«Introduction..2 - 10 Chapter One: Evangelical Principles and Hardy’s Fiction.11 - 36 Chapter Two: Nature, the Law and Christian Ethics in The ...»
Heath folk are too remote mentally and physically from the church in the conventional sense for it to be part of their daily lives. Natives of the heath resort to far more primitive forms of spiritualism than Biblical teaching and Hardy gives these primitive spiritual forms Boumelha’, P. Introduction to The Return of the Native. xxxii.
Stotko 40 credence by engineering events to follow in accordance with dreams and witchcraft. In the Bible, a prophecy is considered valid if the event foreseen comes to pass (Deuteronomy 18.22). Eustacia’s dream of herself and her partner diving into a pond on the heath and her partner falling into fragments is an omen of her death by drowning and Clym’s fate as a broken man with a “wrinkled mind” at the end of the novel. Similarly, Clym dreams that he and Eustacia are locked out of his mother’s house while she calls out for help and no one assists her. At that very moment in time she is dying on the heath because Eustacia refuses to open her home to her.
Startling scenes such as Susan Nunsuch making a wax effigy of Eustacia, piercing it with pins and burning it while chanting the Our Father backwards cannot be ignored in view of the fact that, voodoo or no, Eustacia dies a violent death. Superstition rules the lives of the heath folk, in particular Christian Cantle. But despite the comic element in Christian’s fears and superstition, a grain of credibility is instilled by virtue of Hardy’s tendency to back up the statements with facts. For example, Christian’s manhood is believed to be compromised because he was born under a waning moon. The fact is that he is weak in mind and body and cannot find a wife; no one will have him. Even the stalwart Mrs Yeobright is not free of superstition as is evident when Thomasin leaves the house to get married and Mrs Yeobright throws a slipper after her.
Egdon heath represents the earth in all its historicity from pre Christian times to the present and Hardy takes care to point out that far from replacing man’s natural inclinations with New Testament morality and goodness, Christian teaching dissolves under duress and the elemental forces underlying life itself, pagan in nature, gain control. The narrator emphasises this: “Indeed the impulses of all such outlandish hamlets are pagan still: in these spots homage to nature, self adoration, frantic gaieties, fragments of Teutonic rites to divinities whose names are forgotten, have in some way or another survived medieval doctrine” (The Return of the Native 376).
Dance is yet another form of paganism which Hardy explores in The Return of the Native. Eustacia goes to a dance on the village green to battle against depression. The dance is described as “a whole village-full of emotion” which meets annually. It releases primitive instincts in the dancers and the reader is informed that “paganism was revived in their hearts” (The Return of the Native 254-255). The spirit of the dance overcomes Eustacia and Wildeve and acts as “an irresistible attack upon whatever sense of social order there was in their minds” (The Return of the Native 257). Their defences against social impropriety are deactivated leaving them vulnerable to their untamed emotions regarding each other. The accidental reunion of the two former lovers rekindles the flame of their desire opening the door to adultery which is the catalyst in the chain reaction of events that leads to their tragic deaths. Thus pagan rituals play an important role in human behaviour and the outcome of events.
Egdon Heath functions ambivalently as an environment that shares both pagan and Biblical characteristics. The pagan and Biblical elements merge into a powerful invincible Stotko 41 force symbolised by Nature. The unrelenting and destructive impact of Nature on the characters and landscape in The Return of the Native can be interpreted as a physical manifestation of the spiritual forces in pagan and Christian beliefs exerting a crushing influence on the fate of defenceless creation. The deaths of Eustacia, Wildeve and Mrs Yeobright are the result of the brutality of Nature and the vegetation surrounding the heath is equally vulnerable to the sadistic violence inflicted on it by the elements: “The wet young beeches were undergoing amputations, bruises, cripplings, and lacerations, from which the wasting sap would bleed [...] and leave scars visible to the day of their burning” (The Return of the Native 207). This image of creation at the mercy of hostile forces of Nature recurs in Hardy’s late fiction as a reflection of life on earth. People are born in misery, live lives of pain and suffering and then die with the possible prospect of damnation.
Clym Yeobright is highly sensitive to the suffering of humanity, which he perceives as “ the whole creation groaning and travailing in pain’” ( The Return of the Native 175).
Consequently, he decides to abandon his frivolous life and profession in Paris and return to Egdon, where he desires to be useful and “ teach ‘em how to breast the misery they are born to’” (The Return of the Native 175). Hardy brings modernity, progress, refinement, education and civilisation embodied by Clym the native into the primitive Egdon Heath in order to explore the effect of an interaction between two disparate elements. Clym Yeobright returns to Egdon Heath armed with compassion, optimism and noble ambitions to ameliorate the lives of the locals by means of educating them. He is motivated by essentially Christian instincts.
The narrator states that “Yeobright loved his kind” (The Return of the Native 171) and that he is a “John the Baptist who took ennoblement rather than repentance for his text” (The Return of the Native 172). Clym is a modern who believes (like Jude), that education is a means to amelioration in life. The Christian qualities attributed to Clym are augmented by the authorial comment: “He wished to raise the class [...] and was ready at once to be the first unit sacrificed” (The Return of the Native 171).
But he does not reckon with the inexorable power of the hostile forces of Nature which suck him back into the vortex of a hopeless, bucolic, primitive existence. In the battle of civilisation versus Nature, Hardy’s narrative demonstrates that civilisation proves to be an impotent opponent with no chance of victory. Egdon Heath remains “untameable”. Clym’s vision for the future is destroyed by his fatal attraction to an unsuitable woman and physical blindness which assails him preventing the realisation of his dream to become an educator.
Both these factors are caused by external forces beyond his control and they determine his fate. His marriage fails and his blindness forces him resort to primitive menial work to survive.
Eustacia recognises that Clym’s greatness, which is based on the Christian principle of loving-kindness, is misplaced on Egdon and is as ineffectual as vapour in the harsh world he desires to change. She sees in him a type of Apostle Paul in her description of him to Wildeve “ [...] though Paul was excellent as a man in the Bible he would hardly have done Nature capitalised represents elemental universal forces while nature stands for plant and animal life.
Stotko 42 in real life’” (The Return of the Native 275). Clym’s delicate nature is not designed for “real life” in a primitive environment.
The novel traces Clym’s descent from a position of strength and respect to one of despair and resignation. Modernity and progress are eradicated by the forces of Nature, which obliterate Clym’s individuality rendering him indistinguishable from the heath. He becomes “a brown spot in the midst of an expanse of olive green gorse, and nothing more,” plagued by huge flies who buzz about him “without knowing that he was a man” (The Return of the Native 247). He is vanquished by the heath and is oppressed by the realisation that it represents the “arena of life” and that he has merely “a bare equality with, and no superiority to, a single living thing under the sun” (The Return of the Native 206). Hardy emphasises humanity’s insignificance by comparing Clym with caterpillars and insects crawling on the face of the earth. Far from being the crown of creation made in God’s image and given dominion over the earth (Genesis 1.26), Hardy portrays humans as negligible atoms in the universe, swept along the current of time without influence or choice. Life or death, suffering or joy, are all the same to the heath. Clym and Eustacia’s shattered dreams of a life in communion with one another; Clym’s blindness and broken dreams and even death itself are absorbed into the heath and become meaningless: “there was only the imperturbable countenance of the heath, which having defied the cataclysmal onsets of centuries, reduced to insignificance by its seamed and antique features the wildest turmoil of a single man” (The Return of the Native 317).
At the end of the novel, Clym is incapable of happiness. He roams the earth preaching and teaching those who care to listen. He arises on the Blackbarrow that Eustacia stands on in the beginning of the novel watching her bonfire. The narrative comes full circle, reinforcing the conclusion that the native returns, but is forced to become a nomad because in Hardy’s universe there is no progression toward a better future, only a survival from day to day until death brings release. Significantly, people listen with compassion to Clym’s sermons, not because of his great teaching, but because they pity him as a victim of evil circumstances.
Both Clym and Eustacia stand apart from the other characters because they are purposeful, determined and energetic. Yet despite Clym’s talents and everyone’s belief in his ability, and Eustacia’s strength and regal self assurance, both are fated to fail because they are subject to Natural laws and have to live their lives in “the quandary that man is in by their operation” (The Return of the Native 167). Their dreams and aspirations are annihilated by the malignant forces of Nature.
Eustacia from the start is marked (like Tess and Jude), with a morbid sensitivity to all that is negative and melancholy. She cannot believe that good can be enduring and is convinced that it is her destiny to be unhappy. Tess is reluctant to enter into an engagement with Angel because she is filled with fear since she sees the future as blighted and believes that love is transient. Eustacia echoes this sentiment: “ Nothing can insure the continuance of love. It will evaporate as a spirit.’” These characters share a wish that they had never been Stotko 43 born, see death as a release and ultimately succumb to death. Eustacia’s extraordinary statement: “ obstacles […] enable us to look with indifference upon cruel satires that Fate loves to indulge in. I have heard of people who, upon coming suddenly into happiness, have died of anxiety lest they should not live to enjoy it’” (The Return of the Native 204) is indicative of the chronic aberrant defeatism that permeates Hardy’s narrative. It seems that it is not part of man’s destiny to experience joy and contentment.
Eustacia hates the heath. She associates it with her melancholic disposition and her fate. When Wildeve apologises for causing her ruin, she states that it is not he, but the heath that is responsible. She says prophetically: “ ’Tis my cross, my misery and will be my death’” (The Return of the Native 86). To her it is Hades and a gaol. It is hell from which she seeks deliverance. Eustacia’s belief that she needs saving from the heath augments the heath as a symbol of the cursed earth. She believes deliverance will come in the form of love. Eustacia imagines that she needs a man to save her. She prays “ Oh deliver my heart from this fearful gloom and loneliness: send me great love from somewhere, else I shall die’” (The Return of the Native 72). Clym’s arrival brings into her sphere “a man who might possibly have the power to deliver her soul from a most deadly oppression” (The Return of the Native 130).
She mentally creates a saviour in Clym Yeobright, who she trusts will remove her from the heath and take her to Paris, the fortress of civilisation and modernity. The Heathmen’s comparison of Clym coming from Paris to “a man coming from heaven” (The Return of the Native 110) intensifies the image of Clym as a saviour figure. Indeed Clym sees himself as a saviour-type when he first comes to Egdon. Both Tess and Eustacia base their choice of a man/saviour on his cultured demeanour in the belief that through marriage their lives will be enriched and they will be saved from leading a miserable existence. They both reap woe and death, which can be construed as Hardy’s vision of the fate of humanity on this cursed earth.
Ironically, despite the great pains Hardy takes to design in Egdon Heath a pagan environment that is relatively free from social and religious constraints, the main characters all regard their fate as being a consequence of their sins. They connect their guilt with punishment, thus affirming a belief in traditional Christian doctrine of sin and judgement.
Clym Yeobright, the determined optimist, who accepts blindness and poverty stoically, is reduced to a heap of woe at his mother’s death. Guilt motivates his decline. He blames himself for causing a rift between himself and his mother through his marriage. He suffers under strong guilt feelings for having failed in basic Christian virtues towards his mother in her sickness and loneliness. Like Tess, he believes that he deserves to be punished: “ If there is any justice in God let him kill me now. He has nearly blinded me, but that is not enough. If he would only strike me with more pain I would believe in him forever’” (The Return of the Native 304). Clym’s inordinate guilt over his mother’s death is almost pathological. His selfcondemnation makes him physically ill. He believes that his sin has brought darkness over his life: “ I sinned against her and now there is no light for me’” ( he Return of the Native 303) T and his existence from his mother’s death on is defeatist and shrouded by depression (The Return of the Native 296).