Loren Webster is discussing the novels of Thomas Hardy in his blog, starting with The Return Of The Native. I've been reading The Return Of The Native too. It struck me that there's a lot of walking done in Hardy's novels. At the beginning of Tess Of The D'Urbervilles Jack D'Urbeyfield walks tipsily home from the inn. Bathsheba Everdene meets Sergeant Troy for the 1st time on her routine evening ramble round her farm in Far From The Madding Crowd. And The Return Of The Native opens with an old man - who turns out to be The Captain, grandfather of Eustacia Vye - walking across desolate Egdon Heath.
As an example of the loveliness and smooth flow of Hardy's prose, I've chosen this paragraph which comes at the start of Chapter 1 of Book Second of The Return Of The Native. As a bonus, the passage also mentions walking!
On fine days at this time of year, and earlier, certain ephemeral operations were apt to disturb, in their trifling way, the majestic calm of Egdon Heath. They were activities which, beside those of a town, a village, or even a farm, would have appeared as the ferment of stagnation merely, a creeping of the flesh of somnolence. But here, away from comparisons, shut in by the stable hills, among which mere walking had the novelty of pageantry, and where any man could imagine himself to be Adam without the least difficulty, they attracted the attention of every kind of bird within eyeshot, every reptile not yet asleep, and set the surrounding rabbits curiously watching from hillocks at a safe distance.
What a wonderful description of the slow, rustic life of this remote, bleak heathland with its scatttered cottages and farmsteads - an existence where ordinary, unremarkable activities take on an aura of great significance.
Egdon Heath - gloomy, glorious, monotonous, mysterious. Egdon Heath - in many ways the main 'character' in the novel, and the backdrop against which the human characters play out their tragic destinies. Egdon Heath - symbol of Reality. If I may quote what Loren Webster commented to me about the Heath: I think Hardy uses Egdon Heath to symbolize REALITY, the Nature of things. It is our reaction to reality, and not to our stereotypes of reality, that determines our happiness. Reality is not always a pleasant place, so at best people are going to be unhappy and miserable at times, but they have their best chance for happiness if they understand and adapt to that Reality.