Note the contrasts between Clym and Eustacia:
- Where Eustacia’s vision is a projective dream of the world, Clym’s is an introspective dream;
- Where she is a divinity who wilfully creates the objects of her world, Clym, is the enslaved sovereign of the kingdom of his mind;
- She is the prisoner of Egdon, he feels free on the heath that he loves.
The conflict between these two antithetical modes of perception is inevitable from the outset; both fail to see the other at the commencement of the relationship:
- Eustacia sees in Clym the lover she had prayed to be sent, he sees in her his helpmate in the fulfilment of his idealist dreams of educating the rustics.
- Clym instinctively thinks of a relationship with Eustacia as a working relationship, but from such an idea she instantly recoils, fearing precisely that possibility.
It is, however, in their perceptions of Egdon, the world in which they live, that their views are most at odds. The relationship between the two develops on the basis of their perceptions and mis-perceptions of each other and of the world of Wessex. Clym cannot see that Eustacia hates her fellow creatures because she hates what Egdon represents and he, more than anyone, is its product. There is a fatal incompatibility between the sensuous ‘voluptuous and idle woman’ whose desire was ‘to be loved to madness’ and the spiritual Clym whose love for Eustacia ‘was as chaste as that of Petrarch for his Laura’.
Yet Clym does not marry Eustacia blindly: ‘As his sight grew accustomed to the first blinding halo kindled about him by love and beauty’ he perceives that Eustacia ‘loved him rather as a visitant from a gay world to which she rightly belonged than as a man with a purpose opposed to that recent past of his which so interested her’.
Clym does not idealise Eustacia:
‘Eustacia was no longer the goddess but the woman to him, a being to fight for, support, help, be maligned for’.
Whatever misgivings or forebodings he has about his hasty marriage, he knows that he must make a choice, and having chosen he feels himself ’embarked’: ‘the card was laid, and he determined to abide by the game’.
If Clym’s marriage to Eustacia appears to be undertaken on the basis of a wager, it is not because, as Mrs Yeobright suggests, he is blinded by Eustacia, but because he stakes everything on being able to change Eustacia’s perception of the world. Within two months of their marriage, Eustacia’s vision of Clym is changed utterly; he is a fallen idol; far from being the Promethean lover her idealising vision had made of him; he is ‘merely’ a workman, and seeing him as such she feels degraded. To escape this degradation she flees Egdon and has her final vision of what she believes to be its malign nature, a vision which is suitably constructed from the discourses of history, myth and religion, a vision of disaster and chaos.
Copyrighted illustration: Leighton woodcut