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(2007-09-14 12:10:46)



On the Causes of Eustacia’s Tragedy

[Abstract] Thomas Hardy(1840-1928), novelist and poet, is one of the representatives of English critical realism at the turn of 19th century. His novels mainly reflect the conflicts between the character and the social environment and show the helplessness and insignificance of human beings when fighting with the society. Hardy is most famous for his “Novels of Character and Environment”. The Return of the Native is one of his best known and most widely read of this kind. It is the first overall attempt in Hardy’s tragedy creation. The three main characters all get miserable endings. Many critics have studied this novel; most of them have confined the root of the tragedy to Egdon Heath. In my point of view, their views seem to be not so objective. The backwardness and the great power of Egdon Heath is a factor of the tragedy, but not the main factor. This thesis tries to analyze the tragic death of Eustacia from the view of internal cause and external cause and their interaction in philosophy. In chapter one, the thesis analyzes the external cause of Eustacia's death, that is, the natural environment-Egdon Heath, and social environment around her which means people’s traditional concepts, ethics, habits, psychology and their views formed under the influence of their living conditions and the limit of their education background. In chapter two, it explains the internal cause—the complicated character of Eustacia, which is the root of her misfortune. The thesis aims to indicate that the root cause of Eustacia’s tragedy is in herself. Her arrogance, conceit, impractical fantasy for great love and her indiscreet attitude towards love caused her own tragedy.

Keywords: tragedy, philosophy, internal cause, external cause





Thomas hardy is one of the famous critical realistic writers of 19 century in England. He was born in Dorset, a southern county of England, which is called Wessex in his books. He once worked as an architect for several years, but his first attempt as a writer was successful, so he gave up architecture and made literature his profession. He wrote prodigiously, and he was called by critics “the Shakespeare of English novels”. Hardy lived in the late years of Victoria period when the old patriarchal clan system was decaying under the influence of industrial civilization. Seeing the farmers suffering from misfortune, Hardy felt sad. In his works, he shows his sympathy towards the innocent farmers. Albert, a noted critic, speaks of Hardy as having “ the tenderness of a Saint Francis toward children, animals and all unfortunate.”[1] And Katherine says that Hardy is “painfully sensitive to what he believed to be a universal pervasiveness of needless misery for humans and animals.”[2] Hardy’ s greatest achievements lie in his “Novels of Character and Environment”, which secure his momentous place in English literature. “His‘Novels of Character and Environment’can be defined like this: his description of ‘peasant life’, and his ‘Shakespearian’ rustic environment; his nostalgia for a passing of his tragedy, tragic characters and Fate (the dramas themselves have an elemental largeness which benefits their background. They are tense and simple, like the dramas of Sophocles); and the ‘universal significance of character and setting’.”[3]  They are Under the Greenwood(1872), Far From the Madding Crowd(1874), The Return of the Native(1878), The Mayor of Casterbridge(1886), Tess of D’Urbervilles(1891), and Jude the Obscure(1896). “The Return of the Native” is one of the best known and most widely read among them. It is the first overall attempt in Hardy’s tragedy creation. The main characters in this novel, except Venn and Thomasin, all got miserable endings. Eustacia, who came from modern and fashionable Budmouth and dreamed of escaping the powerful and mysterious Egdon Heath, was drowned on her way to leave Egdon Heath. Clym Yeobright, the native of Egdon Heath, hated his occupation in Paris as a shop assistant and determined to come back to his birthplace to be a schoolmaster, then fell in love with Eustacia and married her, but their marriage proved to be an unhappy one. After his mother and wife died, he led a self-blaming life and finally became an itinerant open-air preacher and lectured on morally unimpeachable subject. Damon Wildeve, who dallied between two women, married docile Thomasin, but still dated with Estacia, and he was drowned together with Eustacia while he was helping her to flight. Another tragic character is Mrs Yeobright, Clym’s mother, she was generous and kind to her son and niece, however, she had prejudice against Eustacia and disagreed on her son’s marriage with Eustacia. Then Clym quarreled with his mother and moved out of her house, which deeply hurt Mrs Yeobright. Later due to a series of coincidences and misunderstandings, she was kept out of her son’s door. With despair, she walked on the heath lonely and sadly. Unfortunately, she was bitten by a snake and died. Compared with these tragic roles, Thomasin seemed a little more fortunate. After her husband--Wildeve’s death, she married the reddleman –Diggory Venn, who had always devoted to her and helped her surreptitiously. Nevertheless, the novel is really a tragic one.

 Many critics have studied the novel, and they mainly focused on the root of the protagonist-- Eustacia’s tragedy. They hold that it is the primitive and powerful Egdon Heath that results in her death. D.H.Lawrence says “real stuff of tragedy in ‘The Return of the Native’ is Egdon heath, the primitive, primal earth, where the instinctive life heaves up.”[4] He thinks the rude disturbance of its primitiveness is the real force which controls the tragedy. Some writers studied the conflicts between the main characters in the novel and the “environment”, and concluded that those who betrays the heath will be punished and that Eustacia is the most distinct example. These points of view all sound reasonable but not so objective and comprehensive. Thomas Hardy once said: “Whatever may be the inherent good or evil of life, it is certain that men make it much worse than it need to be.”[5] In my opinion, Egdon Heath should be responsible for Eustacia’s death to a certain degree, but it is not the root cause of her death. Egdon Heath push forward her death; however, the root of her tragedy lies in herself. This paper tries to analyze Eustacia’s death from the scientific view of internal cause, external cause and their interaction in philosophy.







Chapter 1  External Cause of Eustacia’s Tragedy


Materialists believe that a thing’s development and change is the result of the interaction between its internal cause and external cause. External cause refers to contractions between the thing itself and things surrounding it. It serves as a necessary factor of the thing’s development. To be specific, it affects the direction, speed, and procedure of the development.   

Some critics say that human’s tragedies are based on the conflict between the individual and the antagonistic, irreasonable environment. The external cause of Eustacia’s death is the environment. Environment is a necessary element of a novel that can be divided in two parts: the natural environment, that is, the place where the person lives and the natural scenery around him/her; and the social environment, which means the historical background in which the character lives. Here the natural is obviously the Egdon Heath which is frequently mentioned in the novel. Throughout the novel, the rugged and unforgiving terrain of the Heath plays an important role, not just in shaping the culture and attitudes of the local peasants, but also in motivating Eustacia and even in shaping the outcomes of crucial events.

1.1Natural Environment

Different from other Victorian novels, the first chapter in The Return of the Native doesn’t introduce the characters, but vividly describes the background of the story--Egdon Heath. The whole chapter 1 presents to us the primitive outlook of it. It is depicted as “A face on which time makes but little impression”.[6] It remained unchanged since “the last geological change”, “and ever since the beginning of vegetation its soil had worn the same antique brown dress, the natural and invariable garment of the particular formation”.(PP.3-4)  It owned all the peculiarity of wild nature, “for the storm was its lover and the wind its friend”.(P.)3 It was overgrown with heth and mosse. Hardy used imagery of elemental nature to present the heath, such as blackbarrow, fire, birds, furzy and so on, they were parts of the heath, and represented its backwardness, wildness and primitiveness. The author particularly described the darkness of Edgon Heath.


The face of the heath by its mere complexion added half an hour to evening; it could in like manner retard the dawn, sadden noon, anticipate the frowning of storms scarcely generated, and intensify the opacity of a moonless midnight to a cause of shaking and dread.(P.1)


The unusual darkness added a strong sense of tragedy to the story. Its darkness made readers think of the Hell. And it seemed to predict that a disaster would take place on this land. On such a land, any man from cities or towns would feel suppressed. But for thee natives, they may get used to the darkness of it, and might not realize how backward it was, because they were born on this land, and grew up on the land, and also many of them didn’t have the chance of going out to see the outside world; they stayed on the heath throughout their life so they had deep love for it. “It was a spot which returned the memory of those who loved it with an aspect of peculiar and kindly congruity.”(P.2) In their eyes, Egdon Heath was majestic but intimate. However, for Eustacia, things were totally different. She was born in Boudmouth, a fashionable seaside resort with various shops and exciting balls. Her memory of Boudmouth was “romantic recollections of sunny afternoons on an esplanade, with military bands, officers, and gallants around…”(P.60) She spent her childhood there and received education there. Unfortunately, her parents died when she was young so she had to move to Egdon Heath to live with her grandfather. The heath’s backwardness and Budmouth’s civilizations were so different  that Eustacia felt like one banished; she hated the heath, “Tiss my cross, my shame, and will be my death”.(P.75) Her strong wish to escape from the primitive heath prompted her to try every means, even at the cost of her love and marriage, and finally led to her death

1.2 Social Environment

The conflict Eustacia faced is not only the natural environment, but also the social environment, that is, people’s concept, ethics, habits, psychology, and their views formed under the influence of primitive Egdon Heath. In the preface to the novel, Hardy indicated that the story happened between 1840—1850. In 1840s, Europe was experiencing revolutions. There were three Chartism movements. However, the Egdon Heath still kept the patriarchal clan system of Middle Ages. They led poor and peaceful life, kept old customs from generation to generation. For example, they lighted fires on special days and at the winter ingress when the curfew was sounded throughout Nature, which was the lineal descendants from jumbled Druidical rites and Saxon ceremonies. They didn’t allow women to take part in the mumming played on Christmas day. When Thomasin and Wildeve’s marriage was delayed for some reason, gossips about Thomasin was everywhere around the heath. The blood—curding magic art which was the trick of primitive men was still prevailing on the heath. The people there were uneducated, ignorant, conservative and superstitious. Any man who has been affected by civilization would find it difficult to get along well with those people, because they had little in common. Especially for Eustacia, she received education in Budmouth, and her mind, her thinking style had been affected by the civilization. She was proud, and looked down upon the simple—headed heathmen. Her thoughts were reflected in her behavior. She lived lonely, disdaind to contact with others, and liked to roam on the heath. Her beauty, knowledge and passion were not appreciated by the people on the heath. Furthermore, her arrogant attitude towards the heathmen and Egdon Heath was unacceptable to the native people, especially to women. Susan Nunsuch called her a witch. She believed it was Eustacia the witch who made her son ill, so one day in the church she pricked Eustacia with a long stocking—needle, so as to “draw her blood and put an end to the bewitching of Susan’s children” (P.155) At the night when Eustacia was drowned, Susan busied herself with a ghastly invention of superstition. She made an image of Eustacia with beeswax, red ribbon and ink, then thrust into the image with needles in all directions, and finally burned the image in order to bring powerlessness, atrophy, and annihilation on her. Why did she have so deep hatred towards Eustacia? The direct reason is that her son Jonny became ill after he made a fire for Eustacia at one night, the uneducated woman then persisted Eustscia was a witch and that she must have done some witchcraft on her son to make him ill. Susan’s stupid behavior was the product of the backwardness and isolation of Egdon Heath. She was only a vivid example among thousands of other ignorant heathmen. They could not understand Eustacia’s forwardness. Eustacia was in an invisible trap of ethic bias and hostility. Even Mrs Yeobright , Clym’s mother had bias on her. She was respected by heathmen. “She herself was a curate’s daughter who had once dreamed of doing better things”(P.28), but she married on the heath and became a widow when Clym was still young; nevertheless, she had something different from her neighbors, “her normal manner among the heathfolk had the reticence which results from the consciousness of superior communicative power”(P.28) She was proud of her son and hoped him to continue his working in Paris. But to her great disappointment, Clym returned to the heath and decided to be a schoolmaster on Egdon Heath. She had a kind heart for others. However, just like other people, she did not think of Eustacia well, either. Observing that her son appeared singularly interested in Eustacia, she said rather uneasily to Sam: “Miss Vye is to my mind too idle to be charming. I have never heard that she is of any use to herself or to other people. Good girls don’t get treated as witches even on Egdon.”(P.157) According to her words, she had a bad impression of Eustacia from the beginning. So when she discovered Clym’s curiosity about her, she felt uneasy. On hearing that Clym was going to visit Eustacia, Mrs Yeobright murmured gloomily: “There is no help for it, they are sure to see each other, I wish Sam would carry his news to other houses than mine.”(P.165) From the bottom of her heart, Mrs Yeobright despised her. She lived on the backward heath, and contacted with the pure, simple—headed people, her views were limited by her living surrounding. She did not know the change in the outside world,so  like other people, she could not understand the young and rebellious Eustacia. Her bias towards Eustacia deepened the conflict between her and her son. They quarreled several times, she said to Clym: “no lady would rove about the heath at all hours of the day and night as she does”, “ Is it best for you to injure your prospects for such a voluptuous, idle woman as that?”(P.178) Her slanderous words about Eustacia did not have any effect on changing her son’s mind; on the contrary, it brought misunderstanding between them. Clym moved out of her house, then because of a series of misunderstanding and coincidence, Mrs Yeobright was kept out of her son’s house and died on the way. Her death became the direct cause of Eustacia’s tragedy.

If Egdon Heath was not isolated from the outside world, if the people realized the great difference between the their life and life in cities, they might understand the unbalanced inner world of Eustacia, at least not to have prejudice against her. But in such a backward social environment, Eustacia’s wish and behavior exceeded what the society could endure. In the people’s eyes, she violated the traditional convention and ethics, so they despised her. Although Eustacia was always pursuing for better life and tried all means to achieve her goal, she was oppressed by the powerful society. The antagonistic social environment indirectly led to her ruin.



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