The Return of the Native | Study Guide

Thomas Hardy

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The Return of the Native | Book 5, Chapters 7–9 : The Discovery | Summary

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Summary

Chapter 7: The Night of the Sixth of November

Restless on the eve of her escape, Eustacia walks on the heath that night in the vicinity of her grandfather's house and of Susan Nunsuch's cottage.

Eustacia sends Wildeve the prearranged signal summoning him so that he may drive her to Budmouth. In the meantime, Timothy Fairway arrives at Captain Vye's house. He hurriedly explains that he is late in delivering a letter from Clym Yeobright addressed to Eustacia. By chance, Captain Vye does not pass on the letter to his granddaughter. He finds the light out in Eustacia's room because she has lain down to rest before her strenuous journey to Budmouth. So he intends to give it to her in the morning.

Shortly before midnight, Eustacia leaves her grandfather's house and walks in the direction of Rainbarrow. Captain Vye hears her stirring and comes out to give her the letter. But she is already gone from the house, and her grandfather is troubled. The gloom of the night is intense. Eustacia intones a melancholy soliloquy, lamenting that destiny has dealt her an unjust, miserable fate. She rebels at the idea of going with Wildeve as his mistress and bemoans her lack of resources to escape on her own.

In the meantime, Susan Nunsuch is occupied with a superstitious ritual intended to counteract what she regards as Eustacia's witchcraft. She fashions a wax image of Eustacia and then impales it with pins as it melts away.

Chapter 8: Rain, Darkness, and Anxious Wanderers

As Clym Yeobright sits musing at Blooms-End, a storm picks up momentum outside on the heath. Thomasin arrives and agitatedly tells Clym that she fears her husband Damon Wildeve is about to desert her to elope with Eustacia Vye. Captain Vye appears soon after, looking for his granddaughter. He tells Clym abut Eustacia's suicidal thoughts, which he has just recently learned about from Charley.

Resolved to search her out, Captain Vye heads back to his home, and Clym goes toward the Quiet Woman Inn. Thomasin is left at Blooms-End with the baby, but soon she cannot take the waiting and goes back toward her home. She meets Diggory along the way, who has heard another woman passing by his van. In ever-mounting suspense, the search parties head for the Quiet Woman Inn.

Chapter 9: Sights and Sounds Draw the Wanderers Together

Damon Wildeve, having seen Eustacia's signal, has finally made up his mind. He will escape with his ex-lover, abandoning Thomasin and their newborn child, but leaving his wife half of his newly gained inheritance. His heart, says Hardy, beats fast "in the face of a mutual wish that they [he and Eustacia] should throw in their lot together." During the rising storm on the heath, he awaits Eustacia's arrival near the inn.

To Wildeve's chagrin, it is Clym who arrives, not Eustacia. Before the two men can exchange any conversation, Clym hears the sound of a body falling into the water of the nearby stream, close to the Shadwater Weir (a small dam where the water is extremely turbulent). He fears that it is Eustacia and angrily reproaches Wildeve.

Clym's suspicions are quickly proven correct. Exclaiming in "an agonized voice," Wildeve leaps into the water, followed shortly by Clym. Diggory and Thomasin soon arrive. Diggory sends Thomasin back to safety with the baby, then manages to accomplish a partial rescue in the water. Finally, Eustacia's body is recovered. Clym is alive, just barely—the only survivor of the tragedy. After Clym recovers, he bitterly blames himself for the deaths of both his mother and his wife.

Analysis

The fate of Clym's letter to Eustacia—which she never receives—echoes one important detail in Book 4, Chapter 6. In Book 5 Eustacia never reads the letter because she is asleep. Likewise, in Book 4 Clym is asleep when Mrs. Yeobright attempts to visit him and knocks at the closed door.

Eustacia's soliloquy in Chapter 7 is so riddled with melodramatic excess that it is hard to believe that Hardy fashioned it as it is shown. Yet Eustacia's over-the-top accusations, it must be admitted, are in character. When Hardy introduced her in Book 1, he called her "the raw material of a divinity." Now she laments that destiny has not paired her with a Saul or a Napoleon Bonaparte. Heaven, she moans, has crushed her, although she has "done no harm to Heaven at all." Elsewhere, however, Hardy concedes that those who stood by "would have pitied her." Yet another foreshadowing of Eustacia's fate occurs in the first paragraph of Chapter 7: "She had used to think of the heath alone as an uncongenial spot to be in; she felt it now of the whole world."

At the conclusion of Chapter 7 the episode portraying Susan Nunsuch in a superstitious ritual is acutely timed and dramatically recounted. Hardy has prepared the reader for this bit of melodrama. The fact that it virtually coincides with Eustacia's actual death adds to its power.

During Chapter 8 the storm's force mounts on the heath. Here, Hardy's use of setting furnishes a classic example of the pathetic fallacy, a literary convention in which the forces of nature are made to correspond with the emotional situation of the human characters in a narrative.

The dénouement (resolution) of the plot in Chapter 9 has been fully prepared for. It seems fitting that Clym and Wildeve should both plunge into the torrent to try to save Eustacia. Hardy's detailed narrative specifies that Wildeve had tightly wrapped his arms around Clym's legs in an attempt to rise to the surface—leaving the reader to wonder whether he was desperate to survive or perhaps eager to drag Clym down with him.

In the final Biblical allusion of Book 5, Clym is said to look "like Lazarus coming from the tomb," referring to a man brought back from death (see Chapter 11 of the Gospel of John). Clym's hopelessness, guilt, and despair, however, do not accord with the miraculous aura of the Gospel account of victory over death. Rather, he wishes that it had been himself who died.

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