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The Return of the Native

Thomas Hardy

Book III, Chapters 5-8

Book III, Chapters 1-4

Book IV, Chapters 1-4

Summary

Again, Clym Yeobright fights with his mother over his career plans, and his relationship with Eustacia Vye. Their fights, which have gone on for a while, escalate to the point where Mrs. Yeobright implies that Clym is no longer welcome in her house. Despondent, Clym meets with Eustacia, and during their walk on the heath they plan to marry very soon, and so live in a small, isolated cottage on the heath until Clym is prepared to move to the busy port town of Budmouth, where he will go through with his plan of starting a boarding school. Accordingly, Clym obtains a cottage, and moves out of his mother's house; she continues to refuse to reconcile herself with him, and tells him she will not come to see him after the wedding. The day of Clym's departure, Mrs. Yeobright is visited by her niece Thomasin, who tries unsuccessfully to convince her to forgive Clym. Thomasin also tells Mrs. Yeobright that Damon Wildeve, her new husband, is reluctant to give her any spending money, and Mrs. Yeobright promises to send Thomasin her share of her inheritance, 50 guineas.

The day of Clym's wedding finds Mrs. Yeobright at her home, Blooms-End. She is visited there by Damon Wildeve, who was also absent from the wedding: Eustacia's marriage has rekindled his old passion for her, and he is jealous. Damon inquires after the "article" that Thomasin has asked him to fetch from Mrs. Yeobright, but Mrs. Yeobright, unwilling to give Thomasin's inheritance money to Damon, refuses even to tell him what the article is. Instead, she sends the inept Christian Cantle to bring the money to Thomasin; since both Thomasin and Clym are at Mistover Knapp celebrating the wedding, she gives Clym's share of the inheritance to Christian as well, to be brought to Clym.

On the way to Mistover, however, Christian falls in with a group of locals headed to Damon's inn, the Quiet Woman, to enter a raffle for a valuable piece of cloth. Christian too enters the raffle, and proves himself uncharacteristically lucky by winning the toss of the dice for the cloth. He inadvertently tells Damon that he is carrying Thomasin's money, and Damon becomes resentful; he awaits the opportunity to claim the money for his own. This opportunity comes when, on the walk to Mistover Knapp, Damon and Christian begin gambling; Damon proves the luckier man, and takes all the money--50 guineas belonging to Thomasin, and 50 belonging to Clym--from Christian.

The scene was witnessed by Diggory Venn, who in turn challenges Damon to a match of dice-throwing. The two men gamble until surrounded by pitch darkness; eventually, Diggory wins all the money back from the frustrated Damon. Not realizing that 50 guineas belong to Clym, he immediately gives all 100 guineas to Thomasin, who--unaware of the actual size of her inheritance--also does not recognize the mistake.

Commentary

Among the many love triangles in The Return of the Native, the least obvious is the triangle established between Clym, Eustacia and Mrs. Yeobright. As the arguments between Clym and his mother continue, it becomes clear that there is an element of jealousy in Mrs. Yeobright's hatred of Eustacia. She proves herself incapable, at the beginning of Chapter Five, of adducing any rational proof of Eustacia's unsuitability; indeed, in the course of the argument, she becomes increasingly jealous and irrational, essentially asking Clym to choose between a marriage and his mother. Love, for many of the people throughout this novel, is more accurately characterized as possessiveness. And it is evident that Mrs. Yeobright, as much as Eustacia, wants to possess Clym. "You give up your whole thought--you set your whole soul--to please a woman" she complains to Clym. And she is shocked at his correctness when he inverts her complaint: "I do. And that woman is you." There is a striking similarity between their argument and a lover's quarrel: "You think only of her," Mrs. Yeobright complains, "You stick to her in all things." The idea that Clym can love only one person is a jealousy typical of love affairs, not of family relationships; but Mrs. Yeobright cannot reconcile herself to sharing Clym's love, and she eventually proclaims "I wish that you would bestow your presence where you bestow your love." The reader will recall that the first book in the novel is called "The Three Women," a parallel between Eustacia, Thomasin and Mrs. Yeobright that becomes clearer by this point in the novel, with the revelation that Clym's mother, like the two younger women, is inserting herself into a love triangle, and is consumed, as the others are, with possessiveness and jealousy.

One of the more interesting and revealing episodes in the novel is the gambling match between Diggory Venn and Damon Wildeve. It is interesting, of course, because it serves to explain the confusion behind the delivery of the 100 guineas, which later in the novel drives an even deeper wedge between Clym and his mother. But it is also crucial because of the shadow it casts over Diggory's character: up to this point in the novel, although Diggory has often appeared as a ghost or demon--he is initially taken for a ghost by Johnny Nonsuch and mothers invoke "the reddleman" when threatening naughty children--he has acted in a more or less benevolent manner--if perhaps more self-serving than might be immediately apparent. Here, however, this fantastical appearance seems to be borne out in action: the red man shows remarkable skill in manipulating the dice, which Christian Cantle-- superstitiously but perhaps correctly--calls "the devil's playthings." Rising unexpectedly out of the heath, preternaturally lucky at dice, Diggory is unbothered by the descent of darkness and unfazed by the encroaching of the nighttime denizens of the heath. He seems, truly, a supernatural character.

What bears consideration, in this context, is the fantastical nature of the entire novel. The Return of the Native is in most senses a naturalistic novel: the fantastical is invoked, but mainly in terms of folk superstitions. The novel strives for accuracy in portraying human lives, and limits itself to conformity with natural laws. And yet, the gambling episode signals that there is also a great deal in this novel that depends upon remarkably unusual circumstance. The following series of circumstances is the prime example: Christian, walking on the vast and trackless heath, just happens to run into a group bound for gambling; he happens to win; he happens to lose badly to Damon; Diggory Venn happens to be watching; and Diggory, in turn, wins dramatically against Damon. This string of events suits the purposes of poetic justice, and furthers the impending conflict between Mrs. Yeobright and Clym, but--taken together with the string of just-missed opportunities, lucky or unlucky coincidences and fortuitous bounces that fill the novel--seems beyond the bounds of the purely realistic. Perhaps The Return of the Native should be read as an experiment with human emotions and character that takes place in a laboratory setting designed by Hardy; in this world, events depend not so much on a naturalistic reality of causation but rather on a realism of emotional reaction.

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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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