Favorite Fictional Characters, #230: Clym Yeobright
Updated: Jan 30, 2022
Thomas Hardy's seminal 1878 novel, The Return of the Native, is a story about small towns and expectations, about roles and behaviors society demands of good girls and talented boys. Egdon Heath is a provincial English village, but it could be any hidebound American suburb, not so very long ago. Clym Yeobright is the titular native, a boy of intellect and ability who goes to Paris and the diamond trade, where he is expected to excel. Except he comes back.
Clym doesn't want to be a businessman, he wants to be a schoolteacher, and he wants to come home. He loves his people and has a strong sense of duty to them, to help them pursue wisdom and improvement. It's confusing and scandalous, exacerbated when he marries Eustacia Vye, a beautiful and worldly woman who sees Clym as her means of escaping small-town life. It ends in tragedy, of course, so inspired by Shakespeare's dithering Hamlet and the destiny-avoiding Oedipus of Sophocles.
There's more, much more - love triangles (more like a love rhombus) and themes of nonconformity - but for me, it's always been about Clym and his pronounced geographic sense of self. He knows and cherishes where he's from, and fully intends to spend his life in service to that place and people.
Today of all days, that rings very true - and very familiar - to me.