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The Return Of The Native

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The passionate Eustacia Vye feels herself imprisoned, living in her grandfather’s isolated cottage on wild Egdon Heath.

'To be loved to madness - such was her great desire', and to live a life of idleness and luxury in some more entertaining and vibrant setting.

Her ex-lover, Damon Wildeve wasn’t able to provide these things for her, and before the story begins has gone off to marry local girl Thomasin Yeobright, who adores him. Her Aunt disapproves of Wildeve, and has previously forbidden the banns. She had hopes of her niece marrying Clem, her son - and ‘The Native’ of the title, who is making a career in Paris as a diamond merchant.

For a technical reason the marriage between Wildeve and Thomasin has not taken place, and she is brought home in distress by Diggory Venn, a wandering reddleman who comes across her on the road. Venn had been a local dairy farmer, but having had his proposal of marriage turned down by Thomasin some years before had given up the farm and taken to the road, making and selling ‘raddle’, which was used for marking sheep. This trade has impregnated his clothes and skin with red dye, so he is excluded from community life, and is used as a 'bogeyman' to scare children.

Still loving Thomasin, Venn takes to keeping a caring eye on her, and a suspicious one on Eustacia and Wildeve, who he suspects, correctly, to have recommenced their relationship.


Mrs Yeobright is aware that Thomasin’s reputation will be ruined if the marriage to Wildeve does not take place quickly, now actively promotes it, but Wildeve no longer seems so keen.


Into this situation comes Clem Yeobright, ostensibly returning home for Christmas, but with hidden long-term plans to stay around. Eustacia decides that a life in Paris would suit her just fine, so encourages Clem to fall for her. Damon Wildeve marries Thomasin, but continues to haunt the Heath in order to see Eustacia, and Diggory Venn watches and acts in what he believes are the interests of Thomasin.


It all, of course, ends in tragedy (or at least that was Hardy’s original intention). However, a sort of epilogue to fit in with the magazine format in which it was first published provides a happier conclusion for a couple of the main characters.

In addition to the five central characters, there is a cast of Egdon Heath residents who provide commentary and comedy giving some light relief from the intensity of the emotions between the various lovers, and Egdon Heath itself plays such a major role in the action of the plot that it is almost a character also.

I have loved Hardy’s novels since my early teens, but have found them, and other novels of the period, more difficult to read in recent years, as the descriptive passages - which used to be my favourites - seem to slow the action down so much, and my eyes tend to slide over the words until I reach someone doing or saying something Too many plot-driven modern novels, action led TV, and the busy busy pace of modern life I guess.


Fortunately I had this on audiobook, wonderfully read by Alan Rickman,

. Not only is it not possible to skim over the wonderful descriptive passages, he makes Egdon Heath almost visible to the listener.


He also gives the characters believable voices. The basic narration is in his ‘normal’ voice, but he does a very credible Dorset accent. - Sorry, several credible Dorset accents, modulating them from the light accent of the more educated characters, to the broader ones of the furze cutters on the heath.

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