The Reddleman Can

Considering that Diggory Venn is the only character I remembered from my first reading of Hardy’s Return of the Native and is the only character I found admirable after my second reading, I was a little dismayed when I read this brief analysis from Cliff Notes:

Since the reddleman is used by Hardy as the connector in developing the plot of the novel, he is hardly a character at all in the usual sense. True enough, he is persistent, resourceful, hard-working, and prudent, but he is so little a character in the book that it is something of a surprise to see him appear as Thomasin’s suitor in Book Sixth. For all of his appearances in the story, the reader knows less about him really than about any other character. Not even his marrying Thomasin lessens the mystery, though Hardy implies in a comment about the novel that it will. Perhaps Hardy decided to marry him off to Thomasin as a reward for plot services rendered.

I began to wonder if we’d both read the same book, perhaps not. In fact, the more I read criticism on the net, the more I’m sure we’re not seeing the novel through the same eyes. Surely if this critic had actually read the novel he would have known that the reason Diggory became a reddleman was because he had been rejected by Thomasin two years earlier:

He sat down on a three-legged milking stool that formed the only seat in the van, and, examining his packet by the light of a candle, took thence an old letter and spread it open. The writing had originally been traced on white paper, but the letter had now assumed a pale red tinge from the accident of its situation; and the black strokes of writing thereon looked like the twigs of a winter hedge against a vermilion sunset. The letter bore a date some two years previous to that time, and was signed “Thomasin Yeobright.” It ran as follows:–

DEAR DIGGORY VENN,–The question you put when you overtook me coming home from Pond-close gave me such a surprise that I am afraid I did not make you exactly understand what I meant. Of course, if my aunt had not met me I could have explained all then at once, but as it was there was no chance. I have been quite uneasy since, as you know I do not wish to pain you, yet I fear I shall be doing so now in contradicting what I seemed to say then. I cannot, Diggory, marry you, or think of letting you call me your sweetheart. I could not, indeed, Diggory. I hope you will not much mind my saying this, and feel in a great pain. It makes me very sad when I think it may, for I like you very much, and I always put you next to my cousin Clym in my mind. There are so many reasons why we cannot be married that I can hardly name them all in a letter. I did not in the least expect that you were going to speak on such a thing when you followed me, because I had never thought of you in the sense of a lover at all. You must not becall me for laughing when you spoke; you mistook when you thought I laughed at you as a foolish man. I laughed because the idea was so odd, and not at you at all. The great reason with my own personal self for not letting you court me is, that I do not feel the things a woman ought to feel who consents to walk with you with the meaning of being your wife. It is not as you think, that I have another in my mind, for I do not encourage anybody, and never have in my life. Another reason is my aunt. She would not, I know, agree to it, even if I wished to have you. She likes you very well, but she will want me to look a little higher than a small dairy-farmer, and marry a professional man. I hope you will not set your heart against me for writing plainly, but I felt you might try to see me again, and it is better that we should not meet. I shall always think of you as a good man, and be anxious for your well-doing. I send this by Jane Orchard’s little maid,–And remain Diggory, your faithful friend,


Dude, that simple letter makes clear Diggory’s motivation throughout the novel — he loves the woman. Before her marriage he continually returns in hope that he can change her mind and win her over.

Rejected suitors take to roaming as naturally as unhived bees; and the business to which he had cynically devoted himself was in many ways congenial to Venn. But his wanderings, by mere stress of old emotions, had frequently taken an Egdon direction, though he never intruded upon her who attracted him thither. To be in Thomasin’s heath, and near her, yet unseen, was the one ewe-lamb of pleasure left to him.

Then came the incident of that day, and the reddleman, still loving her well, was excited by this accidental service to her at a critical juncture to vow an active devotion to her cause, instead of, as hitherto, sighing and holding aloof. After what had happened it was impossible that he should not doubt the honesty of Wildeve’s intentions. But her hope was apparently centred upon him; and dismissing his regrets Venn determined to aid her to be happy in her own chosen way. That this way was, of all others, the most distressing to himself, was awkward enough; but the reddleman’s love was generous.

Though, I’ll have to admit I’ve never loved anyone enough to actually help a woman I’ve loved to marry another man, it almost seems admirable that he was willing to do so. In fact, if one were to insist that Diggory is merely a “plot device,” one might argue that his love for Thomasin serves as a foil to Clym’s destructive, romantic “love” for Eustacia.

Having seen Wildeve and Eustacia together, the “perspicacious” Diggory rightly decides that the reason Wildeve had stood up Thomasin was because of his love for Eustacia and attempts to convince her to reject Wildeve. After a less direct argument fails, the

reddleman had decided to play the card of truth. “I was at the meeting by Rainbarrow last night and heard every word,” he said. “The woman that stands between Wildeve and Thomasin is yourself.”

It was a disconcerting lift of the curtain, and the mortification of Candaules’ wife glowed in her. The moment had arrived when her lip would tremble in spite of herself, and when the gasp could no longer be kept down.

“I am unwell,” she said hurriedly. “No–it is not that–I am not in a humour to hear you further. Leave me, please.”

When even the truth and the possible embarrassment that involves fails to convince Eustacia, he finally offers a bribe that might well have convinced someone less opposed to work:

“My uncle has been for five and twenty years the trusty man of a rich widow-lady who has a beautiful house facing the sea. This lady has become old and lame, and she wants a young company-keeper to read and sing to her, but can’t get one to her mind to save her life, though she’ve advertised in the papers, and tried half a dozen. She would jump to get you, and Uncle would make it all easy.”

“I should have to work, perhaps?”

“No, not real work–you’d have a little to do, such as reading and that. You would not be wanted till New Year’s Day.”

“I knew it meant work,” she said, drooping to languor again.

“I confess there would be a trifle to do in the way of amusing her; but though idle people might call it work, working people would call it play. Think of the company and the life you’d lead, miss; the gaiety you’d see, and the gentleman you’d marry. My uncle is to inquire for a trustworthy young lady from the country, as she don’t like town girls.”

“It is to wear myself out to please her! and I won’t go. O, if I could live in a gay town as a lady should, and go my own ways, and do my own doings, I’d give the wrinkled half of my life! Yes, reddleman, that would I.”

“Help me to get Thomasin happy, miss, and the chance shall be yours,” urged her companion.

“Chance–’tis no chance,” she said proudly. “What can a poor man like you offer me, indeed?–I am going indoors. I have nothing more to say. Don’t your horses want feeding, or your reddlebags want mending, or don’t you want to find buyers for your goods, that you stay idling here like this?”

Of course the interview does advance the plot by revealing that the very thought of work causes the beautiful Eustacia to droop to lanquor. She wants “live in gay town as a lady should,” but just as importantly it reveals that Diggory is a practical, inventive man who will do what has to be done to protect someone he loves.

When Diggory returns from his failed attempt to convince Eustacia to give up Wildeve, he encounters and offers himself as an alternative to Wildeve to Mrs. Yeobright, thinking Mrs. Yeobright might no longer object to Diggory now that she’s seen how Wildeve has mistreated her niece:

“I should like to say a word first,” said Venn firmly. “Mr. Wildeve is not the only man who has asked Thomasin to marry him; and why should not another have a chance? Mrs. Yeobright, I should be glad to marry your niece and would have done it any time these last two years. There, now it is out, and I have never told anybody before but herself.”

Mrs. Yeobright was not demonstrative, but her eyes involuntarily glanced towards his singular though shapely figure.

“Looks are not everything,” said the reddleman, noticing the glance. “There’s many a calling that don’t bring in so much as mine, if it comes to money; and perhaps I am not so much worse off than Wildeve. There is nobody so poor as these professional fellows who have failed; and if you shouldn’t like my redness–well, I am not red by birth, you know; I only took to this business for a freak; and I might turn my hand to something else in good time.”

“I am much obliged to you for your interest in my niece; but I fear there would be objections. More than that, she is devoted to this man.”

“True; or I shouldn’t have done what I have this morning.”

“Otherwise there would be no pain in the case, and you would not see me going to his house now. What was Thomasin’s answer when you told her of your feelings?”

“She wrote that you would object to me; and other things.”

“She was in a measure right. You must not take this unkindly–I merely state it as a truth. You have been good to her, and we do not forget it. But as she was unwilling on her own account to be your wife, that settles the point without my wishes being concerned.”

“Yes. But there is a difference between then and now, ma’am. She is distressed now, and I have thought that if you were to talk to her about me, and think favourably of me yourself, there might be a chance of winning her round, and getting her quite independent of this Wildeve’s backward and forward play, and his not knowing whether he’ll have her or no.”

Mrs. Yeobright shook her head. “Thomasin thinks, and I think with her, that she ought to be Wildeve’s wife, if she means to appear before the world without a slur upon her name. If they marry soon, everybody will believe that an accident did really prevent the wedding. If not, it may cast a shade upon her character–at any rate make her ridiculous. In short, if it is anyhow possible they must marry now.”

I’d have hoped that even if the CliffsNote critic had missed the original rejection letter he might have caught this encounter and it would have been less of “a surprise to see him appear as Thomasin’s suitor in Book Sixth.” In the rejection of Diggory’s offer, we’re also reminded of just how conscious Mrs. Yeobright is of her good name, and how worried her niece’s actions might reflect badly upon her, despite the fact that she had originally opposed Thomasin’s marriage to Wildeve. Apparently her concern for her niece’s welfare is even less important than what townsfolk, who she looks down upon, of course, would think of the family if they didn’t get married.

Despite her insistence that Thomasin should marry Wildeve, Mrs. Yeobright, and Clym, for that matter, do not attend the wedding because of her dislike for Wildeve and their recent argument. No, only Diggory ensures that the marriage goes through and reports back to her:

“Is she married?” Mrs. Yeobright inquired, turning to the reddleman a face in which a strange strife of wishes, for and against, was apparent.

Venn bowed. “She is, ma’am.”

“How strange it sounds,” murmured Clym.

“And he didn’t disappoint her this time?” said Mrs. Yeobright.

“He did not. And there is now no slight on her name. I was hastening ath’art to tell you at once, as I saw you were not there.”

“How came you to be there? How did you know it?” she asked.

“I have been in that neighbourhood for some time, and I saw them go in,” said the reddleman. “Wildeve came up to the door, punctual as the clock. I didn’t expect it of him.” He did not add, as he might have added, that how he came to be in that neighbourhood was not by accident; that, since Wildeve’s resumption of his right to Thomasin, Venn, with the thoroughness which was part of his character, had determined to see the end of the episode.

Seeing things through, rather than worrying but failing to act, sets Diggory apart from most of the characters in the novel. You certainly wish Clym had this trait later in the novel, for its lack leads to most of the tragedies in the novel.

Diggory seems resigned to his loss, and wishes the best for Thomasin, though it was hard for this reader to imagine any such happiness:

“Well, it is no matter,” said the reddleman. “The thing is done at last as it was meant to be at first, and God send her happiness. Now I’ll wish you good morning.”

He placed his cap on his head and went out.

From that instant of leaving Mrs. Yeobright’s door, the reddleman was seen no more in or about Egdon Heath for a space of many months. He vanished entirely. The nook among the brambles where his van had been standing was as vacant as ever the next morning, and scarcely a sign remained to show that he had been there, excepting a few straws, and a little redness on the turf, which was washed away by the next storm of rain.

Accepting what is, dealing with Reality, or, perhaps, even, Fate, is another of those traits that sets Diggory apart from most of the characters in the novel.

A common charge made against Hardy is that Chance plays a large part in his novels, and that same charge could be made in his use of Diggory. For instance, it seems highly unlikely, considering his occupation, that Diggory could really have observed Wildeve cheat Mrs. Yeobright’s servant out of the coins intended for Thomasin and Clym. Of course, it seems more believable that Diggory could beat Wildeve as easily in dice as Wildeve defeated the superstitious servant.

The reddleman came up as they slowly turned the corner. “I beg pardon for stopping you, Mrs. Wildeve,” he said. “But I have something to give you privately from Mrs. Yeobright.” He handed a small parcel; it consisted of the hundred guineas he had just won, roughly twisted up in a piece of paper.

Thomasin recovered from her surprise, and took the packet. “That’s all, ma’am–I wish you good night,” he said, and vanished from her view.

Thus Venn, in his anxiety to rectify matters, had placed in Thomasin’s hands not only the fifty guineas which rightly belonged to her, but also the fifty intended for her cousin Clym. His mistake had been based upon Wildeve’s words at the opening of the game, when he indignantly denied that the guinea was not his own. It had not been comprehended by the reddleman that at halfway through the performance the game was continued with the money of another person; and it was an error which afterwards helped to cause more misfortune than treble the loss in money value could have done.

Not even someone as observant as Diggory can know everything, as we’ve seen before, and this mistake leads to a greater split between Mrs. Yeobright and Clym.

Hardy makes it clear that Diggory doesn’t linger nearby hoping that Thomasin’s marriage will fail. It isn’t until much later that Diggory happens by again and Thomasin asks him for help:

Those words of Thomasin, which seemed so little, but meant so much, remained in the ears of Diggory Venn: “Help me to keep him home in the evenings.”

On this occasion Venn had arrived on Egdon Heath only to cross to the other side–he had no further connection with the interests of the Yeobright family, and he had a business of his own to attend to. Yet he suddenly began to feel himself drifting into the old track of manoeuvring on Thomasin’s account.

He sat in his van and considered. From Thomasin’s words and manner he had plainly gathered that Wildeve neglected her. For whom could he neglect her if not for Eustacia? Yet it was scarcely credible that things had come to such a head as to indicate that Eustacia systematically encouraged him. Venn resolved to reconnoitre somewhat carefully the lonely road which led along the vale from Wildeve’s dwelling to Clym’s house at Alderworth.

It’s pretty obvious he still loves Thomasin and would do anything for her, which suggests he’s a better man than I’ve ever been capable of being. Either that, or he’s wasting his time on someone he should have probably forgotten since hanging on to old loves never seems to turn out well.

It’s Diggory that saves Clym and rescues the bodies of Wildeve and Eustacia from Shadwater Weir after Thomasin urges him to help her find Wildeve after she suspects he is going to run away with Eustacia and leave her and the baby behind:

At first he could see nothing. Then amidst the glistening of the whirlpools and the white clots of foam he distinguished a woman’s bonnet floating alone. His search was now under the left wall, when something came to the surface almost close beside him. It was not, as he had expected, a woman, but a man. The reddleman put the ring of the lantern between his teeth, seized the floating man by the collar, and, holding on to the hatch with his remaining arm, struck out into the strongest race, by which the unconscious man, the hatch, and himself were carried down the stream. As soon as Venn found his feet dragging over the pebbles of the shallower part below he secured his footing and waded towards the brink. There, where the water stood at about the height of his waist, he flung away the hatch, and attempted to drag forth the man. This was a matter of great difficulty, and he found as the reason that the legs of the unfortunate stranger were tightly embraced by the arms of another man, who had hitherto been entirely beneath the surface.

At this moment his heart bounded to hear footsteps running towards him, and two men, roused by Thomasin, appeared at the brink above. They ran to where Venn was, and helped him in lifting out the apparently drowned persons, separating them, and laying them out upon the grass. Venn turned the light upon their faces. The one who had been uppermost was Yeobright; he who had been completely submerged was Wildeve.

“Now we must search the hole again,” said Venn. “A woman is in there somewhere. Get a pole.”

The tacked-on ending to the novel demanded by publishers because the novel lacked a “happy ending” has Clym objecting to the Thomasin’s marriage to Diggory because his mother had objected to it:

“Then how could you say that I should marry some town man? I am sure, say what you will, that I must marry Diggory, if I marry at all. He has been kinder to me than anybody else, and has helped me in many ways that I don’t know of!” Thomasin almost pouted now.

“Yes, he has,” said Clym in a neutral tone. “Well, I wish with all my heart that I could say, marry him. But I cannot forget what my mother thought on that matter, and it goes rather against me not to respect her opinion. There is too much reason why we should do the little we can to respect it now.”

“Very well, then,” sighed Thomasin. “I will say no more.”

“But you are not bound to obey my wishes. I merely say what I think.”

“O no–I don’t want to be rebellious in that way,” she said sadly. “I had no business to think of him–I ought to have thought of my family. What dreadfully bad impulses there are in me!” Her lips trembled, and she turned away to hide a tear.

Clym, though vexed at what seemed her unaccountable taste, was in a measure relieved to find that at any rate the marriage question in relation to himself was shelved. Through several succeeding days he saw her at different times from the window of his room moping disconsolately about the garden. He was half angry with her for choosing Venn; then he was grieved at having put himself in the way of Venn’s happiness, who was, after all, as honest and persevering a young fellow as any on Egdon, since he had turned over a new leaf.

You’d have thought that Clym might have learned something from his tragedy, but apparently very little. He’s a dreamer who seems incapable of seeing the world around him for what it really is and is still bound by his mother’s beliefs of what were proper and of the importance of people’s place in the world. If mother says the reddleman was inferior, he must be despite the fact that he’s saved Clym’s life.

Of course, poor silly little Thomasin has even more reason not to trust Mrs. Yeobright’s opinions and even more reason to trust Diggory. She ought to have seen where thinking of your family first leads. Though some might well argue that her sudden wealth might well have countered any other inconveniences she’s suffered.

I suspect if he’d had any other viable alternative, Hardy would have left poor Diggory alone and not joined him throughout eternity with the poor, silly little girl. Unfortunately, unless he was going to write another five hundred pages there weren’t any other viable alternatives available. Certainly Clym wasn’t ready for another “great romance,” and I’m not sure his suggested (shudder) marriage to his mother’s niece because they lived to together under the same roof would have done much to assuage Hardy’s readers’ anger. So we end with Diggory’s final reward:

She scrutinized his face. “Yes, you guess right. It is going to be after all. He thinks I may as well make up my mind, and I have got to think so too. It is to be on the twenty-fifth of next month, if you don’t object.”

“Do what you think right, dear. I am only too glad that you see your way clear to happiness again. My sex owes you every amends for the treatment you received in days gone by.”*

* The writer may state here that the original conception of the story did not design a marriage between Thomasin and Venn. He was to have retained his isolated and weird character to the last, and to have disappeared mysteriously from the heath, nobody knowing whither–Thomasin remaining a widow. But certain circumstances of serial publication led to a change of intent.

Readers can therefore choose between the endings, and those with an austere artistic code can assume the more consistent conclusion to be the true one.

I don’t remember exactly how I felt about this as a high school senior, and though I don’t really have an “austere artistic code,” my head tells me Thomasin would never have gone against societal values and married Diggory, particularly since he had been a reddleman. She’s shown no real signs of being able to think for herself and resist the societal forces that demand that she act prescribed ways, perhaps with good reason when she’d seen what happens to people like Eustacia and Wildeve who consciously break the code to feed their own passions.

Even Clym who broke the code for better reasons suffers nearly unbearable punishment. He loses everyone he loves in life. Of course, it’s his impracticality, his idealism, that dooms him more than breaking any social mores. He is naive enough to believe that his love for Eustacia will cause her to forget about leaving Egdon Heath, that her hatred for the place can be overcome by their love. What can you expect from someone who abandons his profession to redeem the inhabitants of Egdon Heath as first a teacher than as a preacher, a preacher without a religion?

This is a “modern novel” and there are no heroes, but it certainly seems to me that the best adjusted person in the novel is Diggory himself. Thomasin’s original rejection of him because he’s only a dairyman forces him to reject society’s rules. He purposely chooses a vocation that most people look down upon because it gives him the freedom to get away that owning a farm didn’t give him. Attuning himself to Egdon Heath gives him new strengths and new awarenesses. He sees things that those who are bound by their station cannot see. He adjusts to the Heath in ways that few others do, at least few villagers do. Standing on the outside his confident of who he is, is able to see through other’s deceptions, and is generally happy, though unfulfilled because he is unable to have the one he loves.

Hardy’s Egdon Heath

After re-reading Hardy’s The Return of the Native I’m still not sure what originally attracted me to it, but I’m pretty sure it wasn’t the plot. In fact, it’s a sign of Hardy’s genius that he managed to make the novel as believable as he did. The plot is melodramatic, little more than soap opera. I was a little shocked when I read comments on the movie where people raved about the love affair because I had not remembered that at all. Now it may well be that it’s plots like this that held his mass audience and made him a wealthy author, but they have never appealed to me.

After several days of reflecting on the novel, I realize that what I most remembered from the novel was Egdon Heath itself. The more I thought about the novel, and I thought a lot, the more it reminded me of the much later American novel Giants in the Earth, where the protagonist Per Hansa is killed by the Prairie because of his love for his wife Beret who had been destroyed by their life there.

From the very beginning Egdon Heath’s solemn beauty dominates the novel:

The most thoroughgoing ascetic could feel that he had a natural right to wander on Egdon–he was keeping within the line of legitimate indulgence when he laid himself open to influences such as these. Colours and beauties so far subdued were, at least, the birthright of all. Only in summer days of highest feather did its mood touch the level of gaiety. Intensity was more usually reached by way of the solemn than by way of the brilliant, and such a sort of intensity was often arrived at during winter darkness, tempests, and mists. Then Egdon was aroused to reciprocity; for the storm was its lover, and the wind its friend. Then it became the home of strange phantoms; and it was found to be the hitherto unrecognized original of those wild regions of obscurity which are vaguely felt to be compassing us about in midnight dreams of flight and disaster, and are never thought of after the dream till revived by scenes like this.

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.

Surprisingly, not everyone is a “thoroughgoing ascetic” and may not appreciate the beauty found there, though they may well suffer its “tragical possibilities.”

It doesn’t take long for the reader to discover that the beautiful Eustacia is one of those who doesn’t fit in this environment:

Such views of life were to some extent the natural begettings of her situation upon her nature. To dwell on a heath without studying its meanings was like wedding a foreigner without learning his tongue. The subtle beauties of the heath were lost to Eustacia; she only caught its vapours. An environment which would have made a contented woman a poet, a suffering woman a devotee, a pious woman a psalmist, even a giddy woman thoughtful, made a rebellious woman saturnine.

And it’s never a good thing when someone as beautiful as Eustacia becomes gloomy.

Part of what seems to attract Eustacia to Wildeve is their mutual hatred of the heath and those who live there:

“So I would!” said Wildeve. “Such strange thoughts as I’ve had from time to time, Eustacia; and they come to me this moment. You hate the heath as much as ever; that I know.”

“I do,” she murmured deeply. “‘Tis my cross, my shame, and will be my death!”

“I abhor it too,” said he. “How mournfully the wind blows round us now!”

She did not answer. Its tone was indeed solemn and pervasive. Compound utterances addressed themselves to their senses, and it was possible to view by ear the features of the neighbourhood. Acoustic pictures were returned from the darkened scenery; they could hear where the tracts of heather began and ended; where the furze was growing stalky and tall; where it had been recently cut; in what direction the fir-clump lay, and how near was the pit in which the hollies grew; for these differing features had their voices no less than their shapes and colours.

“God, how lonely it is!” resumed Wildeve. “What are picturesque ravines and mists to us who see nothing else? Why should we stay here? Will you go with me to America? I have kindred in Wisconsin.”

“That wants consideration.”
“It seems impossible to do well here, unless one were a wild bird or a landscape-painter…

Unfortunately for both, their mutual hatred of the heath is not enough to convince Eustacia to run away with Wildeve.

Hardy understands human nature far too well to blame Clym and Eustacia’s tragedy on one element, but the source of many of their problems is seen in the following conversation, though they, but not the reader, seem unaware of it:

“You are lonely here.”
“I cannot endure the heath, except in its purple season. The heath is a
cruel taskmaster to me.”

“Can you say so?” he asked. “To my mind it is most exhilarating, and
strengthening, and soothing. I would rather live on these hills than
anywhere else in the world.”

“It is well enough for artists; but I never would learn to draw.”

“And there is a very curious druidical stone just out there.” He threw a
pebble in the direction signified. “Do you often go to see it?”

“I was not even aware there existed any such curious druidical stone. I
am aware that there are boulevards in Paris.”

Yeobright looked thoughtfully on the ground. “That means much,” he said.

Both get married believing that their love will win the other to their view, a dangerous, and unlikely, proposition as the rest of the novel proves.

Ironically, when Clym’s eyesight fails and he is unable to pursue his dream of becoming a schoolmaster, he seems perfectly satisfied with being a sod-cutter:

His daily life was of a curious microscopic sort, his whole world being limited to a circuit of a few feet from his person. His familiars were creeping and winged things, and they seemed to enroll him in their band. Bees hummed around his ears with an intimate air, and tugged at the heath and furze-flowers at his side in such numbers as to weigh them down to the sod. The strange amber-coloured butterflies which Egdon produced, and which were never seen elsewhere, quivered in the breath of his lips, alighted upon his bowed back, and sported with the glittering point of his hook as he flourished it up and down. Tribes of emerald-green grasshoppers leaped over his feet, falling awkwardly on their backs, heads, or hips, like unskilful acrobats, as chance might rule; or engaged themselves in noisy flirtations under the fern-fronds with silent ones of homely hue. Huge flies, ignorant of larders and wire-netting, and quite in a savage state, buzzed about him without knowing that he was a man. In and out of the fern-dells snakes glided in their most brilliant blue and yellow guise, it being the season immediately following the shedding of their old skins, when their colours are brightest. Litters of young rabbits came out from their forms to sun themselves upon hillocks, the hot beams blazing through the delicate tissue of each thin-fleshed ear, and firing it to a blood-red transparency in which the veins could be seen. None of them feared him. The monotony of his occupation soothed him, and was in itself a pleasure. A forced limitation of effort offered a justification of homely courses to an unambitious man, whose conscience would hardly have allowed him to remain in such obscurity while his powers were unimpeded. Hence Yeobright sometimes sang to himself, and when obliged to accompany Humphrey in search of brambles for faggot-bonds he would amuse his companion with sketches of Parisian life and character, and so while away the time.

Of course, both his mother and wife are mortified that he can stoop to such work. The only thing they seem to agree upon is that Clym’s work is beneath him and reflects badly on them for neither would have willingly married a furze-cutter.

After Clym and Eustacia separate, and Wildeve offers her the chance to leave, she again states her belief that it is “This place I live in,” not Wildeve that is responsible for her despair:

This outbreak of weeping took Eustacia herself so much by surprise that she could not leave off, and she turned aside from him in some shame, though turning hid nothing from him. She sobbed on desperately; then the outpour lessened, and she became quieter. Wildeve had resisted the impulse to clasp her, and stood without speaking.

“Are you not ashamed of me, who used never to be a crying animal?” she asked in a weak whisper as she wiped her eyes. “Why didn’t you go away? I wish you had not seen quite all that; it reveals too much by half.”

“You might have wished it, because it makes me as sad as you,” he said with emotion and deference. “As for revealing–the word is impossible between us two.”

“I did not send for you–don’t forget it, Damon; I am in pain, but I did not send for you! As a wife, at least, I’ve been straight.”

“Never mind–I came. O, Eustacia, forgive me for the harm I have done you in these two past years! I see more and more that I have been your ruin.”

“Not you. This place I live in.”

“Ah, your generosity may naturally make you say that. But I am the culprit. I should either have done more or nothing at all.”

“In what way?”
“I ought never to have hunted you out, or, having done it, I ought to have persisted in retaining you. But of course I have no right to talk of that now. I will only ask this–can I do anything for you? Is there anything on the face of the earth that a man can do to make you happier than you are at present? If there is, I will do it. You may command me, Eustacia, to the limit of my influence; and don’t forget that I am richer now. Surely something can be done to save you from this! Such a rare plant in such a wild place it grieves me to see. Do you want anything bought? Do you want to go anywhere? Do you want to escape the place altogether? Only say it, and I’ll do anything to put an end to those tears, which but for me would never have been at all.”

“We are each married to another person,” she said faintly; “and assistance from you would have an evil sound–after–after–“

Try as she might to be faithful to Clym, her hatred of Egdon Heath and her love of Paris, though she’s never been there, inevitably leads her to accept Wildeve’s offer of assistance and to the novel’s tragic ending.

Just before Wildeve’s fatal last meeting with Eustacia, Thomasina, his faithful wife, confronts him over his gloomy walks on Egdon Heath:

“No–I don’t mind waiting–I would rather stay here twelve months longer than run any risk with baby. But I don’t like your vanishing so in the evenings. There’s something on your mind–I know there is, Damon. You go about so gloomily, and look at the heath as if it were somebody’s gaol instead of a nice wild place to walk in.”

He looked towards her with pitying surprise. “What, do you like Egdon Heath?” he said.

“I like what I was born near to; I admire its grim old face.”

“Pooh, my dear. You don’t know what you like.”

“I am sure I do. There’s only one thing unpleasant about Egdon.”

“What’s that?”

“You never take me with you when you walk there. Why do you wander so much in it yourself if you so dislike it?”

I don’t think it’s coincidence that Clym and Thomasina, who love the heath live, while Wildeve and Eustacia perish.

Nor is it entirely irrelevant that Wildeve’s and Eustacia’s death are brought about by Egdon Heath:

Here Wildeve waited, slightly sheltered from the driving rain by a high bank that had been cast up at this place. Along the surface of the road where lit by the lamps the loosened gravel and small stones scudded and clicked together before the wind, which, leaving them in heaps, plunged into the heath and boomed across the bushes into darkness. Only one sound rose above this din of weather, and that was the roaring of a ten-hatch weir to the southward, from a river in the meads which formed the boundary of the heath in this direction.

He lingered on in perfect stillness till he began to fancy that the midnight hour must have struck. A very strong doubt had arisen in his mind if Eustacia would venture down the hill in such weather; yet knowing her nature he felt that she might. “Poor thing! ’tis like her ill-luck,” he murmured.

Hardy makes no claim that Egdon Heath has conspired to defeat these two, and the reader surely realizes that the people who live in Egdon Heath are as responsible for their destruction as the land itself. Of course, one might argue that the people who live there have also been shaped by their environment, but that would require an even longer essay, I’m afraid.

I’m pretty sure that the whole concept of Naturalism was new to me when I read this in high school. I was probably young enough to still believe that human beings were capable of becoming almost anything they wanted to become if they put enough effort into it, though facing the fact I couldn’t afford many of the colleges that recruited me and realizing I’d have to work as a janitor in order to put myself through UW might have helped me to reign in my idealistic beliefs.

I’m sure it wasn’t until my experiences in the Army and overseas that I began to fully understand just how much people’s lives were shaped by their environment. If I hadn’t learned it by then, my year working as a caseworker taught me many of the same lessons I should have learned from Hardy’s novels.