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BOOK REVIEWS Hardy & Return of the Native Brian Thomas. The Return of the Native: Saint George Defeated. New York: Twayne, 1995. χ + 142 pp. Cloth $22.95 Paper $12.95 BRIAN THOMAS'S BOOK on Thomas Hardy's The Return of the Native has a subtitle, Saint George Defeated, that reveals an overwhelming preoccupation with seeing the novel in mythical terms. This approach is sometimes enlightening, but it also limits Thomas's perspective on the novel. Fortunately, however, Thomas seems in the concluding sections of his study to offer an analysis that is more broadly rich and provocative than the strictly mythopoeic reading allows. Taking his cue from critics who have noted the relationship oÃ- Return of the Native to "a fertility or vegetation myth in which a dark, barren land is restored to life by an archetypal hero associated with the sun," Thomas begins his reading by using as a paradigm for the novel's symbolic action the story of Saint George from Hardy's own mumming scene. The version of the mythical story that most interests Thomas is not, however, that of the novel—in which Saint George defeats the pagan Turk—but rather the generalized one summarized by Northrop Frye, in which the Christian saint kills a dragon and marries the daughter of the impotent fisher king, thus revivifying the arid land. "Many elements of this myth," Thomas observes, "appear in the novel in virtually undisplaced form. The symbolism of the wasteland and the related motifs of barrenness and impotence are indeed conspicuous. Certainly, Captain Vye, that 'decayed'... naval officer, can be seen as a type of the fisher king; and by the end of Book First there is much excited anticipation on Egdon over the impending arrival of Clym Yeobright, the hero who actually does come from over the sea and who, in Book Second, is to be explicitly linked to the figure of Saint George." Thomas emphasizes Hardy's ironic handling of this myth—Clym's Saint George turns out himself to be impotent—but in other respects, this reading, at least at the outset, dwells almost exclusively on the idea of Hardy's text as rendering the mythical story "in virtually undisplaced form." So places and characters are inserted into a symbolic formula, whereby the heath is "a wasteland symbolizing the type of life-in-death which, in the Christian tradition, characterizes postlapsarian human experience," and Diggory Venn is the Adamic "prototype" of Clym as Christ: "Diggory 's redness, then, echoes the original Adam's name, the etymological derivation of which is 'red earth.' His affinity with the heath has to do with his symbolically 'fallen' status, and with the consequent limitations 247 ELT 40:2 1997 inherent in the power of his love, attested to by the fact that his feelings for Thomasin are unrequited." The mythical elements in Hardy's depiction of setting and character are seen here to dominate all others, including the historical, regional, philosophical, intertextual, narratological , and semiotic. This is not to say that Thomas's approach is not interesting and original—at many points it shows strong evidence of both these qualities —but a problem lies in the book's insistence, surprisingly inserted in the conclusion of an admirably informed and succinct summary of "Hardy's Pessimism and the Mid-Victorian Age," that "Hardy's use of mythic reference and echo . . . demonstrates a habit of his imagination that is in fact arguably more significant than his engagement with any of the ideas or theories debated hotly in his time." This assertion is then used as a justification for a reading of Hardy's novel that effectively bypasses the contemporary issues that Thomas had just presented as integral to the novel's content. He initially contends, for example, that Egdon "is very much a Darwinian landscape" and that "[o]ne of the most striking features of The Return of the Native is the way in which, indirectly but unmistakably, the novel reflects the terms and tone" of the contemporary religious debate that emerged from Darwinism. Yet in spite of quoting many descriptions of the heath whose scientific and philosophical language suggests precisely this idea, Thomas goes on to analyze the...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1559-2715
Print ISSN
0013-8339
Pages
pp. 247-250
Launched on MUSE
2010-05-21
Open Access
No
Archive Status
Archived
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