Monday, 27 February 2012


On the last Post, my apologies I forgot to credit Wikimedia Commons  with the pictures and for The Return of the Native The New Wessex Edition (London 1975).

I shall pick up on The Return of The Native shortly


                                               THE RETURN OF THE NATIVE

This work, 'The Return of the Native' (1878) is based on the triangular relationship of one woman, Eustacia Vye, and two men, Damon Wildeve and Clym Yeobright.

It contains the same elements of Darwinian struggle for survival amidst fatalistic forces. This is brought out by Hardy's depiction of Egdon Heath, the beliefs of the peasantry, the ritual of Susan Nunsuch, and most important Eustacia's attempt to alter her destiny by paranormal means.

The main action proceeds in three stages: Eustacia's attempt to ensnare Wildeve; her rejection of him and her attempt to ensnare Clym Yeobright; and her eventual downfall.

The setting for the drama, Egdon Heath, is described from two aspects: it is a repository of ancient beliefs, superstitions, occult practices and prehistoric earthworks; it is also delineated as if it were a personality capable of exerting titanic power and influence over its residents. Thus, the inhabitants of Egdon because of this environment  have a particular destiny foisted upon them and their world view is shaped by it. One survival from the past is a prehistoric tomb, Rainbarrow, which dominates the whole landscape and forces upon the peasantry a superstitious view of the world. Hardy further emphasises the power of the Heath to affect its inhabitants when he says: "The place became full of watchful intentness now; for when other things sank brooding to sleep the Heath appeared slowly to awake and listen." Furthermore, in summer did 'its mood touch the level of gaiety' but in winter it became ferocious when 'the storm was its lover and the wind its friend.' (page 35) and in March 'the heath showed its first faint signs of awakening from winter trance (Book Third III)


This use of personification and mesmeric vocabulary reinforces Hardy's idea that Egdon Heath was a place where the paranormal is anticipated, for at such a time 'it became the home of strange phantoms.' (Book First I)

Three distinct groups practice paranormal rituals on Egdon Heath, the peasantry, Eustacia Vye, and Susan Nunsuch. The peasantry are extremely superstitious and conscious that supernatural beings roam the Heath and are capable of directly affecting their lives. Christian Cantle speaks of himself as a man no woman will marry because one 'never comes to anything that's born at new moon.' Cantle's despondency at being born at such an unlucky time is heightened when Fairway says, 'You'll have to lie all alone all your life and 'tis not to married couples but to single sleepers that a ghost shows himself when a' do come' (Book First III), He also has a superstitious fear that the Heath is populated by spectres after dark (Book Fifth II)


These notions lead the villagers to light a bonfire on the ancient buriul mound. The purpose is clearly stated: 'such blazes as this the heathmen were now enjoying are rather ... descendants from jumbled Druidical rites and Saxon ceremonies ... It indicates a spontaneous Promethean rebelliousness ... the fettered gods of earth say, Let there be light.' (Book First III). They are attempting to entreat these supernatural forces to change the destiny foisted upon them.


Even a game of dice is seen by the heath dwellers as a paranormal ritual which can alter their fate, linked as it might be to communicating with the Devil. Cantle, carrying the money intended for Thomasin and Clym, plays with Wildeve and says, 'What curious creatures these dice be - powerful rulers of us all, and yet at my command.' He indicates to Wildeve his desire to use this new found power as a means of multiplying Thomasin's money. He further says, 'What magical machines these little things be, Mr Wildeve ... That these little things should carry such luck, and such charm, and such a spell, and such power in 'em'

But as the game steadily goes against him and he loses Thomasin's inheritance, Christian's old suspicions begin to surface: 'The devil will toss me into the flames on his three pronged fork for this night's work, I know! But perhaps I shall win yet, and then I'll get a wife to sit up with me o'nights, and I won't be afeard' (Book Third VII)


Eustacia Vye and her use of the paranormal to improve her circumstances is implied rather than stated directly. She is described by the superstitios peasantry as one 'very strange in her ways' (Book First III) They see her as 'the lonesome dark-eyed creature .... that some say is a witch'  who is frequently 'up to some odd conceit or other' (Book First V) Her father is viewed as 'a romantic wanderer - a sort of Greek Ulysses' (Book Third VI) In order to alter her destiny and improve her chances of marriage she tries to ensnare Damon Wildeve, who is betrothed to Thomasin Yeobright. Her method is described in paranormal terms. Eustacia lights a bonfire isolated from the main bonfire on Rainbarrow, but still within its vicinity.

Little Johnny Nunsuch tends it until the approach of Wildeve and Eustacia gives him a crooked sixpence for his trouble. Significantly amongst the peasantry a crooked sixpence was able to defend one against witchcraft. Because Eustacia lights a fire in this vicinity it gains a mystical significance, strengthening the attribution of witchlike powers to her. In fact Eustacia seems to suggest as much when she says to Wildeve:

I ... thought I would get a little excitement by calling you up and triumphing over you as the Witch of Endor called up Samuel. I determined you should come and you have come! I have shown my power. A mile and a half hither, and a mile and a half back again to your home - three miles in the dark for me. Have I not shown you my power? (Book First VI)


Eustacia by apparently using paranormal powers has altered the course of her own and of Wildeve's destiny: she is drawing him away from his betrothed. In this scene Eustacia is described at great length by Hardy in supernatural terms. 'Eustacia Vye was the raw material of divinity... She had the passions and instincts which make a model goddess' Her power of enchantment resides in her 'Pagan eyes, full of nocturnal mysteries.' Somehow, her personality connects with the devil for 'Egdon was her Hades, and since coming there had imbibed much of what was dark in its tone (Book First VII)

Whether or not Eustacia actually practised a paranormal ritual to obtain Wildeve is not crucial; the fact that Hardy describes her in such terms and that the peasantry viewed her as a witch is sufficient to establish the connection. Notice the remark of Wildeve. Finding himself torn between Thomasin and Eustacia he exclaims: "Mine is a curious fate. Who would have thought that all this could happen to me' (Book First IX)

We shall leave it here until the next post where we shall examine how Eustacia and the paranormal powers combine in the attempt to ensnare Clym Yeobright.

Thursday, 16 February 2012


At last I can return to writing more on my blog for those who are interested. I have had several writing commissions to fulfil including contributions to a magazine devoted to Military History, contributing to Wiki and writing a Play for forthcoming performance.

Anyway, enough on that; let us get back to the visit of Rhoda Brooke and Gertrude to Conjurer Trendle. We remember Gertrude is attempting by Paranormal Means to discover the identity of the one who attacked her in the night and blasted her arm. So here goes:

Trendle informs Gertrude that it is beyond the power of medicine to cure for 'Tis the work of an enemy'. He divines who the enemy might be. Rhoda waits outside whilst the procedure takes place:

       He brought a tumbler from the dresser, nearly filled it with water, and fetching an egg, prepared it in
       some private way; after which, he broke it on the edge of the glass, so that the the white went in and
       the yoke remained. As it was getting gloomy, he took the glass and its contents to the window, and
       told Gertrude to watch the mixture closely. They leant over the table together, and the milkwoman
       could see the opaline hue of the egg-fluid changing form as it sank in the water, but she was not near
       enough to define the shape it assumed ...."Do you catch the likeness of any face or figure as you
       look?" demanded the conjurer of the young woman. .  She murmured a reply, in tones so low as to
      be inaudible to Rhoda,  and continued to gaze intently into the glass. (V)

Though the technique is pre-Victorian, and this means of looking into the future was once used in the Scottish Lowlands for love-sick maidens attempting to find a suitor, however, this fictionalisation is drawn from Hardy's own experience as his diary entry for 1884 shows.

Rhoda, deducing that she  has been identified as the culprit, 'experienced a sense of triumph', nor did she 'altogether deplore that the young thing at her side should learn that their lives had been antagonized by other influences than their own' (V)

The climax of the story arrives and Rhoda's paranormal ritual makes its fullest impact. Six years after Gertrude's visit to Trendle her arm has become worse and her husband finds her tolerably abhorrent because of this blight on her beauty.Gertrude's personality has either changed or her true personality, hinted at earlier, has surfaced. She is an 'irritable, superstitious woman, whose whole time was given to experimenting upon her ailment with every quack remedy she came across' These include 'bunches of mystic herbs, charms, and books of  necromancy'. Out of sheer desperation at the failure of these nostrums she decides to visit Trendle again.

Here we have an 18th century visit to a Quack Doctor

Her second visit to Trendle is a further attempt to utilise the paranormal to ensure the survival of her marriage. He advises her to 'touch with the limb the neck of a man who's been hanged. (VI) , resulting in a turning of the blood and the eradication of the disease from her system. Even though this is a gruesome paranormal ritual Gertrude reconciles herself to the idea by suggesting that the conjurer's words were 'capable of a scientific no less than a ghastly interpretation. She also prays each night 'O Lord, hang some guilty or innocent person soon!' (VII)

Hearing that there was to be an execution in July and taking advantage of her husband's absence, apparently on a business trip, she departs for Casterbridge. However, when the hangman mentions the possibility of a reprieve she involuntarily exclaims, 'O - a reprieve - I hope not' (VIII) Clearly, a man's life means less to her than her own relief from this paranormal blight.

Survival, in Darwinian terms is her basic drive: to be in a fit condition to satisfy her husband biologically. As she approaches the newly hanged man she seems to experience a mesmeric trance: 'a grey mist seemed to float before her eyes .. she could scarcely discern anything: it was as though she had nearly died, but was held up by a sort of galvanism.' Hardy's vocabulary juxtaposes ancient beliefs in a sort of tension with Victorian equivalents.

Here is a Seventeenth Century Public Hanging

Placing her arm on the neck of the dead man, 'Gertrude shrieked: "the turn o' the blood", predicted by the conjurer had taken place.' At which point Rhoda Brook and Farmer Lodge appear. The dead boy is their son. Hardy through Rhoda reveals the source of the midnight encounter: 'Hussy - to come between us and our child now! .. This is the meaning of what Satan showed me in the vision! You are like her at last!' (IX). This comment may be a concession to those Victorian readers who believed that paranormal occurences were from some evil source. So great was the shock to Gertrude, of her blood turning 'too far', of the tension experience in the previous twenty four hours, and of seeing Rhoda and her husband together, that she dies shortly afterwards.

In a Darwinian sense, then, Gertrude is unfitted to survive in her new environment. Inexorably, forces come into play which eliminate her, and, perhaps in this regard, it is of some significance that she could bear no children to Farmer Lodge. Farmer Lodge leaves Holmestoke and Rhoda, disclaiming the ample provision he had made for her, continues milking until her old age

This story, therefore, contains a strange mixture: biological Darwinism which produces shifts in Rhoda Brook's  social status; paranormal rituals which attempt to redress the balance (in the case of Rhoda Brook it succeeds, but in Gertrude's case it fails); bodily projections; mesmerism, and ancient methods of divination. Hardy moves easily between two modes of thought as if they were inter-changeable. The paranormal material in this story is not a mere literary device. Hardy uses it realistically and perhaps to give a warning that one's circumstances are capable of modification only within certain limits.

The main point of the story is that it was a paranormal ritual which changed the destiny of the two women, operating within a framework of biological Darwinism.

In the next Post - THE RETURN OF THE NATIVE - I shall pick up the theme of the paranormal and the Darwinian struggle for survival

Source of images Wikimedia Commons

Literary Source, 'The Withered Arm' New Wessex Edition (London 1977)