Bob Dylan And Thomas Hardy (Part V)

By Larry Fyffe

Confronted with Charles Darwin’s environmental determinism, writer Thomas Hardy, in his novel “The Return Of The Native”,  turns to the unscientific offshoot of the Theory Of Evolution – ‘Social Darwinism’.

He tells the story of a native of the English heathlands who returns from Paris to be a school master in hopes of advancing the thinking of the traditionalist sheep farmers of the darkling moor.

The returned native marries the beautiful Eustacia who yearns for the excitement of modern city life – she hopes they’ll go off to the bright lights.

Eustacia cannot adapt to the barren physical environment of the heath; she rejects another suitor who yearns for city life too, but fails to deliver – so he settles for the traditionalist Miss Thomasin.

Below, Hardy quotes from an old-time ballad (he does not provide its title):

He told her that she was the joy of his life
And if she'd consent, he would make her his wife
She couldn't refuse him; to church so they went
Young Will was forgot, and young Sue was content
And then was she kissed, and down on his knee
No man in the world was so loving as he
(Susan's Complaint And Remedy ~ traditional)

Akin to the above be to the following song lyrics:

You changed my life
Came along in a time of strife
In hunger and in need
You made my heart bleed
(Bob Dylan: You Changed My Life)

(This version is by Ivan & Alyosha)

Hardy’s native blunts his sight through too much reading, and Eustacia and her former love interest (married now to Thomasin) both drown after they run off together though the native arrives and tries to save them; thereafter, the distraught  heathlander becomes a wandering priest.

Hardy’s ‘naturalistic’ novel is inspired in part by the following ballad from which the writer quotes near the beginning of his novel (without mentioning the name of the ballad):

Queen Eleanor was a sick woman, and sick just like to die
And she has sent for two friars of France to come to her speedily
The King called down his nobles all, by one, by two, by three
Earl Marshal, I go shrive the Queen, and thou shalt wend 
with me
'A boon, a boon', quoth Earl Marshal
And fell on his bended knee
'That whatsoever the Queen shall say
No harm therof may be'
(Queen Eleanor's Confession ~ traditional)

King Henry and the Earl disguise themselves as the friars, and the Queen confesses that she lost her virginity to the Earl; needless to say, the King’s not happy to learn about that, but he has promised to do no harm.

The singer/songwriter messes with tragic ballads of yore, including ‘Lord Thomas And Fair Eleanor’; in the following song, each member of the love triangle dies, fires a-burning as they do in Hardy’s novel:

You got something to tell me, tell it to me, man
Come to the point as straight as you can
'Old Henry Lee, chief of the clan
Came riding through the woods, and took her hand'
(Bob Dylan: Tin Angel)

In another song lyric, the scientific Theory Of Evolution takes a beating because it fails to adequately explain the human condition:

They got Charles Darwin trapped out there on Highway Five
Judge says to the High Sheriff
I want him dead or alive
Either one, I don't care'
High water everywhere
(Bob Dylan: High Water)

In ‘The Return Of The Native’, Eustacia takes part in a nationalistic Christmas play – she’s  the brave Turkish knight who is slain by the patron Christian saint of England:

Here come I, a Turkish knight
Who learnt in Turkish land to fight
I'll fight this man with courage bold
If his blood's hot, I'll make it cold
(Saint George ~ traditional play)

Like Thomas Hardy in the novel above, Bob Dylan mixes up the artistic medicine in the basement below:

Do you know where she's hiding
How long are we gonna be riding
How long must I keep my eyes glued to the door
Will there be any comfort there, senor
(Anna Kaye: Senor ~ Dylan)

You can read about the writers who kindly contribute to Untold Dylan in our About the Authors page.   And you can keep an eye on our current series by checking the listings on the home page

You’ll also find, at the top of this page, and index to some of our series established over the years.  Series we are currently running include

  • The art work of Bob Dylan’s albums
  • The Never Ending Tour year by year with recordings
  • Beautiful Obscurity – the unexpected covers
  • All Directions at Once

You’ll find links to all of them on the home page of this site

If you have an article or an idea for an article which could be published on Untold Dylan, please do write to with the details – or indeed the article itself.

We also have a very lively discussion group “Untold Dylan” on Facebook with getting on for 10,000 members. Just type the phrase “Untold Dylan” in, on your Facebook page or follow this link    And because we don’t do political debates on our Facebook group there is a separate group for debating Bob Dylan’s politics – Icicles Hanging Down

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