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?

Classics Club Spin

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It’s time for another Classics Club Spin.  I was wondering if one was due, so I’m pleased to find it is, especially as I haven’t made much progress with reading any off my list recently.

    • Before Sunday 19th April 2020, create a post that lists twenty books of your choice that remain “to be read” on your Classics Club list. This is your Spin List.  I only have 9 unread books left on my list so I’ve listed them twice and added two more books that I’d like to read.
    • You have to read one of these twenty books by the end of the spin period.
    • On 19th April the folks at The Classics Club will post a number from 1 through 20. The challenge is to read whatever book falls under that number on your Spin List by 1st June 2020.

 

      1. The Riddle of the Third Mile by Colin Dexter
      2. Little Dorrit by Charles Dickens
      3. Parade’s End by Ford Maddox Ford
      4. Smallbone Deceased by Michael Gilbert
      5. Far from the Madding Crowd by Thomas Hardy
      6. The Return of the Native by Thomas Hardy
      7. Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
      8. Framley Parsonage by Anthony Trollope
      9. Orlando by Virginia Woolf
      10. The Riddle of the Third Mile by Colin Dexter
      11. Little Dorrit by Charles Dickens
      12. Parade’s End by Ford Maddox Ford
      13. Smallbone Deceased by Michael Gilbert
      14. Far from the Madding Crowd by Thomas Hardy
      15. The Return of the Native by Thomas Hardy
      16. Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
      17. Framley Parsonage by Anthony Trollope
      18. Orlando by Virginia Woolf
      19. I’ll Never Be Young Again by Daphne du Maurier
      20. How Green Was My Valley by Richard Llewellyn

Have you read any of these and loved them? Any that you didn’t enjoy?

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.

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

The Classics Club Spin – My List

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It’s time for another  Classics Club Spin. Before next Sunday 22nd December 2019 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 January 2020 to finish your book and review it.

I have only 10 unread books left on my list  so, I’ve repeated the list 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. Smallbone Deceased by Michael Gilbert
  6. Far from the Madding Crowd by Thomas Hardy
  7. The Return of the Native by Thomas Hardy
  8. Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
  9. Framley Parsonage by Anthony Trollope
  10. Orlando by Virginia Woolf
  11. The Riddle of the Third Mile by Colin Dexte
  12. Little Dorrit by Charles Dickens
  13. Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens
  14. Parade’s End by Ford Maddox Ford
  15. Smallbone Deceased by Michael Gilbert
  16. Far From the Madding Crowd by Thomas Hardy
  17. The Return of the Native by Thomas Hardy
  18. Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
  19. Framley Parsonage by Anthony Trollope
  20. Orlando by Virginia Woolf

There are several long books on my list, but for the beginning of next year I think I’d prefer one of the shorter books. What do you think?

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

 

63269-classic2bspin

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.