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The character of Eustacia Vye

The essay is on Eustacia Vye Hardy's wonderful creation in The Return Of the Native. The essay tries to analyse her critically and sees Hardy's Thoughts Behind her creation.

The Character of Eustacia Vye

The Wessex novels contain a wealth of material so far as the woman characters are concerned. Hardy shows immense power in the characterization of the woman characters in his novels. Indeed, it would be quiet right to call Hardy a specialist in women. Deep as is his understanding of the human nature as a whole, it is in the female personality that he is most learned. In sheer greatness she stands out with Sue and Tess. She has her affinities with Flaubert's Ema Bovary and Jane Austen's self deluded young women. She is born passionately romantic at odds with her environment, though Hardy did not try to depict her with the cruel exactitude of Flaubert.

The memorable Portrait of Eustacia Vye which Hardy builds up in chapter VII of 'The Return Of The Native' lends to her a certain splendor and glory to which her actions, behaviors and utterances do not conform. She does not, in the course of Hardy's narrative touch the heights to which Hardy elevates her in his description of her character and personality in the aforesaid chapter.

Physically, Eustacia is described as "full limbed and somewhat heavy; without rudiness as without pallor; and soft to the touch as a cloud". To see her hair is to imagine that a whole winter does not darkness enough to form its shadow. Her Pagan eyes were full with nocturnal mysteries. Her mouth seems formed less to speak than to quiver, less to quiver than to kiss. Someone might have added less to kiss than to curl. So fine are the lines of her lips that, though full, each corner of her mouth is as clearly cut as the paint of a spear. Her presence brings memories of such things such as Bourbon Rose, Tropical Midnights and Rubies. Her moods recall lotus-eaters and the march in "Athalie". Her motion suggests the ebb and flow of the sea and her voice reminds one of a musical instrument.

Eustacia says Hardy was "the raw material of divinity". Going on to strengthen her dignity, Hardy continues, "On Olympus she would have done well with a little preparation. She had the passions and instincts which make a model Goddess, that is those which make not quite a model woman". Eustacia Has a dignity which is rather unusual in her class. Perhaps this dignity was the gift of heaven. This "Queen of night" as Hardy calls her seldom scheme, but when she did scheme her plans and preparations showed rather the comprehensive strategy of a general rather than those small arts called womanish, though she could utter oracles of Delphian ambiguity when she did not wish to speak in a straightforward manner. In heaven she would have got a seat between the Heloises and the Cleopatras. She is likened to the Pagan goddess, Hectate. Hardy writes, "But celestial imperiousness, love wrath and fervor had proved to be somewhat thrown away on netherward Egdon. Her power was limited and the consciousness of this limitation had biased her development. Egdon was her Hades, and since coming there she had imbibed much of what was dark in its tone thought inwardly and externalyy unreconciled there to."

Around two contrasting notions(a model goddess and a model woman), Hardy went on with the characterization of Eustacia in different perspectives and visualized her particularly as an object of "Vision". George Wotton points out three conflicting moods of perception which form the basis of the structure of perceptions of Hardy's writings: the distracted gaze signifying the faulty vision which takes the apparent to be real, the idealizing vision signifying the form of self reflection and the intuitive insight signifying the social class vision. Based on such a classification we can find how the perceptions of Eustacia differ in nature. Wildeve's perspective represents the distracted gaze, for h only regards her as a beautiful woman, a desirable lover and a compelling object of his sexuality. Hardy concentrated more on how most of the Egdon Natives(including Mrs Yeobright, Thomasin, Digggroy and the others)view her as an "egregious" woman. Their perspective should belong to the third category, the intuitive insight. Although few of the people really know Eustacia they did not hesitate to to form their own ideas regarding her based on their 'intuition'. She is "the beauty on the hill" to most men,"a proud girl from Budmouth" and a "voluptuous, idle woman" to mrs Yeobright, a disreputable rival to Thomasin to Diggory and an evil witch to Susan. No matter how the impressions may differ one point they all share in common is that Eustacia neither seems to be one of them nor a model woman by any standard. Eustacia lives in a imagined world like Narcissus. Hardy deployed her own idealizing vision to reveal her subjective consciousness that is a projective dream of the world around her.

The life she leads on the heath makes us think of her as a beautiful and a tragic woman whose mind and aspirations are that of a romantic schoolgirl. She always felt lonely on the heath desiring and pining for the realization of her dreams and wishes. She wanted love and her concept of love was quite different. Hardy writes "To be loved to madness was her great desire. Love was to her the one cordial that could drive away the eating loneliness of her days. And she seemed to long for the abstraction called passionate love more than for any particular lover." She does not pine for a particular lover; she despairs because she cannot find one lover for whom she can pine. Fidelity in love for fidelity's sake has less attraction for her the one lover for whom she can pine. Fidelty in love for fidelty's sake had less attraction for her than most women. She felt that a blaze of love, even if it got soon extinguished, was better than the dim lights of a lantern even if it were last for many years. When Wildeve assures Eustacia that he will never wish to desert her, she replies:
"I do not thank you for that, I should hate it to be all smooth. Indeed, I think I like you to desert me a little once now and then.. Love is the dismallest thing where the lover is quite honest."

Eustacia's native place was not Egdon but Budmouth, a fasionable sea-side resort at that time. She came to egdon with her grandfather after the death of her father. Eustacia hated the change from Budmouth to Egdon, and she felt like a one banished;but here was she forced to live. Much of her discontentment and unhappiness of her life is due to her life in Egdon. She tell to Wildeve regarding the heath,"'tis my cross, my shame,and will be the cause of my death". And her words prove prophetic.

Been ravishingly beautiful she suffers from the fault of valulting pride and vanity. She is fully aware of her Physical beauties and wants constant acknowledgement of it. For instance , when Wildeve meets her after having failed to marry Thomasin on the first occasion, Eustacia throws back the shawl she was wearing and, revealing her face and throat, she asks him with a smile if he has seen anything better than that in the course of his travels. A little later she tells him that she had lighted the bonfire in order to test her power over him and o get a little excitement by summoning him and enjoying a feeling of triumph over him. When the reddleman urges her not to come between Thomasin and Wildeve, her reply is fully characteristic of her and shows her pride and vanity. She gives vent to her feelings of jealousy and resentment by saying that Wildeve was hers before he became Thomasin's and that he likes her (Eustacia) best. "I will not be beaten down by an inferior woman like her", she says with reference to Thomasin's desire to marry Wildeve. She becomes almost arrogant towards the reddleman when she says:"but I lose all self-respect in talking to you".We also learn here that Eustacia does not feel much concerned about peoples opinion regarding her. She is always on her own.

Eustacia initial interest in Clym is based on the fact that he has tasted the fashionable life of Paris where she hpes to accompany him in case she gets married with him. However after a closer association she falls in love with Clym. Eustacia with all her "romantic dreams of heroic love and social brilliance" marries Clym under the illusion the he will be her gateway to Paris.But she did not know Clym's mind and the conflict starts. Her dreams gets shattered. She couldn't tolerate Clym's furze-cutting and his mother and faces a situationthat is beyond her grasp. Regarding her marriage with Clym she explains passionately to Wildeve: "But do I desire unreasonably much in wanting what is called life-music, poetry, passion, war and all the beating and pulsing that is going on in the great arteries of the world? That was the shape of my youthful dream; but I did not get it. Yet I thought I saw the way to it in my Clym." Her desire is eminently reasonable in that it reveals her appetite for life;eminently mistaken, in that such an appetite can never be satisfied in terms of the images of romance provided in 'The lady's history' she read at school.

She bears partially the responsibility of Mrs Yeobright's death. She is not a tricky or a deceitful woman at any rate but under the influence of Wildeve she fails to reveal to Clym a fact which in all fairness should have been disclosed. When Clym comes to know all the facts regarding his mother's death, he naturally demands a ful explanation from her. She tells nothing, leaves him, and goes straight to her grandfather's house, where she can, "observe herself as a disinterested spectator, and think what a sport for heaven this woman Eustacis was."

Finally in her desperate attempt to leave the heath, she attempts a desperate flight with her former lover Wildeve and gets drowned. Hardy never tells us whether Eustacia's death was accident or suicide, but suicide is the inevitable explanation, since she considers herself trapped between the intolerable alternatives of staying at Egdon or living with a lover she considers inferior that herself. She having no money of her own did not like the idea of depending on Wildeve solely. Through her death Eustacia "eclipsed all her living phases"

From her first appearance in the novel it is quite clear that Eustacia must destroy herself or be destroyed by the forces to which she will not submit., and throughout there are foreshadowing's of her inevitable death: her brilliant but wasteful bonfire, her proud isolation, th associations with darkness and hell, her vexing combination of stubbornness and impulsiveness, her grand schemes and her impossible dreams. Eustacia is the authors expression of his author's fatalistic view of life. Eustacia cries, "How I have tried and tried to be a splendid woman and how destiny has been against me! I donot deserve my lot." Eustacia tries to go against nature and is destroyed.

A poet of his century, Hardy was deeply influenced by the Romantic movement in poetry, specifically the Satanic and Promethean themes of Byron, Shelley and Swinburne. His poetic passion is seen in its full energy in Eustacia. Eustacia is both a rendering of Shelleyan romanticism, as well as a critique of it. "To put Eustacia into a flattering literary company for a moment, she has much in common with Milton's Satan if one considers the whole of Paradise Lost. Both the rebels have awesome energy, independence, limitless desire, and a stubborn courage to resist their circumstances; in this sense, whether he knew it or not Hardy was of Eustacia's party. Both rebels are also fanatically arrogant, petty comic egotists, and they have to be so given their author's views of the romantic rebellion against reality."

"Eustacia is established as a genuine antithesis to the Heath in all its related meanings. Where it is stoic she is tragic; where it survives, she aspires to burn out with a great passion; where it ignores time, she likes to stare at the sand running out in her small hourglass; where its botany and geology all seem tuned to avoid great conflicts, she courts them perversely. The heath accommodates, eustacia violates. The heath has preeminently adjusted its place in nature, Eustacia refuses hers in society and delights in flaunting its conventions." Eustacia aspires to the Dionysian fulfillment of personality. In Eustacia Hardy has presented a character "who is both a heroine and a parody of the heroine, a Queen of night and a courtly pretender, or alazon who must be ridiculed by mock-heroic techniques. This romantic heroine is both a goddess and a mortal walking on stilts playing at divinity"

Eustacia underwent a singular transformation during the novels composition, from a daemonic sort of female Byron, or a Byronic witch-like creature, to he grandly Beautiful, discontented, and human-all too human but hardly blameworthy---heroine who may be the most desirable woman in all nineteenth-century British fiction. "A powerful personality uncurbed by any institutional attachment or by submission to any objective beliefs; unhampered by any ideas"

Saprovo Goswami
BA(Eng), 3rd yr.
Haldia, India.
e-mail: [email protected]
Works Cited:
1. Modern Critical Interpretations ( The Return of the Native) ed-Harold Bloom
2. The Return Of The Native( Norton Edition)
3. The return of the Native by Ramji Lall
4. Hardy the Novelist by David Cecil

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