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, 14 March 2009

Something And Nothing To Say

A few last words about The Return Of The Native. As I've already said, this was Hardy's favourite among his novels, and it contains lightly disguised autobiographical elements.
Hardy was often called a Romantic by his readers and critics. Which he strongly repudiated, considering himself a Realist. This dichotomy is realized in his portrayal of Clym Yeobright and Eustacia Vye on the one hand, and Diggory Venn on the other. Clym and Eustacia embody 2 different kinds of romantic idealism - an idealism based on illusion, which founders in dejection, disappointment and, in Eustacia's case, death. Clym is enthusiastic about ideas but careless about outward things; Eustacia longs for a world beyond the Heath where she believes the grass grows greener. In contrast Venn, the reddleman, is rational, realistic, artful, practical and premeditated in his ways. He's isolated and independent, his own man, and closely associated with the Heath itself. He reminds one of Gabriel Oak in Far From The Madding Crowd. Although Venn finally marries Thomasin, Hardy did not originally intend this ending, preferring a wholly tragic conclusion. In fact there are both Romantic and Realist aspects to this novel - unsurprisingly, for Hardy himself was just such a mixture of opposing characteristics, as I described in yesterday's post.
Venn is a man of few words, but he's not afraid to speak when he has something to say. On this occasion he remains untalkative: 'Upon my life, it fairly startled me when the man spoke!' said Fairway, handing a candle. 'Oh - 'tis the reddleman. You've kept a quiet tongue, young man.''Yes, I had nothing to say,' observed Venn. In a few minutes he arose and wished the company good-night.
To finish with, here are some words Eustacia says to Clym: Sometimes more bitterness is sown in five minutes than can be got rid of in a whole life... This is one of the novel's themes. The bitterness resulting from pride, stubbornness, deception and uncontrollable desire leads relentlessly to tragedy.

9 comments:

Bella said...

I like exploring these themes of idealism and realism - I'm not sure whether many people travel the difficult road from idealist to realist - and the collateral damage is often bitterness. It reminds me of Hesse's Steppenwolf -this struggle between idealism and realism..

That is a powerful quote on bitterness.

The Solitary Walker said...

Well put, Bella. Clym learns the hard way. Eustacia does not learn at all.

I think that bitterness quotation is so, so true. It can sometimes take a lifetime to make good the mistake of a moment. A short, sharp catastrophe, or one selfish thoughtless act, can sully years' long joy. If we let it.

How are you progressing with the book?

Loren said...

I have a lot to say about all your recent entries, sw, but every time I go to comment I find myself writing an essay, not a comment.

That's the same problem I'm having with commenting on The Mayor of Casterbridge, so I guess I'll just let what I say on my own site serve as a comment on what you've written here.

The very fact that there is so much to say about Hardy is probably proof that he's one of our greatest writers.

Raph G. Neckmann said...

I so wish I had time to read 'The Return of the Native' again! I can only dimly remember the characters, and your words jog more memories.

However, your post has been something of an oracle to me at present: I am a bit of an idealist, and need to temper this with common-sense realism. Which I usually do pretty efficiently - but sometimes need a little nudge ... So thank you SW!

The Solitary Walker said...

Yes, one of our great writers, I think, Loren. I'm loving reading the Claire Tomalin biography. And I look forward to reading more of your own posts on Hardy.

Raph - for God's sake don't go too far the other way and knock too many edges off your idealist persona! Diggory Venn in Hardy's novel may be a practical, down-to-earth, reliable sort of chap - but he isn't half boring!

Bella said...

Oh dear, I knew you would ask re my progress - I am hesistant to read anymore of the book just yet, aware from comments and posts of its somewhat deep depths and depressing elements. My previously voracious appetite for books that explore the depths of human existence has lessened. After posting my comment yesterday I thought I needed to return to Steppenwolf for some much needed guidance on how to remove the muddy vision created by realism. Yes, I admit, I am a recovering idealist (hmmm, not sure about the recovering bit yet, maybe should be 'struggling idealist')

Raph G. Neckmann said...

Hopefully my neccentricity will be my saving grace!

The Solitary Walker said...

I think there's a big topic here, Bella, about idealism and realism which both of us are only just scratching the surface of. But that's the nature of blogging. Alongside all the great things about blogs and the comments on them, I do think that a certain superficiality and meretricious dazzle can inhibit deeper, more complex and sophisticated explication and communication. It's the nature of the blogging beast.

Which is why I experimented a little recently with the multi-post very-slightly-more-in-depth riff on Hardy. Not that I intended this at the outset - it just evolved, as pretty well all my posts do. I like that spontaneous thing about blogging. Of course blog posts are to some extent premeditated, and crafted - but serendipity, luck and spontaneity play a big part. There's nothing quite like a blog post, is there - it's quite different from a letter, an email, a review, an essay, a conversation, a diary and so on.

I think it would be interesting to develop further this thing about idealism and realism. Idealism and Realism in literary terms are different from Idealism and Realism in philosophical terms - which again are different from idealism and realism in everyday language.

Bella said...

Aah, now I hadn't thought from this angle - the different perspectives of idealism and realism within different mediums or contexts. But would they not all go back to a philosophical core?...anyway, I need to do more pondering on these themes and thank you for opening up a much broader perspective.

In the last few years I have started to explore specifically idealism and realism from a philosophical basis but with a heavy interest in the psychological ramifications. I enjoyed your blogs on Hardy because it gave this - understanding the writer and his life and then exploring the themes, intentional or not, in the book. I really enjoy this approach with Hesse's writings - one think that always astounds me in my analysis, among many things, is their sheer brilliance at such young ages.