The Return of the Native | Study Guide

Thomas Hardy

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The Return of the Native | Book 2, Chapters 3–4 : The Arrival | Summary

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Summary

Chapter 3: How a Little Sound Produced a Great Dream

On the edge of the heath, Eustacia eyes Thomasin and Mrs. Yeobright at a distance. She suddenly hears a male voice bid "Good night!" She assumes that the greeting has come from Clym, but she cannot see his face in the darkness. Absorbed in her imaginings, she returns to her own house and briefly discusses the Yeobright family with her grandfather. That night, Eustacia has a vivid, mysterious dream in which she is dancing with a knight in armor whose face she cannot see. She has become "half in love with a vision." During the following days, Eustacia strolls the hills in the hope of meeting Clym but fails to do so.

Chapter 4: Eustacia Is Led On to an Adventure

Two days before Christmas, a group of mummers arrive at Captain Vye's house and ask permission to use the premises to rehearse their Christmas play. Mumming is a traditional holiday celebration of the Egdon Heath people, and rural England generally, involving disguises, dancing, and mild practical jokes. The custom is loosely assembled on the framework of the medieval legend of St. George, England's patron saint.

Eustacia learns the mummers will offer their first performance at a holiday party being given by Mrs. Yeobright in honor of Clym's return home. Upon speaking about his part with Charley, a teenage boy employed by Captain Vye, Eustacia has an idea: She will disguise herself as one of the players, so she can better observe Clym at his own house. She persuades Charley to allow her to substitute for him during one evening's performance. He must promise to keep the matter secret. He agrees, in exchange for Eustacia's permission for him to hold her hand for a quarter of an hour. The next evening, Eustacia tries on her costume and delivers her hand for Charley to hold.

Analysis

These chapters show Eustacia in the preliminary stages of an infatuation—from several different angles. In Chapter 3 her inquisitive nature results in a near-meeting with Clym—but all that transpires is a fleeting sound on the heath as he voices, in the company of Thomasin and Mrs. Yeobright, a salutation of "Good night."

As usual, though, extremes have their way with Eustacia. That evening she has an extravagant dream in which a knight in elaborate armor attends her, only to disappear when he is on the brink of showing his face. Eustacia is all too alive to the connections between details in the dream and specific "images and fancies" of the preceding day. Hardy goes out of his way to stress that Eustacia has parted company with reality: "The perfervid woman was by this time half in love with a vision."

Eustacia's futile attempts to catch sight of Clym over the next few days are about to take an unexpected turn. Hardy hints at his characteristic emphasis on unpredictability and chance in the final sentence of Chapter 3: "But Providence is nothing if not coquettish."

In Chapter 4 Hardy advances the plot by wringing another new twist on Eustacia's romantic adventures. This time the catalyst is Eustacia's sudden decision to disguise herself as an actor in Saint George, to be performed at the Yeobrights' house. This way, she thinks, she can get closer to Clym and study him further. So Eustacia prevails on Charley to allow her to assume his role in the play for one night.

In a playful-serious bit of bargaining, Eustacia and Charley decide on his reward. Since Charley has a crush on Eustacia, she has no trouble in persuading him to accept a 15-minute period of hand-holding as the price for her wish. The anti-romantic tones of the scene are clear. Charley's adolescent, puppy-dog admiration from afar is reduced to a commercial transaction. Eustacia renders him a "payment," from which he takes "good measure." The contrast between her condescending attitude toward Charley and her exaggerated admiration for Clym throws the whole notion of romance into high, but extremely questionable, relief.

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