The Return of the Native is Thomas Hardy’s sixth novel and probably his best known. In fact, many critics assert that Eustacia Vye is one of the most memorable characters in English literature. The story focuses on the lives and loves of residents in the fictional county of Wessex, England, an area which was based on the rural area where Hardy was raised.
When the book was published in 1878, it met with mixed reviews. Some commentators praised Hardy’s vivid descriptions of the geographical landscapes, especially those in the first chapter. Others felt that his portrayal of the local characters was shallow and unconvincing. Yet other critics objected to the sexual relationships in the novel. The charge that he wrote about sexual relationships purely for sensationalism hurt Hardy to such a degree that he quit writing novels by 1895, although he continued to live another thirty-three years.