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A guide to reading "Return of the Native" with a critical and appreciative mind. Includes background on the author's life and times, sample tests, term paper suggestions, and a reading list.
A SATURDAY afternoon in November was approaching the time of twilight, and the vast tract of unenclosed wild known as Egdon Heath embrowned itself moment by moment. Overhead the hollow stretch of whitish cloud shutting out the sky was as a tent which had the whole heath for its floor.
The heaven being spread with this pallid screen and the earth with the darkest vegetation, their meeting-line at the horizon was clearly marked. In such contrast the heath wore the appearance of an instalment of night which had taken up its place before its astronomical hour was come: darkness had to a great extent arrived hereon, while day stood distinct in the sky. Looking upwards, a furze-cutter would have been inclined to continue work; looking down, he would have decided to finish his faggot and go home. The distant rims of the world and of the firmament seemed to be a division in time no less than a division in matter. The face of the heath by its mere complexion added half an hour to evening; it could in like manner retard the dawn, sadden noon, anticipate the frowning of storms scarcely generated, and intensify the opacity of a moonless midnight to a cause of shaking dread.
In fact, precisely at this transitional point of its nightly roll into darkness the great and particular glory of the Egdon waste began, and nobody could be said to understand the heath who had not been there at such a time. It could best be felt when it could not clearly be seen, its complete effect and explanation lying in this and the succeeding hours before the next dawn: then, and only then, did it tell its true tale. The spot was, indeed, a near relation of night, and when night showed itself anapparent tendency to gravitate together could be perceived in its shades and the scene. The sombre stretch of rounds and hollows seemed to rise and meet the evening gloom in pure sympathy, the heath exhaling darkness as rapidly as the heavens precipitated it. And so the obscurity in the air and the obscurity in the land closed together in a black fraternization towards which each advanced half-way.
The place became full of a watchful intentness now; for when other things sank brooding to sleep the heath appeared slowly to awake and listen. Every night its Titanic form seemed to await something; but it had waited thus, unmoved, during so many centuries, through the crises of so many things, that it could only be imagined to await one last crisis—the final overthrow.
|Book 1||The Three Women|
|I.||A Face on Which Time Makes But Little Impression||1|
|II.||Humanity Appears upon the Scene, Hand in Hand with Trouble||4|
|III.||The Custom of the Country||9|
|IV.||The Halt on the Turnpike Road||25|
|V.||Perplexity among Honest People||29|
|VI.||The Figure against the Sky||39|
|VII.||Queen of Night||49|
|VIII.||Those Who Are Found Where There Is Said to Be Nobody||54|
|IX.||Love Leads a Shrewd Man into Strategy||58|
|X.||A Desperate Attempt at Persuasion||65|
|XI.||The Dishonesty of an Honest Woman||72|
|Book 2||The Arrival|
|I.||Tidings of the Comer||79|
|II.||The People at Blooms-End Make Ready||83|
|III.||How a Little Sound Produced a Great Dream||86|
|IV.||Eustacia Is Led on to an Adventure||89|
|V.||Through the Moonlight||97|
|VI.||The Two Stand Face to Face||102|
|VII.||A Coalition Between Beauty and Oddness||111|
|VIII.||Firmness Is Discovered in a Gentle Heart||118|
|Book 3||The Fascination|
|I.||"My Mind to Me a Kingdom Is"||127|
|II.||The New Course Causes Disappointment||131|
|III.||The First Act in a Timeworn Drama||137|
|IV.||An Hour of Bliss and Many Hours of Sadness||148|
|V.||Sharp Words Are Spoken, and a Crisis Ensues||154|
|VI.||Yeobright Goes, and the Breach Is Complete||159|
|VII.||The Morning and the Evening of a Day||165|
|VIII.||A New Force Disturbs the Current||175|
|Book 4||The Closed Door|
|I.||The Rencounter by the Pool||183|
|II.||He Is Set upon by Adversities; But He Sings a Song||188|
|III.||She Goes Out to Battle Against Depression||196|
|IV.||Rough Coercion Is Employed||205|
|V.||The Journey Across the Health||211|
|VI.||A Conjuncture, and Its Result upon the Pedestrian||214|
|VII.||The Tragic Meeting of Two Old Friends||222|
|VIII.||Eustacia Hears of Good Fortune and Beholds Evil||228|
|Book 5||The Discovery|
|I.||"Wherefore Is Light Given to Him That Is in Misery"||235|
|II.||A Lurid Light Breaks in Upon a Darkened Understanding||241|
|III.||Eustacia Dresses Herself on a Black Morning||248|
|IV.||The Ministrations of a Half-Forgotten One||254|
|V.||An Old Move Inadvertently Repeated||258|
|VI.||Thomasin Argues with Her Cousin, and He Writes a Letter||263|
|VII.||The Night of the Sixth of November||268|
|VIII.||Rain, Darkness, and Anxious Wanderers||274|
|IX.||Sights and Sounds Draw the Wanderers Together||282|
|I.||The Inevitable Movement Onward||291|
|II.||Thomasin Walks in a Green Place by the Roman Road||298|
|III.||The Serious Discourse of Clym with His Cousin||300|
|IV.||Cheerfulness Again Asserts Itself at Blooms-End, and Clym Finds His Vocation||304|
1. What does Egdon Heath symbolize to you? How does each character relate to the heath? To what extent does the landscape control the actions of the characters or influence them? How do the characters resist or succumb to the landscape? What is the role of urban life in the novel?
2. Discuss Clym's spiritual odyssey. How does it shed light on Hardy's concerns in the novel? Would you describe Clym as idealistic? How does his attitude compare to that of the people of Egdon Heath or that of Eustacia?
3. Why does Eustacia hate Egdon Heath? Is she too headstrong? How much control does Eustacia have over events that shape her life? Over the lives of others? Do you think Eustacia symbolizes human limitation or potential? Do you think her death is a reconciliation of sorts, or not?
4. Discuss the role of fate or chance in the novel. Is Hardy sympathetic to the victims of chance in this novel? To what extent are events caused by the force of a character's personality (e. g., Eustacia), rather than by chance? To what extent do actions produce results opposite from that desired? Do you think there is a connection between this use of irony and the role of fate in the novel?
5. Discuss the novel's opening scene, in which Hardy describes Egdon Heath. How does this establish the emotional tone of the book? How does it foreshadow the action within the novel?
6. Why is Eustacia interested in Clym? How does this set the wheels of the plot in motion? How does this affect the other characters, like Thomasin and particularly Clym's mother? What is Wildeve's role in Mrs. Yeobright's fate?