Saturday, July 18, 2009

The Return of the Native by Thomas Hardy

I'm glad I was forewarned by other book bloggers that Hardy's books could be dark. As I began reading The Return of the Native there was an immediate sense of impending doom that made me want to put the book down. But I've been wanting to read Hardy for years so I forged ahead.

Eustacia Vye is a beautiful, city-bred Englishwoman who is forced by circumstances to move to the remote country village of Egdon Heath. As she withers away there she imagines her only salvation to be a passionate love affair. She is well aware that the state of being in love is more important to her than the actual object of her affection. Practically any man will do!

"Fidelity in love for fidelity's sake had less attraction for her than for most women: fidelity because of love's grip had much. A blaze of love, and extinction, was better than a lantern glimmer of the same which should last long years... To her love was but a doleful joy. Yet she desired it, as one in a desert would be thankful for brackish water." (p. 62)

Her decisions, based on passionate impulses rather than purity of heart, wreak havoc for all the other characters in the book. The "native" of the title is Clem Yeobright, a young man who returns home after several years in Paris. Eustacia sees him as the solution to her miserable existence and "falls in love" even before meeting him.

Hardy shines in describing people and places, but his prose become dense when he is philosophizing. Certain paragraphs have to be read and re-read before the light of their meaning begins to dawn. Nevertheless, he's worth the effort. Although the predominant mood in Native is gloomy, I am very, very glad I read it. There is a vitality in Hardy's writing that is deeply satisfying. I was also pleased with the mildly happy ending in which several long-suffering characters are rewarded for their constancy and faithfulness.

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