Wessex Folk in The Novel The Return of The Native

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      Hardy is the unchallenged monarch of the countries of Berkshire, Wiltshire, Hampshire, Somerset, Devon and especially Dorset, united under the sceptre of his pen. Never was a region so compromisingly celebrated as in these books. He belonged to Dorchester, and he wrote of that south-western part of England which he renamed Wessex and succeeded in building up, through his books an immortal region. It is a land of his invention. He has revealed its beauties and charms to our eyes and immortalized it. It is enough to travel in Wessex to be convinced that many a land become a realm charged with poetry and beauty, if only it finds the hand which will illuminate. Hardy is great in virtue of his penetrating and flexible interpretation of his native earth.

Various Moods of the Heath

      Hardy has given a vivid and imaginary description of the Heath. Hardy combines the botanist's microscope and the astronomer's telescope. He has keenly observed even the smallest movement in the Heath. He knows the breaths and pulses of the country-side. His approach to the Heath was highly poetic. Egdon has a colossal human existence. "It was at present a place perfectly accordant with man's nature-neither ghastly, hateful, nor ugly; neither commonplace, unmeaning, nor tame; but, like man, slighted and enduring; and withal singularly colossal and mysterious in its swarthy monotony. As with some persons who have long lived apart, solitude seemed to look out of its countenance. It had a lonely face, suggesting tragical possibilities." Hardy's attitude to Egdon Heath shows a rich complexity. One of the most important aspects of Egdon Heath is that it dominates the lives of the human characters, infusing into them its grandeur and its melancholy. The approach of the characters to the Heath is different. For instance, Eustacia considered the Heath as her cross and shame and the potential cause of her death.

Rustics as the Soul

      The beauty of Hardy's Wessex lies in the rustic people since they give life to the land. The somber beauty of the country and the quaintness of peasant ways and thought penetrated his spirit and became the very ground and substance of his imagination. Although the rustics appear in his novels a few times, they sometimes affect the novel. Often they give some vital information about the characters through their gossip. It is from their conversation that we learn that Clym is returning from Paris and Wildeve is a strange man. They say that Eustacia is a girl, very strange in her ways, living with her grandfather, and not mingling with people. "She is a well-favored maid enough, especially when she's got one of her dandy gowns on." They have their own opinion about everybody.

      The rustics also provide some humor to the novel. Their actions and unconscious wits are relief to the otherwise tragic and somber story. They show a fatalistic outlook upon life besides being keen observers of things and events.

      Hardy's Wessex is much more than a scenic setting for his stories and poems; it is the dominating character-brooding constantly above his works and casting its changeless shadow upon the author as well as the people in his books. Wessex and its people, is the great theme on which all of his novels are written. Without a proper appreciation of Wessex, it is impossible to appreciate his works.

University Questions

Write a note on The Return of the Native as a Wessex novel.
Or
"Hardy's novels are based on the folk-ways of his native province." Discuss this statement with reference to The Return of the Native.

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