chapter  7
18 Pages

The Magic in Mentalité: Hardy’s Native Returns

One of the most impressive features of Thomas Hardy’s novel Far From the Madding Crowd was, in the opinion of the critic Ian Gregor, the passionate nature of the language of love. In Gregor’s eloquent words: ‘again and again we are made aware of surges of feeling, arising precipitately, and ransacking language for their expression’.1 There is great love, too, in Hardy’s subsequent work, The Return of the Native, of 1878, or so we are supposed to believe. As Hardy’s idealistic reformer, Clym Yeobright, takes a (short) break from his educational project, ‘his sound and worthy purpose’, he sets about wooing the enigmatic Eustacia Yye, a woman who appears to him at fi rst both as a ‘melancholy mummer’ and ‘a romantic martyr to superstition’.2 To Clym at the time of his infatuation words do not come easily: ‘They remained long without a single utterance, for no language could reach the level of their condition: words were as the rusty implements of a by-gone barbarous epoch, and only to be occasionally tolerated’ (254). Clym Yeobright cannot fi nd the right words, the new words, to express his new feelings. But whatever the limitations of the language of love, the most passionate language in the text, the reader may well come to feel, is that of hate, as Yeobright, about to strike Eustacia Vye, now his wife, desists and resorts to verbal violence instead. At this moment his is a ‘barbarous’ language indeed. In a dramatic scene, which few critics have chosen to dwell upon, Yeobright seizes upon the available evidence as signs of his wife’s guilt. He puts the worst interpretation upon her actions; he is convinced that she is the cause of his mother’s death. A contemporary of Hardy might have had some problems understanding Eustacia, she is after all fairly unconventional. But the novel comes up with explanations that serve as justifi cations for her strange ways. Most likely the reader will fi nd there are suffi cient reasons to exonerate her.3