Thursday, February 11, 2021

Hardy compared to Homer as having written a “classic”

Hardy’s The Return of the Native is being advanced as a “classic.”  Most critics I’ve read consider it his best novel.  But how does he stack up against Homer?  Homer writes about heroes at the dawn of civilization.  His heroes deal with gods and goddesses and possess enormous courage and prowess. 

Hardy’s Clym Yeobright was born on Egdon Heath, a spread out primitive farming community.  He left it to become a successful diamond merchant in the city (Paris) and then returned to teach the village children of Egdon Heath.  The confused Eustacia Vye hates living on the heath and wants to move the city.  She hopes Clym will take her there.  Meanwhile Clym’s cousin Thomasin, content to live on the heath but in love with the flashy Wildeve hopes he will stay with her on the heath.  Wildeve however is in love with Eustacia, and is willing to take her to the city but she is by this time in love with Clym.  Clym studies night and day to become a teacher, and nearly blinds himself in the process.  Not being able to see well enough to study, he takes up a job as a furze-cuter.  Eustacia has married Clym hoping to convince him to take her away from Egdon Heath, but not only is he unwilling to leave.  Now he is unable to.  Confusion ensues, Eustacia agrees to run off with Wildeve but can’t go through with it and throws herself in Shadwater Weir.  Wildeve jumps in to save her and they both drown.  Clym settles back into the local community and becomes a lowly preacher.  Thomasin marries a local dairy farmer and is happy with him. He is very happy with her.  Clym has no one. 

It is only because of his publisher’s urging that Hardy allows Thomasin to end up happily married to Diggory Venn.  Hardy wanted her to end up a solitary widow.

Just as Homer wrote about heroes at the dawn of civilization, Hardy wrote about village life perhaps not a the literal dawn of large cities, but something like that.  Clym went off to the city but wished to return to his village.  Eustacia had heard about the city and wants to live there.  Thomasin is happy in her village.  This in effect, according to Hardy is a pitiful situation.  Hardy writes well, but he isn’t interested in warfare or heroes.  He is very much taken with pitiful people, Tess, Jude, the Mayor of Casterbridge.

So can anything of Hardy’s be considered a classic?  Surely not in a Homeric heroic sense, but his novels compare well with some of the tragedies of the citified Sophocles, Euripides and Aeschylus which were based upon Homeric themes.  The Greek playwrights however are constrained to write on Homeric themes.  Hardy on the other hand has no Homeric thoughts and sees only the pitiful effects of an unjust and uncaring civilization. 

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