'In Eustacia, Hardy creates a woman who challenges conventions of her society' How do you respond to Hardy's presentation in 'Return of the native' of the conventions surrounding the relations between men and women?
Contemporary readers tend to take for granted the notion that literature does not convey, or even attempt to convey, absolute truth. Since the modernist movement at the beginning of the 20th century, literature has tended to pose questions rather than define answers. One of the hallmarks of modern literature can be said to be unreliability: authors and readers recognize that literature is difficult; it is not to be trusted, or to be taken at its face value. In 1878, when The Return of the Native was first published, ambiguity was hardly understood to be the cornerstone of the novelistic edifice. And yet, while The Return of the Native is formally conventional, thematically it thrives on doubt and ambiguity.
With its extensive narrative description, abundant classical and scriptural references and stylized dialogue, the book adheres closely to the high Victorian style. Thematically, however, the novel is original and ingenious: not trusting perceptions, the book questions moral and ethical truths, implying the superiority of relative to absolute truth. It is an eminently unreliable novel, peopled with unreliable characters; even its narrator cannot be trusted.
Take, for instance, the example of Egdon Heath, the first "character" introduced into the book. The heath proves physically and psychologically important throughout the novel: characters are defined by their relation to the heath, and the weather patterns of the heath even reflect the inner dramas of the characters. Indeed, it almost seems as if the characters are formed by the heath itself: Diggory Venn, red from head to toe, is an actual embodiment of the muddy earth; Eustacia Vye...