The Return of the Native
Book IV, Chapters 1-4
Summertime finds Clym Yeobright and his new wife Eustacia installed in their cottage on the heath; they are happy for the meantime, but Eustacia has not given up her ambitions to move to Paris, while Clym remains dedicated to becoming a schoolteacher on the heath. Mrs. Yeobright has become resentful because she has not received any recognition from Clym that he has received the money she sent to him. When she learns from Christian Cantle that Damon Wildeve won the money at dice--what she does not know, of course, is that Diggory Venn won the money back, and gave it to Thomasin--she confronts Eustacia, believing that Damon, Eustacia's former lover, has given her the money privately to regain her favor. Mrs. Yeobright's suspicion is incorrect, and Eustacia is indignant. They have an angry argument, during which Eustacia proclaims that she would not have married Clym if she had believed they were really going to live in a cottage on Egdon Heath rather than move to Paris. Although the confusion over the money is soon resolved when Thomasin is consulted, the rifts between Clym and Eustacia and between Clym and Mrs. Yeobright have grown too deep to bridge easily.
A further misfortune strikes Clym: his incessant studying by dim light has ruined his vision, and he can no longer read, at least temporarily. Deprived of his studies, he takes interim work as a furze-cutter (furze is a prickly bush prevalent on the heath). Eustacia is appalled at his new choice of work, and at his ability to find contentment in manual labor. Indeed, Clym appears truly happy: he loves the heath and appreciates its subtler beauties, and he does not believe that manual labor is any less noble than his previous occupation, selling diamonds. The couple have a confrontation over what Eustacia sees as Clym's lack of ambition, and the two realize that their love is beginning to fade away.
In an effort to stave off her feeling of disappointment and depression, Eustacia goes to a country dance. She has difficulty incorporating herself into the atmosphere of almost pagan revelry until she comes upon Damon Wildeve, who by coincidence is also at the dance. They dance together, and Eustacia reveals how unhappy she is in her marriage. They walk back to the heath together, where they are met by Diggory Venn and Clym; although Clym's poor eyesight prevents him from recognizing Damon, Diggory deduces that Damon once again has designs on Eustacia. In order to dissuade Damon from visiting Eustacia, Diggory sets out on a policy of less-than-subtle intimidation. When Damon tries to meet Eustacia, Diggory calls Clym's attention to their trickery by creating loud noises; he sets snares to trip Damon, and even fires shots at him, in order to scare him away from Eustacia's house. These crude efforts prove effective in temporarily frightening Damon. Diggory also visits Mrs. Yeobright, and convinces her to make up to her son and daughter-in-law; at the same time, Clym resolves to reconcile himself with his mother.
Clym, as has been noted, represents to the mind of the narrator the typical modern man: he is philosophically and intellectually progressive, but he is also portrayed as stoical and largely joyless. From this vantage point, Clym's physical misfortune could be said to be his psychological and moral salvation: when he loses his eyesight, he responds with more than his characteristic stoicism--as the title of the second chapter has it, "He Is Set Upon by Adversities; but He Sings a Song." Clym is a scholar, not a singer. Until this point in the novel, sobriety in all things has been his golden rule. But it seems as if, by resigning himself to his fate, he has developed a kind of joy that was previously foreign to him: we read that "a quiet firmness, and even cheerfulness, took possession of him."
Clym's newfound happiness is best seen through his changing attitude towards Egdon Heath. When we first hear from Clym--in the third chapter of the novel's second book--he comments on the "friendliness and geniality" of the hilly heath. After being stricken by his temporary blindness, and going to work as a furze- cutter, he seems to appreciate the beauty of the heath on a much deeper level. For the first time, the blind man sees "bees... amber-coloured butterflies... tribes of emerald-green grasshoppers... snakes in their most brilliant blue and yellow guise... litters of young rabbits." The emphasis on color in these descriptions is not unimportant. Before, the heath was uniform in its withered brown; now, when he allows himself to see truly--not clearly, for he is nearly blind, but truly--Clym recognizes a rainbow of color in the heath. This philosophy of happiness through acceptance of what is rather than soaring ambitions for what could be, is known as quietism. This philosophy flourished in the second half of the 19th century--especially in literature, where it influenced novelists from Hardy to Thoreau to Edith Wharton to Henry James--largely in response to the vaulting ambitions and psychological stresses of the emerging modern era. In many of its forms, quietism stressed the superiority of the pastoral--the quiet, idealized countryside--to the confusion of the modern city. The countryside of The Return of the Native does not quite conform to the pastoral ideal: in contrast to the peaceful countryside imagined in most pastoral settings, Egdon Heath is fierce, wild and generally unwelcoming. Rather, The Return of the Native transplants the pastoral ideal--which generally involves finding contentment and a kind of joyful simplicity--into a setting better described as sublime, somehow fearsome, but at the same time impressive and transcendentally powerful.
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