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What if you were to find a letter addressed to you, folded within the pages of a treasured novel? From one of the protagonists, no less! How would that make you feel?
I ran my hand gently over the cover of Hardy’s The Return of the Native. Memories beckoned me, imploring me to travel with them down their lanes. I flipped through the pages. A piece of paper fell down. It had turned a tad yellow, but held a mesmerising allure. As I picked it up, my eyes were drawn towards the cursive handwriting. It was as if a ballet dancer had gracefully glided over it. ‘Who could have written it?’ I wondered. I decided to read it. It was inside my book after all, so it belonged to me. Armed with that reasoning, I curled up on the sofa.
“Dearest Narayani,” it began, making me sit up.
“Do you know how stifling it is in Egdon Heath? I apologise profusely if I startled you. Please allow me to introduce myself. My name is Eustacia Vye. I am sure it will ring a bell now! Since my childhood, I have roamed around this cursed place, yearning for company, for love, and yet, I felt intense hatred towards the Heath. Am I wrong? Is it unacceptable, especially for a woman, to not have an affinity towards the place she spent her years? I have a feeling the answer is in the affirmative. I haven’t seen Wildeve and Clym being questioned about their choices!
I had high hopes on my husband, and when I saw them turning into vapour, I despaired. Why was I being terrorised for this? Do you recollect that notorious incident with my mother-in-law, where my silence led to a chain of incidents, culminating in her death by snakebite? For days, I was consumed by guilt.
Guilt. How effortlessly women take refuge in this prison! Innumerable women have read this book, but I really do not see any betterment in their lives. Didn’t the meat turn out to be delectable? Did she come home late after a gruelling day at work? Did she catch a wink of sleep in broad daylight, while her child cried, for a tiny second? I regret to tell you, Narayani, that the answer to all these questions is a resounding YES.
I have the audacity to smirk. Please forgive me. It’s just that it is tinged with relief. I realise that eras later, there has been no change in your lives. I see you are allowed to wear pants, but irrespective of the attire, the all-pervasive guilt has only spread its tentacles deeper. I never thought I would say this, but I am glad I was not born in the allegedly modern age.
Nothing has changed. Absolutely nothing.
With that, I end my monologue. Egdon Heath and its pagan surroundings beckon me.
I seek your permission and bid you a goodbye.
Yours sincerely,Eustacia Vye
My hands trembled as I finished reading the letter. Was I dreaming? Unbeknownst to me, tears trickled down my cheeks.
Author’s notes: Eustacia Vye is the lead female character in The Return of the Native by Victorian novelist Thomas Hardy. The novel takes place in a fictional place called Egdon Heath. Eustacia is in love with Wildeve, but marries the foreign-returned Clym. A series of tragic incidents unfold, and she falls to her death, along with Wildeve, leaving Clym alone.
Photo by Joy Deb from Pexels
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