The Return of the Native By Thomas Hardy Summary and Analysis Book 1: Chapters 4-5

Summary

Outside the inn Mrs. Yeobright meets the reddleman, Diggory Venn, who she has been told is looking for her. He informs her that he has her niece in his van, and Mrs. Yeobright immediately goes to the girl. She very soon learns from Thomasin that the girl has returned home alone from Anglebury, where she and Wildeve were to have been married earlier in the day, and that she is not yet married. Her aunt immediately confronts Wildeve and is not entirely satisfied with his explanation of what happened.

In a private conversation, Wildeve answers Thomasin's questions by saying that, of course, he will still marry her.

Their discussion is interrupted when the group from Rainbarrow arrives. Led by Fairway and Grandfer Cantle, they have come to serenade the supposed newlyweds. Wildeve is annoyed by their appearance but must put up with their congratulations and rambling conversation. By the time they leave, he discovers Mrs. Yeobright and Thomasin have already gone, and he starts off toward Mistover Knap, assuming that the fire still burning in front of Captain Vye's is a signal from Eustacia.

Analysis

Whatever else might be said about the character of Diggory Venn, he is a "connector" in the development of the plot (to employ a term from the English critic E. M. Forster in his valuable study, Aspects of the Novel). Venn is a natural for the part: his occupation as a reddleman makes him a characteristic part of the setting while a person who is always traveling and not really one of the heath folk; the kind of person he is gives him the necessary resourcefulness. A connector is a character who, though not important in himself to the main events of the story, brings about or makes possible these events. It is true that Venn eventually marries Thomasin Yeobright in the Book Sixth that Hardy added to satisfy his readers, but Venn is in the novel primarily to do what he does in these chapters: he is the one who brings Thomasin back to her aunt. He is invariably in the right place at the right time to lend aid, offer advice in his humble way, or listen sympathetically to another with problems. His activity extends from bandaging Johnny Nunsuch's hand on one occasion to rescuing Clym Yeobright from death in the stream adjoining Shadwater Weir.

Hardy makes light of the credulity of the heath folk, although he shows them as no more limited than any human being. He does so here in the long-winded discussion of the reputed musical ability of Thomasin's now-dead father. But this in turn leads up to another variety of Hardy's humor, as shown in this sentence: "As with Farinelli's singing before the princesses, Sheridan's renowned Begum Speech, and other such examples, the fortunate condition of its being for ever lost to the world invested the deceased Mr. Yeobright's tour de force on that memorable afternoon with a cumulative glory which comparative criticism, had that been possible, might considerably have shorn down." In its apparently ponderous, certainly slow-breaking effect, this sentence is very much like something by Mark Twain. It is a variety of the verbal humor Hardy uses.

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