Reading challenge, book 8, a book with a love triangle: The Return of the Native by Thomas Hardy
Thomas Hardy’s novels make me want to run away and live on the heath. His rich descriptions of the luscious vegetation, the way the light hits the heath during different times of the day, throughout the year, are exquisite. In his novels, the heath becomes a character in its own right. It has varying personalities that add to the tone and even the outcome of some of the actions within the storyline. While I usually dislike authors who dally too long on the scenery (looking at you, Tolkien), Hardy does it so masterfully that you are simultaneously aware of it (picturing the dew drops on the leafy ferns and the rich smells of the flowers, for example) and not aware. It’s artfully done and must be mentioned in any discussion of his novels, but particularly in this story, where the setting is so vitally important to the story. Everything happens on Egdon Heath, the physical location, but also the community plays a huge role.
Just in time for Valentine’s Day–a twisted love story!
Our cast of characters are a group of young people living on the heath–our protagonists Thomasina “Tamsin” who lives with Aunt Yeobright begins the story by running off to marry the “bad boy” aptly named Wildeve. Her Aunt takes issue with this as she doesn’t believe Wildeve is good enough for her family. However, she feels what’s “done is done.” Tamsin returns, ashamed because they are not married due to a snafu with the marriage license. She believes that this will cause scandalous gossip amounts the neighbors–I found this confusing but I assume it’s bad to be “unescorted” with a man and not end up married; also, it probably looks like she got jilted. She’s so upset with Wildeve and at this point, she doesn’t want to marry him at all, but feels she must to maintain her honor.
Unbeknownst to Tamsin, her groom-to-be had a fling with her neighbor, the wild, roaming Eustacia. However, he broke it off with Eustacia to run away on a whim with Tamsin to be wed. He comes back, promising Eustacia he wants to be with her instead and this is why the marriage didn’t occur. He tries to convince her to run away with him to America, but she is hurt that he threw her over, so she says that she needs some time to think it over. In the meantime, Tamsin’s cousin Clym comes home to visit from Paris (he is the titular returning native).
Clym is the prodigal son returned; his Aunt is ecstatic to see him and so proud at his success in the diamond selling business. He seems quite chic compared to their “country bumpkin” selves, and Eustacia finds him completely mesmerizing. In the light of this interesting new man, Wildeve seems quite boring, and so Eustacia throws him over. He decides to marry Tamsin, who is still unaware of his love for Eustacia, to save his pride. Eustacia becomes infatuated with Clym (Tamsin’s cousin) and begins pursuing him. Eventually he falls into her trap, and despite his mother’s protests, they, too, run away to become wed.
However, neither of these unions were made thoughtfully, but rather in the wild passions of an initial romance. Wildeve becomes jealous of Clym and starts thinking of (and eventually attempting to) wooing Eustacia back into his clutches. Clym has an unfortunate medical condition affecting his eyes which keeps him from pursuing his dream job of teaching. He instead takes on menial labor which mortifies Eustacia. She only married him to satisfy her dreams of moving to Paris. When she discovered Clym had no plans to leave the heath, she was devastated and her infatuation with him ended. Eustacia has a huge falling out with Clym’s mother that leads to dire consequences. Another character, known as Mr. Venn, is in love with Tamsin but respectfully maintains his distance once she is married. In true Hardy fashion, all of these relationships will come to a dynamic and fulfilling climax at the end of the novel.
Confused yet? I love Hardy–he writes a great love triangle. Now that you can see how nice and tangled things are, I will make you read to find out the rest. Just be assured that in true Hardy style, there will be tragic consequences for some.