Study Questions for The Return of the Native
The Return of the Native is Hardy's sixth published novel, and it is in many ways a decided departure from his earlier works. Consider the opening chapter in relation to that of Far from the Madding Crowd--do the novels start in noticeably different ways? (You might also think about the opening chapter in relation to the beginning of Dickens's Bleak House--is there something similar going on at the front end of those two novels?) Or consider the expansive narration of the first part of the book. If the opening words tell us fairly precisely about what time of day it is, how long does it take the novel to move past that day to the next one? Is this kind of expansiveness something that we've seen before? What exactly is Hardy trying to accomplish in the opening of this novel?
The title of chapter one is: "A Face on which Time makes but little Impression." Is it possible to argue that Egdon Heath is the main character in this novel, and that its face is the one that will be delineated most fully? If so, how can we characterize this landscape?
Why don't we ever leave the heath in this novel?
Hardy seems to have been at some pains to construct his novel in a classically unified scheme: there is unity of place, and arguably of time (what is the time scale of the novel?); the novel is divided into books; the title itself suggests a journey motif; and so on. How do these formal characteristics affect your reading of the text?
If you had to choose a primary character in this novel, who would it be? Is the book mostly about Clym's struggle to find meaning and vocation in life, or is it mostly about Eustacia's desire to escape the heath for a more romantic life?
What is the developmental line between Eustacia and Bathsheba? Both are to some extent free-thinking women in a society that didn't exactly embrace such characters. Is Eustacia a more extreme version than Bathsheba? If so, in what ways?
In this novel, Hardy continues his interest in rural characters and their speech. Consider some of the Egdon residents here (especially Professor Eckert's favorite character, Christian Cantle): are they mostly decorative participants in the story who lend a certain local color to the proceedings, or is their role somehow more intrinsic to the narrative?
And speaking of local color, what should we make of Diggory Venn? How is he described in the novel? What actions does he undertake, and in what ways is he successful? And just what is reddle, anyway?
Numerous critics have pointed out that there's something very Freudian going on in this novel between Clym, his mother, and Eustacia. How exactly should we understand this particular "family romance"?
Far from the Madding Crowd is essentially comic with a few tragic elements. The Return of the Native ends with a courtship and wedding, but we would probably want to call it a tragic work. But what exactly is the nature of the tragedy? What model of tragedy might help us to understand the thrust of the novel?
If you can find Arthur Hopkins's illustrations of the original serial publication of The Return of the Native, what do you make of the way they represent Hardy's characters and narration?
The map of Egdon Heath that is reprinted in our edition was drawn by Hardy and published in the first book version of the novel. How does it affect our understanding of the novel's actions?
The meaning of the novel's title seems fairly obvious at first glance, but can we interpret it in more ways than one?
Does the sixth book, "Aftercourses," seem integral to the overall narrative?