On “The Return of the Native”

From my journal, June 15, 1981:

Have just finished reading The Return of the Native by Thomas Hardy. This is the first time I have read any of Hardy’s works. I am duly impressed by his skill at construction and detail. His style, of course, is a little outdated and formal, but within these limits he is able to come across in a relaxed manner. He had absolute control over events, and relied much on coincidence and contrived meetings etc. I enjoyed the novel for the most part, but feel that the last several chapters weaken the story quite a bit. Clym Yeobright becomes a preacher/teacher and lives out his life in this capacity, never caring to love again. His reservoir of love was drained dry by his traumatic relationship with Eustacia Vye.

The one main thing that has impressed me about this novel is Hardy’s absolute, total control over the plot. He must have spent months laying out the plans for this, and only after the planning went into the actual writing. It seems to me that I would have to follow something like the same pattern. This could lead to a problem. It seemed at times that the characters were helplessly caught up in the plot and their destinies were not to be controlled by them, individually, in any manner. Planning is good, but be careful that the planning allows room for the characters to exhibit their influence upon their surroundings and fellow characters. I do think that until the last few chapters, Hardy succeeded in presenting his characters as human beings. In some sense he seemed to be well versed in modern psychology. The faults his characters had are understandable and are completely believable. If he had a failure in believability it is in the aspect of coincidental events.

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