Thomas Hardy’s The Return of the Native and Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights both concern themselves with the relationship man has to Nature and the extent to which it influences on the personality and the lives of those that live within the countryside. In both novels there is the sense of Nature as having a distinct character: as providing not only a backdrop to the narrative but also having a manlike personality.
However, the two authors deal with this in remarkably different ways.In this essay I will examine and contrast the ways in which Hardy and Bronte picture Nature and the place it has within their work. The Return of the Native is a novel that, from its opening passages, is concerned not only with the subject of Nature but also the relationship man has with it: “The face of the heath by its mere complexion added half an hour to an evening; it could in like manner retard the dawn, sadden noon, anticipate the frowning of the storms scarcely generated..
. ” (Hardy)Here we see Hardy describing human characteristics to things not human by referring to the “face” of the heath and highlighting the ways in which it affects the people that live on and around it by describing the extent that its colour and mere presence can lengthen or shorten the days or even make the dawn seem late. The place of Egdon Heath and its importance in, not only the characters’ but Hardy’s imagination is implied in these opening passages. Further on in the chapter, the author continues to paint a portrait of the heath as being, almost, a living entity that breathes and feels and has a biological existence: The place becomes full of a watchful intentness now; for when other things sank brooding to sleep the heath appeared slowly to awake and listen.
Every night its Titanic form seemed to await something… ” (Hardy) Again, here Hardy not only adds human characteristics to the heath, to Nature, but also suggests the ways in which it shapes the lives of those that make their homes in it.
We are made aware of the historical significance of the land in the first chapter of the book, its continuum and the eternal nature of the earth and the Earth: It has waited thus, unmoved, during so many centuries, through the crises of so many things, that it could only be imagined to await one last crises – the final overthrow. ” (Hardy) Only God, Hardy suggests here can ruin the eternal and sublime beauty of Nature in the form of Egdon Heath. Out of this picture Hardy’s characters emerge, many of the physical descriptions of the them appear not so much against the background of the heath as arising out of it.The farm workers, for instance, appear so much a part of the natural world as to be almost identical from their surroundings: Every individual was so involved in furze by his method of carrying the faggots that he appeared like a bush on legs.
” (Hardy) Hardy employs what could be described as the opposite of the representation of objects here; he turns his human workers into plants, ridiculously drawing a portrait of the ways in which man and nature physically become one. The natural world is so important to the lives of the farm labourers, Hardy suggests, that it literally becomes part of their skin and physical make-up.The first time we meet Eustacia Vye, her figure appears upon, or more rightly out of one of the barrows of Egdon Heath: When the whole of Egdon concourse had left the site of the bonfire to its accustomed loneliness, a closely wrapped female figure approached the barrow from that quarter of the heath in which the little fire lay. ” (Hardy) Eustacia, however, represents another aspect of humanity’s controversial relationship with Nature.
For her, Nature and the heath symbolises the extent to which small country life restricts and inhibits. Her marriage to Clym Yeobright can be seen as an attempt, at first at least, to escape the constraints of a country existence, near to Nature, and move away to the town.As Clym becomes more and more involved with the countryside and so becomes more and more part of it, Eustacia grows more weary and tired of its confines: “It was bitterly plain to Eustacia that he did not care much about social failure; and the proud fair woman bowed her head and wept in sick despair at thought of the blasting effect upon her own life of that mood and condition of him. ” (Hardy) We are asked to make the connection here I think, between Clym’s lowly social position and the Natural world that he has become so much a part of.
The world of the town, of the metropolis, of Paris that he once was party to represented, for Eustacia freedom and originality whilst Egdon Heath, as Hardy himself states, represents the past and history which can sometimes be restricting and constricting. D. H. Lawrence makes this point also in his book Study of Thomas Hardy: “What does she (Eustacia) want? She does not know, but it is evidently some form of self-realisation; she wants to be herself, to attain herself.
But she does not know how, by what means, so romantic imagination: Paris and the beau monde.(Lawrence) Hardy, then, sees Nature as being both aggressive and caring to humankind; it can be the cause of great isolation of the spirit and also weakness, but also provides a livelihood and a place of safety. The workers on the farm or Diggery Venn, for instance, become literally a part of its surface but Eustacia, never completely a part of it, continuously fights against Nature instead of being guided by it and is thus eventually killed. In Wuthering Heights there is a much less hesitant use of Nature and the vast honesty of the moors.
However, unlike Hardy, the spirit of Nature becomes a much more psychological presence, providing an almost constant sense of destiny and bleakness that matches the personal speeches of the characters themselves. As in The Return of the Native, however, the eternal nature of the moors is hinted at, as the story is told the heath remains strangely constant even though the seasons alter and change around it: “In winter the frost is always there before it comes to us; and deep into summer I have found snow under that black hollow on the north-east side. (Bronte) Here Bronte describes the idea that Nature both changes and remains the same.This is, to an extent, reflected in the narrative; Catherine and Heathcliff’s love affair is played out and reworked through the marriage of Cathy and Linton and the confusion of names in the book’s beginning gives us, again, this sense of variety within changes: “The writing, however, was nothing but a name repeated in all kinds of characters, large and small – Catherine Earnshaw, here and there varied to Catherine Heathcliff, and then again to Catherine Linton.
Bronte) The moors and nature are the most obvious and crucial symbols of this idea of constancy.This is, however, not the only way Nature is used in the novel. Throughout the book, the moor is used as a place of both terror and reflection, Wuthering Heights, itself is pictured as being isolated in Nature, as being outside of the normal bounds of society, Lockwood’s first description of Wuthering Heights sets the scene for the images the reader is presented with throughout the book: “Yesterday afternoon set in misty and cold.I had half a mind to spend it by my study fire, instead of wading through heath and mud to Wuthering Heights.
.. On that bleak hill-top the earth was hard with a black frost, and the air made me shiver through every limb. ” (Bronte) Throughout the novel, Wuthering Heights is painted in these bleak and black colours, and we are asked to apply the same to the Nature that surrounds it.
The character of Heathcliff also, as the name suggests, is jointly linked to the wild sexuality that the untamed moors represent.In Chapter 4, the young Heathcliff is described as being completely wild and uncontrollable: “We crowded round, and over Miss Cathy’s head I had a peep at a dirty, ragged, black-haired child; big enough both to walk and talk: indeed its face looked older than Catherine’s; yet, when it was set on its feet, it only stared around. ” (Bronte) And yet this situation is altered after he comes back from his three years absence, but the wildness in him, the rage, the jealousy and the temper still continue, yet again reflecting reliability and change.In the book’s conclusion, the characters literally become part of the Natural world that surrounded them in life: “I sought and soon discovered, the three headstones on the slope next to the moor: the middle one grey, and half buried in heath; Edgar Linton’s only harmonized by the turf, and moss creeping up its foot; Heathcliff’s still bare.
” (Bronte) As Harold Bloom suggests in his book Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights, the image of the three graves is yet another way of retelling the story of Cathy and Heathcliff’s love affair: The disposition of the three graves retells the story of the three lives: Catherine, closer to Heathcliff, but caught between contraries nevertheless.(Bloom) Bloom also points out that, for a novel so heavily appreciative to Nature there are very few scenes actually set out of doors: “A few exceptions, the crucial events take place in one or the other of the two houses. ” (Bloom) Nature however is a constant presence throughout the novel, we are asked time and time again to make the connection between the wild, untamed Heathcliff, symbolising the moors and Nature, and the more urbane and urban Edgar and Linton.The first also symbolised by Wuthering Heights and the second by Thrushcross Grange.
We can see, then, that whereas both Hardy and Bronte use Nature in a symbolic and poetic way, they do so remarkably differently. For Hardy, I think, man has an unsure relationship with Nature, that is he both works it and is challenged by it. The farm workers earn their living and get their food and drink from it but they are slaves to its timing, they have to work as Nature sees fit.In Wuthering Heights Nature is a presence that has to be constantly battle against, never are the moors of Yorkshire described in the romantic or sentimental tones of the early passages of Hardy’s The Return of the Native.
The Yorkshire moor seems bleak, isolated and unforgiving – like Heathcliff himself. In both books Nature can be seen as one of the major characters, Egdon Heath and the moors on which Wuthering Heights stands both change and remain constant, both are eternal and both provide a backdrop to the dramas that are played out in front of them.In Hardy, to an extent, Nature can be seen as representing the community, it enables farm workers to survive, it allows there to be hops for the wedding feast, kindling for fires for Guy Fawkes night or for lovers to signal to each other, in Wuthering Heights the misery of the moors separates and isolates, it keeps people apart, the snow and the mud, as in the extract above concerning Lockwood, restrain restricts gathering and community and the mist and drizzle provides a reflection of the confusion and pointlessness of a life spent mourning upon the dead.Ultimately, both books represent, perhaps, not only the absurd and differing views of their respective authors but also of the wider society.
Together they give us a picture of not only the views of Nineteenth Century minds towards Nature but they ways that they were collectively linked to it, a situation that has inevitably changed in an age that has become more and more removed from Nature and the ways it affects our lives.