Amidst the fireworks and celebrations of Guy Fawkes Night, a covered wagon winds its way along the dark country heath land. Hidden at the back is a young woman who is running away from a thwarted marriage ceremony with the local innkeeper. The driver of the wagon, a young herdsman, is secretly in love with her but is so devoted that he vows to help her reunite with her useless lover. The opening scenes of Thomas Hardy's sixth novel The Return of the Native, form the backdrop to this story of a profoundly flawed woman and the men who fall in love with her. The book itself had a controversial debut, something which greeted many of Hardy's novels at that time. It first appeared in serial form in 1878 in the Belgravia magazine, which was notorious for its risqué and sensational content. The radical themes explored by Hardy in the novel prevented many publishers from daring to accept it. However, today it is considered one of the finest Victorian novels and one that marks a great shift in the moral universe of the time.
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