Character Sketch of Clym Yeobright
Clym Yeobright is the hero of The Return of the Native. He is the ‘native whose ‘return’ changes the fortunes of other major characters considerably. The novel is concerned with his relations with two female characters- Mrs. Yeobright and Eustacia Vye.
“I got to like the character of Clym before I had done with him.” Hardy wrote, when he re-read the novel many years afterwards. “I think he is the nicest of all my heroes and not a bit like me”.
Indeed there can hardly be any doubt, in this last paragraph, of his affectionate feelings towards his hero. Clym Yeobright deserves kindness, because he has suffered so drastically, and his moral philosophy closely resembles Hardy’s in being a simple system of ethics, not tied to philosophy in any way.
“Whether it is equally obvious that Clym is ‘not a bit like me, I am not sure. In many ways Hardy does seem to have been very like Clym in his unconventional ideas, his dubiousness about many received opinions, and his feeling that when life is cut off from its natural roots it is bound to be unhappy.”
In chapter VI of Book Second Hardy has given a vivid picture of Clym: To one of middle age the countenance was that of a young man, though a youth might hardly have seen any necessity for the term of immaturity. But it was really one of those faces which convey less the idea of so many years as its age than of so much experience as its store. The number of their years may have adequately summed up Jared, Mahalaleel, and the rest of the antediluvian, but the age of a modern man is to be measured by the intensity of his history
The face was well shaped, even excellently. Had Heaven preserved Yeobright from a wearing habit of meditation, people would have said. ‘A handsome man’. Had his brain unfolded under sharper contours they would have said, ‘A thoughtful man’. But an inner strenuousness was preying upon an outer symmetry, and they rated his look as singular.
Clym Yeobright: An Intellectual
At the death of his father a neighbour had kindly undertaken to give the boy a star; and this assumed the form of sending him to Budmouth. Clym did not wish to go there, but it was the only feasible opening. Thence he went to London; and thence, shortly after, to Paris where he became a successful jeweller.
In Paris Clym Yeobright becomes acquainted with ethical systems popular at the time. His sense of a profound disharmony between his beliefs and his flashy business leads him to abandon Paris and return to Egdon Heath to become a schoolmaster to the poor, to teach them what nobody else will.
Clym begins to study, and is making great progress towards fulfilling his ambition, when his eyesight fails and he is forced to become a furze-cutter on the heath. Through a series of events over which he has very little control, he comes to feel responsible for the deaths of his mother and of his wife. By the end of the novel he is left a semi-invalid with a profound sense of guilt. The intellectual finds his last vocation in the career of an itinerant open air preacher.
Clym Yeobright: A Heath Man
In spite of his intellectual background Clym is essentially a heath man. Because he is a man of the heath, he is as much its product as he is a product of Paris.
If anyone knew the heath well it was Clym. He was permeated with its scenes, with its substance, and with its odours. He might be said to be its product. His eyes had first opened thereon; with its appearance all the first images of his memory were mingled, his estimate of life had been coloured by it.
The effect of his early contact with the heath has been undermined by his adoption of the Parisian intellectualization of life, even though the concepts that follow his rational meditation upon existence are quite similar to those which he had absorbed from his years on Egdon Heath. The heathy frankness of a philosophy of life based on direct experience with nature has been replaced by the murky generalizations and fears born of introspection in a closeted city life.
Clym Yeobright: A Social Reformer
It has often been suggested that to a greater or lesser degree Clym Yeobright is Hardy in his moral earnestness and his gestures towards social reform, but this position seems not to take fully into account either the flimsiness of Clym’s reformist pretensions or the essential negativity of his attitudes. Although Hardy at first presents Clym as a man of high ideals who is simply unfortunate in being ahead of his time, on the next page he is already stressing the essential impracticability of Clym’s endeavour.
Clym Yeobright endeavored best to educate and uplift the inhabitants of the heath, as he himself had been educated earlier: the heath itself, as he learns, offers no employment other then furze-cutting. Mrs. Yeobright makes the point sensibly enough:
“It is right that there should be schoolmasters, and missionaries, and all such men”, she replied. “But it is right, too, that I should try to lift you out of this life into something richer, and that you should not come back again, and he as if I had not tried at all.”
There is no longer any proper place for Clym in the economy of Egdon, and in returning there he is in effect rejecting his mother’s efforts while living off the money they have enabled him to amass. The ironies in this situation are not the only ones Clym fails to perceive. It is only after his mother’s death that he seems finally to understand that it is she and not Egdon or its people whom he had really loved and for whom he had returned; in the extravagance of his remorse he treats her memory with almost religious devotion, her words with the sanctity of revealed truth. With the death of Eustacia specifically social reformism seems finally to disappear.
Clym Yeobright: An Egoist
There is something great in the serenity with which Clym Yeobright follows his fixed purpose and bears his misfortune, but there is also something chilly and adamantine. Clym is prepared to over-ride all personal ties and claims if they stand in the way of his idea. Rightly or wrongly, Mrs. Yeobright objects to the schoolmaster scheme and to Eustacia; rightly or wrongly Eustacia objects to the schoolmaster scheme and to Egdon. Here is a maze of conflicting aspirations indeed. Clym’s method is to press on in his own course, and though we must admire the single-mindedness of his devotion to an ideal, we must recognize that it bears with it a considerable amount of that egoism which is always found in the doctrinaire.
Mrs. Yeobright’s behaviour is enough to exasperate a saint, but Clym’s perversity is more strongly shown in his treatment of Eustacia than in that of his mother. He marries Eustacia with his eyes wide open : he knows that she will never be content to remain in a hut on Egdon; he even makes certain definite promises. Then he does not attempt to understand Eustacia or to meet her half way in any of her wishes: he does not stop to inquire into the real circumstances of the shutting out of his mother, but assails his wife with coarse abuse. After her departure he shows his monstrous egoism still further by writing in this strain:
“Why have you not come before? Do you think I will not listen to you? Surely not, when you remember the kisses and vows we exchanged under the summer moon.”
There is something almost nauseating in this kind of appeal from one who wishes to “be pardoned and retain the offence.” As an abstract idealist Clym stands high, but as a man, in his dealings with the persons who stand nearest to him, he is like Knight and Clare in leaving much to be desired.
Clym Yeobright: A Biblical Figure
As the novel progresses, Clym Yeobright becomes increasingly associated with Biblical images. In explaining his abandonment of the diamond trade he quotes from St. Paul. To Eustacia he is actually reminiscent of the Apostle Paul; he is like John the Baptist who takes ennoblement rather than repentance for his text; and in his blindness and his revival after near drowning he is compared to Lazarus. At the very end of the book he is deliberately evoked as a kind of Christ figure, a man whose ‘years’ still number ‘less than thirty three’ and who preaches from an outdoor eminence the first of a series of moral lectures or Sermons on the Mount’.
If Clym is a Christ figure, he is one in a deliberately ironic sense. The very title of the novel, indeed, may well incorporate an ironic allusion to St. Matthew 13, 54-58, in which the description of Jesus upon coming into his own country prompts the observation about a prophet not being without honour except in his own country and in his own house.
Criticism on Clym Yeobright
It is certain that education increases man’s capacity for joy and his opportunity to do good, but it is equally certain that it augments his capacity for pain and his opportunity to do evil. Clym is an instance of this. Had he never left the Heath, never come into contact with the wider life of the world, he might have been tolerably contented. But fate willed it that he should spend his days in a great metropolis, disgusted with his trade in the “especial symbols of self-indulgence and vainglory,” until at last he returns to his native place, hoping to lose his malaise in a new life of self-effacement and effort. His ill-luck brings him to semi-blindness, effectually preventing the fulfillment of his plans; but even had this physical disability not supervened, we are left with a doubt as to whether he would have brought peace to his own soul or enlightenment to his countrymen.
Although the male character in The Return of the Native are less distinctly drawn than the female, Clym remains an unforgettable character of Hardy Like Knight and Clare, he is an intellectual and an egoist. Hardy has achieved remarkable success in creating Clym as an idealist who seems incapable of sympathetic communication with anyone outside himself. Indeed, Clym is the most ‘isolated’ figure among Hardy’s heroes.
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