Summary and Analysis
Book 1: Chapters 8-9
His work for Eustacia completed, Johnny Nunsuch returns home only to be frightened by a strange light on the heath. He returns to Captain Vye's to find Eustacia in conversation with Wildeve. Confused, he goes back in the direction of the light. By chance he is discovered as he spies on what turns out to be the reddleman, Venn. Now Venn quizzes the young boy. Afraid of Venn because he is a reddleman, Johnny still reveals that Eustacia and Wildeve are meeting.
After the boy leaves, Venn rereads an old letter from Thomasin that rejects an earlier offer of his to marry her. This rejection was the very thing that convinced him to become a reddleman.
After several attempts, Venn does manage to overhear what Eustacia and Wildeve say at a meeting in a ditch around Rainbarrow. Eustacia again can't get Wildeve to commit himself to her, or even to Thomasin, and she delays answering his question about going to America with him. As a result of what he has heard in the conversation, Venn decides to call on Eustacia.
The reddleman is as much a part of the setting of Hardy's story as the tangly furze undergrowth and shrubbery. Johnny Nunsuch's reaction to being in the presence of the reddleman shows dramatically what is presented by means of exposition at the beginning of chapter 9. The boy's fear of Venn is the result of the superstitions and folklore that have attached themselves to the figure of the reddleman. His red color, which he cannot avoid and which Hardy mentions frequently, makes him seem to the highly superstitious heath folk almost an emissary of Satan. To the children, certainly this is so. Johnny even says that he might be less frightened if Venn were a gypsy rather than a reddleman.
Hardy's use of coincidence in his novel is well known and often criticized. Some critics have suggested that coincidence is so often to be found because Hardy uses it as a way of expressing his idea that chance governs man's life more than man wishes to admit. To illustrate this theory, Johnny encounters Venn by chance and tells him of accidentally overhearing the conversation between Eustacia and Wildeve. Whether this sequence of events is believable or not, it is convenient for Hardy's development of the plot to have Venn know what is going on. He is, after all, the connector in the story. As a consequence of finding out about the relationship between Eustacia and Wildeve, Venn goes to Eustacia to try to persuade her to intercede with Wildeve in Thomasin's behalf, and proposes himself to Mrs. Yeobright as a suitor for Thomasin. In turn, Mrs. Yeobright uses a second suitor as a lever to try to convince Wildeve to commit himself about Thomasin, and this causes Wildeve to hurry to Eustacia to get her to make up her mind about going off with him. All this from Johnny's happening on Venn by chance.