Chapter 1 – My Mind to Me a Kingdom Is
Hardy gives a more comprehensive description of Clym Yeobright. His physical appearance reflects what Hardy believes will be the common aspect of the future. Hardy believes that along with education, man's physical beauty - in the classical sense - will be phased out. He further believes this will eventually happen to women, too.
From his early years, Clym inspired great hopes from his family and community. After his father's death, a gentleman in Budmouth supported Clym by offering the young man an apprenticeship. Clym then went to London, then Paris, as his career blossomed.
On the Sunday after Thomasin’s marriage, Clym joins the Egdon men in the traditional Sunday hair cutting session, in which Fairway cuts hair while the men gossip. Clym reveals to the locals that he has become disenchanted with his life abroad. He says that he has returned to start a school close to Egdon. The locals are skeptical of his plan.
Chapter 2 – The New Course Causes Disappointment
As Hardy explains, Clym is keen to serve his community, but his educational philosophies are ahead of their time. He is hoping to educate a long-established community that is not yet ripe for change.
Clym tells Mrs. Yeobright of his plan, but she disapproves of it as a step backwards. She wants more for him. He insists that his definition of success is far different from her own.
Their discussion is interrupted by Christian Cantle, who recounts the morning's dramatic events. He had attended church – a rare occurrence – and witnessed Susan Nunsuch stabbing Eustacia Vye in the arm with a stocking needle. Susan believes that Eustacia is a witch who had bewitched her children, and this was Susan's attempt to stop the evil process. Clym is concerned to hear that Miss Vye fainted as a result of the attack.
Clym and Mrs. Yeobright continue their discussion. She understands his altruistic motives, but believes his life experiences require him to move forward, not backwards, in life. They discuss Eustacia, and Mrs. Yeobright reacts negatively to Clym’s questions, saying that a good person would not find herself accused of such dark ideas as witchcraft.
Clym’s first interest in Eustacia is cerebral; he wonders if she might be interested in teaching. He then begins to wonder whether she was the woman who dressed as the Turkish knight in the mummer's play.
Chapter 3 – The First Act in a Timeworn Drama
Clym is intrigued to finally meet Eustacia. One day, he encounters some locals who are working to recover a bucket that had fallen down Captain Vye's well. Though they are able to retrieve the bucket, the well-tacke is removed in the process, meaning the well will not keep water.
Clym offers to bring water to Eustacia for that night, as she refuses to drink from the pool by the house. They talk of the events at church, and she admits her bewilderment over such superstitions. Clym asks her if she would like to teach with him. Her response – that she sometimes hates the locals – makes it clear she wants no part in this plan.
They discuss the heath. Eustacia admits that she hates it, except for when it is flowering. Clym counters that he would rather be on the heath than anywhere else in the world.
Despite Eustacia's rejection of the idea, Clym is further inspired towards his teaching plan because of her presence. Mrs. Yeobright is concerned to observe how Eustacia has affected Clym. She is further upset when Clym gives Eustacia a charnel pot, an artifact found in a dig of the ancient barrow, that was originally intended for Mrs. Yeobright. Angry, she calls Clym's scheme for the school, and his attraction to Eustacia, foolish.
Chapter 4 - An Hour of Bliss and Many Hours of Sadness
The narrative jumps forward three months, during which time Clym and Eustacia have developed a love affair. On the night of a lunar eclipse, they rendezvous outside. She is passionate and excited to be with him. Clym admits he loves her, but that his mother disapproves. He proposes marriage nevertheless. She asks for time to think on the proposal, and then asks him to talk to her of Paris. He dislikes the subject and tries to discuss their future, but she is persistent in her request. Finally, she promises to marry him if he promises that they can return to Paris.
Clym subtly suggests that it is only the possibility of Paris that attracts Eustacia to him. She denies his claim, and insists she would gladly spend her days in a hermitage, so long as they were together.
Clym realizes that both his mother and Eustacia want him to return to Paris. He is aware of the challenge that will come in trying to please the three primary people in his life: his mother, his wife-to-be, and himself.
Chapter 5 – Sharp Words are Spoken and a Crisis Ensues
Mrs. Yeobright is unhappy to hear from the gossips at the Quiet Woman Inn that Clym and Eustacia are to be married. She confronts him, and he explains his plan to "instil high knowledge in to empty minds" (160). They have an emotional argument, and Clym leaves the house.
He had intended to broker a meeting between Mrs. Yeobright and Eustacia in an attempt to improve their relationship. Instead, Clym meets Eustacia and repeats his proposal, promising they will live in a small cottage on the heath for only six months, after which time they will move to Budmouth to start a school. Eustacia agrees. As she leaves him, he reflects on how he no longer sees her as a goddess but as an actual woman for whose welfare he is now responsible.
Chapter 6 – Yeobright Goes and the Breach is Complete
Clym officially leaves his mother’s house on the next morning, a wet June day. He has found an empty cottage on the heath, where he will live alone until he and Eustacia are married. The wedding day is set for June 25th. Mrs. Yeobright tell him she will not likely attend.
After Clym leaves, Mrs. Yeobright sits alone. Thomasin arrives, to ask her aunt for money. She does not want Wildeve to know of the request, however. He does not allow her much money, and she is afraid to broach the subject with him. Mrs. Yeobright is not pleased with what this suggests about their marriage, but she tells Thomasin how she has saved 100 guineas, 50 for Thomasin and 50 for Clym. However, she insists Thomasin discuss the subject with Wildeve before accepting the money.
Meanwhile, Wildeve hears of Eustacia’s impending nuptuals. He finds that his old feelings for her are somewhat rekindled.
Chapter 7 – The Morning and Evening of a Day
Clym and Eustacia’s wedding day arrives. Mrs. Yeobright does not attend. Instead, she waits at home for Thomasin, who has written to ask for money again. Wildeve arrives, having been sent by Thomasin to fetch the gift. Mrs. Yeobright correctly intuits that Thomasin has not told him what he is fetching, and so she refuses to give it to him. He is annoyed but suspicious, and leaves.
Mrs. Yeobright contemplates her decision not to hand over the guineas. She decides that she will ask Christian Cantle to bring the money to Thomasin and Clym – his will serve as a wedding gift. Christian is told not hand the guineas to anyone other than to Thomasin or Clym.
Christian sets off on his mission, but is diverted by a raffle for a gown-piece, decided through dice. He wins the piece, but is captivated by the power of the dice. He admits to Wildeve, who is also there, that he holds a significant sum of money from Mrs. Yeobright, intended for Thomasin. Christian is too simple to consider that Thomasin's husband is meant to be kept oblivious. Wildeve is angry that his mother-in-law would trust Christian, but not him. From the shadows, Diggory overhears their conversation.
Wildeve challenges Cantle to play dice with the money, arguing that even if he wins, the money will still be in the hands of the proper family. Christian quickly loses Thomasin's fifty guineas, and plays on with Clym's share. Just as he loses everything, Diggory enters from the shadows.
Chapter 8 – A New Force Disturbs the Current
Diggory Venn challenges Wildeve to play on, having won all the money in Christian's possession. After a tense match, Venn wins all the money. As he gathers it up, a carriage passes, bring Eustacia and Clym from their wedding to their cottage.
Diggory gives all of the guineas to Thomasin, not knowing that half of them were intended for Clym. Hardy prophecies that this innocent error will have significant consequences.
In this third book, the forces that will engender a tragic end are established. These forces particularly reside in Clym's ambition, which will be at odds with the ambition of the woman he loves. The tragedy will result from an irreconcilable truth: he and Eustacia love one another because of their personalities and desires, and yet those personalities and desires are not compatible.
This facet is communicated through the title of the book's first chapter - "My Mind to Me a Kingdom Is" - which is taken from a sixteenth century poem by Sir Edward Dyer. The poem celebrates the depth of the human mind, its vastness in terms of imagination and refuge for the human spirit. However, the allusion is used ironically, since Clym cannot see beyond his own mind in terms of his place in the world. He has had great success and opportunity abroad, and wishes now to educate the people of Egdon in what he deems important for their development. However, the reader knows from their discussion near the bonfire in Book 1 that this is a foolish and impossible plan. They are not only uninterested in such education, but also contemptuous of it. Clym, a native of the heath, should know this, but he is deluded by his enlightenment, rather than made wise by it. This plan is one of the many factors that lead to a tragic end.
Clym’s ascendancy can be compared to that of Charles Dickens’s character Pip, from the 1860 novel Great Expectations. Although Clym was not an orphan, he had been removed outside his surroundings in a effort to improve his prospects, and he is both improved and compromised by this greater education. Clym eventually sees his life in Paris as idle and vain, much as Pip eventually saw London, but he has been too defined by this outside world to easily reintegrate into the heath. Pip is doomed to be an outsider in adulthood, neither comfortable in rich surroundings nor entirely welcomed in common surroundings, and this is a parallel conflict to Clym's. He wants to return to the heath, but is from the moment of his return seen as different. Further, he reinforces this image through his rather unrealistic plan. By the end of the novel, Clym will be even more an outsider than he is here.
What is perhaps most tragic is that he has such a charitable heart. At his core, he is a product of the heath, and its simplicity. And yet he is drawn to Eustacia partly because she is not of the heath. His attraction to her is a manifestation of his irreconcilable personalities. He loves the heath, but wants to bring an unwelcome outside perspective to it. This irreconcilable conflict is summed up when Hardy explains Clym's and Eustacia's varying attitudes towards the heath - "Take all the varying hates felt by Eustacia towards the heath, and translate them into loves, and you have the heart of Clym" (137). While to a detached reader, this insight suggests incompatibility, Clym does not have the presence of mind to recognize his contradictions, and as such facilitates a relationship that will cause great heartbreak for many. At one point, he recognizes that he must reconcile the three competing visions in his life: that of his mother, that of Eustacia, and that of himself. However, he does not have the stability of mind to realize that this will be impossible.
The conflicting attitudes are also manifest in the argument between Clym and Mrs. Yeobright. Their definitions of success are wildly different, and yet Clym is not truly able to understand this. He is too locked in his own perspective - which he blindly believes is the most enlightened one - to empathize with those of others. His mother has sacrificed much for his welfare, and has a vested interest in his success outside of the heath. Her dislike of Eustacia results somewhat from the latter's incompatibility with their rural ways. Clym, however, ignores these justifiable attitudes and thinks of this young woman as only a potential teacher for his school. Much as she loved him immediately not because of who he was but because of what she wanted him to be, so does he establish an image of her that is not shaken even when the reality of her person is brought to the forefront. Were Clym more open to his mother's arguments, he might realize the difficulty of reconciling his many desires into a happy life on a heath that has no use for his modern ideas.
The impossibility of reconciling these ideas are ironically apparent to the reader in any of their scenes together. While they are enamored of one another, the reader sees that Eustacia has no interest in remaining on the heath. Clym seems unable to hear the truth of her desire, and instead brokers a compromise that we can already see will lead to heartbreak. In this lies Hardy's use of tragedy to tell his story - the audience knows that this will end badly, and the dramatic thrust lies in watching how the heartbreak comes.
The first great heartbreak is that of Mrs. Yeobright. Her deteriorating relationship with her son is symbolized by the gift of the charnel pot, which Clym gives to Eustacia instead of to his mother. At the time of publication, the novel was criticized for its suggestion of an Oedipal relationship (though the term was not used in that way), an understandable interpretation considering that the conflict is enflamed by a lover's gift. Hardy's reference to a "timeworn drama" in his chapter title further suggests such an interpretation, since it connects their conflict to the ancient Greek tale of Oedipus. The use of Greek tragedy can also been seen in Mrs. Yeobright's fateful tone, when she tells Clym, "It was a bad day for you when you first set eyes on her. And your scheme is merely a castle in the air built on purpose to justify this folly which has siezed you" (153). There is a sense of prophecy to these words.
Eustacia is not as central to this book, though we see a significant contrast in her feelings for Clym, compared to those she had for Wildeve. She does not keep Clym waiting, as she often did with Wildeve. While she was blunt and honest with Wildeve about what she wanted from him, she is unable to be so honest with Clym, telling him that she would live happily with him in a hermitage. The dramatic irony is that the reader knows that his connection to Paris is much of what draws her to him, and yet she is unwilling to hurt him. One could argue she is being untruthful with herself, which could suggest a genuine affection for Clym. She does not want to hurt him, or endanger a relationship that brings her happiness.
In this book, the simple and innocent Thomasin encounters her own problems. Her marriage is not violent or disastrous, but neither is it happy. Her decision to marry Wildeve for practical reasons is manifesting in their lack of communication. She cannot ask him for money. When Diggory again shows himself to be her champion, we are reminded that Hardy is not interested in happy, pleasant stories. She had an opportunity to marry a man who truly loved her - so much so that he risks himself time and again for her happiness - but instead made a practical decision that will cause great heartbreak down the line.
In fact, the battle between Diggory and Wildeve reveal the different types of men they are. There is an almost melodramatic tone to this battle, with Diggory entering from the shadows and the men playing furiously into the dark. They are both fighting for a different Thomasin. Wildeve fights for the woman he wishes to control as his wife, and Diggory fights for the woman whose happiness brings him joy. The sense of morality play manifests in Diggory's eventual victory, though Hardy's tragic sense again proves prominent. Diggory's goodness does not mean goodness conquers all; in fact, when he gives the money to Thomasin, not knowing half of it was intended for Clym, he unknowingly encourages more tragedy to come, as the narrator tells us. There are plenty of good, innocent people in the world, Hardy seems to suggest, but they have limited agency in making the world good overall.