To be loved to madness, such was her desire

Thomas Hardy’s ‘The Return of the Native’ tells the tragic tale of a woman who was considered a model goddess, a witch, but was very much human at her core

Published: 21st March 2017 10:09 PM  |   Last Updated: 22nd March 2017 07:39 AM   |  A+A-

The novel was made into a film in 1994 with Catherine Zeta Jones as Eustacia Vye

Express News Service

BENGALURU: In 1878, Thomas Hardy decided to tell the story of a man who returns to his native land from the finery in Paris, and a woman whose unrestrained desires to live the adventures of the world beyond this native land, in his book The Return of the Native.

In Egdon Heath — the consuming setting of the novel, the natives look at raven-haired 'Queen of the night' Eustacia Vye as a foreigner — exotic because of her Italian roots and distant because of her condescension to the heath dwellers. In fact, Eustacia carefully maintained her distance from the natives as she harboured hopes of marrying someone who would take her away from the heath. As Hardy described her: "To be loved to madness — such was her great desire."

Eustacia lived in the heath with her grandfather, though she was brought up in the fashionable seaside resort of Budmouth. Eustacia, due to her aloofness, condescension and foreign roots, was also considered by some a 'witch'.

After all, as Hardy himself said, "On Olympus, she would have done well with a little preparation. She had the passions and instincts which make a model Goddess, that is those which make not quite a model woman."

In the novel, Eustacia secretly romances Damon Wildeve and therefore manages to delay his marriage to sweet-natured Thomasin Yeobright. But Wildeve ultimately marries Thomasin when he realises that he was just a back-up for fickle Eustacia as the latter does not waste time in romancing Thomasin's cousin Clym, a diamond merchant from Paris.

Clym, the son of Mrs Yeobright, Thomasin's aunt, was the 'native' that the title talks about and he had returned to the heath to eke out an honest living as a school teacher, with no intentions of going back to his fancy Parisian life. But little does Eustacia know about Clym's plans and instead, marries him in a heartbeat, thinking that he was her ticket to get out of the heath.

However, after some time when Eustacia realises the status quo in her life, she once again clings on to the only hope she has -- Wildeve, without thinking of the consequences. In a twist of fate, Wildeve goes to meet Eustacia while Clym is asleep inside the house on the same day as Mrs Yeobright comes calling to mend her relationship with her son after a fall-out over his marriage.

But Eustacia fails to do the right thing once again which results in a dejected Mrs Yeobright dying on her way back and her son blaming Eustacia for adultery and cruelty. The novel ends with Eustacia falling over or throwing herself from the heath and into the choppy river, where she dies with Wildeve, who jumps after her. 

Many argue about who the intended protagonist of the novel was. At a time when Thomasin waited for Wildeve to make her his wife, Eustacia, despite her antagonism, stood out for her fearlessness and readiness to chase her dreams. However, her life ends in tragedy as she is not the exotic, demonic, goddesslike entity that the heathens made her be -- she is after all very human.   

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