Summary and Analysis
Book 1: Chapters 6-7
On Rainbarrow again, Eustacia Vye impatiently waits for Wildeve to respond to her signal. After watching the inn for some time, she returns to the fire before her grandfather's house and persuades Johnny Nunsuch, her young assistant, to continue his work of feeding the blaze. When Wildeve signals his approach, she sends Johnny home and awaits Wildeve's appearance. Though she is pleased that she has made him come, in their conversation she is unable to get him to say he loves her more than he does Thomasin. Though they have been lovers in the past, each is now suspicious of the other's intentions. They part without any definite commitment to each other.
Eustacia is described as more like a goddess than a woman.
Hardy develops a scene between Eustacia and Wildeve in these chapters to show the reactions of old lovers who meet again. When Wildeve appears, Eustacia laughs and is said to be full of "triumphant pleasure." Hardy writes of her: "She let her joyous eyes rest upon him without speaking, as upon some wondrous thing she had created out of chaos." As almost his first words, Wildeve is made to say: "You give me no peace. Why do you not leave me alone?" His reply undermines her feelings immediately, and the meeting is off on the wrong foot.
Not only does Wildeve not appear in the image Eustacia wants to have of him, but he makes her take the initiative in trying to define the relationship between them. Hardy makes her the stronger of the two personalities, a fact which Wildeve himself tacitly admits. It is she who brings up the subject of his marriage. Then she guesses at his motives for not yet going through with the marriage and compares herself with Thomasin. Wildeve, meanwhile, remains simply the critic, mildly complaining about what he calls his "curse of inflammability." Beyond words, even the gesture of showing him her face will not make him what Eustacia wants him to be.
Finally, Eustacia has to ask if he loves her, but Wildeve will not commit himself. Instead, they take small vengeance on each other, ending in her refusal to let him touch her. The meeting has been one of conflicting intentions, skillfully shown in Wildeve's being said to bow his way out of the scene like "a dancing-master" and Hardy's comment on Eustacia: "She knew that he trifled with her; but she loved on." He uses her; she, him. It has always been so, it is clear, and always will be. Events in the next chapter make it obvious how it will take more of a man than Wildeve to handle Eustacia. And perhaps no man at all can.
"Eustacia Vye was the raw material of a divinity." Thus begins one of the famous passages in literature. But Hardy has prepared for it by hinting at mysteries in her character: her appearances on Rainbarrow, the reputation she has among the heath folk, her effect on Johnny Nunsuch, and the like. His description of her in Chapter 7 is the most extensive characterization in the novel, rivaled only by the space given Egdon Heath in the first chapter. What Hardy says about her is accurately summarized in the first sentence: she looks different from other women on the heath, she has different reasons for living there, her desires are unlike those of others, and her interests and her habits set her apart. Indeed she is "raw material of a divinity."
Her differences from others are shown not simply by what Hardy says but by the imagery and allusions he uses to describe his comments. He remarks of her hair "that a whole winter [does] not contain darkness enough to form its shadow: it [closes] over her forehead like nightfall extinguishing the western glow." She has "Pagan eyes," and "the lines of her lips" are so fine "that, though full, each corner of her mouth [is] as clearly cut as the point of a spear." And he says that "her motions" recall "the ebb and flow of the sea." In short, the imagery he uses for Eustacia is very different from that he uses for other characters and for scenes and places; the latter imagery is full of analogies with terms peculiar to the locality.
In describing her, Hardy also uses allusions, for example, to Mount Olympus, the Fates, the Sphinx, Hades, William the Conqueror, Napoleon, Saul, Pontius Pilate, Heloise, and Cleopatra. He searches through mythology and history to find equivalents for that "raw material" that makes Eustacia larger than life. Everywhere in the novel, his range of allusion is wide, but it is particularly so for Eustacia .
A young woman of "some forwardness of mind," Eustacia, like Clym, is capable of thinking beyond the usual concerns of the heath dwellers. She will be shown to complain about her lot in life, believing that she is cut out for great actions and great emotions. Here, she blames what she calls "Destiny" for not satisfying "her great desire," "to be loved to madness." Her complaint and the way in which her life is shown to turn out are embodiments of Hardy's theme in the novel.
She is quite capable of looking at her relationship to Wildeve with objectivity, though it does not stop her from at times trying to deceive herself. With an irony she herself recognizes, she knows that she idealizes Wildeve "for want of a better object." In the light of her eventual dissatisfaction with Clym, it is realistic to ask if Eustacia knows what she wants.
Certainly her signaling of Wildeve is a romantic indulgence, one she is only barely aware of. . It is a symbol reminiscent of others of a melodramatic nature used later in the book. Like Egdon Heath, Rainbarrow is the kind of symbol very typical of those in Hardy's fiction. Place has great meaning for the characters of his novels. The barrow is the setting for a great many important events and emotions. Eustacia is first seen standing on its summit. At the end of her life she makes a final appearance there, and in between she meets Wildeve at the top or nearby; even the last scene of the novel has Clym using the barrow as his pulpit. But most of all it symbolizes the way Eustacia looks at life, both her strength and her weakness: from afar and apart from others.