Thomas Hardy's The Return of the Native is regarded by many as the first modern novel. Hardy certainly challenges traditional Victorian values with the infamous character of Eustacia Vye. The book's drama is relatable to that of Wuthering Heights, which I covered in my last book review, though I think that this story has richer language and many more layers.
The book centers around the lives of Clym and Thomasin Yeobright, Clym's mother, Damon Wildeve, Diggory Venn, and Eustacia Vye. The plot unfolds on Egdon Heath, a forested, unchanging, provincial town. Eustacia used to live in a city, but since her parents died, she has become a prisoner to the heath. Well-educated, she resents the isolated community and longs for an escape. Eustacia fulfills her lustful desires with Wildeve, though he marries Thomasin. The story's events center around what happens when Clym, Thomasin's cousin, returns home to the heath from his lucrative career in Paris.
Key themes in the novel include the ideas of fate vs. volition, misunderstanding, blindness, jealousy, time, desire, and many more. Though not explicit, the story and its language are very heavy and I would only recommend this to adults. Eustacia is a memorable and famous character, and the story is definitely important in the timing of its release and challenges to traditional values.
Despite its length and the gravity of the issues it presents, I enjoyed the novel. The characters are interesting and easy to sympathesize with, and I found that I cared about their fates. However, I would not say that this is a lighthearted read. The story was assigned in my AP Literature class, and I think I would have been somewhat lost had we not discussed the themes and clarified plot details. Give The Return of the Native a try if you are mature and love Victorian literature, but be prepared to devote a lot of time to finish the story.