The Return of the Native | Study Guide

Thomas Hardy

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The Return of the Native | Plot Summary

See Plot Diagram


Book 1: The Three Women

On November 5, Guy Fawkes Day, Thomasin Yeobright returns home on what was to be her wedding day. Her wedding to Damon Wildeve has been postponed. Mrs. Yeobright, Thomasin's aunt, discusses the matter with Wildeve. That evening, as the locals hold bonfires for the holiday, Wildeve meets secretly with Eustacia Vye, his previous sweetheart. Diggory Venn, who previously had been turned down as a suitor to Thomasin, learns of the illicit meeting. He attempts to convince Eustacia to break off her involvement with Wildeve. Unsuccessful, he goes to Mrs. Yeobright to ask again for permission to court her niece.

Book 2: The Arrival

News comes to Egdon Heath that Clym Yeobright, son of Mrs. Yeobright, will be coming home from Paris for Christmas. Eustacia Vye is fascinated at the idea of a man from Paris. She arranges to see him by taking part in a mummers' play at the Yeobrights' Christmas party. Clym sees through her disguise, and they have a pleasant talk before she leaves.

Eustacia gives Diggory Venn a letter to deliver to Damon Wildeve in which she cuts off their relationship. Wildeve, spurned by Eustacia and intrigued by news of Venn as a possible suitor to Thomasin, agrees to resume the engagement.

Thomasin and Wildeve are married, but Mrs. Yeobright refuses to attend, still angry over the earlier postponement. Eustacia Vye and Diggory Venn attend the wedding.

Book 3: The Fascination

Clym Yeobright stays at Egdon Heath longer than expected; he has decided to give up his profession as a jeweler and become a schoolmaster for the local people. He meets Eustacia Vye, no longer disguised, while helping locals retrieve the bucket from the bottom of Captain Vye's well. The two strike up a quick courtship, to which Clym's mother objects. This causes division between mother and son.

During an eclipse of the moon Clym asks Eustacia to marry him. She agrees on the condition that they would soon be set up in a situation agreeable to her materialistic desires. News of the engagement enrages Mrs. Yeobright and rekindles Damon Wildeve's interest in Eustacia. After fighting with his mother, Clym resolves to leave her home and marry as soon as possible.

The two are wed, but Mrs. Yeobright refuses to attend the ceremony. She sends Christian Cantle to deliver money as a gift to be divided between Thomasin and Clym. But Christian loses the money in a dice game to Wildeve. Wildeve then loses the money to Diggory Venn, who delivers it to Thomasin.

Book 4: The Closed Door

Mrs. Yeobright, having not heard from either recipient of her gift, learns it has been lost by Christian Cantle. She goes to discuss it with Eustacia, and they have a terrible argument primarily because of miscommunication and already hurt feelings. The misunderstanding about the money is soon resolved, but more trouble comes as Clym suffers inflammation of the eyes. He is unable to continue his studies, so he takes up furze-cutting—the harvesting of furze or gorse, a type of heath plant, used for livestock feed and fire kindling.

Depressed by her change of fortunes, Eustacia seeks diversion by attending local festivities. She meets Damon Wildeve there by chance. They dance, and his interest in her is further enflamed. He walks with her afterward, and they are seen by Diggory Venn. Venn sets about foiling Wildeve's attempts to meet with Eustacia again. Venn also talks with Mrs. Yeobright, urging her to reconcile with her son and daughter-in-law.

Mrs. Yeobright goes to visit Clym on a very hot day. She happens to arrive just after Wildeve, who has chosen to visit Eustacia by day to avoid trouble with Venn. Eustacia and Wildeve retreat to the back room when they learn Mrs. Yeobright has come. They believe Clym has awoken to meet his mother, but he was only talking in his sleep.

Mrs. Yeobright, having seen Eustacia through the window, believes she has been shut out deliberately. She leaves in bitterness and talks with a young boy as she suffers in the heat.

When Clym awakens, he is inspired to seek out his mother and reconcile with her. On the way, he finds her collapsed on the heath, bitten by an adder, a small poisonous snake. She dies that night. Clym learns from the boy, Johnny, that his mother had believed her son had forsaken her. That same night Eustacia learns Wildeve has come into a large inheritance.

Book 5: The Discovery

Clym Yeobright suffers a deep depression after his mother's death. When he recovers, he sets about learning the details of her last day. He soon learns that she had been at his house and had been seen but not let in by his wife. He confronts Eustacia, and after a terrible fight the two separate. Eustacia moves back into her grandfather's house. On the first night, the servant Charley hides Captain Vye's pistols after realizing Eustacia is suicidal.

Guy Fawkes Day comes, and Charley starts a bonfire for Eustacia, not knowing this will summon Damon Wildeve as it had in the past. Wildeve appears, and he agrees to help Eustacia leave Egdon Heath and go to Paris.

The next day, Eustacia gives the signal for Wildeve to take her away. Wildeve has decided to go with her, eloping and leaving his wife and daughter behind. Thomasin notices his irregular behavior and goes to Clym with the alarming news that her husband and his wife are likely to run off together. At about the same time Captain Vye appears and tells them of Eustacia's recent suicidal mood. A search begins, but Eustacia is not found until after she has jumped into Shadwater Weir. Clym and Wildeve go after her, but only Clym survives.

Book 6: Aftercourses

About 18 months after the deaths Thomasin has moved into her old home at Blooms-End with Clym. Diggory Venn appears and begins seeking Thomasin's attentions again. The two are soon married. Clym takes up a new profession as an itinerant preacher.

The Return of the Native Plot Diagram

Climax123456789Rising ActionFalling ActionResolutionIntroduction


1 Thomasin Yeobright's wedding to Damon Wildeve is postponed.

Rising Action

2 Clym Yeobright arrives home in time for Christmas.

3 Damon Wildeve and Thomasin Yeobright are married.

4 Clym Yeobright and Eustacia Vye are married.

5 An eye infection ends Clym Yeobright's plan to be a teacher.

6 Damon Wildeve agrees to help Eustacia Vye leave Egdon Heath.


7 Eustacia Vye drowns herself; Damon Wildeve dies trying to save her.

Falling Action

8 Thomasin Yeobright is married to Diggory Venn.


9 Clym Yeobright becomes an itinerant preacher.

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