Thomas Hardy: Searching for Ballast in a Crazy World!

Egdon Heath

Egdon Heath (with Rainbarrow on the right) photographed May 2014- on location (Click to enlarge) 

Thomas Hardy, when describing Egdon Heath, the physical setting for his novel Return of the Nativedescribes it as “ballast to the mind adrift on change, and harassed by the irrepressible New.” For Hardy this was clearly a profound reality: experience of Egdon Heath was his way of keeping in touch with the physical and cosmic certainties in the universe, the ground under his feet, the stars overhead, the ancient history of the landscape reaching back to before Christ… and earlier. His representation of the rustics engaged in rituals on the old barrows in the landscape was confirmation for him of enduring traditions of human activity – in touch with some superhuman energies- going back millennia: “It seemed as if the bonfire-makers were standing in some upper storey of the world, detached from and independent of the dark stretches below.”

Against this background, Hardy’s depiction of life in modern times (late 19th – early 20th Century… and beyond) is one of pain and uncertainty. And through his characters, Hardy reaches out for answers to eternal human questions: why is there suffering in the world? Is there a hidden creator who I am unable to hear (“The Darkling Thrush“)? What is the meaning and purpose of existence? Is there a way of facing life’s uncertainties that can give me strength and not lead to despair? Hardy in his poetry and his fiction presents and tries honestly to answer all these questions. This is Hardy’s great strength: his world might often be bleak, but he doesn’t give up. And quite often his world can also be amazingly sunny:

As the fly passed the group which had run out from the homestead they shouted “Hurrah!” and waved their hands; feathers and down floating from their hair, their sleeves, and the folds of their garments at every motion, and Grandfer Cantle’s seals dancing merrily in the sunlight as he twirled himself about. “From Book 6, Chapter IV.



Write a short paragraph/ poem in which you either challenge or confirm Hardy’s view of the universe as a place without certainties. You can use these lines from “He Never Expected Much” as a starting point:

Well, World, you have kept faith with me,

Kept faith with me…

Never, I own, expected I

That life would all be fair…

‘Twas then you said, and since have said…

“I do not promise overmuch…

Just neutral- hinted haps and such”


Find three really good resources for Return of the Native on the web and give a short paragraph description of each item indicating why you would recommend them so highly.

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