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?'