Books 1 and 2:
What seems the tone of the preface? Does it refer to the novel's basic themes? What literary allusion does it evoke, and is this important? (Shakespeare, King Lear)
How does Return of the Native differ from previous Victorian novels you have read? Is it as committed to the genre of “realism”?
From what you know of Hardy's life, are some features of the novel likely to be biographical?
What is the significance of the title, The Return of the Native? Would different expectations have been set up had the novel been named, Clym Yeobright?
How do the names given to the novel's six books organize the reader's response? What signs can you find of the novel's original three volume structure? (that is, a disruption occured at the end of Books 2 and 4)
What do you make of the fact that the first section is titled, "The Three Women"? Who are they, and why are they central to the plot? Is it important that the subject of "The Arrival" does not appear until book 2?
How does the rural setting affect the novel’s tone and characterization? (human nature at its most primitive and elemental; comic and tragic estrangement; familiar rural landscape rendered lurid and ominous)
What do you make of the opening descriptions of Egdon Heath? What scientific theories and symbolic preoccupations will dominate the narrator’s meditations? (Victorian views of determinism, distaste for primitivism, emphasis on human drives of violence and sexuality)
Is Egdon Heath personified? Does it become a “character,” and if so, what does this imply?
How would you describe the organization of the plot? (narrows from a broad view into a limited one)
What significance is ascribed to gossip and malice throughout the novel? (characters are never free to live their lives privately) What use do these serve throughout the plot?
How would you describe the novel’s narrative voice? Is it similar to the voice we have experienced in Gaskell, Dickens and Eliot? To what extent does the narrator intervene directly?
In the opening sections, are there characters with whom the reader feels sympathy? Are we permitted much insight into their thoughts?
How are the characters on the heath represented? (through symbolism) What do you make of the fact that Diggory Venn has become a reddleman and Clym a furze cutter?
What is the effect of introducing old ballads? Dialect? Remnants of an oral culture, as in chapter 3?
Can you think of earlier examples of a tragi-comic approach to life? (Shakespeare’s plays often mix high tragedy and farce or parody)
How would you sort out the significance of relative social class in these opening chapters? (Thomasin can’t marry Diggory Venn, Eustacia wants a better life than that of a schoolmaster’s wife)
What are some patterns in the presentation of female characters?
What role is served by Mrs. Yeobright? (voice of censure)
What are some important metaphors used in this section? For example, what do you make of the bonfire lighted by Eustacia? To what extent does the narrator consider Eustacia abused? Is she a witch?
Hardy first published this novel in a periodical associated with sensation fiction. May there be “sensationalist” elements to his plot?
Can you comment on Hardy’s style? Which features of his presentation are poetic?
How are names used throughout the novel?
What purpose is served by the introduction of the mummers? By Eustacia's cross-dressing?
What imagery is associated with witchcraft and devilry, and what effect does this have?
What effect on the reader is created by the novel's unity of time and play? (it occurs on Egdon Heath during one year and one day)
What do we learn about Clem Yeobright and his ideals? (cmp. schoolmaster in Jude)
What attitudes toward sexuality and respectability underlie the novel? To what extent does Hardy oppose conventional, respectable views?
How may Hardy's choices in plot and sequencing have been affected by the fact that this novel was first published in 3 volumes?