The Return of the Native | Study Guide

Thomas Hardy

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The Return of the Native | Book 6, Chapters 1–2 : Aftercourses | Summary

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Summary

Chapter 1: The Inevitable Movement Onward

This epilogue to the novel extends some 18 months beyond the events of Book 5. Thomasin, now a widow, has decided to live at Blooms-End with Clym, who remains in deep mourning for Eustacia. On a summer day Diggory Venn comes to call, and Thomasin is surprised by his changed appearance. He has given up dealing in reddle and bought his father's dairy farm. Diggory has been helping to organize the erection of a Maypole at Blooms-End. Thomasin says she has no objection to the local celebration of Maypole Day. The next day Clym does not take part in the festivities, while Thomasin dresses herself merrily but does not participate in the dancing. That evening Diggory searches for—and finds—Thomasin's glove, which was worn by one of the servant maids at the festivities.

Chapter 2: Thomasin Walks in a Green Place by the Roman Road

In a conversation with her servant Rachel, Thomasin discovers that the glove Diggory found was her own. Rachel had borrowed her gloves. Diggory secured the glove at the Maypole festivities because he continues to be romantically attracted to Thomasin. A few days later Diggory and Thomasin meet on the road and discuss their changed circumstances. Their talk is "of a not unpleasing kind," and they begin a series of regular meetings at the same place.

Analysis

In the 1912 edition of the novel, Hardy admits in a note that the epilogue was not part of the original plan for the novel's plot: Diggory and Thomasin's wedding was added later. Most critics have concluded that Hardy wrote Book 6 as a favor to his publishers. They were alarmed at the gloomy conclusion of the novel as it originally appeared—an alarm that may well have been justified, based on the negative reaction to the similarly catastrophic ending of Hardy's last novel, Jude the Obscure. Hardy rather jauntily invites readers to choose between the two endings to see which they will like better. He adds ambiguously, however, that "those with a more austere artistic code can assume the more consistent conclusion to be the true one."

The Maypole celebrations are the final example of local festivities in the book, which include the Guy Fawkes bonfires (in Books 1 and 5) and the mummers' playacting (in Book 2). This, too, was likely a gift from Hardy to his publishers and readers, as his pictures of idyllic scenes and country customs were popular.

It is understandable that readers and publishers would expect a conclusion to the reddleman's tale. Diggory Venn's attention to Thomasin has been amply prepared for. Throughout the book he has been solicitous for her welfare, and his fairness and quiet courage have inspired the reader's admiration. Now it remains to be seen what Clym will think of a possible match.

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