WRITTEN 1878 – SET IN 1840-50
First printed in the magazine Belgravia and published as a serial.
Summary of themes:
1. Mankind as part of the Universe: (a) Chance, fate, destiny and coincidence, (b) Characters’ appreciation of fate, (c) The tragic nature of the universe: Individual suffering and pain – (tragedy), (d) Rural ways, witchcraft, paganism and superstition, (e) Religion, myth, Christian virtue and evil
2. Civilisation and the social world of Egdon: (a) Civilisation, Progress, the urban, the fashionable and the modern, (b) Lives of Women, (c) Education, (d) Wealth, (e) Marriage, love, jealousy and revenge, (f) Illness and Death
NOTES AND REFERENCES
1. Mankind as part of the universe
1. (a) Chance, fate, destiny and coincidence.
Hardy believed that fate manifested itself through chance and coincidence and wrote that a suitable ‘maxim for a novelist’ was to write about ‘ordinary people in extraordinary circumstances.’
Chance: the raffle (279); Wildeve in inn when Christian gambles; Venn overhearing the money is Thomasin’s; the letter from Clym remains unread; Clym and Mrs Yeobright decide to reconcile but do not meet.
Fate: Clym’s arrival announced to Eustacia just at the moment when she tires of Wildeve (158) at the end of Book 1; Christian born when there was ‘no moon…that’s bad for him’ (76) ‘no moon no man’’ (76). Star-crossed: Eustacia is ‘Fortune’s fool ‘Tis her ill-luck.’ (Note the reference to Romeo’s, ‘I am Fortune’s Fool’). Hardy mocks people who deny the operation of fate: ‘even while they sit down and weep by the waters of Babylon, [men] invent excuses for the oppression which prompts their tears.’ The return of the native has affected the destinies of three people, in Clym’s view, but five in Eustacia’s and the reader’s views, (336-7). Charley lights the bonfire that Wildeve takes as a signal.
1. (b) Characters’ appreciation of fate:
Eustacia: reproaches destiny which she blames for love alighting on youth and ‘any love that she might win would sink simultaneously with the sand in the glass’ (121); Eustacia believes that her interference has meant that Wildeve and Thomasin are not married – so making Thomasin a threat to her because she is close to Clym (203); Eustacia says ‘these sad and hopeless obstacles … enable us to look with indifference upon the cruel satires that fate loves to indulge in’ (265); ‘if no misfortune happens,’ she repeated slowly’ (267); she asks Clym if she ‘the sharer of your doom?’ (307); ‘It is an awkward meeting,’ said [Eustacia], ‘but such is my fortune,’ (326); Eustacia blames forces beyond her control for her unhappy fate: ‘The wings of her soul were broken by the cruel obstructiveness of all about her’ (421) and ‘I have been injured and blighted by things beyond my control’ (421); Eustacia ‘laid the fault upon the shoulders of some indistinct, colossal Prince of the World, who had framed her situation and ruled her lot.’ (361); Eustacia, on Wildeve, he ‘had been seized upon by destiny and placed in the sunshine once more.’ (363); ‘I am to blame for this’; ‘There is evil in store for me.’ (368); ‘destiny has been against me’ (421).
Wildeve:‘Mine is a curious fate’ (138); Wildeve, to Eustacia, ‘Fate has treated you cruelly.’ (324) ‘The fates have not been kind to you’ (343)
Mrs Yeobright wishes ‘Sam would carry his news to other houses than mine’ (239) because Clym would not have gone to see Eustacia. [bucket in well]
Clym: to Eustacia, ‘Your words have no longer their old flavour. And so love dies with good fortune!’ (316); ‘He did sometimes think that he had been ill-used by fortune (448)
1. (c) The tragic nature of the universe: Individual suffering and pain.
Tragedy and fate are uneasy bedfellows: tragedy is almost impossible to people who feel and act as if they were puppets of a sort of fate.’ (Spectator 1879).
Eustacia: ‘pale tragic face’ (378); ‘And so love dies with good fortune’ (316); ‘in her case, we never really reach the point of tragedy at all. ‘Her moods recalled…the march of Athalie’. (‘Athalie’ is a tragic drama written by Racine in 1691.)
Tragedy is for those who eschew the traditional and seek to achieve e.g. Clym. Publisher’s response to this tragedy was to ask for another conclusion!! Book VI, The Aftercourses, compensated serial readers for so much unrelieved tragedy. However, traditionally, purist critics felt that all tragedies should follow the style of the great Greek tragedians and observe the three unities Five act structure with the unities: (a) Unity of Time: the time scale is a year and a day; 5 November 1842, The bonfire (65); 23 December (176); 5 November returns (402) and Captain Vye reminds us of the plot (404); Wildeve and Thomasin due to leave for Casterbridge in December (408); 6 November 1843. With the Aftercourses, the unity of time is broken to a vague ‘some two years and a half’ (473); (b) Unity of place: on or near the heath.; (c) Unity of action: Cyclic – concludes with ‘a motionless figure standing on the top of the tumulus’ (473 and 62). The action falls into a coherent whole. Also, in line with Greek tragedy, the novel has a prologue, an epilogue and a chorus that comments on the action.
In Classical tragedy, there is a protagonist who reaches the heights before plummeting. Clym has fatal flaws: e.g. He ‘loves too well’ (like Othello), being overcome by passion. e.g. He agrees to marry ‘if no misfortune happens’ (267) and in a ’cooler’ moment he preferred a less hasty marriage. Whilst he is too hasty and the ‘card was laid’ – this symbolism indicates the operation of fate, he also remains inert and unyielding on other occasions. Clym maintains solitude (VI i). However, The heath has seen so many sufferings that Clym’s is, in comparison, insignificant. (V ii) – note the reference to King Lear.
There is strong linking of Clym with Oedipus through Clym’s part blindness. However, consider the view that Hardy failed to raise the alienation between mother and son to tragic proportions because he refused to give ‘the mutual recognition of mother and son, and the recognition of their misunderstanding.’ (Spectator 1879).
Setting: The heath ‘had a lonely face, suggesting tragical possibilities’ (55). ‘Those gust which tore the trees merely waved the furze and heather in a light caress. Egdon was made for such times as these.’ (269); the night was ‘funereal’ (419); The night was such that one would think of ‘nocturnal scenes of disaster’ … the last plague in Egypt … the agony in Gethsemane.’ (420). Is Egdon the novel’s tragic hero?
1. (d) Rural ways, witchcraft, paganism and superstition
Eustacia despises the rural but uses traditional activities to achieve her ends e.g. gypsying, mumming, bonfire. She feels Clym is wasting his talents IV ii and regrets Clym’s return to the heath IV i
Clym’s appurtenances of the job V v; he is one of the diminishing band of artisans who used to own the tools of their trade; he thinks ‘the regulation thoughts’ of a furzecutter (339). IV ii,iii,v vii (‘perfume of the heath’); Clym on heath III i; III vii ,viii glowworms; ‘you can sing’ (315) – Eustacia speaking to Clym. Granfer sings at the bonfire.
Traditional events and activities take the plot forward. The rhythm of the old ways revealed ‘the poetry of existence.’ (131). The novel progresses through the changes of the seasons: the winter Mumming probably a survival of the Roman masquerade, haircutting, bucket fetching, gypsying, maypoling, the Maypole (452) a ‘symbolic custom’ Lammas tide (76) (1 August celebration of early harvest) and summer and winter solstices, bonfires, ‘the flames from funeral piles long ago kindled there had shone down the lowlands as these were shining now.’, weddings, christenings, toast at ‘The Quiet Woman to celebrate wedding ‘and wish ‘em joy’; The bed with feathers VI iv, dancing at Christmas. Johnny gathering ‘whortleberries’ when he meets Mrs Yeobright (348)
Rustics have no ambition and enjoy uncomplicated lives; Rustics as the chorus – an unrealistic portrayal of character and experience. Community spirit and stability. Besom/heath broom maker (Olly Dowden); turf cutter (Sam); peat cutter; furzecutter (Humphrey); ‘The rural world was not ready for [Clym]’ (230) The heathfolk have reservations about his intentions to open a school (229) and his preaching (474). Also the community linked with others ‘red suns and tufts of fire one by one began to arise.’ Hardy’s satire of the rustics: ‘incidents of their love were enlarged, distorted, touched up, and modified’ (447) The Reddleman: The reddleman was a disappearing tradesman. Reddle is red chalk that was used by shepherds for marking their sheep. ‘most ghosts be white; but this is as if it had been dipped in blood.’ (77) Reddle was less common with new transport; Diggory Venn gives up the trade VI i; and hamlets ‘pagan still’ (452) and Thomasin looking ‘pretty’ (452); finds the glove by moonlight (455);
The Rustics: Christian born when there was ‘no moon…that’s bad for him’ (76) ‘no moon no man’’ (76); Hardy presents Christian, the soi-disant “man of the mournfullest make” as part of the rustic sense of inevitability of doom. Dancing among the ‘vlankers’ is ‘tempting the Wicked one’ (81); Susan is afraid that a ‘deathshead’ moth would land on her and suck her blood. She dreams of a death’s head (82). Susan’s use of the stocking needle (233) – blood drawing was a remedy. Susan has a part in Eustacia’s destruction too IV vii. Johnny is the undoing of Eustacia in his talk with Clym V ii; Susan’s anti-witchcraft incantation (422); Johnny seriously unwell – after telling Clym of Eustacia’s behaviour (417); adders don’t die ‘till the sun goes down (358)
Eustacia: The fire belongs to a witch Book I v; Absolute Queen I vii; Eustacia has ‘pagan eyes, full of nocturnal mysteries’ I vii; Colour of soul: ‘flame-like’ I vii ‘People say she’s a witch (221); ‘Good girls don’t get treated as witches even on Egdon.’ (237); Eustacia passing of Susan’s house and Johnny’s sickness are linked. ‘Mother I do feel bad’ (421). Eustacia as a ‘figure in a phantasmagoria’ as she passes Susan’s threshold (416). Eustacia’s own ‘How bewitched I was!’ V iii and Susan’s belief that she bewitched her children.
Mixture of Christian ritual and rural belief when Clym administers the snake remedy: he ‘annoints’ the wound. IV vii
Mrs Yeobright: ‘saw the creature, and the creature saw her: she quivered throughout, and averted her eyes.’ (359)
Thomasin’s use of hartshorn? (439)
1. (e) Religion, myth, Christian virtue and evil
In the 1860s, like many Victorians, Hardy lost his faith. He is reported to have said, ‘I have been looking for G-d for 50 years, and I think that if he had existed I should have discovered him. As an external personality – of course – the only true meaning of the word.’ In poems such as ‘Hap’, ‘G-d Forgotten’ and ‘G-d’s Education’ Hardy expresses the view that G-d is absolutely indifferent to the concerns of man. One may consider whether in ‘The Return of the Native’ the characters are mere pawns for G-d to manipulate and subject to both hardship and bitter consequences. At this time, Darwin’s ‘On the Origin of the Species’ was published. Religious doubt and the struggle to come to terms with changing perceptions of G-d are central to much Victorian poetry. There is a cynical description of church-goers who are described as a ‘Tussaud collection’ (176)
Clym: John The Baptist III i; Clym ‘looking like Lazarus coming from the tomb’ (442); preacher VI iv; Clym asks G-d to kill him for justice saying that ‘He has nearly blinded me’ (375); ‘For what I have done no man or law can punish me!’ (444); Clym stands where Eustacia had done (473); Clym can be considered a Christ figure who wishes to save and help others from both the old and the fashionable systems of thought and who rises form the dead to give his sermon on the mount. Wildeve says Clym reminds him of ‘the Apostle Paul’ who ‘although excellent as a man in the bible…would hardly have done in real life’. (344)
Diggory Venn: ‘The Reddleman’s love was generous’ I ix; ‘I will do my duty in helping her’ (208); ‘Free from that quality of selfishness’ (209); the Reddleman returns with ‘Christian countenance’ (450); Mrs Yeobright ‘thanks God’ for the ‘weapon (152) Venn gives her;
The Rustics: tolerate Clym’s preaching ‘for the story of his life had become generally known.’; Humphrey ha’n’t been [to church] these three years (71); ‘In name they [the rustics] were parishioners, but virtually they belonged to no parish at all.’
Wildeve: The spell that she [Eustacia] had thrown over him in the moonlight dance made it impossible for a man having no strong puritanic force within him to keep away altogether (342); he is described ‘like Satan’ (209).
Thomasin ‘sublime saint’ VI iv
Mrs Yeobright: ‘sublime saint’ (473)
Eustacia: ‘evil’ is in store for her (368); sees Clym ‘like a man coming from heaven’ (164); says to Clym you ‘held my happiness in the palm of your hand and like a devil you have dashed it down.’ (390)
2. (a) Civilisation, Progress, the urban, the fashionable and the modern
France was the birthplace in 1789 of the great revolution – The French Revolution. It liberated the people from the power of the clergy and the nobility, but it also delivered them into the hands of the rich who wanted the liberty to make more money! In 1847/8, Marx and Engels published the Communist manifesto, showing how socialism could be achieved. Robert Owen (1771-1858) had a vision of a new social order and wished to plan educational forces to ‘evolve a new society’ (JN Evans). William Morris 1834-1896 ‘realised that the capitalist system could never could never provide the social system necessary to provide the kind of society and people he believed in.’ (JN Evans).
Paris: IV i,ii; ‘… Paris. It was like a man coming from heaven’; Clym describes Paris, using light imagery which ‘quite dazzles the eye’, referring to an apartment in a blaze of splendour’ with rays ‘that bristle and dart’ that contains jewels, precious stones, gold, silver plate. (256). Note the imagery of light (and the reference to St Paul) in the following: ‘I get up every morning and see the whole creation groaning and travailing in pain, as St Paul says, and yet there am I trafficking in glittering splendours with wealthy women and titled libertines, and pandering to the meanest vanities’ (233). Clym hates ‘the flashy business’ (233). Clym refuses to go IV ii; Eustacia’s dream ‘to which she rightly belonged’; IV vi; Paris is ‘the center and vortex of the fashionable world.’; Clym refers to the diamond trade as the: ‘idlest, vainest, most effeminate business’. Captain Vye describes Paris as ‘that rookery of pomp and vanity’ (158). Eustacia sees it as ‘the vortex of the fashionable world’ (165)
Soon after publication, one reviewer (New Quarterly 1879) said that Clym was a humanitarian, touched with the asceticism of a certain positivistic school.’ The philosophers among you might therefore consider how ‘Comte’s positivist optimism is defeated by the nature of actual life. .…. Some have seen this as a battle between Christianity and paganism. Clym tries to apply his philosophy of improvement by reason to rough Egdon [coming] back from Paris ‘acquainted with ethical systems popular at the time.’ (from: The Older Hardy by Robert Gittings).
Clym is a diamond merchant; he has the ‘typical countenance of the future’ (225); ‘studious life in Paris’; An unmarked man is ‘too far removed from modern perceptiveness to be a modern type.’ (225). The modern man is complicated. He has, what was to become, socialist ideals ‘to raise the class at the expense of the individual’; his ‘text’ was ‘ennoblement’ (230); the rural world ‘was not ripe for him’ (230); he has acquaintance with new ‘ethical systems’; he has the ‘countenance of the future’; abreast with the central town thinkers of his date’; Eustacia says Clym’s ‘mind runs off to the philosophical side of it’; ‘in striving at high thinking he still cleaved to plain living’; ‘he has the strangest notions about things.’; his scheme is regarded by Mrs Yeobright as ‘just a castle in the air’; ‘Mentally, he was in a provincial future’; ‘a real perusing man’.
Rustic view: ‘amazing what a polish the world have been brought to’ (73); Wildeve was an engineer but ‘he threw away his chance’ (73); grand shop winders, trumpets and drums’ (229).
Eustacia: ‘loved him rather as a visitant from a gay world to which she rightly belonged’ (259); Eustacia marries for opportunity IV vi
The heath: Modern man gives an ‘anomalous look’ to the unchanging heath. The heath ‘was an obsolete thing, and few cared to study it. How could this be otherwise in the days of square fields, plashed hedges, and meadows watered on a plan so rectangular that on a fine day they looked like silver gridirons?’ (232)
Railways transporting materials so efficiently render the reddleman’s trade defunct I ix
2. Civilisation and current social norms
2. (a) Social Class status and pride
The fictional heroes and heroines of Victorian novels tended to be middle class, appealing to the readers who were the novels’ main consumers. ‘A curious feature of the book is the low social position of the characters’ (Athenaeum review 1878)
Diggory Venn: The Reddleman lived like a gypsy; but gypsies he scorned I ix; Diggory acquires his father’s farm (451); Venn becomes ‘a respectable dairyman’ (455)
Eustacia: she speaks with ‘hauteur’ (145); ‘It is insulting my pride to suppose that (114); ‘I lose all self-respect in talking to you (146); ‘an inferior woman like her [Thomasin] (146); ‘Marry her: she is nearer to your own position in life than I am.’ (136); would find the Yeobrights ‘too countrified’ (172); She has ‘social superiority’ over Wildeve and ‘She had stooped in loving him [Wildeve] (156); ‘It was a condescension in me to be Clym’s wife’ (303); Eustacia has contempt for mummers II iv; Clym as furzecutter ‘was degrading to her [Eustacia]’ (313); ‘She is a lady by instinct’ (262) ‘What do you think of me as a furzecutter’s wife?’ / ‘You ennoble the occupation of your husband’ (324); ‘To ask Wildeve for pecuniary aid without allowing him to accompany her was impossible to a woman with a shadow of pride.’ (420); ‘As far as social ethics were concerned Eustacia approached the savage state’ (148).
Mrs Yeobright: ‘curate’s daughter, who had dream of doing better things’ (83)’; husband had been a ‘small farmer’ (83); ‘an estranged mien’ (83); ‘She is so proud, and thinks so much of her family respectability (95)‘He has beaten us….in revenge for my humbling him.’ Mrs Yeobright (215). ‘A Corfu bandmaster’s daughter [Eustacia]! Her surname is not even her true one’ (262); ‘I do not wish to show myself beaten before all Egdon’ II ii; I have never heard anything to show that my son’s lineage is not as good as the Vye’s (303); Mrs Yeobright disapproves of Diggory Venn as small dairy farmer and Thomasin says that Mrs Yeobright ‘will want me to look a little higher than a small dairy farmer, and marry a professional man (133); disapproves of Clym and Eustacia marriage; furzecutter a mere parasite of the heath’ (339);
Clym: house like a ‘king’s palace’ to Eustacia; he ‘did not care much about social failure’ (313). Mrs Yeobright says he is ‘going backward in the world’ III ii; dialect used in his letter to Eustacia ‘been given us’ (413); Clym ‘appeared as a mere parasite on the heath’ (339); Mrs Yeobright regards furzecutting as a degraded ‘mode of life’ that she would like to rescue him from (339); ‘I should call such a scandal humiliating’ (Clym’s letter 214); Clym would prefer Thomasin to marry a professional man (462)
Thomasin: The rustic view is that the wedding fiasco ‘ makes the family look small’ 164; ‘that man I must marry, for my pride’s sake’ Thomasin II ii; Thomasin to marry before Clym returns II viii; ‘I am a warning to others…what a class to belong to!’; Thomasin humble in grief (447); Clearly recognising her position in the world, she says in answer to Clym’s point of marrying a professional man, ‘I am not fit for town life … Do you not yourself notice my countrified ways? (462); she considers Venn ‘a respectable dairyman’ (455)
2. (b) Lives of Women
From the Communist Manifesto 1847/8: ‘The bourgeois sees in his wife a mere instrument of production. The man is the earner, at least among the propertied classes, and this gives him a dominating position.’
Consider how the lives of the women are limited in the way that those of the men are not and look at the influence they have on others and the operation of choice. Clym is seen to be a thinker but Thomasin is not – her brow is unmarked. ‘Eustacia belongs essentially to the class of which Madame Bovary is the type’ (Athenaeum review 1878). ‘There is doubtless something dramatic in the complete contrast, which deprives one sex all the mental qualities of the other’ (New Quarterly 1879). ‘There is no freedom for a woman without money’ (Jane Austen).
‘She lifted the baby to the top of her head, that it might be out of the reach of their drenching fronds.’ (429). ‘The necessity of preserving the little girl from harm nerved her’ (437)
2. (c) Education
Marx and Engels advocated, in 1847, free education for all children, but it was not until the Education Act, in 1870, that it became obligatory for all children to attend school up to the age of 12. In the 1840s, very few people could read.
Clym: seeks to become a teacher. Clym ‘sat over books’ (449); He took ennoblement rather than repentance for his text’ and he ‘was abreast with the central town thinkers of his date.’ ‘He wished to raise the class at the expense of individuals rather than individuals at the expense of the class.’ (230). Yeobright did not intend to make ‘social ascent’ (247). He uses dialect in his letter to Thomasin ‘been given us’ (413).
The rustics: do not welcome Clym’s teaching ambitions. ‘Tis good natured of the young man … But, for my part, I think he had better mind his business.’ (229)
Use of letters: Clym’s (214); Eustacia’s to Wildeve (210); Clym’s to Eustacia (412); Thomasin’s to Diggory Venn (133);Wildeve’s to Eustacia where the empty envelope is what causes most suspicion. (392)
Eustacia may not have money but ‘She is excellently educated’, good matron in a boarding school’ (251); ‘Her high gods were William the Conqueror, Strafford and Napoleon’ (122)
2. (d) Wealth
Money is a different issue from that of class – to some extent, it is seen as a facilitator in ‘The Return of the Native’. There is no evidence of poverty in the novel and this is one of the facts that argues against the claim that Hardy deals with social realism.
Mrs Yeobright: ‘Don’t suppose that she has any money. She hasn’t a farthing’ said to Clym (250)
Clym: ‘comparative poverty was essentially the higher course for him [Clym]’ (247); ‘if I go furzecutting, we shall be fairly well off.’
Wildeve: ‘You ought to win some money …… Any woman would marry you then.’ [Wildeve to Christian when he is coaxing him to gamble] (284); Wildeve’s fortune IV viii; Wildeve elegantly dressed IV vi; Wildeve is left 11,000 by his uncle
Eustacia: does not have enough money IV viii; traveling; ‘no lover ofr money, she loved what money can bring’ (IV viii); ‘To ask Wildeve for pecuniary aid without allowing him to accompany her was impossible to a woman with a shadow of pride.’ (420)
Thomasin: ‘I want some money … to buy little things for myself … and he doesn’t give me any.’ (271); inherits ‘a little less than 10,000’ (VI iii); Thomasin giving the money ‘nearly all over to the baby’ … ‘makes it easier’ for Venn and Thomasin ‘to be friendlier’ (458)
Diggory Venn: ‘my soft sentiments have gone off in vapour like. Yes, I am given up body and soul to the making of money. Money is all my dream.’ (458) [he is teasing Thomasin]; Venn: ‘a man of money’ (455)
2. (e) Marriage, love, jealousy and revenge
Marriage is celebrated by isolated communities that struggle to survive against the exigencies of rural life.
The Victorian ideal of womanhood: the ideal Victorian woman versus the harlot: Thomasin and Eustacia. They are contrasted. Eustacia is ‘darker than Tamsin’ (236).
Thomasin: ‘I don’t believe in hearts at all.’
Eustacia: ‘Nothing can ensure the continuance of love. It will evaporate like a spirit, and so I feel full of fears.’ (255); ‘love was the one cordial’ I vii; ‘send me a great love’ I vii. Symbolically, Eustacia stands on the same spot that ‘she had kindled [the fire] to attract Wildeve’ and tosses a stone into the pool (242), when talking with Clym. She is ‘a hussy’ (252). ‘a voluptuous, idle woman’ III v. Her wound is like ‘a ruby on Parian marble’ (244).
Wildeve: ‘To be yearning for the difficult, to be weary of that offered; to care for the remote, to dislike the near; it was Wildeve’s nature always. Beats Venn to Seeing Thomasin and proposing, ‘To lose the two women – he who had been the well-beloved of both – was too ironical an issue to be endured.’ (211) ‘This is the true mark of a man of sentiment.’ (274) Hardy is scathing of the ‘romantic’. Wildeve’s last words before jumping in to the weir: ‘Oh my darling!’ (V ix)
Mrs Yeobright: ‘there had been in his mother’s mind a great fancy about Thomasin and himself [Clym].’ (460). She disapproves of Diggory Venn and Wildeve.
Clym: referred to as a ‘complement’ (265); ‘he loved me [Thomasin] once (169);
Wildeve: ‘to care for the remote, to dislike the near; it was Wildeve’s nature always.’ (274)
Rustics refer to liaisons: pretty pigeon pair (163); Humphrey feels ‘your cousin ought to have married you.’ (463); Charlie assumes a guardian’s role (V v); Charlie is given the three locks of undulating hair.
2. (f) Illness and Death
The Victorians endured daily reminders of death. Medicines were limited and relatively unsophisticated. Consider the snake bite remedy.
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