Study Guide

The Return of the Native Book 1, Chapter 1

By Thomas Hardy

Book 1, Chapter 1

  • We open our tale on a Saturday afternoon in November in a place called Egdon Heath.
  • If you're wondering what the heck Egdon Heath is, don't worry. Hardy proceeds to tell us all about it. In lots of detail. Think Victorian National Geographic.
  • The sun is setting and the heath is getting dark and gloomy.
  • And look, the"face" from the chapter title comes into play: "The face of the heath by its mere complexion added half an hour to evening, it could in like manner retard the dawn, sadden the noon, anticipate the frowning of storms [...] intensify the opacity of a moonless midnight [...]" (1.1.2).
  • Hardy describes the heath throughout the remainder of this chapter, which ends up acting a bit like a prologue. The action comes later.
  • The heath is dark and muted and lonely and tragic. It's likened to some sort of prehistoric entity.
  • And still, there's more. Hardy really, really loves his nature descriptions, that's for sure. He really should have been a park ranger on the side.
  • Hardy continues to wax rhapsodic about the heath.
  • So what have we learned about the heath, aside from what it looks like? Well, we learn this: "The sea changed, the fields changed, the rivers, the villages, and the people changed, yet Egdon remained" (1.1.11).