One of Thomas Hardy’s most powerful works, The Return of the Native centers famously on Egdon Heath, the wild, haunted Wessex moor that D. H. Lawrence called “the real stuff of tragedy.” The heath’s changing face mirrors the fortunes of the farmers, inn-keepers, sons, mothers, and lovers who populate the novel. The “native” is Clym Yeobright, who comes home from a cosmopolitan life in Paris. He; his cousin Thomasin; her fiancé, Damon Wildeve; and the willful Eustacia Vye are the protagonists in a tale of doomed love, passion, alienation, and melancholy as Hardy brilliantly explores that theme so familiar throughout his fiction: the diabolical role of chance in determining the course of a life.
Kate Lochte says:
In February the National Symphony Orchestra performed Ravel’s Daphnis and Chloe in the Carson Center in Paducah. Its thrilling layered themes were enchanting. Music for a ballet that debuted in Paris in 1912, the Ravel made me think the Hardy novel, Return of the Native.
Returning to the book, it was wonderful to come upon Hardy’s chapter “The Figure Against the Sky” when the tragic heroine of the book is listening to the wind on Egdon Heath (the wild setting of the intensely romantic tale): “Part of its tone was quite special; what was heard there could be heard nowhere else. Gusts in innumerable series followed each other from the northwest, and when each one of them raced past the sound of its progress resolved into three. Treble, tenor, and bass notes were to be found therein. The general ricochet of the whole over pits and prominences had the gravest pitch of the chime. Next there could be heard the baritone buzz of a holly tree…” Ravel’s composition evokes the complicated music of the world turning as well.
Return of the Native’s main characters are either deeply at home on the Heath or yearning to escape its hold. That’s the conflict as much as the unwise decisions about marriages less motivated by genuine affection than by desire to mate in one’s own class or above it, but certainly not below it. Hardy’s love of descriptive prose clothes these simple plot lines in the beautiful dark finery of the natural setting.
If you enjoy being carried away into the wildness of the world and the human heart, this book might just be a good read for you, too.
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