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Jordan, M.E. (1982). Thomas Hardy's Return of the Native: Clym Yeobright and Melancholia. Am. Imago, 39(2):101-118.

(1982). American Imago, 39(2):101-118

Thomas Hardy's Return of the Native: Clym Yeobright and Melancholia

Mary Ellen Jordan

In conceiving Clym Yeobright, the central character of The Return of the Native, Hardy seems to have allowed a certain “bifurcation” of character to mar his aesthetic sensibility. Hardy's original conception of Clym was of a modern tragic hero, whose convictions lead him to renounce the pleasures of civilization and return to his native heath, only to be ultimately defeated by Nature's indifference to man's idealism. As the narrative develops, however, certain flaws in Gym's character become increasingly apparent. The relationship between Clym and his mother is complicated by a highly charged ambivalence and by oedipal tensions. But, 1 would contend that a more basic problem is the depression which Hardy has cemented into the character-structure of his hero. Hardy would argue that circumstances alone are responsible for the depression and later deterioration in Clym's character: “As for his look, it was a natural cheerfulness striving against depression from without, and not quite succeeding.” Yet, Hardy would portray Clym as a man of the future, a man for whom life is “a thing to be put up with,” but who has lost that “zest for existence, which was so intense in early civilizations” (p. 205).

I would argue that for a character to have lost all “zest for existence,” and for an author to conceive of depression as the natural state of his hero, points to a blow to early narcissism, resulting in a deficiency in the libidinal investment of the self and consequent impairment of the internalization process by which the self is structured. This idea explains why Clym's reaction to the deaths of his mother and wife is one of melancholia rather than of mourning.

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