The Return of the Native by Thomas Hardy

Blurb from Amazon:

First published serially between January and December of 1878 in the sensationalistic monthly London magazine “Belgravia”, Thomas Hardy’s “The Return of the Native” is the author’s sixth published novel. Set in Egdon Heath, an area of Thomas Hardy’s fictionalized Wessex known for the thorny evergreen shrubs, called furze or gorse, which are cut there by its residents for fuel.

When the story begins, on Guy Fawkes Night, we find Diggory Venn, a merchant of the red mineral called reddle which farmers use to mark their sheep, giving aid to Thomasin Yeobright, whom he is in love with but has unsuccessfully wooed over the preceding two years. Diggory is helping Thomasin, who is in distress having left town with Damon Wildeve under the false promise of matrimony, return home to her aunt, Mrs. Yeobright. Damon has rebuffed Thomasin in favor of the beautiful young Eustacia Vye.

However when Mrs. Yeobright’s son Clym, a successful diamond merchant, returns from Paris, Eustacia loses interest in Damon, seeing a relationship with Clym as an opportunity to escape the Heath in favor of a more glamorous and exciting locale. A classically modern novel, “The Return of the Native” presents a world of people struggling between their unfulfilled desires and the expectations of society. 

My thoughts:

Thomas Hardy is one of my favourite authors and I throughly enjoyed The Return of the Nativewhich I think is one of his best books. I loved the setting on Eldon Heath, which is based on the small heath by Hardy’s childhood home, but is much larger. The ancient round barrows named Rainbarrows, and Rushy Pond, which lie immediately behind Hardy’s childhood home, form the centre of the fictional heath. Hardy’s description of it is detailed, poetically lyrical and beautiful. 

It’s a dramatic and tragic love story. It has a large cast of characters, with lovers who change their affections throughout the novel and it’s full of intrigue with striking moonlit scenes, disputes, heated quarrels and misunderstandings, along with rustic characters and traditional celebrations, for example Guy Fawkes night, May Day and a Mummers’ play at Christmas.

It was first published in 1878 in three volumes with revisions at later dates. The revision I read was published in 1912. Hardy’s Preface establishes that the events described took place between 1840 and 1850. ‘Egdon Heath’ is a combination of various heaths that were later ploughed or planted to woodland. He liked to think of it as the ‘heath of that traditionary King of Wessex – Lear’. The Return of the Native is a complex novel, shocking to its contemporary public because of its depiction of passionate and illicit sexual relationships (tame by today’s standards).

It begins with a description of Egdon Heath, a sombre isolated place, loved by some and hated by others, some regarding it as a prison. Along the ancient highway that crossed the heath the solitary figure of an old man sees a cart ahead of him in the long dry road. Both the driver, who walked beside it, and the cart, were completely red – he was a reddleman, who supplied  farmers with redding for their sheep. He plays an important part in the novel, appearing at significant times and places to great effect on the course of events. 

It’s not a book to read quickly and it transported me back to a time that ceased to exist before I was born, where time moved more slowly, ruled by the seasons and the weather, and with a clearly defined social hierarchy. And yet, I was surprised to find that youngsters were scribbling graffiti on ‘every gatepost and barn’s doors’, writing ‘some bad word or other’ so that a woman can hardly pass for shame some time.’ Learning to write and sending children to school was blamed:

’Ah, there’s too much of that sending to school these days! It only does harm. … If they’d never been taught how to write they wouldn’t have been able to scribble such villainy. Their fathers couldn’t do it, and the country was all the better for it.’ (Page 108)8

Quite simply – I loved it. It’s a love story full of depth, atmosphere and passion, but also of tragedy  and a mix of darkness and light.

The Classics Club Spin Result

Classics Club
The spin number in The Classics Club Spin was announced yesterday. It’s number … 6

which for me is The Return of the Native by Thomas Hardy. The rules of the Spin are that this is the book for me to read by 1 June, 2020.

The Return of the Native

I’m delighted with this as I’ve been meaning to read it for years and never got round to it.

‘To be loved to madness – such was her great desire’

Eustacia Vye criss-crosses the wild Egdon Heath, eager to experience life to the full in her quest for ‘music, poetry, passion, war’. She marries Clym Yeobright, native of the heath, but his idealism frustrates her romantic ambitions and her discontent draws others into a tangled web of deceit and unhappiness.

Early readers responded to Hardy’s ‘insatiably observant’ descriptions of the heath, a setting that for D. H. Lawrence provided the ‘real stuff of tragedy’. For modern readers, the tension between the mythic setting of the heath and the modernity of the characters challenges our freedom to shape the world as we wish; like Eustacia, we may not always be able to live our dreams. (Amazon)

Did you take part in the Classics Spin? What will you be reading?

Top Ten Tuesday: Books I Bought/Borrowed Because…

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Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme created by The Broke and the Bookish and now hosted by Jana at That Artsy Reader Girl. For the rules see her blog.

This week’s topic is Books I Bought/Borrowed Because… (Fill in the blank. You can do 10 books you bought for the same reason, i.e., pretty cover, recommended by a friend, blurbed by a favorite authors, etc. OR you could do a different reason for each pick.) 

These are some books I’ve bought:

  • All Change by Elizabeth Jane Howard – because this is the last book in her Cazalet series and I’d read all the others. I’d love to re-read the whole series sometime.
  • Bleak House by Charles Dickens after watching the TV series. I much prefer to watch a dramatised version before reading a book – the other way round can be so disappointing.
  • The Help by Kathryn Stockett  after watching the film. Both were good – in different ways.

  • The Murder of Roger Ackroyd by Agatha Christie because I was reading all her books for The Agatha Christie Reading Challenge run by Kerrie at Mysteries in Paradise.
  • The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce because I was browsing in a bookshop and saw that it’s about Harold’s journey on foot from one end of the country to the other – from South Devon to Berwick-upon-Tweed and I was intrigued. I wondered which places he went through.
  • L S Lowry: A Life by Shelley Rhode because I love his paintings, so when I saw this book at an exhibition of his work I bought it.

And some books I’ve borrowed:

  • The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters – this is just one of the many books I’ve bought/borrowed because so many other bloggers had praised it, so when I saw at at the library I borrowed it.
  • Quite Ugly One Morning by Christopher Brookmyre – because I went to his author event and then borrowed this book from my son.
  • The Hand That First Held Mine by Maggie O’Farrell because I read her book, Instructions for a Heatwave for book group and as I loved that book one of the other members lent it to me.
  • The Mystery of Princess Louise by Lucinda Hawksley, subtitled Queen Victoria’s Rebellious Daughter. I’ve borrowed it from the library as a friend had borrowed it before me and said it’s very good – and it is.

Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens

Charles Dickens oliver twist etc

5*

Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens was my latest Classics Club Spin book. I finished reading it on 16th January well before the finish date for the Spin, 31st January. It’s a well known story, although I realised that I only knew the beginning – Oliver’s birth in the workhouse and his early years, that famous scene where he has the audacity to ask for more, and then his escape from the workhouse only to end up in Fagin’s clutches – a den of thieves and pickpockets.

Oliver Twist
‘Please, sir, I want some more.’

I don’t intended to go into any more detail about the story, other than to say that whilst out with the Artful Dodger, attempting to steal handkerchiefs Oliver is caught by the police and rescued by Mr Brownlow. After that the story was new to me, although I knew the names of the other main characters, Nancy and the villain Bill Sykes, with his vicious dog, Bull’s Eye. But other characters in the later parts of the book, such as the Maylie family, Rose, adopted by Mrs Maylie, and her son, Harry and the mysterious man, Monks were new to me. 

Oliver Twist was first published as a serial from 1837-1839, under Charles Dickens’ pseudonym, ‘Boz’. It was his second novel, published in three volumes in November 1839. It’s full of terrific descriptions of the state of society at the time – the grim conditions that the poor suffered, the shocking revelations of what went on in the workhouse, and the depiction of the criminal underworld – the contrast of good and evil. Despite everything that happens to Oliver he remains a good boy, pure and innocent, whereas the villains are evil personified; whilst living with Fagin and his gang he existed in a state of both fascination and terror. Dickens was merciless in the satire he used in this book.

And yet in the middle of the book there is a romantic interlude full of sentimentality and melodrama. Rose Maylie is really a very pale character, being both virtuous and self-sacrificing but she contrasts well with the prostitute Nancy, who pities Oliver and tries to protect him from Fagin and Sykes. As the mystery surrounding Monks’ identity is revealed, Oliver is in more danger than anything he has faced before in his life.

My copy also contains Great Expectations and A Tale of Two Cities (both of which I read as a teenager) and was a birthday present as long ago as 1981, so this is one of my TBRs as well as a Classics Club Spin book. In the introduction to this volume Oliver Twist is described as follows:

The story of Oliver … has become an immortal one. Hitherto Dickens had been content to entertain … with Oliver he tried to reach the deeper passions of his audience, rouse their indignation at the harsh injustice of the Poor Law and open their eyes to the horror of the London slums, while at the same time show that there is  a certain innocence in humanity (personified by Oliver) that can never be sullied. There have been some critics who have found that the two themes make uneasy bedfellows and certain contemporaries of Dickens complained that he was being purely sensational in his horrific descriptions of life in the criminal underworld. Most of his readership, however, have been both fascinated and moved.

And I can say that I too found it shocking, fascinating and moving.

WWW Wednesday: 15 January 2020

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WWW Wednesday is run by Taking on a World of Words.

The Three Ws are:

What are you currently reading?
What did you recently finish reading?
What do you think you’ll read next?

Currently I’m reading three books:

Charles Dickens oliver twist etcOliver Twist by Charles Dickens, my Classics Club Spin book. It’s one of those books that I think I know the story from watching TV adaptations, but I have never read it. I’ve discovered that I only ‘know’ the beginning of the book up to the part where Oliver is rescued by Mr Brownlow from Fagin’s clutches, only to be snatched back by Nancy. After that the story is totally new to me.

John Lennon LettersI’m also reading The John Lennon Letters edited by Hunter Davies. It includes a brief biography and using almost three hundred of Lennon’s letters and postcards, to relations, friends, fans, strangers, and lovers follows his life more or less chronologically. It’s a large, heavy hardback book, illustrated with photos and reproductions of the letters etc. This is going to be a long-term read for me.

The Windsor StoryThe third book is one I’ve only just started – I’ve been struck by some of the parallels between Edward VIII’s abdication in 1936 in order to marry Wallis Simpson and the current situation of Prince Harry and Meghan in wanting to step back as senior royals, and I remembered I have The Windsor Story by J Bryan III and Charles V Murphy. It looks remarkably comprehensive and is another book that I think will take me a long time to read.

Lady of the ravensThe last book I finished reading is  The Lady of the Ravens by Joanna Hickson, historical fiction about about the early years of Henry’s reign as seen through the eyes of Joan Vaux, a lady in waiting to Elizabeth of York, whose marriage in 1486 to Henry united the Houses of Lancaster and York after the end of the Wars of the Roses.  I found this a fascinating book and posted my review a few days ago.

Tinker tailorI have several books lined up to read next including Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy by John Le Carré because over the Christmas period I watched the film starring Gary Oldman as George Smiley, along with Colin FirthTom HardyJohn Hurt and others. I began reading the book years ago and have a bookmark at page 88, but I’ll have to go back to the beginning now.

A killing kindnessBut I’d also like to start A Killing Kindness, the next Dalziel and Pascoe novel, the 6th one in Reginald Hill’s series. It looks good – about Mary Dinwoodie whose body is found choked in a ditch following a night out with her boyfriend, and a mysterious caller phones the local paper with a quotation from Hamlet.

But knowing how long it could be until I start the next book, it could be something completely different!

Have you read any of these books?  Do any of them tempt you? 

The Classics Club Spin Result

Classics Club
The spin number in The Classics Club Spin was announced yesterday. It’s number … 13

which for me is Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens. The rules of the Spin are that this is the book for me to read by January 31, 2020.

Charles Dickens oliver twist etc

I’m delighted with this as I’ve been meaning to read it for years and never got round to it.

The story of the orphan Oliver, who runs away from the workhouse to be taken in by a den of thieves, shocked readers with its depiction of a dark criminal underworld peopled by vivid and memorable characters – the arch-villain Fagin, the artful Dodger, the menacing Bill Sikes and the prostitute Nancy. Combining elements of Gothic romance, the Newgate novel and popular melodrama, Oliver Twist created an entirely new kind of fiction, scathing in its indictment of a cruel society and pervaded by an unforgettable sense of threat and mystery.

Did you take part in the Classics Spin? What will you be reading?

This is my last post until after Christmas, so I’m wishing you all a very …

Christmas bells

Latest Additions at BooksPlease

Yesterday I brought this little pile of books home from Barter Books in Alnwick, my favourite bookshop. (This is where you can ‘swap’ books for credit that you can then use to get more books from the Barter Books shelves.)

Barter Bks Nov 2019

From top to bottom they are:

The Agony and the Ecstasy by Irving Stone, a biographical novel of Michelangelo. I was delighted to find this almost pristine copy on the Barter Book shelves to replace my old tatty copy that is falling to pieces (you can see it in this post). There’s not a crease on the spine – I don’t think it’s ever been read!

Missing Joseph: An Inspector Lynley Novel by Elizabeth George. I haven’t read any of the Inspector Lynley novels, although I’ve watched the TV adaptations. This is the sixth in the series. I’m wondering if the book will be as good as the TV version. An Anglican priest is found dead – from accidental poisoning. But his death is far from straight forward.

Staring at the Light by Frances Fyfield. I’ve read just one of her books before, which I enjoyed. John Smith’s twin has disappeared. Cannon, a gifted artist, goes into hiding to avoid John’s destructive behaviour. Attorney Sarah Fortune shields Cannon, and more importantly, his wife, the real target. But is Cannon really telling the truth about John? Val McDermid is quoted on the back cover: ‘I doubt I will read a better book this year.’

Next two books by Edmund Crispin. I’ve read reviews of his books, so when I saw these two I decided to see for myself what they are like. The Case of the Gilded Fly, Crispin’s first novel, contains the first appearance of eccentric amateur detective Gervase Fen, Professor of English Language and Literature in the University of Oxford. It’s a locked-room mystery, written while Crispin was an undergraduate at Oxford and first published in the UK in 1944.

And Buried for Pleasure, in which Gervase Fen is running for parliament and he finds himself ‘in a tangled tale of lost heirs, eccentric psychiatrists, beautiful women and vengeful poisoners.’

And last but not least I found this hardback copy of a Daphne du Maurier novel – Rule Britannia. First published in 1972 in this novel the UK has withdrawn from the Common Market (as it was then called) and has formed an alliance with the United States – supposed to be an equal partnership but it looks to some people like a takeover bid. Rather prescient of Daphne du Maurier, I wonder …

Mary Barton by Elizabeth Gaskell

Mary Barton Gaskell

Mary Barton: A Tale of Manchester Life by Elizabeth Gaskell was my Classics Club Spin book for September and October. It was her first novel, published in two volumes in 1848, bringing her to the attention of Charles Dickens who was looking for contributors to his new periodical Household Words. It’s the third book of hers that I have read. It is a long book and begins slowly, developing the characters and building up to the main story.

It covers the years 1837 to 1842, a time that saw the growth of trade unions and of Chartism, of industrial city expansion and a time of extreme economic depression. The structure of society and social attitudes were changing with the growth of materialism and class antagonism. As people moved away from the countryside and into Manchester to work in the cotton mills, the city grew from 75,000 in 1800 to 400,000 in 1848 when Mary Barton was published, creating great wealth for the mill owners whilst the mill workers were housed in horrendous slums.

Mary Barton is the story of ordinary working people struggling with the rapid social change and terrible working and living conditions. Mary is the daughter of John Barton, a mill worker and trade unionist. John is a hard worker, but he is determined that she should never work in a factory, so she works as an apprentice to a dressmaker and milliner. She is flattered by the attentions of Henry Carson, a mill owner’s son and believes he will marry he and that she will live in luxury and she spurns Jem Wilson, her childhood friend, only later realising that it is him she loves.

However, work for the factory dries up and it closes down. The workers are desperate and John becomes an active trade unionist and a Chartist. (Gaskell gives a detailed picture of the Chartist Movement and their demands for political reform.) Eventually he turns to opium to relieve his situation. Things go from bad to worse – Henry is murdered and suspicion falls on Jem. Mary realises the mistakes she had made and that it is Jem that she loves, and when her efforts to prove his innocence lead her to suspect the real culprit, she is left with a terrible dilemma.

I have only just touched the surface of this novel and there are many strands that I have left out. There is a mystery surrounding the disappearance of Mary’s Aunt Esther, the story of Mary’s friend Margaret, who is slowly going blind, and her grandfather, Job, Jem’s mother and his Aunt Alice country women who came to Manchester to work, a factory fire and the illnesses and diseases that were endemic at the time, amongst others. It is a touch melodramatic in parts and does include quite lengthy rhetorical passages and commentary in Gaskell’s own voice as narrator. But on the whole her style is clear and detailed giving a sense of reality. It is a powerful novel, a love story, as well as a tragedy, presenting a moving picture of the lives of working people in the middle of the nineteenth century.

3.5*

As well as being my Classics Club Spin book, Mary Barton is also one of my TBRs so it qualifies for Bev’s Mount TBR Reading Challenge.

The Classics Club Spin Result

Classics Club

The spin number in The Classics Club Spin was announced yesterday. It’s number …

5

which for me is Mary Barton by Elizabeth Gaskell. The rules of the Spin are that this is the book for me to read by October 31, 2019.

Mary Barton

 

I’ve read some of Elizabeth Gaskell’s books and enjoyed them. This is her first book, set in Manchester between 1839 and 1842.

Here’s the blurb from Amazon:

Mary Barton, the daughter of disillusioned trade unionist, rejects her working-class lover Jem Wilson in the hope of marrying Henry Carson, the mill owner’s son, and making a better life for herself and her father. But when Henry is shot down in the street and Jem becomes the main suspect, Mary finds herself painfully torn between the two men. Through Mary’s dilemma, and the moving portrayal of her father, the embittered and courageous Chartist agitator John Barton, Mary Barton powerfully dramatizes the class divides of the ‘hungry forties’ as personal tragedy. In its social and political setting, it looks towards Elizabeth Gaskell’s great novels of the industrial revolution, in particular North and South.

Did you take part in the Classics Spin? What will you be reading?

The Classics Club Spin: My List

 

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It’s time for another  Classics Club Spin. By 23 September compile a Spin List of twenty books that remain ‘to be read’ on your Classics Club list.

On that day the Classics Club will randomly pick a number and that will be the book to read. You then have until the 31st October 2019 to finish your book and review it.

I have only 13 unread books left on my list  so, I’ve repeated seven of the titles to make the numbers up to 20.

  1. The Riddle of the Third Mile by Colin Dexter
  2. Little Dorrit by Charles Dickens
  3. Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens
  4. Parade’s End by Ford Maddox Ford
  5. Mary Barton by Elizabeth Gaskell
  6. Smallbone Deceased by Michael Gilbert
  7. Far from the Madding Crowd by Thomas Hardy
  8. The Return of the Native by Thomas Hardy
  9. Murder by Matchlight by E C R Lorac
  10. Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
  11. All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarqu
  12. Framley Parsonage by Anthony Trollope
  13. Orlando by Virginia Woolf
  14. The Riddle of the Third Mile by Colin Dexte
  15. Little Dorrit by Charles Dickens
  16. Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens
  17. Smallbone Deceased by Michael Gilbert
  18. Far From the Madding Crowd by Thomas Hardy
  19. The Return of the Native by Thomas Hardy
  20. Murder by Matchlight by E C R Lorac

I’m quietly hoping it will be Murder by Matchlight or Smallbone Deceased, but any of them will be OK.