The Return of The Native: Book 1, Chapter 1 - Summary & Analysis

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CHAPTER I: A Face on Which Time Makes but Little Impression


Evening Creeps in Egdon Heath

      Twilight was approaching in Egdon Heath on a Saturday afternoon in November. Although the sky was still bright, the vast tract of unenclosed wild known as Egdon Heath was acquiring darkness gradually. Looking upwards, a furze-cutter would have felt inclined to continue work; but looking at Heath he would have decided to go home. The appearance of the Heath added half an hour to the evening, just as it delayed dawn, saddened noon, anticipated storms and intensified a moonless midnight Precisely at this transitional point of its nightly crawl into darkness, the glory of the Egdon Heath began. The Heath was indeed, a near relation of the night.

Egdon Heath Awake

      At this hour, when everything was under the garb of sleep, the Heath slowly appeared to wake and listen. It became a place full of a watchful intentness. Every night the Heath's Titanic form seemed to wait for one final crisis, as if it had been waiting for centuries for the final, massive over-throw. The Heath presented a solemn and majestic sight of elemental grandeur.

Its Earnest Intensity

      The scenery of Egdon Heath in the background of twilight presented a sight which was lofty without severity, impressive without being showy, emphatic in its counsellings and grandly simple. Only in summer days did its mood touch the level of joviality. Its intensity was earnest rather than being brilliant, and this intensity was often reached during winter darkness, tempests and mists. The storm was Egdon Heath's lover, the wind its friend and then it became the home of strange phantoms.

      The Heath, at this hour, was a place corresponding to human nature-neither ghastly-hateful nor ugly; neither commonplace, unmeaning nor tame; but like man, slighted and enduring, it was singularly colossal and mysterious in its dark monotony. Its face suggested tragic possibilities.

Egdon Heath's Ancient Permanence

      Egdon was always at war with society, an untameable thing. Civilization was its enemy and its soil always looked the same. This great inviolate place had an ancient permanence which could never be claimed by the sea. The sea changed, changing the fields, rivers, villages and the people, yet Egdon remained the same. An old highway crossed its lower levels and a more aged barrow (mound) stood prominently over it.

Critical Analysis

      Hardy has given a vivid description of Egdon Heath in the opening chapter. He not only made Egdon come alive, but also created an earnest and somber atmosphere which seems an appropriate prelude to the story. This description shows Hardy's sensitive attitude to Nature, its various moods.

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