Places Discussed

(Critical Guide to Settings and Places in Literature)


Wessex. Imaginary English region that was the setting for Hardy’s major fiction. Born in Dorsetshire, one of five counties in southern England, Hardy re-created this region in his novels as “Wessex.” This unsophisticated rural area is never entirely absent in his fiction or poetry. Late in his life, Hardy returned to Dorset and a new home for himself and his wife.

Egdon Heath

Egdon Heath. Gloomy wasteland in southern England. Against this majestic but solemn, brooding background a small group of people work out their tragic drama in the impersonal presence of nature. The heath’s grim face, its twisted topography—hills, valleys, rivers, ponds, paths, and open wasteland, a composite of several heaths—is a dominant symbol of primitive, timeless, and uncultivated nature. In this untamed place, nature’s four basic elements—earth, air, fire, and water—control this microcosm of a completely indifferent land. Earth is unalterable. Humans grow nothing; they only harvest the land’s natural furze. At times, even humans appear no more distinguishable from the landscape than “the green caterpillar from the leaf it feeds on.”

To the heath itself, people seem to be just another crop growth. Earthen paths serve as roads for constant travel around and back and forth over the nearly circular heath. Air, in the form of constantly blowing winds, whirls and buffets humans and assaults their ears with eerie sounds. Fire, a symbol of human passion, appears in ceremonial bonfires, signal fires, a black magic fire, and the summer sun’s fiery blazes. Rains flooding Shadwater Weir reveal the dual life/death aspects of the water symbol for humans or other creatures caught in the rapidly revolving whirlpool.

In death, humans finally become part of the heath, as the ancient...

(The entire section is 756 words.)

Historical Context

(Novels for Students)

The Victorian Age
Today, Victorianism is thought of as another word for sexual repression. Yet the Victorian Age (1839–1901)...

(The entire section is 342 words.)

Literary Style

(Novels for Students)

Point of View
This novel is told from the third-person point of view, which means that the narrator is a disembodied voice,...

(The entire section is 923 words.)

Literary Techniques

(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

Venn and Thomasin's wedding resolves the love plot and permits Hardy to move Clym forward into a career as an open-air preacher on...

(The entire section is 737 words.)

Ideas for Group Discussions

(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

In The Return of the Native Hardy examines the process of England's movement from an agrarian to an urban civilization, and from a...

(The entire section is 580 words.)

Social Concerns

(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

With his sixth published novel, Thomas Hardy transformed himself from a gifted apprentice writer to one whose individual genius as well as...

(The entire section is 3200 words.)

Compare and Contrast

(Novels for Students)

1840s: Milk production in dairy farming is all done by hand.

1878: The first commercial milking machines are...

(The entire section is 235 words.)

Topics for Further Study

(Novels for Students)

The events of this story take place in the 1840s. Determine how rural England changed between that time and the time of the book’s...

(The entire section is 158 words.)


(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

Although the novel lends itself to cinematic representation, especially the early scenes on Guy Fawkes Day, comparatively few efforts have...

(The entire section is 832 words.)

Media Adaptations

(Novels for Students)

Return of the Native was adapted as a television presentation for the Hallmark Hall of Fame series in 1994, starring Clive Owen, Catherine...

(The entire section is 64 words.)

What Do I Read Next?

(Novels for Students)

All of Hardy’s other novels are well-respected, but Tess of the D’Urbervilles, published in 1891, is particularly like Return of...

(The entire section is 174 words.)

Bibliography and Further Reading

(Novels for Students)

Adams, Francis, Review of Tess of the D’Urbervilles, in The Fortnightly Review, Vol. LII, No. CCVII, July 1891,...

(The entire section is 360 words.)


(Great Characters in Literature)

Bloom, Harold, ed. Thomas Hardy’s “The Return of the Native.” New York: Chelsea House, 1987. Introduction addresses the relation of Arthur Schopenhauer and Percy Bysshe Shelley to Hardy, then discusses the “transformation” of Eustacia. Contains essays Brooks calls the “best modern interpretations” written by Lawrence, Howe, Brooks, Eggenschwiler, Meisel, Gregor, Fleishman, and Johnson.

Gindin, James, ed. Thomas Hardy: “The Return of the Native.” New York: W. W. Norton, 1969. Contains the novel, twelve of Hardy’s poems and the portion of his autobiography related to the novel, five contemporary criticisms, and...

(The entire section is 279 words.)