Table of Contents | Message Board | Printable Version
CHAPTER SUMMARIES WITH NOTES
Twilight descends on Egdon Heath. It is Saturday, the fifth of November. Egdon Heath, which figures in the Doomsday Book of 1086, has changed little since then. Human presence is evident only by the existence of a road and the prehistoric burial mounds that dot the Heath.
An old man wearing naval clothes walks along the road; he reaches a spring van beside which walks a reddleman. Though the reddleman is not the talkative kind, the old man is inquisitive and manages to extract enough information from the reddleman to learn that the van contains a young lady. But the reddleman will say no more, and they soon part company. The old man goes onward, and the young one, having turned his van and horses onto the turf, rests awhile. While he rests, the reddleman notices the figure of a woman on top of Rainbarrow, the highest point in the heath. Very soon, this figure is replaced by others who light a bonfire.
The entire first chapter is devoted to Egdon Heath, even though there is a total absence of any human beings there; but Egdon Heath is very important to the novel. As the setting of the book, it dominates the plot and determines the fate of the characters. The Heath presents a harsh, lonely face on which time has made hardly an impression. Its vegetation makes it appear to wear a dark brown dress. It is quiet, somber, and tragic by nature, and it seems to intensify the gloominess of both day and night. It is also enigmatic and inexplicable and sometimes hostile. Some critics are of the opinion that Egdon Heath is the "incarnation of a living force with a will and a purpose of its own;" other critics say that the Heath is the "protagonist of the drama" which "feels, speaks, and slays."
The Heath is definitely a symbol of the grimness of life. Hardy suggests that "human souls may find themselves in closer harmony with external things wearing a . . . somberness like that of the gaunt wastes" of Egdon Heath. The human beings who appear and play out their lives against the backdrop of the Heath are gloomy souls who seem to be insignificant. It is significant to notice that no humans appear in the first chapter and none are named in the second one. Though most of the main characters have not made an appearance by the end of the second chapter, the course of their lives are foreshadowed in the gloominess of the heath.
An air of mystery is created in the second chapter. Characters remain unnamed, and a woman seems to be hiding inside the reddleman's van. A mysterious female figure is also spotted way up on Egdon Heath. Then a group gathers on the heath and lights a bonfire. In the darkness of night, the mood is set for the entire novel.