The Rustics

The repressed culture of the rustics, its precarious survival in the face of the onslaughts of ‘civilisation’, is asserted.  The conflict between these opposing forces is rendered in the vivid imagery, perceived by the silent watcher of the heath at that ‘transitional hour’ when Egdon appears to be waiting for ‘the final overthrow’.  In that moment of transition when time seems to hold its breath, Diggory Venn sees Eustacia.

The rustics intrude into the motionless and into the isolation of Eustacia’s private, idealised world.  The ‘queen of the solitude’ (64) is displaced, put to flight by a ‘skybacked pantomime of silhouettes’ with which she ‘ had no relation’.  The silent onlooker’s imagination

‘clings by preference to that vanished, solitary figure, as to something more interesting, more important, more likely to have a history worth knowing than these newcomers’.  (63)

This celebrates the triumph of the spirit, but there is also a continuity of another order.

‘It was as if the bonfire-makers ‘had suddenly dived into past ages, and fetched therefrom an hour and deed which had before been familiar with the spot’. (67)

The rustics’ bonfires are in the tradition of pagan ‘festival fires to Thor and Woden’ (67) and are a

‘lineal descendent from jumbled druidical rites and Saxon ceremonies’ (67) –

The bonfires celebrate is an act of rebellion and the triumph of the physical where everything is in motion:

‘all was unstable; quivering as leaves, evanescent as lightning’

the grotesque became preternatural; for all was in extremity.  The leaping flames exaggerate bodily images, to gargantuan proportions:

‘shadowy eye-sockets’, ‘cavernous’ lantern-jaw, ‘ravine’ wrinkles dark wells of nostrils (67/8)

The grotesque realism, the lowers all that is high, spiritual, abstract and ideal, and continues in the image of the wild dance within the dying embers of the fire where ‘all that could be seen on Rainbarrow was a whirling of dark shapes amid a boiling confusion of sparks, which leapt around the dancers as high as their waists’.

Here the rustics represent the popular opposition to the ‘civilising’ culture of the thinking world.   The communal life of the people of Egdon which are profoundly anti-spiritual and non-intellectual.  They still posses the joyful gaiety that those who have taken thought have lost.  The rustics displace and eclipse the solitary, isolated figure of Eustacia and the idealising consciousness she represents.  Their lives and actions signify that celebration of the flesh that both reveals and subverts the ideology of the thinking world.

Note the humour of rustics Their provision of a light, humorous, comic conclusion.

Some useful quotations:

×          ‘In name they [the rustics] were parishioners, but virtually they belonged to no parish at all.’

×          ‘It was as if these men and boys had suddenly dived into past ages’ (67)

×          ‘such blazes are .. the lineal descendants from jumbled Druidical rites and Saxon ceremonies’ (67)

×          ‘Promethean rebelliousness’ (67)

×          satirised throughout mumming: ‘why a thing that is done so perfunctorily should be kept up at all.’

×          ‘Those whom Nature had depicted as merely quaint became grotesque, the grotesque became preternatural; for all was in extremity’ (68)

×          Grandfer Cantle sings a ballad (68)

   Cantle was ‘never afeard of nothing except Boney.’  [Napoleon Bonapart] (197)

×          ‘Tis amazing what a polish the world have been brought to.’

×          a turf cutter’s spade ‘well-wetted edge gleamed like a silver bow’ (74)

×          Humphrey is ironically mocked:  ‘your cousin ought to have married you.’ (463) when he said earlier ‘she [Eustacia] and Clym Yeobright would make a very pretty pigeon-pair’ (163)

×          They prepare the ticking (495-7)


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