeve, of Clym and everyone else. Only ignorant people like Susan Nunsuch regard her as a witch.
Causes of Her Tragedy
(a) Environment. There is complete opposition between her character and her environment. She hates Egdon Heath and it proves to be her doom. It was her fate which brough her there. The death of her parents and her grandfather’s preference and taste brought her to Egdon. All her life she struggled against Egdon but she did not succeed, and ultimately found her grave in one of its pools.
(b) Clym’s Idealism. Fate made her fall in love with Clym’s a man whose character was just he opposite of hers. She was worldly, he was unworldly. She was sensual, he was intellectual. She did not care for the beauty of nature, he adored it. She hated man and had no desire for social service, he loved mankind and dedicated his life to the service of society. She was selfish and self-centred, he was selfless and self-sacrificing. She was thoughtless, he was thoughtful. This opposition of character was her misfortune and while ii satisfied one of her two great desires, it left the second unfulfilled, and this led to the tragedy.
(c) Hatred of Mrs. Yeobright. This was due partly to the contrast of character between the two women and partly to her own pride and passion. Her instinctive action in not opening the door was the result of a perversity of mind and a blind impulse. The action was fatal to her happiness. It is true there was a misunderstanding, for she thought that Clym was awake. But she felt a deep impulse not to open the door, only because she hated Mrs. Yeobright.
(d) Her Lack of Frankness. Eustacia never told Clym all about her secret desires and passions. Hence Clym never quite understood the intensity of her desire for pleasure and even after marriage he thought that she might be a good teacher in his ideal school. Similarly, she did not understand the intensity of his idealism. Hence even after marriage she led a lonely life and sought pleasure stealthily, almost with a sense of guilt. Nor that she was afraid of Clym, but she was not sure of perfect understanding. Women in Hardy often keep secrets from lovers and husbands and this often leads to tragedy. In this novel also, if Eustacia had frankly told Clym immediately that she had not opened the door under the impression that he was awake, the whole cf the subsequent tragedy might have been averted.
(e) Chance. The revelation of the secret by Johny Nunsuch was a matter of chance. His presence near Clym’s house, his talk with Mrs. Yeobright, his observation of Eustacia’s face outside the window, are all matters of chance.
(f) Her Nobility. Why did Eustacia not go with Wildeve to Paris as was arranged between them ? The reason is that she loved Clym and could not tolerate the idea of leaving him as the mistress of such a worthless man as Wildeve. Since there was no other way of realising her desires, Eustacia had no alternative to suicide.
The death of Eustacia creates a feeling of pity and a sense of waste. Fate was really cruel to her. She was like a rat in a cage, Her tragedy is to some extent universal. We are all like her, the victims of cruel destiny. Her only fault was that she wanted to be happy at any cost. The weaknesses of her character and her opposition to her environment were due to forces beyond her control. It is a soul’s tragedy, the anguish of her soul makes us feel that she had her faults, no doubt, but she suffered more than she deserved.
(G) Egdon Heath, As an Over-Character
Egdon Heath is not merely the tragic background to the story of the Return of the Native but almost a living over-character determining the plot, dominating the characters and playing a decisive role in the lives of Men and Women who inhabit it. It is the novel of Egdon Heath.
Study from Life
Egdon Heath is a real place in Wessex and the description of it is a study from life. It is a masterly description. Hardy knew it from his childhood because he lived near it and he loved it with all the intensity of his soul, as Clym loves it in the Return of the Native. He knew every corner of it.
The Return of the Native starts with a description of Egdon Heath. “It is a face on which time makes but little impression.” It is vast, colossal, stretching like a huge giant. It is dark. Night descends earlier on Egdon Heath and dawn appears a little late. It is gloomy and it seems to exhale darkness. It is a friend of the storm and the wind. It is uncultivated and barren and nothing but ferns, furze, lichen and prickly shrubs grow on it. Its face is haggard. Here nature is in its wildest aspect. It is monotonous and dull. Civilisation is its enemy. It has resisted all attempts at cultivation. Its chief characteristic is its unchanging character. Whatever else changed in the world, Egdon Heath remains exactly as it has ever been. On its face many tragedies have taken place, but they were so many bubbles in the ocean of its life.
The novel describes Egdon Heath in various seasons of the year and in various hours of the day and night. Hardy describes the sights and sounds of Egdon Heath in minutes detail —the changing colour of its leaves, the shape and colour of its flowers and fruits and berries, its hollows and mounds and vallies, the insects, the birds and the animals, that inhabited it, especially the heath croppers of which Johnny Nunsuch was so much afraid. The roads that pass on through Egdon Heath, the Old Roman graves and historical relics are all described with fidelity. The adder that bites Mrs. Yeobright is a part of it and the pool in which Eustacia is drowned is also provided by it.
Of the sounds of Egdon Heath the most important is the sound of the wind seeping through the heath hells at night. The sound is weird and fearful and intensifies the horror of the scene.
It is a fitting background to the tragic story of the novel. It creates a tragic atmosphere and produces in the reader the emotional mood necessary for a tragedy. It harmonizes with the general tragic impression and intensifies it. Most of the scenes take place either at night or in twilight or in “Lunar Eclipse.”
It is a symbol of those unseen forces of the universe which govern human life. Nature moves on its appointed course with absolute punctuality without any care for human suffering. It is the silent, and ironic spectator of the tragedy of human life. There is a contrast between the vastness and unchanging character of the Heath aod the smaJiness and changing nature of human life. Men appear like insects as compared to the vast Egdon Heath, insignificant and vain. Again and again Hardy emphasizes the littleness of the universe and the fatality of his struggle against these forces.
Effect on Characters
Egdon heath influences all the characters of the play. Eustacia hates it and calls it her Hades, her cross, and it proves to be her death. It makes Eustacia gloomy, self-centred, rebellious and bitter. It makes her sound hungry for pleasure and makes her desperately hungry for amusement which is so scarce on Egdon Heath. It is the very antithesis of her desired and aspirations and she longs for the wider, more varied and gayer life of a city, like Paris. She fights ajainst Egdon Heath but is ultimately crushed by it and meets her watery grave in one of its pools.
Clym loves Egdon Heath as much as Eustacia hates it. He is the “native’ of the soil and very object appears to him friendly. He is sufficiently an intellectual to appreciate its dark and mysterious beauty. He has knowledge and artistic sense enough to observe and enjoy its truth and beauty. The conflict of character between Eustacia and Clym is best illustrated by their different attitudes toward Egdon Heath. When he grows blind, Egdon Heath provides him with an occupation. It makes him a philosopher and a poet.
Wildeve dislikes Egdon Heath because it is too dull. But otherwise he does not care much about it. Hatred of the place is a point of affinity between Wildeve and Eustacia.
However, Thomasin is quite at home in Egdon Heath. She would be unhappy anywhere else. To her it is a familiar old place. But she cannot appreciate its beauty as Clym can.
Diggory Venn is a practical man and does not care much for nature. But he knows Egdon Heath intimately and is a frequent visitor to it. He makes good use of it.
The Rustic Character are the products of the heath like its flowers and insects. They are a part of it. They have the innocence, the simplicity, the cheerfulness, as also the crudeness, of primitive, human nature.
Effect on Plot
The plot of the Return of the Native cannot be imagined except in Egdon Heath. It provides us with picturesque and impressive scenes like Eustacia standing on Rainbarrow in the twilight, the rustics singing and dancing around the bonfire, etc. It also provides the love signals, a pebble thrown into a pond or a moth thrown through a window. The fantastic reddleman, the tiring journey of Mrs. Yeobright to Clym’s house and back, the last night of Eustacia, and her wandering through the dark, the tragic pool, the Maypole Ceremony, these are all characteristic of Egdon Heath. In fact the whole story hinges round the heath. The reddleman makes good use of it his fight against Wildcvc. The tragedy would not have taken place without the Heath.
As all the events take place in Egdon Heath, it provides unity of place to the novel.
It will therefore not be an exaggeration to say that, “it is the Heath alone in its changing moods and unchanging majesty that is Hardy’s chief character in the Return of the Native.” It dominates character and action; it is, “like a gloomy stage hung for tragedy.”