Folklore in The Return of the Native -- Discussion Questions

Philip V. Allingham, Faculty of Education, Lakehead University, Thunder Bay, Ontario

1. In "Hardy and Folklore" James Gindin asserts that "Hardy organizes the novel around folk festivals with pagan origins" (Norton ed., 396), notably the Guy Fawkes bonfire and the mummers' play at Christmas time. "Hardy relates his mummers' play to his other themes in The Return of the Native, for he has Eustacia usurp the role of the Turkish Knight, the villain, the character who kills the valiant Crusader but is finally slain by the righteous Saint George, as an indication of Eustacia's role in the traditional community on Egdon Heath" (397). However, in "Hardy's Mummers" (Nineteenth-Century Literature 41, 2: 172-189) Robert Squillace asserts that Hardy was unaware of the pagan origins of The Play of St. George, and that his use of this mummers' "play is not an example of unconscious paganism boiling beneath a veneer of conscious Christianity" (178), although Hardy took great care in the novel "to ensure that he included only material genuinely part of the folk tradition in it" (181). Hardy's reason for using both the Guy Fawkes bonfire and the mummers' play, insists Squillace, is that "they comprise an anti-reality, a mistaken science in which the truly educated or evolved can no longer maintain their belief" (184).

A. Evaluate the implications of Eustacia's enacting the role of the Turkish Knight in "Through the Moonlight" (Book the Second, Chapter Five--pp. 102-108 in Norton edn.).

B. Summarize the traditions of the mummers' play that Hardy mentions in The Return of the Native.

C. Continues Squillace, "the mummers' play in The Return of the Native does not manifest the unconscious conflicts of the natives of Egdon Heath; rather, it reflects the evolutionary stage of heath society, the superstitious Christianity of the Middle Ages" (185). Assess the accuracy of this remark, then suggest how the play relates to the larger themes and issues of the novel, making it almost a play-within-a-play, as with "The Murder of Gonzago" in Shakespeare's Hamlet.

D. Thomas Hardy in his reminiscences of local customs in William Archer's Real Conversations (1904) stated that the village mummers of his childhood "would go to the farmhouses round, between Christmas and Twelfth Night doing some four or five performances each evening, and getting ale and money at every house" (as cited in Alan Brody, The English Mummers and Their Plays: Traces of Ancient Mystery [1970]: 15). How does even this brief account indicate that in the novel Hardy is manipulating the mumming tradition to serve his own ends?


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Last modified 15 September 2003