The Return of the Native | Study Guide

Thomas Hardy

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

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Summary

Chapter 3: The First Act in a Timeworn Drama

At Captain Vye's house, a half dozen of the heath people try to retrieve a bucket that has fallen into the well. Clym and Eustacia meet and converse, and Clym offers to haul up some water for her. While he secures the rope, she injures her hand trying to lower the bucket. They part, and Clym goes home to begin his studies in earnest.

As early spring arrives, the two young people grow closer, even as Clym and his mother feel more and more alienated from each other. Mrs. Yeobright learns details of the courtship from neighbors. Clym returns home after having kissed Eustacia, and at tea he announces to his mother that he is considering asking Eustacia to marry him. Although she is not wealthy, she is well educated and would make a good helpmate in his school. Unimpressed and pessimistic, Mrs. Yeobright calls Eustacia a "hussy," stirring Clym's anger.

Chapter 4: An Hour of Bliss and Many Hours of Sadness

The following evening Clym leaves his house to travel toward Rainbarrow with the declared intent of watching an eclipse of the moon, and he meets Eustacia there. In less than three months' acquaintance, they have started to address each other with tender endearments. As the phases of the lunar eclipse unfold overhead, the two speak of many subjects, including Paris and the heath. Their contrasting attitudes are clearly stated, and Eustacia expresses her concern that their love cannot last.

As the eclipse continues, Clym asks Eustacia to marry him. She initially deflects, then says she will promise to marry Clym if he agrees to return with her to Paris, but he refuses. After repeated requests and some more hesitation, Eustacia assents, saying she is sure Clym will not adhere to his "education plan." After they part and Clym heads homeward, he struggles with conflicting emotions, feeling his love for Eustacia has landed him in a dilemma.

Analysis

The plot developments and dialogue in these chapters lay the groundwork for the tragic outcome of the novel's plot. Clym's growing estrangement from Mrs. Yeobright is shown to be rooted in two causes: his own stubborn and oblivious idealism, and her stern, controlling nature. The issue of his possible return to Paris generates mild disagreement, but his relationship with Eustacia sets mother and son on a collision course. At the end of Chapter 3 Mrs. Yeobright's curt dismissal of Eustacia as a "hussy" deeply offends Clym.

Chapter 4, one of the most dramatic and important in the entire novel, features the nighttime meeting between Clym and Eustacia. Their feelings for each other in this chapter give extra depth to the book title—"The Fascination." He proposes marriage, and she accepts his proposal. But the setting, the dialogue, and the mood offer ominous foreshadowings in almost every direction. The lunar eclipse provides an indirect but telling echo of the heath people's joking references to the new moon in Book 1, Chapter 3 ("no moon, no man"—a saying associated with marital failure). A lunar eclipse always occurs at full moon, rather than at new moon. But still, the gradual darkening of the moon in the Earth's shadow to a blood-red color has portended evil and sorrow for thousands of years. Intriguingly, Eustacia and Clym interpret the celestial phenomenon entirely differently. Eustacia enthuses that the moon's "strange foreign color" means Clym should be doing better things, while Clym asserts that he could "live and die in a hermitage" on Egdon Heath, provided he had "proper work to do." A hermitage, the reader knows well, is scarcely Eustacia's ideal destination.

Such disconnects in the dialogue are a continuing feature in this scene. Eustacia does not seem to understand that Clym is poised to surrender the very life of gaiety and luxury of which she has long dreamed. Clym seems insensible to Eustacia's driving, materialistic ambitions and competitiveness. Both are aware of the evident fact that they are entirely unsuited to one another, but they proceed in their mutual fascination regardless. Without unduly tarnishing the romantic aura, Hardy could hardly be more explicit in his foreshadowing of sorrow and tragedy. "How terrible it would be," he has Eustacia say, "if a time should come when I could not love you, my Clym!" To which Clym only replies, "Please don't say such reckless things."

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