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The Return of the Native

Thomas Hardy

Book I, Chapters 6-11

Book I, Chapters 1-5

Book II

Summary

Now that the bonfire on Rainbarrow is abandoned, the still-unnamed woman seen earlier by Diggory Venn returns to the top of Rainbarrow. The wind dominates the heath at this hour, drawing a whisper from the withered blades on the heath. But the woman is not listening to the wind: through a telescope, she watches a lighted window on the heath below. Seeing nothing of note, she returns to the small fire on Mistover Knapp, which is being tended by a local boy, Johnny Nonsuch. The woman--now named as Eustacia Vye--is evidently waiting for something: soon, after the boy departs, she is visited by Damon Wildeve, with whom it quickly becomes apparent that she has an amorous relationship. In the course of their conversation, it comes out that Damon abandoned her to marry Thomasin Yeobright, although Eustacia believes that Damon still loves her, and that this is the real reason that his scheduled marriage to Thomasin did not take place. The two squabble pettily, with Eustacia coquettishly manipulating him, and Damon refusing to admit that he loves Eustacia more deeply than Thomasin.

Hardy then spends a brief chapter describing Eustacia, the "Queen of Night." Her hair, eyes and perfect lips--"formed less to speak than to quiver, less to quiver than to kiss"--are her most prominent features. Her eyes are said to be "Pagan, full of nocturnal mysteries." She is a melodramatic and deeply passionate romantic, forever pining nostalgically for kingdoms she has not lost. She despises the heath, and blames "Destiny" for putting her there, in the care of her grandfather Captain Vye.

On his way home from tending Eustacia's bonfire, Johnny Nonsuch stumbles upon the encampment of Diggory Venn, whom he at first takes for a blood-red ghost. The boy reveals to Diggory that he has seen Eustacia and Damon Wildeve talking together, and that they are conducting a hidden love affair. Diggory later verifies this by eavesdropping on another meeting between Damon and Eustacia, during which Damon toys with Eustacia, reminding her that she is merely one of many options available to him, but also asking her to run away with him to America. The reader is privy to Diggory's thoughts as he recalls how he once proposed marriage to Thomasin, Damon's betrothed, and how he still loves her; he dedicates himself to preserving her dignity by forcing Damon to marry her. To this end, he visits Eustacia, revealing to her that he knows of her plans to lure Damon away from Thomasin. She angrily rejects his pleas to allow Damon and Thomasin to marry, asserting that she and Damon were in love before Damon became engaged to Thomasin, and that she will follow "her inclination." She does reveal, however, that her love for Damon does not run very deep: "I should have cared nothing for him had there been a better person near."

When Damon later relates this exchange to Mrs. Yeobright, he also renews his offer to marry Thomasin. Shrewdly, Mrs. Yeobright rejects the offer, but then represents the situation to Damon Wildeve as if there is a mysterious competitor for Thomasin's affections, intending to force Damon into marriage through playing upon his jealousy. Damon indeed becomes jealous, and, thinking himself cast aside for another man, renews his offer of love to Eustacia. She, however, also thinking that Damon has been dropped in favor of another man, is now relatively uninterested in him, because he is merely "a superfluity," no longer an object of desire. Book I--titled "The Three Women"--ends with a preview of what is to come: Eustacia hears that Clym Yeobright is returning to the heath.

Commentary

The first section of the book served to introduce the reader to most of the main characters; this second section exposes their psyches. Diggory Venn, it seems, had other than purely altruistic motivations in caring for Thomasin in his wagon: he has long been in love with her; moreover, he is willing to engage in scheming and deviousness in order to further her cause. Diggory will prove a difficult character throughout the novel. Is he purely generous, or is he always plotting his own advancement? Is he underhanded, or does he merely use the means necessary? As for Eustacia Vye and Damon Wildeve, this section reveals them to be conducting a strange and ambiguous love affair, in which love itself seems to be far removed from the equation.

One of the central themes of this novel is the difficult relationship between love and possession. For Damon and Eustacia, love is more motivated by a desire for ownership and conquest, the zeal of competition, or by pure boredom, than it is any deep emotional bond. This section is filled with their childish squabbling and arguments, which seem more concerned with self-interest than any real affection. Damon, it is suggested, proposed to Thomasin only in order to make Eustacia jealous; this scheme was, of course, wildly successful. Eustacia then denies him physical affection in order to assert her own power over the relationship. When it seems that Thomasin no longer desires Damon--through the scheming of Mrs. Yeobright, who made it seem as if Thomasin wanted to marry Diggory Venn--suddenly Eustacia's affection for Damon cools. It seems that her love for Damon was motivated in part by her belief that he was a man desired by many women; now, she muses, "what was the man worth whom a woman inferior to herself did not value?" (Note the language of financial transactions: "worth," "value.") The love affair between Damon and Eustacia in fact seems rather childish, as does the entire soap opera--the scheming, the plotting, the intertangled relationships--that is catalyzed by their love. It is love motivated by isolation and inexperience, by Eustacia's desire for romance and her boredom on the heath: she is represented as "filling up the spare hours of her existence by idealizing Wildeve for want of a better object." And it is suggested at the end of this first book that the "better object" is on his way: Clym Yeobright is returning from Paris, the traditional city of romance.

It is interesting to ask ourselves throughout the novel whether Damon and (especially) Eustacia show signs of rising beyond the selfish immaturity and petty emotions that they display early on. They are portrayed early in the novel as almost without redeeming actions; and yet the narrator accords Eustacia a certain amount of nobility, reveals a grudging admiration for her passion and the depth of her emotion and ambition. Indeed, Hardy's novel is consistently sympathetic toward paganism, naked passion, and rebellion against social boundaries and mores. Moreover, the final analysis of Eustacia places her among the great: the narrator concludes, "In heaven she will probably sit between the Heloises and the Cleopatras."

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Mistake in the name

by celinep, November 05, 2013

The place were Eustacia meets Wildeve in the beginning is Black Barrow not Rainbarrow...

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