I’ve never done anything but dream. This, and this alone, has been the meaning of my life. My only real concern has been my inner life. FERNANDO PESSOA

Saturday, 7 March 2009

Education, Ambition, Career

Some quotations from The Return Of The Native. Humphrey, who is building a stack of furze-faggots for the old man, Eustacia's grandfather, says to him:

'They say, too, that Clym Yeobright is become a real perusing man, with the strangest notions about things. There, that's because he went to school early, such as school was.'
'Strange notions has he,' said the old man. 'Ah, there's too much of that sending to school in these days! It only does harm. Every gatepost and barn's door you come to is sure to have some bad word or other chalked upon it by the young rascals: a woman can hardly pass for shame sometimes. If they'd never been taught how to write they wouldn't have been able to scribble such villainy. Their fathers couldn't do it, and the country was all the better for it.'
(Clym Yeobright is the Egdon Heath native who returns home from Paris where he worked in a jeweller's shop.)
Some pages later Clym is talking to his status-conscious mother who nurses high ambitions for him. He confesses he is tired of the jewellery trade:
'Mother, I hate the flashy business. Talk about men deserving the name, can any man deserving the name waste his time in that effeminate way, when he sees half the world going to ruin for want of somebody to buckle-to and teach 'em how to breast the misery they were born to? I get up every morning and see the whole creation groaning and travailing in pain, as St. Paul says, and yet there am I, selling trinkets to women and fops, and pandering to the meanest vanities - I, who have health and strength enough for anything. I have been troubled in my mind about it all year, and the end is that I cannot do it any more.'
Mrs Yeobright responds disappointedly:
'And yet you might have been a gentleman if you had only persevered. Manager to that large establishment - what better can a man wish for? What a post of trust and respect! I suppose you will be like your father; like him, you are getting weary of doing well.'
'No,' said her son; 'I am not weary of that, though I am weary of what you mean by it. Mother, what is doing well?'
Mrs Yeobright was far too thoughtful a woman to be content with ready definitions, and, like the 'What is wisdom?' of Plato's Socrates, and the 'What is truth?' of Pontius Pilate, Yeobright's burning question received no answer.'
We can see above a local countryman's view of education. Clym Yeobright has been educated. A glittering career was expected of him in Paris. Yet he returns to his native soil - with (as it becomes clear a little later) idealistic but impractical ambitions.
I'll leave it at that. With just a few questions to ponder: what is education? Is it always a good thing? Is it a good thing to come back to one's birthplace - for good? (Clym, it turns out, has returned once and for all - finally to become a humble furze-cutter.) What is 'doing well'?
Socrates asked, 'What is wisdom?'
Pilate asked, 'What is truth?'

15 comments:

Bella said...

I read the first 20 pages of Native last night and it was exquisite - it really transports one to touching nature. I re-read many paragraphs for their beauty, often disguised by the density of the prose.
I love the "weary of doing well" phrase - is this when an individual chooses to go on their own path in life perhaps.

"what is wisdom" .."what is truth" - something only idealists explore? (cynical I know)

I recently was reading the concept of truth according to existentialism and for them, ultimately there is no truth...from years of searching and idolizing the truth I think I may be entering a new phase for me..."there is no absolute truth" -aargh, to think I have struggled for a concept that didn't exist...I suppose this is where buddhist thought enters and fits nicely...

thanks for your enjoyable posts on Hardy - I think I might be adding him to my list of favourites.

Bella said...

Just visited FW's blog and he has a very funny video which I think addresses truth and wisdom - comedy sometimes is closer to the truth (if there is such a thing) than anything else. It indirectly highlights how us mere mortals lack wisdom and cannot see the truth before our eyes...the laugh a necessary requirement of facing such realities!

The Weaver of Grass said...

As far as I am concerned, Robert - we owe it to our children to educate them as best we can - to give them every opportunity - and then encourage them to go away - to leave home and make their own way in the world. Every mother from the humble sparrow to the largest elephant, expects their offspring to stand on their own feet. But you always have to be there to pick up the pieces if necessary. That's my view.

The Solitary Walker said...

Exquisite indeed. But nothing in the rest of the book exceeds the density of that 1st chapter, Bella!

There was a time I used to read a lot of Existentialist writers - Sartre, Camus and so on - I think they're hugely important, and so influential on the whole of serious 20th century literature and thought. I found the Existentialist philosophy incredible exciting and liberating.

The Solitary Walker said...

Will get round to watching that video as soon as I can, Bella.

Weaver - a view which I think is incontestable. However, these days I think they need rather more encouragement to leave than in former times, as home is a little too comfortable for them!

Bella said...

SW, existentialist literature was my passion in my 20s...I wasn't intentionally reading existentialist writing, I was just attracted to it unknowingly ( this at a time when existentialism was becoming a little passe) - it just made alot of sense to me and was how I saw things. I think I actually live my life much like an existentialist - which isn't easy sometimes.

Jay said...

You know, I read the Return of the Native some years ago, and I know that I thoroughly enjoyed it, though it was a bit depressing in parts, but I cannot for the life of me remember the story at all! Seems it might be time for a re-read.

Dominic Rivron said...

What is doing well? The idea of "doing well" as it is meant here springs, I think, from the nature of class society. It is an idea predicated on individualism, that all one can do is think of creating wealth and security for one's self and one's family. On its own, it is a distortion, but one that serves its purpose as far as it goes. The more one is forced to live a hand-to-mouth existence, I suspect, the stronger it holds.

Set individualism aside and it means something different. Since I would rather live in a centrally-heated house than a cave, I would say that "doing well" was doing something in one's life that made life less unbearable for others in the present and the future. Those responsible for all those things that have that effect did -and do- well. Possibilities range from striving to be loving in one's relationships with people, to inventing the wheel.

Raph G. Neckmann said...

'What is doing well'? I've been in conversations over the past few days about the nature of 'success'. I strongly believe that each has their own definition of success and should measure their own by that, not the yard-stick of others. Which sounds obvious, but can be so hard!

Monetary success being the measure most usually applied seems to belittle everything else. I see money as a rather nuisancey necessity, to enable people to live and use their talents in suitable and fulfilling work.

I've got a bee in my bonnet about Alan Moore at present. Having just seen the newly released film 'Watchmen' I am in awe of Moore in that for his own reasons he declined to be credited on the film or (incomprehensible to the film business-people!) to receive any of the considerable money. People who choose to reject money because of principles are very high in my estimation. (Not that I wouldn't like to have lots of lovely lolly, but that's not the ultimate aim for its own sake - just a tool).

I hope this isn't too garbled - I'm a bit sleepy!

Raph G. Neckmann said...

'What is doing well'? I've been in conversations over the past few days about the nature of 'success'. I strongly believe that each has their own definition of success and should measure their own by that, not the yard-stick of others. Which sounds obvious, but can be so hard!

Monetary success being the measure most usually applied seems to belittle everything else. I see money as a rather nuisancey necessity, to enable people to live and use their talents in suitable and fulfilling work.

I've got a bee in my bonnet about Alan Moore at present. Having just seen the newly released film 'Watchmen' I am in awe of Moore in that for his own reasons he declined to be credited on the film or (incomprehensible to the film business-people!) to receive any of the considerable money. People who choose to reject money because of principles are very high in my estimation. (Not that I wouldn't like to have lots of lovely lolly, but that's not the ultimate aim for its own sake - just a tool).

I hope this isn't too garbled - I'm a bit sleepy!

The Solitary Walker said...

Jay - yes, it is tragic, but with a tacked-on happy ending! It's certainly not all doom and gloom and failed relationships - much more complex than that - and there's also Hardy's ironic counterpoint to the emotional drama and, of course, his wonderful descriptions of nature and country customs and the omnipresent Heath.

The Solitary Walker said...

Dominic - I can't argue with your Marxist reasoning. But I think in the context of the novel 'doing well' here has to do with status, class-consciousness, outward show, financial security etc from Mrs Yeobright's standpoint; and to do with individualism, philanthropism, intellectual rigour, principled action etc from Clym's standpoint. But Hardy complicates and makes things far more subtle and realistic by introducing positive aspects to Mrs Yeobright's character (eg her desire to make it up with Clym) and negative aspects to Clym's character (stubbornness, a literal and metaphorical 'blindness').

The Solitary Walker said...

Raph - I agree with everything you say! We should listen to our own hearts and our own minds to give us our own, personal definition of 'success'.

I would rather be a successful turf-cutter than an unsuccessful banker. (Actually I wouldn't like to be a banker full stop.)

Dominic Rivron said...

But perhaps I'd rather be a retired unsuccessful banker than a retired turf cutter :)

The Solitary Walker said...

I think I'd just rather be retired. Period.