Part 6 of the author's "Tartarus and Promethean Symbolism in Conrad and Hardy: The Return of the Native and The Nigger of the 'Narcissus'". In-text citations refer to the linked bibliography of selected readings.

Hardy's images possess a very different sort of obliqueness in that he gives his reader no indication as to how far to interpret them, although certainly his images may generally be assimilated into clearly perceived and readily analyzed symbolic patterns. Like Conrad's less explicit, more painterly images, Hardy's defamiliarize the landscape and persons of the fiction. The heath upon which the action of The Return of the Native transpires, like the very actors on this rural stage, thus acquires universal significance through the pattern of classical imagery surrounding Eustacia. Similarly, Conrad transforms the common realities of British nineteenth- century culture, ships and sailors and ports, into forms and figures of universal significance by enveloping them in a heightened form of language drawn from the realms of myth, legend, and archetype. Since the docking of 'Narcissus' is gradually stripped of that additional level of meaning, it constitutes an exodus for the quasi-allegorical tale. A return to reality as the reader knows it, Conrad's ending changes the representatives of humanity back into common seamen. Hardy, in contrast, loses his recounting of his characters' "erratic histories with a catastrophic dash" (Norton 294) redolent with pathos for the yearning, entrapped heroine. The Nigger of the 'Narcissus' is more poetic and evocative throughout, its ending being pessimistic rather than tragic. Because of its cultural backdrop — the many voices of the ancients and their mythology speaking through Hardy's novel — and Hardy's permeating sense of history in the present, The Return of the Native surpasses the potential of its story. Its artistry lies within the language that shapes the character of Eustacia Vye; the artistry of The Nigger of the 'Narcissus' lies beyond the characters, in the interplay of language, actions, and settings.

Other Sections of this Discussion


Victorian Web Joseph Conrad Thomas Hardy Bibliography