The Return of the Native By Thomas Hardy Summary and Analysis Book 6: Chapters 1-4

Summary

Thomasin receives a substantial inheritance after Wildeve's death and then moves in with Clym by choice. Clym occupies himself in preparing for his vocation of preacher. Now a dairy farmer and normal in color, Venn comes calling and Thomasin is pleased to see him. On Maypole Day, Venn manages to obtain one of Thomasin's gloves, worn by her servant girl, though Thomasin herself does not go to the festivities.

After discovering from the servant what Venn has done, Thomasin encounters him while taking her daughter, Eustacia, for an airing. Venn and Thomasin see each other often after this meeting. Thinking he is obligated to do so because of his mother's wishes when she was alive, Clym is about to ask Thomasin to marry him when she tells him she wants to marry Venn. First disapproving because of his mother's memory, then approving, Clym offers no obstacle to Thomasin's marrying Venn.

On the day of the wedding, the heath folk are helping Fairway stuff a mattress with feathers as a gift to the newlyweds. After giving the bride away, Clym wishes to have nothing to do with the wedding party and wanders off. He encounters Charley and gives him a lock of Eustacia's hair as a remembrance. After the party, Venn and Thomasin go off to Venn's farm, leaving Clym alone in the house at Blooms-End.

Shortly thereafter, Clym begins practice of his vocation of wandering preacher, starting with an appearance on Rainbarrow.

Analysis

The fact that Hardy added this book to his original conception of the novel causes many consequences, most of which are obvious enough. For example, it blunts the effectiveness of his demonstration of the idea that man lives in an indifferent, perhaps hostile, universe. In speaking of the fact that Clym, unlike Eustacia, does not blame either Destiny or God for his fate, Hardy says: "Human beings, in their generous endeavor to construct a hypothesis that shall not degrade a First Cause, have always hesitated to conceive a dominant power of lower moral quality than their own; and, even while they sit down and weep by the waters of Babylon, invent excuses for the oppression which prompts their tears." But Eustacia Vye never hesitates to blame Destiny, which she always thinks of as having a questionable "moral quality." The whole movement of the first five books is unmistakably in this direction of questioning the power that governs the universe. In this novel, Hardy depicts the universe as essentially indifferent to man rather than, as in later novels (notably Jude the Obscure), hostile to him.

The structure which embodies Hardy's theme is logically completed with the deaths of Wildeve and Eustacia at the end of Book Fifth. The defeat to Clym's emotional life and his planned career has already occurred. True, he becomes an "itinerant open-air preacher" in Book Sixth, but for the purposes of the structure of the novel this hardly matters. Obviously the unity of time represented by the year and a day during which the first five books take place is destroyed by the addition of events in the last book covering more than eighteen months. And if, as some critics have asserted, Hardy also achieves a unity of action in the novel (from signal fire to signal fire, as it were), then it too is disrupted by the additional book.

In Book Sixth, Venn, whom Hardy uses previously as the connector in the plot, is made to change into the role of active suitor for Thomasin and does marry her. (Venn even literally changes color, from red to white.) The reason for this certainly must be to provide a happy ending for Thomasin, the gentle girl who asks little from life and gets less, at least in the first five books.

From the point of view of the critic or student of the novel, Hardy's addition of a final book may well be seen as an unfortunate mistake. But to second-guess an author is futile and opens twentieth- and twenty-first century cans of worms related to types of literary criticism. The reader should take, though not necessarily like, the work as it is delivered.

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