The Return of the Native By Thomas Hardy Character Analysis Eustacia Vye

"Queen of night," Eustacia, who is a native of the fashionable seaside resort of Budmouth and whose non-English father gives her an appearance that is slightly exotic, is ever an outsider on Egdon Heath. Her grandfather's house is isolated physically, and she keeps herself apart from the heath dwellers by her walks alone and her frequent nightly excursions to the summit of Rainbarrow. She has a kind of contempt for the natives, as shown, for example, in her condescension to Charley in allowing him to hold her hand in payment for the part she wants to play in the Christmas mumming.

They, in turn, look upon her as unfriendly and too proud; Mrs. Yeobright tells Clym she is idle and probably wanton. Susan Nunsuch even thinks of her as a witch. Unlike Clym, whom the heath folk can at least fathom in part, Eustacia is beyond their comprehension. Only Charley has really had any opportunity to get to know her.

Her view of life is as foreign to the heath as her person: "in Eustacia's brain were juxtaposed the strangest assortment of ideas, from old time and from new. There was no middle distance in her perspective: romantic recollections of sunny afternoons on an esplanade, with military bands, officers, and gallants around, stood like gilded letters upon the dark tablet of surrounding Egdon." She is a hedonist (a pleasure-seeker) for whom love as an end in itself is the greatest pleasure: "To be loved to madness — such was her great desire."

And she takes perverse pleasure in being unconventional in small ways. Hardy uses several phrases to describe her reaction to life, among the most striking of which is "smoldering rebelliousness."

Her whole personality has a sleepy, dreamy cast to it. The modern reader might think that Eustacia was either unaroused or as yet unsatisfied sexually. Certainly some of the descriptive details Hardy uses about her suggest this: for example, the way in which she takes pleasure from having her hair caressed, either when brushed or when she accidentally walks under a bush and it touches her hair. When she says on one occasion to Wildeve that they were once "hot lovers," it is not clear that she means more than that they were emotionally involved. In any case, it is clear that she is not an easy person to live with or be around. Hardy says of her, "She had the passions and instincts which make a model goddess, that is, those [passions and instincts] which make not quite a model woman." Though she is beautiful in an exotic way, she often acts very much like a spoiled child.

Vocal in her condemnation of Destiny, Eustacia is an active demonstration of Hardy's theme in the novel. Yet, there is something unattractive about her readiness to shift the blame for everything that happens to her. It is difficult to accept whatever rationalization she makes for doing away with herself. It seems somehow unnecessary for a young woman of twenty to throw herself in a stream because she cannot find the ideal mate. Or maybe to say this is to admit to being a modern reader, who usually finds it difficult to believe in a romantic view of life.

It is a real question in the novel as to who is the main character. Hardy intended Clym to be, but Eustacia succeeds in upstaging him most of the time. Judged on the basis of the most widespread effects on the lives of the other characters in the novel, Eustacia clearly is more important.

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