The Return of the Native | Study Guide

Thomas Hardy

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The Return of the Native | Book 1, Chapters 7–8 : The Three Women | Summary

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Summary

Chapter 7: Queen of Night

Chapter 7 is almost purely descriptive. Hardy devotes this section to an extensive, rather static portrayal of Eustacia. He details her physical features, her background, and her ambitions. Along with her beauty and charm, Hardy points out several glaring character flaws but grudgingly admits that "at times she was not altogether unlovable."

Chapter 8: Those Who Are Found Where There Is Said to Be Nobody

In this chapter the narrator traces the lonely journey of young Johnny Nunsuch as he travels home across the heath from Eustacia Vye's house. Alarmed by a strange glow in the night, Johnny turns back. When he finds Eustacia, she is talking with a gentleman. Johnny deems the unknown glow less frightening than interrupting Eustacia's talk and turns back again, unnoticed by the adults.

Turning back homeward, Johnny encounters a cart with a man in it. Titillated by the possibility of encountering a gypsy, he spies upon the cart, but Johnny meets Diggory Venn instead of a gypsy. The reddleman treats the boy kindly. As they chat, Venn learns the gist of Eustacia's conversation with Wildeve. Encouraging Johnny to not be afraid, the reddleman escorts the boy part of the way home.

Analysis

By Chapter 7, it is clear to whom Hardy refers in the title of Book 1. The "three women" are Thomasin Yeobright, Mrs. Yeobright, and Eustacia Vye. For the remainder of the novel, these will remain the primary female characters, but they are all very different.

At the beginning of the story, Thomasin, with a face "between pretty and beautiful," is a young, naïve bride-to-be whose wedding to Damon Wildeve emerges as the first conflicted situation in the novel. Thomasin's aunt, Mrs. Yeobright, is a great deal more world-wise but also sternly judgmental and opinionated. Mrs. Yeobright, in fact, had taken the unusual step of forbidding the banns, or public notice in church of a prospective marriage, between her niece and Wildeve for a while.

Finally, Eustacia Vye, who is the most important woman in the novel, is presented in quasi-mythological terms as the "queen of night." Hardy's elaborate description of Eustacia in Chapter 7 is studded with allusions to classical mythology. He refers, for example, to the Greek goddesses Artemis, Athena, and Hera, calling her "the raw material of a divinity." This is not uncritical adulation, however, as Hardy adds that these qualities "make not quite a model woman."

In Chapter 8 Hardy employs a semi-flashback to supplement the account of the dramatic encounter between Eustacia and Wildeve in Chapter 6. This time, the perspective is from the child Johnny Nunsuch, who is questioned in a kindly but detailed fashion by Diggory Venn. Once again, the dialogue provides a poignant but penetrating view of Eustacia.

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