Egdon Heath as Another Character in The Return of the Native

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

In his July 1895 preface to The Return of the Native, Hardy drew his reader's attention to the character, literary origins, and importance to the story of Egdon Heath (see Norton edition, p. 1), a sketch map of which appeared in the first volume edition of 1878.

A. In Thomas Hardy: The Poetic Structure (1971; rpt. the Modern Critical Interpretations series, ed. Harold Bloom), Jean R. Brooks sees the heath as a catalyst to both the characters and the plot:

Egdon Heath, the resistant matter of the cosmos on which the action takes place, bears, shapes, nourishes, and kills conscious organisms possessed of its striving will without its unconsciousness of suffering. The six main characters take their key from Egdon. They all feel its pull through some affinity of temperament. (Bloom 21)

How does the heath function in the story to test the character of each of the six principals?

B. Avrom Fleishman in "The Buried Giant of Egdon Heath" in Fiction and the Ways of Knowing: Essays on British Novels (1978; rpt. in Bloom) regards Egdon Heath as a figure "in both narrative senses of 'figure,' as a person and as a trope" (Bloom 95). Throughout his poetic and fictional works Hardy exploits this history-laden landscape; here, he shapes the reader's responses to the heath by loading it with associations and connotations. Examine his opening description of it in "A Face on Which Time Makes But Little Impression" (2-5). Stipulate what these multiple associations are, and explain how these point towards the major issues and concerns of the novel.

C. John Patterson in "The 'Poetics' of The Return of the Native" in Modern Fiction Studies 6, 3 (1960) notes that

Egdon Heath itself is altogether transfigured in being juxtaposed with the grisly underworld of the ancients and, though less frequently, with its Christian equivalent. (216)

Why does Hardy repeatedly use the heath to evoke hell, limbo, and Tartarus?


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Last modified 18 September 2003