Return of the Native Plot Summary
Eustacia Vye, a beautiful, sensual nineteen-year-old "Queen of the Night," has one desire: to be loved to madness by a man who is worthy of her and who will take her to exotic places. Living in desolate, barren Egdon Heath, Eustacia considers only one man worthy enough to love--Damon Wildeve, a former civil engineer turned owner of an inn. She and Wildeve share a passionate, wild nature and enjoy toying with each other's affections. However, the sweet, simple Thomasin Yeobright has also caught Wildeve's attentions and is engaged to him. On their wedding day, the marriage license is discovered to be invalid, either by Wildeve's intent or mistake, leaving Thomasin utterly humiliated and Eustacia, who believes that Wildeve loves her more than he loves Thomasin--utterly joyous.
Thomasin's aunt, Mrs. Yeobright, tries to get Wildeve to marry Thomasin to save her niece from public disgrace, even though she has made it clear to her niece that Wildeve is not worthy enough. Diggory Venn, the heath reddleman, also vows to get Thomasin and Wildeve together, but secretly tells Mrs. Yeobright that he would like to marry her niece. Venn is in love with Thomasin, even though she had refused his marriage proposal two years ago. He is determined that Thomasin will marry the man she loves, Wildeve.
Meanwhile, Wildeve has proposed to Eustacia, but Eustacia believes that Wildeve is not good enough for her and rejects him. She is too proud to accept the marriage proposal of a man whom Thomasin, a rival she considers inferior, has rejected and who asked Thomasin to marry before he asked her. Eustacia then sets her sights on Clym Yeobright, Mrs. Yeobright's son and Thomasin's cousin and former sweetheart. Clym has returned to Egdon from Paris, where he's been making a living in the diamond trade. Eustacia believes that educated, genteel, handsome Clym is her match--and her ticket out of the heath.
However, Eustacia has to ensure that Clym does not fall for Thomasin again, so she joins Mrs. Yeobright and Venn in bringing about the wedding of Thomasin and Wildeve. She tells Venn that she does not want Wildeve, so Thomasin can marry him. Mrs. Yeobright turns to Wildeve and informs him that another suitor would like to marry her niece. Wildeve, faced with a romantic rival for Thomasin and rejected by Eustacia, proposes to Thomasin.
Thomasin and Wildeve marry. Wildeve believes that he is getting revenge on both Eustacia and Mrs. Yeobright--Eustacia for rejecting him and Mrs. Yeobright for believing him not worthy of Thomasin. Eustacia is satisfied that Thomasin and Wildeve are married, for Thomasin is now free from Clym's affections. She and Clym each scheme to meet each other; after a period of courtship, they marry despite Mrs. Yeobright's deep objections to their marriage. Mrs. Yeobright is opposed to Clym and Eustacia's marriage, for she thinks that Eustacia is not good enough for her son and that the villagers tend to think ill of her.
Although Clym makes it known that he plans to stay on the heath and become a schoolteacher, Eustacia does not believe that Clym's plan will go through. Despite his mother's and wife's wishes, Clym prepares for teaching by staying up late to study. When Clym's eyesight deteriorates, he takes on a furze-cutting job to keep him busy. His new job humiliates and shames Eustacia and shocks his mother. Both Mrs. Yeobright and Eustacia are horrified that Clym would degrade himself so as to be a furze-cutter, but he finds the job to be useful and comforting.
Venn manages to thwart Wildeve in his attempts to avenge Eustacia and cause ill for Thomasin. He wins back the money Mrs. Yeobright had sent over to Thomasin and Clym by a heath-boy, money that's been gambled from the heath-boy to Wildeve to Venn, and gives the money to Thomasin, not knowing that half the money belongs to Clym. Mrs. Yeobright mistakenly believes that Wildeve has given Eustacia half the money as a gift and demands to know why Eustacia never told Clym about the money. An enraged Eustacia declares that she does not have any money belonging to her husband and certainly not any money Wildeve has given her. Although the subject of the money is later cleared up, their argument is the climax of Eustacia's volatile, estranged relationship with her mother-in-law and leads to Eustacia and Clym's separation.
Mrs. Yeobright, determined to make up with her son, goes to call on Clym and Eustacia. Through a misunderstanding, no one answers the door when she knocks, even though she knows that Clym, Eustacia, and another man are inside. Feeling cast off by her son, Mrs. Yeobright heads back home in the sweltering heat, growing extremely exhausted and weary from the length of the walk and heat. When Clym finds his mother, she is exhausted and her weak heart is suffering, and she dies with Clym present. Her last words are that she is a, "broken-hearted woman cast-off by her son."
Ill and grief-stricken for weeks, Clym struggles to come to grips with his mother's death. He does not understand why his mother believed he would cast her off, until he learns from a neighbor that it was Eustacia who shut his mother out because she had another visitor. Outraged, Clym demands to know who the other visitor was, but Eustacia does not give in to his inquiries. Eustacia then accuses Clym of deceiving her, and Clym suddenly realizes that Eustacia wants to leave the heath. Eustacia then leaves Clym, returning to her grandfather's.
Eustacia meets with Wildeve, who agrees to help her escape the heath. He agrees to drive her to Budmouth, where she can find her way to Paris, but he really plans to flee with her. Having inherited a large amount of money, he plans to elope with her.
Thomasin suspects that Wildeve is eloping with Eustacia and tells Clym, so that he might stop them. Clym still cherishes a hope that Eustacia will return to him. He hurries to catch up with Wildeve, while Thomasin seeks the help of Diggory Venn to take her to Clym and Wildeve. When Thomasin and Venn arrive, they discover that Eustacia has fallen into the weir and Clym and Wildeve are trying to save her. Venn jumps in to help and drags in Clym's, Wildeve's, and Eustacia's bodies. Only Clym is revived; Eustacia and Wildeve are dead.
A year after the deaths of Eustacia and Wildeve, Diggory Venn comes to call on Thomasin and Clym, who live together at Blooms-End. Venn is no longer a reddleman, but a dairy farmer. He proves his love for Thomasin, who finally recognizes Venn as a worthy romantic suitor. Venn proposes to Thomasin, and she accepts. At first, Clym is against the idea of Thomasin and Venn marrying because he has contemplated marrying Thomasin himself, but he decides that Thomasin should marry who she loves.
Thomasin and Venn marry. Clym ends up alone, but he is content with his life: he finds his vocation as an wandering preacher.