The Return of the Native is set in the vast and gloomy Egdon Heath, and is based around the small community that inhabits it. To Hardy, the Heath itself is a character and the first two chapters of the novel are dedicated to it, in the first not a single human appears and in the second, Hardy persists to leave his characters nameless. However, in spite of the fact that the main characters are yet to be identified the routes of their lives are foreshadowed by the foreboding quality of the Heath.
The first eleven chapters make up the ‘Book First’, ‘The Three Women’, those three women being Eustacia Vye, Thomasin Yeobright and Mrs. Yeobright. Eustacia Vye is a highly strung, coldly passionate and self-involved young lady who desperately craves the glamour and intensity of the life she was forced to leave behind in Budmouth. She is first introduced, unnamed, in chapter two, when she is seen by Diggory Venn on the mount of the Heath on bonfire night.
She is poetically described, “Such a perfect, delicate, and necessary finish did the figure give to the dark pile of hills that it seemed to be the only obvious justification of their outline. ” Chapter five of the novel is then dedicated to her, entitled ‘The Figure against the Sky’, as is chapter seven, ‘Queen of Night’ in which Hardy gives the reader various passionate descriptions of Eustacia, referring to her as “the raw material of a divinity”, giving us sensual, physical images, “The mouth seemed formed less to speak than to quiver, less to quiver than to kiss”…. less to kiss than to curl”, as well as poetic insights into her character “celestial imperiousness, love, wrath and fervour”. We are told that Eustacia is considered to be a beautiful and mysterious woman by the villagers, and that superstition surrounds her, due to her ‘outsiders’ lifestyle. Thomasin Yeobright is a gentle woman who feels comfortable in a conventional and traditional way of life; she is Mrs. Yeobright’s niece and Clym’s cousin. She is first introduced to us, again, unnamed, in chapter two as the mysterious girl in the back of the reddleman’s van. “You have a child in there, my man? ” “No, sir, I have a woman. “” In chapter four a brief physical description of her is given which is somewhat poetic, however, Hardy was attracted to Eustacia, and his description of her is by far more sensual than that of Thomasin, “It was a fair, sweet, and honest country face, reposing in a nest of chestnut hair. It was between pretty and beautiful. ” We learn early on in the novel that her reputation has been placed in jeopardy by Damon Wildeve, but also that she has people, Mrs.
Yeobright and Diggory Venn, who are more than willing to help her out of her situation. Mrs. Yeobright is a well known and respected widow, who has a lot of convictions, and the courage to state them. She is first introduced to the reader when her objection to Thomasin and Damon’s marriage is being discussed by a pair of the locals, who act as narrators/a Greek chorus, “Ever since her aunt altered her mind, and said she might hae the man after all,”.
We learn that her, what may seem, interfering ways are generally motivated by her interest and genuine concern for her nieces happiness and well being. Throughout the novel Hardy plays God, this stunts the characters personal development but means that their destiny’s are pre ordained and can effectively be knotted at the authors will. Each of the three women’s actions and choices has an undulating effect on the lives and situations of the other two, as well as the other characters in the book.
Thomasin’s quandary at the start of the novel is a direct result of Eustacia’s craving to be an object of Wildeve’s desire; Wildeve’s desire for Eustacia is a partial result of Mrs. Yeobright posing as an obstacle between him and Thomasin, in effect driving him towards the woman who is responsible for Thomasin’s predicament. Mrs. Yeobright, again, lets her objections be known when Eustacia marries her son Clym, and subsequently Eustacia does not answer the door to her when she visits their home, eventually resulting in her own death, and in part leaving her blood on Eustacia’s hands.
The fact that Thomasin is not ‘adequate’ for Damon means he becomes involved with Eustacia, which results in her eventually attempting to leave with him, and her consequential death, as well as Wildeve being given the opportunity to eulogize Eustacia at every chance, thus stunting her personality even further, and maybe contributing to her eventual ruin. The characters of each of the three women are vital to the novel as each of their actions provoke reactions from the other characters, giving the reader powerful insights into the books subjects. The character of Mrs.
Yeobright helps to represent the type of woman that may have been found in a small community such as Egdon in a pre-industrial state, as well as helping the reader to distinguish between interference and encouragement. The character of Eustacia contributes towards the theme of outsiders in the novel, as well as being a tool for Hardy to incorporate his skill as a poet. The character of Thomasin donates a sense of integrity and survival. Hardy incorporates the diverse personalities of these women into his novel with great simplicity and effect, carefully and successfully interlinking their lives and destinies.