Summary (Magill's Survey of World Literature, Revised Edition)
Many readers have noted the formal classical structure of The Return of the Native as well as the similarities of the characters to such powerful mythic figures as Oedipus and Prometheus. It is, however, the brooding Egdon Heath itself that becomes the more significant structuring principle. In fact, as many have noted, the heath is one of the principal actors in the drama, for the actions of all the characters are reactions in some way to the indifference that the heath represents. Egdon Heath is the landscape from which God has departed. In its barrenness, it seems like some giant prehistoric monster lying dormant but ready to swallow up anyone who tries to escape its grasp.
As in other Hardy rural idylls, there is a chorus of rustic characters in The Return of the Native. They belong on the heath because of their ignorance of the incongruity between the human longing for meaning and the intractable indifference of the external world symbolized by the heath. They still maintain a mythic, superstitious belief in a pagan animism and fatalistically accept the nature of things as they are. The Druidical rites of the fires that open the novel, the insignificance of Christian religion, the voodoo doll of Susan Nonesuch—all these characterize the pagan fatalism of the rustics.
The main characters in the novel are not merely rustic, and they make something other than a fatalistic response to the heath. All of them are...
(The entire section is 986 words.)
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Summary (Masterplots, Fourth Edition)
Egdon Heath is a gloomy wasteland in southern England. Against this majestic but solemn, brooding background, a small group of people are to work out their tragic drama in the impersonal presence of nature.
Guy Fawkes Day bonfires are glowing in the twilight as Diggory Venn, the reddleman, drives his van across the heath. Tired and ill, Thomasin Yeobright, the young girl whom Diggory loves, lies in the rear of his van. She had rejected his marriage proposal in order to marry Damon Wildeve, proprietor of the Quiet Woman Inn. Now, Diggory is carrying the girl to her home at Blooms-End. She had gone to marry Wildeve in a nearby town, but the ceremony did not take place because of an irregularity in the license. Shocked and shamed, Thomasin has asked her old sweetheart, Diggory, to take her home.
Mrs. Yeobright, Thomasin’s aunt and guardian, hears the story from the reddleman. Concerned for the girl’s welfare, she decides that the wedding should take place as soon as possible. Mrs. Yeobright has good cause to worry, for Wildeve’s intentions are not wholly honorable. Later in the evening, after Wildeve has assured the Yeobrights, rather casually, that he intends to go through with his promise, his attention is turned to a bonfire blazing on Mistover Knap. There old Captain Vye lives with his beautiful granddaughter Eustacia. At dusk, Eustacia has started a fire on the heath as a signal to her lover, Wildeve, to come to her. Although he...
(The entire section is 1439 words.)
Book First: The Three Women
This novel opens with a sweeping view of the Egdon Heath countryside, providing descriptions of the landscape and some sense of its history. In the next chapter, an old man—later identified as Eustacia Vye’s grandfather—meets a red dye salesman, known as a reddleman. They briefly discuss Thomasin’s marriage, and the old man infers from the reddleman that the wedding has been postponed.
In town, Thomasin meets her aunt and explains that her wedding was called off because of a mixup with the license. They go to the tavern and receive assurance from Damon Wildeve, her fiancé, that he will marry Thomasin in a day or two. When the locals show up to sing to the newlyweds, they are forced to pretend that the marriage occurred.
After everyone leaves that night, Wildeve sees a bonfire up on the hill nearby the Vye house. Eustacia Vye, the exotic beauty who lives there, has heard from her grandfather that the marriage did not take place. She lit the fire, which was not unusual because many people celebrated Guy Fawkes Day with bonfires. Yet this was the same way she had attracted Wildeve the previous year; he had come to her house and they had begun a passionate affair. Confused, he goes to Eustacia again. After his visit, Wildeve decides that he does not want to marry Thomasin after all.
Diggory Venn, the reddleman, has been in love with Thomasin since childhood. He finds out about Eustacia...
(The entire section is 1458 words.)