Hardy's Critics and The Return of the Native: How It Struck His Contemporaries -- Discussion Questions

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

In the Norton edition of The Return of the Native, editor James Gindin reprints a number of critiques that were published in various English-language literary journals after the volume edition of The Return of the Native was first published in 4 November 1878. Each of the following "challenges" requires only two persons, unless otherwise stated.

A. The rather conservative reviewer for Blackwood's Edinburgh Magazine, despite a partiality to the earlier Hardy romance Far From the Madding Crowd (1872), finds The Return of the Native plagued with irksome mannerisms, "a labouring after originality which has rather the air of affectation" (March 1879) and peculiar, "far-fetched" diction. Provide an example of each of these infelicities of style from the text of the novel, then defend The Return of the Native against these criticisms.

B. Likewise, the critic for The Saturday Review (4 January 1879) had found the story "intensely artificial." A realist, the reviewer assails the novel for stretching plausibility with numerous "fantastic" coincidences "repugnant to our sense of the probable." Point out some of the more egregious coincidences, then show how they are nevertheless plausible because they have antecedent causes.

C. The reviewer for The Athenaeum on 23 November 1878 castigated Hardy for his use of archaic dialect in The Return of the Native: "The language of his peasants may be Elizabethan, but it can hardly be Victorian." The reviewer presumes, then, to understand Dorset dialect better than Dorset's most famous native son. The reviewer then generalizes about the quality of all dialogue in the novel: "the talk seems pitched throughout in too high a key to suit the talkers" (he fails to consider the high mimetic mode necessary for tragedy). Assess the fairness of these criticisms by examining speeches by some of the principal characters, as well as of at least one supporting character such as Grandfer Cantle or Susan Nonsuch. (A group of up to four persons may respond to this challenge.)

D. The literary critic for the American journal Harper's New Monthly Magazine in his March 1879 review was more appreciative; nevertheless, he does not find the cast of characters in The Return of the Native very "engaging." He singles out the story's antagonist (with whom, of course, we should not be identifying) as "a bundle of petty attractions and foibles." Consider the fairness of this criticism with respect to Hardy's characters in this novel generally, as well as the case against Wildeve in particular. The above "challenge" requires only two persons.


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Last modified 18 September 2003