«Introduction..2 - 10 Chapter One: Evangelical Principles and Hardy’s Fiction.11 - 36 Chapter Two: Nature, the Law and Christian Ethics in The ...»
Stotko 44 In fact Mrs Yeobright’s death has multiple causes, one of which is a broken heart because of a mistaken belief that her son has cast her out. Hardy mercilessly casts the die to prevent a reconciliation taking place between mother and son. Eustacia’s guilt about Wildeve and Clym’s fatigue force Mrs Yeobright onto the scorching heath resulting in her death. It appears that there are three factors involved: human failing or sin, hostile forces of Nature, and nature in the form of a snake, which is placed in a Biblical context by Christian Cantle with a direct reference to Original sin: “ Neighbours, how do we know but that something of the old serpent in God’s garden, that gied the apple to the young woman with no clothes on, lives on in adders and snakes still?’” (The Return of the Native 288). Christian’s child-like question in the context of the entire event leads to the assumption that evil in man and nature which is related to Original sin “lives on” indefinitely and thereby poses an ever present threat.
While Clym wallows in self-inflicted guilt, Eustacia is less willing to admit her culpability. She cries out against Fate and declares that she has tried to be a “splendid woman” but destiny was against her. She is angry at heaven for having placed her in such an “imperfect, ill-conceived world.” Her anger is intensified by the fact that she is fully aware of the great things she is capable of but cannot achieve because she is thwarted by God. She cries out: “ I have been injured and blighted and crushed by things beyond my control! O how hard it is of Heaven to devise such tortures for me, who have done no harm to heaven at all!’” (The Return of the Native 346). She feels she does not deserve her fate. However, unlike Tess who is the incarnation of innocence, Eustacia is no saint.
Hardy stresses her dark side by calling her Queen of the Night and surrounding her person with an air of witchcraft and the occult, although her actual negative characteristics are of a very natural human type and have predictable consequences far removed from anything pagan and mysterious. Hardy’s authorial comment underscores Eustacia’s belief that she is a victim of an unfair External Force: “Yet, instead of blaming herself, she laid the fault upon some indistinct, colossal Prince of the World, who had framed her situation and ruled her lot” (The Return of the Native 290). However, her obdurate pride causes strife between herself and Mrs Yeobright, her selfishness leads her to seek the company of Wildeve when her marriage fails and prevents her from exercising any compassion towards her husband in his illness and blindness. She marries Clym purely for her own gain and candidly admits to being a bad wife. Her guilt at harbouring Wildeve when Mrs Yeobright comes to make peace is the determining factor which causes Eustacia to leave the door shut against her resulting in her death. Therefore, although Fate does influence events, Eustacia is culpable. She later realises this and confesses to Wildeve: “ I am to blame for this. There is evil in store for me’” (The Return of the Native 297). She too believes that evil is a consequence of wrong-doing.
The events that follow verify her belief: she pays for her adulterous behaviour with her life.
Apparently, Hardy as the author holds her accountable by the law which exacts its penalty by bringing about the curse which Clym calls down upon his wife: “ May all murderesses get the torment they deserve!’” (The Return of the Native 316).
Stotko 45 Fate or Destiny has Hardy’s trade-mark characteristics in The Return of the Native.
The machinations of Fate, when scrutinised, reveal that Hardy choreographs events such that disaster is inevitable. If Eustacia had received Clym’s letter, she would not have run away. If Charley had not lit the bonfire to please Eustacia, Wildeve would not have mistaken it as a signal from her and come. Thus Eustacia’s flight would not have taken place and her death would have been circumvented. If Clym had heard his mother’s knock he would have been reconciled to her and her death would have been averted. The fact that these coincidences inevitably prevent good from triumphing over evil and result in misery and death indicates that Hardy in this novel follows the same pattern as has been traced in Tess and Jude: every human being, even the strong in Darwinian terms (like Eustacia and Wildeve), are subject to a Natural Law which governs the entire universe. It can be argued that this Law operates in accordance with the Biblical Old Testament Law which defines sin and exacts judgement.
Hardy’s characters are given no mercy or avenue of escape from the crushing power of sin, resulting in a universe characterised by doom.
Although the novel ends on a positive note, this is undermined by a postscript Hardy wrote in 1912 in which he declares that the original version left Thomasin a widow and Diggory Venn a restless nomad. He maintains that readers with a more “austere artistic code” should accept the latter as the true one. The happy ending was for the benefit of the serial publication, not a portrayal of truth. It would seem that Hardy just cannot embrace any form of respite from doom if he is to remain true to himself.
Slade, Tony. Notes on text to The Return of the Native (472).
They seem to have an individual identity in some poems and yet in others they tend to merge and become indistinguishable from one another.
In “Doom and She” Nature and God are portrayed like split personalities of one being.
Apparently they are jointly responsible for the creation of humanity. Nature calls humankind “Our clay-made creatures” (13) and worries that she has “schemed a world of strife” (24) while “all creatures who owe thee fief” (34) suggests that God exercises power over all the earth. Nature’s workings are imperfect because she is blind. She is sensitive to the suffering on earth audible in the “multitudinous moan” (23), is compassionate, and wishes to understand and improve the lot of humankind. She exhibits the qualities generally associated with the loving God of the New Testament. By contrast, Hardy outlines “God” who is called “Doom” in the title as being entirely neutral, devoid of emotion and unable to recognise joy or pain. Through the “The Mother of all things made” (6) the poet voices some of the existential questions that arose for him as a result of his loss of faith. Importantly, these questions are addressed to the “lord” and pertain to the fate of man, and the nature of grief and right and wrong. The questions remain unanswered because the “Lord” (13) cannot relate to the human experience of suffering and pain Hardy was deeply affected by all suffering both human and animal. Little Jude’s concerted effort not to tread on any earthworms provides an almost comical example of the author’s sensitivity to suffering. It is a theme that is rarely absent from his novels and poems.
As an artist he searches for an explanation to the suffering he observed in life. When Hardy rejected the Christian belief in salvation through Jesus Christ, he was faced with a crisis (Kramer 55). The face of God seemed to change from a loving and compassionate Being seeking forgiveness and reconciliation with man to a heartless Automaton (“Nature’s Questioning” 17), who is indifferent to man. His art reflects his desire to come to terms with the negative image of God his intellect creates out the god of his youth. In terms of religion, there is an irreconcilable conflict between Hardy’s affective side and his intellect. His poetry Stotko 47 and biography suggest that emotionally he clings to the hope that God is a positive force but intellectually he cannot support this idea with evidence of any kind. Therefore, his art, and in particular his poetry, oscillates between hope and doubt while at its heart lies the everlasting and unanswered question about the nature of God.
In an effort to reconcile the idea of an omnipotent God with the suffering of humankind “Doom and She” proposes that if God exists, He must be ignorant of the suffering on earth, or He would, like the “Mother,” desire to intervene and alleviate pain. This perception of God is diametrically opposed to the Biblical view that God became man in order to share in humanity’s suffering and provide a way to redemption and illustrates how Hardy’s views have departed from his early religious perceptions. Inherently he appears to struggle against abandoning the Christian notion imbibed in his childhood that God is good and that He cares for humankind. “God’s Funeral” demonstrates the very practical and intimate nature
of Hardy’s youthful faith:
‘How sweet it was in years far hied To start the wheels of day with trustful prayer, To lie down liegely at eventide And feel a blest assurance he was there! (41 - 44) His relationship with God was part of his daily life, his waking and his sleeping, and the lack of it had a profound impact on his existence. The adverb ‘liegely’ created by Hardy from the adjective ‘liege’ meaning to give feudal service or allegiance (OED) suggests total submission to God who is entitled to receive such submission.
As an agnostic adult he still sought signs that would verify his youthful conception of God. His poetry concerning religious themes is largely a testimony of the fruitlessness of this search. It follows the pattern set in “Doom and She”: questions are asked but there is no answer. This silence on the part of the allegedly omniscient God fills the poet with grief and frustration because it becomes an affective verification of the doubt in the existence of God instigated in his intellect by nineteenth-century science and philosophy.
“A Sign Seeker” personalises the theme of questions asked but not answered. While “Doom and She” views life on earth from the viewpoint of the creative force, “A Sign Seeker” offers a subjective view. The speaker in “A Sign Seeker” possesses a great deal of knowledge about Nature and Science, yet the knowledge he seeks, which is of a spiritual nature, eludes him “But that I fain would wot of shuns my sense —” (24). The issues he seeks signs for are recurring themes in Hardy’s work. They relate to life after death (26 - 32) and suffering (33 - 36). It would be “best enlightenment” (28) to be assured that death is “‘Not the end!’” (27) and that suffering is recorded in Heaven (36). It seems important to Hardy that suffering is not futile. If Heaven takes note of suffering, it is to be assumed that Hardy imagines it would result in a positive outcome such as intervention or recompense.
The poem moves on to concede that “— There are who, [...] / These tokens claim to feel and see,” (37 - 38). There are people who, unlike Hardy, experience supernatural “evidence” in answer to the existential questions Hardy poses. But the poet’s desire remains Stotko 48 unfulfilled: “Such scope is granted not to lives like mine” (41). He calls and indeed “pants” for a response. “But none replies;” (44 - 45). The crucial point here is that the poet is “not granted” or “denied” these signs. This implies that it is not so much a question of whether the proof exists in reality or not, but rather that God, or the Being in whose power it lies to allow Hardy access to this proof, fails to do so. The signs are the property of the believers. Hardy in his unbelief perceives himself to be on the outside of the community of believers who through their faith are open to spiritual experiences.
“The Impercipient” is another subjective poem in the first person that expresses distress at being excluded for the community of the faithful. Looking in from the outside at the “bright band of believers” in their cosy faith cocoon, the poet feels miserable because God seems to have placed Himself out of reach: “He who breathes All’s Well to these/ Breathes no All’s - Well to me,” (15 - 16). His misery is accentuated by the comparison of his mental state with that of the believers. When they see “the glorious distant sea” the poet sees “yon dark
and wind-swept pine”. “The Impercipient” reverberates with whys:
Why thus my soul should be consigned To infelicity, Why always I must feel as blind To sights my brethren see, Why joys they’ve found I cannot find Abides a mystery. (7 - 12) According to the poet, his soul is handed over to unhappiness by a greater power. He wants to know why he is condemned to faithlessness which leaves him in the darkness of despair.
The New Testament specifies that faith is not something a person can achieve through his own effort. It is a gift (Ephesians 2.8), “For by grace are ye saved through faith;
and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God”. The concept of faith is not rejected as humbug. “A Sign Seeker”, “The Impercipient” and “The Voice of Things” suggest that Hardy, despite his doubts, appears to retain an acceptance of the New Testament teaching that faith exists and is imparted by God. Therefore, it seems reasonable to assume that his lack of faith can be attributed to God who remains aloof. “Doom and She” expounds one reason for this aloofness, namely, that God is callous and unaware of man’s needs.