The Heath is described as "Ancient, unchanging, untamable, sombre and tremendous..." (ibid) www.questia.com/PM.qst?a=o&d=6200808
Grimsditch also sees a relationship of the Heath to the characters, particularly the character of Eustacia. "It is in accord with moods of loneliness, melancholy and even tragedy, and these moods predominate in the nature of its adopted child, Eustacia... " (ibid)
In essence the Heath represents the dominant mood and symbol of the book. It is against this background that the activities and relationships of the main characters are meant to be understood.
The heath is the dominant symbol of the work; indeed, some critics have called it the dominant character. Each character's response to the heath brands him inalterably in the scheme of Hardy's world. Wild, fertile, impassive, and primal, the heath provides the backdrop and the energy against which all action must be judged.
The above assessment by Jekel is founded on the intensity with which Hardy describes the area and its inner significance. The description of the Heath is full of latent power as well as a sense of impending doom.
The place became 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; but it had waited thus, unmoved, during so many centuries, through the crises of so many things, that it could only be imagined to await one last crisis -- the final overthrow.
Hardy T. p 12).
The Heath has an almost malevolent and insidious quality. Jekel states that "The heath, then, is the major embodiment of all that is pagan in the novel, all that is nocturnal, untamed, rebellious, and the acceptance of its power is its inhabitants' only source of joy. "
An important aspect of the heath, which also plays a role in the character development in the novel, is the pagan quality that pervades the descriptions and the implied opposition to all Christian and conventional social standards. This aspect was essentially part of Hardy's word view in that he saw modern society and its ideologies as essentially bereft of meaning and substance.
Each choice in the novel opts for the pagan, for the non-Christian view. The city is seen as a false illusion, one to which Eustacia is drawn by its false glitter and one from which Clym has escaped back to his true "native" home. The heath, with its heathen rather than cultured associations, retains the real power in the novel, and its inhabitants
2.2. The central characters
There is a plethora of character development and incident in the novel, which was actually written in six episodes in serial format. In order to deal adequately with the theme of fatalism in the space provided, I will be concentrating on the four central characters - Eustacia Vye, Clym Yeobright, Damon Wildeve and Thomasin Yeobright - with references where necessary to the other characters.
Eustacia Vye is the central female protagonist of the novel and possibly the most tragic.
She is described at length at the beginning of the novel as a beautiful but isolated figure. She is well educated and has aspirations for a better future. Her desire is to leave Egdon Heath and, like Wildeve, she is an outsider who views the Heath as a symbol of imprisonment.
The arrival of Clym Yeobright, returning from Paris, seems to offer Eustacia hope for a way out of the Heath.
However Clym prefers life on the Heath, having become disillusioned by the material world of society and humanity. Both these central characters are searching for something, which can be interpreted as the search for meaning and self-actualization in their lives.
However as Lawrence suggests, both characters are not certain of what it is that they are searching for. On the one hand Eustacia wants something larger and more significant that her life on the Heath.
Clym, who has come from the "larger" outer word of Europe and Paris on the other hand is disillusioned and seeks "something" within Egdon heath. DH Lawrence encapsulates this irony and analyses the relative existential emptiness of Esutacia. "What does she want? She does not know, but it is evidently some form of self- realization; she wants to be herself, to attain herself. But she does not know how..." (Lawrence, DH p. 171) the aura of Paris and the larger world seems to cling to the person of Clym, and it is possible that this is what attracts Eustacia to him. As for Clym, he has found that Paris cannot provide him with any deeper satisfaction and he too, in Lawrence's words, does not know what he is searching for. " What, then, does he want? He does not know; his imagination tells him he wants to serve the moral system of the community..." (ibid)
Clym therefore feels that by providing assistance to others he can attain some of moral and existential purpose.
Clym had left Egdon to work as Jeweler in Paris. He returns to Egdon Heath with the main purpose of becoming a school master and to "uplift "and provide education for the people of the Heath. Even this dream is to be tragically disrupted in the novel.
Eustacia on the other hand is almost totally isolated and she is without family and friends. However her isolation is partly due to flaws within her own character. She has a fatal egotism which makes her look down on the Heath community as lower than herself and she describes them as "a parcel of cottagers" (Hardy T. p. 97), She informs Clym that "I do not have much love for my fellow creatures. Sometimes I quite hate them" (ibid. p. 203). Hardy, in his view of fatalism, believes that character was, to a large degree, fate and that it was impossible to escape one's true nature or character. Much of the tragedy in this novel and many others is built around the concept of flawed character.
Eustacia has little love for anyone around her. While she was initially attracted to Damon Wildeve, she uses him and feels that he is essentially beneath her. In reality he does not offer her the possibly of a larger life and meaning that Clym does. But Eustacia seems to exhibit a lack of depth in her affection for those around her. This is the case with her original lover, Damon Wildeve, "...she only endures him for want of a better object, and her passion for him is kindled only when he seems desirable to another."
Giordano 61) Giordano continues and states that "Hardy's narrator's explanation of her volatile feelings for Wildeve exposes the contortions of her egoistic passion: "The man who had begun by being merely her amusement, and would never have been more than her. " "
Damon Wildeve on the other hand, while basically dissatisfied with the heath, does not have the depth and intensity of purpose that Eustacia has. In many senses he is a morally weak character and seems to never have the true impetus to the leave Heath, until the very end of the novel. He is also well educated as an engineer but works as the Landlord of the Quirt Woman Inn. He is described as having a pleasing enough appearance to women but somehow lacking in essential masculinity. For a while he was a lover to Eustacia; after he is rebuffed by her he marries into the Yeobright Family though Thomasin.
That there is a flaw in his character is intimated by his gambling habit. He reluctantly adapts to a certain extent to life on the Heath but is always dissatisfied with this situation. Something of the weakness inherent in his character is suggested by Grimsditch in his lack of moral force. " Wildeve, like Eustacia, is an alien on the Heath He has all the instincts of a lady-killer, and lacks the moral force to leave Eustacia undisturbed when both of them have married elsewhere and so made lawful relationship. "
An interesting contrast to Eustacia and an important figure in terms of the theme of fatalism is Thomasin. She is described as mild, accommodating and subservient to those around her in many ways. She is not rebellious like Eustacia and she accepts her lot in Edgon Heath with a fatalistic attitude - even when she marries Wildeve, who she knows is not really the right partner for her. She is also described as being close to nature. It seems as if Hardy created an opposite to Eustacia to show the link between the Heath and compliant human nature; as opposed to the rebellion and desire for advancement that we see in Eustacia. Hardy uses numerous phrase ad images to suggest Thomasin's closeness to nature.