Men have learned to harness nature, but they have yet to transcend it. The laws of nature powerfully affect human behavior, and these laws are often antithetical to those of society. Thus the conscientious human being is constantly in flux—at once pulled by primal and civilized forces. In Tess of D’Urbervilles, Thomas Hardy portrays Tess Durbeyfield as a character under this type of duress. She and the men that love her are unable to achieve a compromise between their animal lust and their civilized sensibilities—and their collective inability ultimately destroys her happiness.Hardy shows Tess has primal desires. At the May Day procession, she is the distinctive girl with the deep red mouth, mobile face, red ribbon, and abundant endowment. Her figure exudes sexuality. Hardy even places Tess in scenery that matches her sensuous, nature-given attributes. Following the sound of Angel’s harp, she walks across a garden “damp and rank with juicy grass, which sent up mists of pollen at a touch…upon her naked arms [were] sticky blights which, though snow-white on the apple-tree trunks, made madder stains on her arms” (97). The heavy, ripe description in this passage screams sex. The wetness and pollen are conducive to reproduction, the arms are naked, and the stains happen to be snow-white on the trees—alluding to semen. Through this scene Hardy suggests Tess’s ability to be sexually aroused, though this arousal may only be in her subconscious, for she does not particularly notice her surroundings. The use of natural imagery shows that the lust in Tess came with her features—as gifts from nature. Tess’s Sixth Standard education and Christian morality are merely thin veneers, for ultimately she cannot resist the biological urge to procreate. The season also reflects this urge, as Tess’s passion for Angel grows like the summer heat, “[a]mid the oozing fatness and warm ferments of the Froom Vale, at a season when the rush of juices could almost be heard below the hiss of fertilization” (113). The author explicitly connects Tess with the busy fertilization activity of the valley around her. He shows that nature forces Tess to seek Angel, just as nature would force two rivers in the same valley to eventually merge.Hardy also depicts the attraction between Alec and Tess as natural. At their first meeting, Alec feeds Tess strawberries, and she eats them in a “half-pleased, half-reluctant state” (30). Alec also covers Tess with roses. Strawberries and roses are symbols of passion; Tess readily accepts them. Hardy reveals that Tess has animal instincts that her more refined sensibilities cannot hope to suppress. This sense of inevitability is implicit in Hardy’s description of The Chase: “Above them rose the primeval yews and oaks of The Chase…about them stole the hopping rabbits and hares” (58). Apparently, nothing is amiss—life in the woods goes on. Hardy’s mention of rabbits and hares is not just a pretty detail, for these animals are known to be prolific breeders. Tess and Alec are in fitting company. Throughout this scene, Hardy emphasizes that the half-forced, half-consensual sexual act, gross to human sensibilities, is entirely normal in the natural scheme of things.Therein lies the conflict. Despite Tess’s strong lust for Alec and Angel, she cannot reconcile her feelings with the social laws that mandate women to be physically and mentally chaste. As Tess walks up the lonely hills surrounding Marlott, shortly after her return from Trantridge, she reflects on her actions and condemns herself for them. The narrator then comments that Tess “had been made to break an accepted social law, but no law known to the environment in which she fancied herself such an anomaly” (68). In other words, Tess yields to the sexual drive nature has given her. In contrast, the social laws seem arbitrary and unrelated to the reality of life on Earth. Yet it is the social laws that Tess consciously tries to obey, though her attempt inflicts guilt and unhappiness.Tess is also victimized by the sexual double standard. On the night Angel and Tess arrive at the D’Urberville mansion, Angel secures Tess’s forgiveness of his fling with a London lover. Ironically, Angel is unable to find the same compassion within himself when Tess tells of her own misdeed. The double standard stems from the Victorian era belief that virile young men were to be made allowances. Furthermore, men were the initiators of sex. Women were supposed to passively accept male desire. Yet one would expect Angel to transcend these prejudices. The irony of the confession scene lies in the contrast between what one expects of Angel and what he does. Angel is a person who has rejected Christianity for humanism. Hardy relates that Angel said that it might have “resulted far better for mankind if Greece had been the source of the religion of modern civilization, and not Palestine” (126). For that opinion, one would expect Angel to recognize morality as relative to the circumstances. Yet Angel obeys a harsh, dogmatic set of morals, one that is even more condemning than that of his parents, whose “hearts went out of them at a bound towards extreme cases” (242). Angel’s parents would pity Tess—they would have seen her as a person to be loved and saved. Thus it is doubly ironic that Angel rejects Tess—he is neither true to his parents nor to himself. Through Angel’s rejection, Hardy convincingly demonstrates the power of society to shape morality and thus behavior. Although Angel can forget both his humanism and Christian forgiveness, he cannot escape the powerful bind of the oppressive social code until it is too late. Tess, inculcated with the same Victorian values, accepts Angel’s judgment of her: “I will obey you like your wretched slave even if it is to lie down and die” (184). Tess does not defend herself; she accepts that her past actions have taken away her right to self-determination. She, like Angel, believes that lust and propriety cannot co-exist in the same person. Again, the conflict between nature and society destroys Tess’s hope for a happy relationship.The men in Tess cannot reconcile their own nature-given and society-instilled attitudes toward love. But the conflict between nature and society prevents that melding, for the men are unable to combine sexual passion and Victorian morality—they choose one or the other. Alec is the character whose love is primal—representing the force of nature. Nature only demands the proliferation of life, the physical act of sex. Sophisticated love does little to propagate a species. Angel is the antithesis of Alec. His love is not physical—it is idealized and spiritual. Together, they form the perfect lover for Tess, who needs both types of love. But in love two halves do not make a whole.Alec plays his role from the beginning, calling Tess “my beauty,” “my pretty girl,” and “my pretty coz” when they first meet. His behavior is unsurprising because it is Tess’s “luxuriance of aspect” that first causes Alec’s eyes to “rivet themselves upon her” (30). He mainly perceives her physical attributes, for beauty makes sex more enjoyable. When Tess leaves, Alec thinks of kissing her. He is barely inhibited by the social customs of marriage and foreplay. He wants to possess Tess physically then and there. His inability to love Tess spiritually causes the first great tragedy of the novel in The Chase. Because he has no respect for Tess’s spirit, he crushes it, though he does give Tess physical pleasure—a pleasure that is ultimately empty without fulfillment on a higher plane.Angel is likewise predictable. After first seeing Tess at the dining table, he exclaims, “What a fresh and virginal daughter of Nature that milkmaid is!” (96) Angel does not know Tess—he has society’s idealization of a virginal and pure woman in mind, and he superimposes this idealization on the physical form of Tess. Tess’s beauty is not of intrinsic worth to him—it is of worth only insofar as it symbolizes her purity, the true object of his spiritual love. When he carries Tess across the flooded road, he whispers, “Three Leahs to get one Rachel” (115). Angel is delusional; he attributes to Tess the qualities of Greek goddesses and biblical figures. Angel does not ground his relationship with physical love—he cannot love the woman of flesh and bone before him. His kisses are chaste. If Angel and Tess engage in passionate behavior on their walks in the countryside, Hardy certainly does not tell. After their marriage, Angel commits the opposite of rape—the denial of sex, a principal determinant of happiness in any marriage. When Tess attempts to kiss Angel as he leaves the D’Urberville mansion for work, Angel brushes her off, and “Tess shrank into herself as if she had been struck” (194). The unhappiness caused by Angel’s abstinence is seen. Had Angel loved Tess physically, even though this love would have been crude by the standards of society, their relationship would likely have survived, for mutual lust would have kept them together. With the salve of time, Angel would have seen past her affair with Alec and have regained his spiritual love for her. This reconciliation would then not have been postponed to the end of the book, when it was too late. But because Angel is as blinded toward physical love as Alec was toward spiritual love, the two males both doom Tess to physical and spiritual obliteration.Tess of the D’Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy is essentially the story of the struggle between the natural desire for sexual fulfillment and the social mandate of sexual repression. This conflict makes a victim out of Tess, for she cannot obey both her natural instinct and social upbringing. In a sense, Victorian society strove to build a dam to keep in the reservoir of primal human desire. Through his penultimate novel, Hardy shows that when the dam is pierced, it unleashes its flood of repressed unhappiness.
In Thomas Hardy’s novel, Tess of the D’Urbervilles, the reader is introduced to a character named Tess who comes to be known as a “Child of Nature” (Amazon.co.uk). The British author’s novel flourishes with the use of natural imagery. Hardy uses natural imagery to mimic Tess’s current situation and evoke an emotional response in the reader. Hardy’s utilization of natural imagery is apparent in the similarities between Tess Durbeyfield and Marlott, the affects Tantridge has on her persona, the contrast between Talbothays Dairy and Flintcomb-Ash, the use of seasons to affect the mood, and the conflict between the city and the country.”The village of Marlott lay amid the north-eastern undulations of the beautiful Vale of Blakemore…an engirdled and secluded region…this fertile and sheltered tract of country, in which the fields are never brown and the springs never dry…(12).” This description of Marlott notes that Marlott is a “sheltered” region, which does not have to face the peril of the world. Much like Marlott, Tess has been living a “sheltered” existence. Tess is a “simple…fresh…picturesque country girl…(15-16)” who has no clue what awaits her. Because of her simple and sheltered life, Tess has become gullible and easily manipulated “just as the earth can often be victim to the people who inhabit it (Patel, Tanvi).” Manipulated by her parents to claim kinship, Tess travels to Tantridge where her personality begins to change with the environment around her.Upon her arrival in Tantridge, Tess is faced with Alec D’Urbervilles’ relentless pursuit. Alec D’Urberville is an arrogant teenager who on more than one occasion tries to take advantage of Tess. Because of Alec’s demeanor, Tess is forced to become less gullible and more acute to her environment, just as the law of nature requires any inhabitant to be equally decisive in their habitat. It is at night, when Tess is walking home through the forest, that Alec persuades her to let him carry her home. After a long period of time, Alec leads Tess into a thick patch of fog and Tess learns that Alec has not been taking her towards the house and quickly dismounts declaring she’ll find her own way. Tess finds herself drowsy and makes a bed for herself on the ground. This is the location where Alec rapes Tess, leaving her pregnant and changing her life forever.Thomas Hardy also uses the locations where Tess finds work to vividly express his use of natural imagery. Tess, seeking employment and trying to start a new life, makes her way to Talbothays. At Talbothays Tess senses a rejuvenated spirit of hope for her life ahead. “It was unexpanded youth, surging up anew after its temporary check, and bringing with it hope, and the invincible instinct towards self-delight (100).” Talbothays is a peaceful place where Tess quickly makes friends and performs light work. The environment of Talbothays is serene, calm, and refreshing, much like Tess is currently feeling. Tess’s job at the dairy is milking cows, stirring the milk to keep it fresh, and various other light labor jobs; this illustrates that things are starting to look better for her. This life-style and these jobs are the direct opposite of the ones she encounters while working at Flintcomb-Ash. Flintcomb-Ash was a “starve-acre place,” as Tess’s inner being is just as hard and hurt there (284). “The sky wore, in another colour, the same likeness; a white vacuity of countenance with the lineaments gone (285).” At Flintcomb-Ash Tess is forced to work “hour after hour, unconscious of the forlorn aspect they bore in the landscape (285).” Tess is forced to labor in the heat of the day and on man driven machines, jobs that take their toll on her tired body. This fierce work and environment parallels with the rough relationship between Tess and her estranged husband. Flintcomb-Ash is a place for lost souls to go as a last resort and at this point it is Tess’s last resort. She chooses to bear the rough climate and rugged terrain as she chooses to continue her own rough and rugged marriage.”Hardy’s belief in the constant movement of human feeling between pain and pleasure is also reflected in the seasonal nature of life (Barron’s).” In this novel the readers notice how the characters’ emotions and fortunes are reflected by the seasons in which they take place. Tess of the D’Urbervilles begins in May, “a hopeful time when life renews (Brooklyn).” Marlott is in celebration of springtime as everything is blossoming and hopes are high for the summer months to come. At the May Day celebration readers are introduced to a pure and happy-go-lucky Tess, who appears to have no care in the world. Tess falls in love with Angel Clare, the son of a minister who is studying at Talbothays Dairy. Their love begins to blossom in the late spring and throughout summer just as the plants are fertile and ripening. Tess is raped and loses her baby in September when “nature is slowly dying and decaying (Patel, Tanvi).” In the middle of winter Tess marries Angel, thereby foreshadowing the eventual death of their marriage. Just as all the leaves have fallen from the trees and seemingly all that has life has died, so does Tess’s marriage in four short days. Also during the winter months, Tess works at Flintcomb-Ash, where not only is her faithfulness to her husband tried but also her physical body is tested in the harsh environment. Tess’s life is more than coincidentally related to nature. Just as the novel has seven phases representing Tess’s life, the moon has seven phases in its cycle (McKay, Lucy).Another argument throughout Tess of the D’Urbervilles is the conflict between the city and the country. Once Tess has been established as a “Child of Nature” she is altered by urbanity and “industrial forces have their effect on Tess’s life (Patel, Tanvi).” The first key attribute of the urbanization of Tess’s character is her own parents. Tess’s parents took pride in their agrarian lifestyles and made a living by farming. Once the industrial movement hits, Tess’s parents are affected financially and mentally. After John Durbeyfield’s death the family was evicted from the property to make room for the industrial movement (Patel, Tanvi). The second key attribute of the urbanization of Tess’s character is her introduction to Alec D’Urberville. “The manner in which he goes about manipulating Tess is as unsuspecting and savage as the transformation between rural to urban (Patel, Tanvi).” In the darkness and dense fog of the Chase, Alec rapes Tess and steals her purity and innocence. The third key attribute of the urbanization of Tess’s character is her relationship with Angel Clare. Angel is considered a hypocrite by most readers and is highly criticized for being so double-dealing. Angel punishes Tess for being impure when he himself has willingly become impure. “Although he tries to become part of the rural world, his upbringing forces him to side with the notions of industry (Patel, Tanvi).”Tess of the D’Urbervilles is a novel loaded with natural imagery. From Tess’s younger days in Marlott to her days at Flintcomb-Ash, the reader can see how her personality correlates with nature and her surrounding environments. Tess proved to the reader that she would never be anything more than a “Child of Nature” who could not seem to escape her destiny. Like the moon that has to wait for the seven phases to end to begin anew, Tess is forced to follow the seven phases of her life before she too can begin anew. Tess never said that she wanted the life she was given, but she found the strength to go on hoping that nature would show her favor tomorrow. Just as the more powerful and more popular industrial movement overran the agricultural lifestyle, so did the forces of nature around Tess’s relationships, emotions, and body overrun her. The reader is left wondering, what if Tess had never accidentally killed the family’s horse? What if she had never met Alec D’Urberville? Would everything have turned out like a fairytale romance? Could she have escaped her destiny? These are the questions readers are left to contemplate and never find the answers to. “‘Justice’ was done, and the President of the Immortals had ended his sport with Tess. And the D’Urberville knights slept on in their tombs unknowing (395-396).”Works Cited”Flintcomb-Ash: Nature and Flintcomb-Ash.” Brooklyn College. 19 Aug. 2003.http://academic.brooklyn.cuny.edu/english/melani/novel_19c/hardy/flint.htmlHardy, Thomas. Tess of the D’Urbervilles. London: Penguin Group, 1998.Patel, Tanvi. “Tess of the D’Urbervilles: Destruction of Flowers” 5 Aug. 2001. Boloji. 20 Aug. 2003.http://www.boloji.com/literature/00102.htmMcKay, Lucy. Tess of the D’Urbervilles Message Board. 26 June 2003. Sparknotes.com. 25 Aug. 2003.http://mb.sparknotes.com/mb.epl?b3D567&m3D627998&c3D1&t3D18717″Tess Of The D’Urbervilles .”Amazon.co.uk. 19 Aug. 2003.http://www.amazon.co.uk/exec/obidos/ASIN/B00004CY4W/ref3Dpd_ecs_v_h__b_a/”Tess of the D’Urbervilles: A Portrait of Nature.” Barron’s Booknotes. PinkMonkey.com. 19 Aug. 2003. http://www.pinkmonkey.com/booknotes/barrons/tessurb2.asp
Thomas Hardy’s Tess portrays a central character who is at the mercy of both circumstance and fate. Tess, by Victorian definition, is a fallen woman and, as such, not accountable for her own fate. Numerous critics — Rosemary Morgan, Norman Page, and Terrence Wright among others — have argued that Tess is to be forgiven or, at the very least, exonerated for her weaknesses, as she is an unfortunate “victim” of nature. As Tess is sexually vital and naive, she is almost expected, at least according to the beliefs of Victorian culture, to be a victim. All such statements stem from the Victorian double-standard, an unfortunate belief and practice relating to the inequality found in relationships of men and women. To understand the Victorian double standard is to understand entirely the power and purpose of Hardy’s Tess and its protagonist of the same name: “There is no denunciation, in his entire oeuvre, as unequivocal as his denunciation of the sexual double-standard in Tess” (Morgan 84). If Hardy’s Tess is the story of a woman whose “violation by one man and the betrayal of another” (Kramer 149) ultimately kills her, then her tragic demise is entirely the result of the persistent and prevalent double standard found in the Victorian Era. Hardy’s Tess examines the Victorian double standard, condemns a society that could and would not accept Tess’s sexuality, and reveals the tragic consequences of such societal inequalities.Hardy’s greatest achievement in writing Tess, “a novel in which the accidental is perhaps more preponderant than in any other Hardy” (Van Ghent qtd. in Guerard), stems from his bold decision to create a female character who, by her very nature and existence calls into question the Victorian double standard toward women. And, in many ways, the character of Tess represents the many different kinds of women that Victorian authors (but most notably Hardy) were exploring in fiction: “Tess brings together for the first time the ‘types of women’… the woman compromised and doomed by her own sexuality, either as victim or femme fatale and the young woman poised at the moment of marriageability” (Boumelha 117). In addition, Tess has an education, economic foundation, and D’Urberville heritage. Thus, she represents a cross-section of the social and economic landscape of the Victorian Age. Owing to his previous successes as an author, Hardy was able to introduce such a character in ‘the context of an increasing questioning, both in fiction and in public discussion, of sex roles and of the double standard” (Boumelha 119). Tess was criticized as simply a “moral argument” on the part of Hardy, a charge that was undoubtedly intensified by his suggestion that Tess include the subtitle, “A Pure Woman” (Boumelha 119). Regardless of Hardy’s intentions however, his work struck a chord in an age known for its stifling customs and practices.Hardy’s text possessed an undeniable urge to condemn and destroy a flawed societal and cultural hierarchy, one in which women suffered immensely. Because of this social and cultural backdrop in which Hardy wrote, the purpose and theme of Tess is all the more powerful and provocative. Hardy must have wondered what exactly the reaction to his work would be. Would Victorian readers ultimately view Tess as the story of a woman who “does not have the moral strength to make the choice she knows she ought” (Wright 12) and is doomed to fall? Or, would Victorian readers see Tess as the tale of a woman and her sexuality, both broken and killed by the overwhelming and undeniable force that “exemplifies the ‘double standard’ that operated so widely in Victorian society and literature” (Williams 148)? Unquestionably, Hardy’s work suggests the latter as textual and scholarly evidence support such an assumption.Much is known about the Victorian culture, particularly its treatment of women and views on sexuality. Consistent throughout the culture is a persistent view that women are second-class citizens, citizens whose “dress, speech, and deportment were monitored and corrected (Green 8). Victorian society’s views on women prominently denote “the polarization of women into the chaste and the depraved, the virgin and the whore” (Boumelha 13). Housewives and younger women were expected to be virgins and innocent, all the while prostitution flourished in the era. What women were being asked to do in the home – essentially the role of a live-in servant who yielded to the husband’s sexual requests and to produce and care for children – and what they were being forced into doing at the numerous brothels (particularly in the 1880s) served as polar opposites in the era. Yet, due to the double standard so powerfully and potent wielded by men of the era, this discrepancy was allowed to exist. In One Rare Fair Woman: Thomas Hardy’s Letters to Florence Henniker, Hardy wrote of the double standard and era in which he lived:It was a morality which fostered prurience and hypocrisy. From the stronghold of the chaste, monogamous family it enabled the individual to fulminate against all vicious living while clandestinely he sowed his wild oats. It encouraged wives to become sexual ninnies while their husbands contracted venereal disease. It hounded “fallen” women to become whores in the name of God. (qtd. in Boumelha 11)It is such a framework that Hardy wrote Tess. Of course, Hardy’s repugnance of and reaction to the era was not his alone; others joined in the debate questioning the hypocrisy inherent in Victorian culture. Political discussion in the 1880s and 1890s included the “Matrimonial Causes Act and the subsequent detailed reporting of divorce cases, the Campaign for the Repeal of the Contagious Diseases Act, and the issue of child prostitution” (Boumelha 12). Reaction to the double standard spurred discussion and dialogue about female sexuality. This presented Hardy with an opportunity, one in which he could experiment with a female protagonist set in the Victorian world. Hardy’s “own knowledge about the exploitation of village girls” (Williams 29) intensified his desire to write Tess and to project, in no uncertain terms, the sexuality of its protagonist. Hardy’s bold and passionate text consistently assaulted the Victorian double standard much in the same way the double standard assaulted her. Ultimately, Victorian conventions about gender and sexuality destroyed Tess, a tragic conclusion that leaves little doubt as to the nature of Hardy’s views on his society.Perhaps one of the most striking features about Hardy’s Tess is the sexual vitality emanating from the character Tess. Hardy presents the reader with not only a beautiful woman but one that has a mind and spirit as well. This depiction certainly went against conventional Victorian thinking about women:What Hardy denounces, in his creation of Tess, is the popular belief handed down to us today in the form of the ‘dumb blonde’ that a voluptuous woman, a sexy woman is intellectually vapid or morally ‘loose,’ or as many Victorians believed, diseased in body and mind… Tess expresses a fully developed sexual nature as sensitive to the needs of her impassioned lover as to her own autoerotic powers and desires. (Morgan 85)Hardy chronicles in Tess the breakdown, at the hands of Victorian society and convention, of female sexuality. The beauty of Tess is no match for the sexually predatory nature of men that was allowed and even fostered in Victorian culture. In Tess’s fist sexual encounter, her beauty is to be had by Alec, apparently in his estimation by any means possible. Sadly, the sexual conquest of Tess is fueled by the power afforded to males (not surprisingly depraved and despicable men were as welcome to “the club” as decent and honest ones were) of the era. Another step in the spiritual and physical breakdown of Tess is her relationship with Angel Clare. While peaceful and, in many ways, idyllic at first, the relationship buckles under the first strain. While Tess is hesitant to admit her prior relationship (if it can be called as such) with Alec, she eventually does, in hopes it will bring her closer to Angel and to this new relationship. Her admission – an admission of sexuality and experience – shatters the peace and tranquility of their relationship. Of course, Angel Clare also has a sexual history and, while he admits it as such, is adamant that it is Tess’s sexual history and not his own that will prevent them from ever being together. Altogether the moment is entirely indicative of the Victorian Age and culture; Hardy’s indictment of the destructive inequalities of his age is undeniably evident.In Hardy’s work, the double standard reared its ugly head whenever convenient and allowed those males who hid behind it blameless and causeless in all acts of immorality or indiscretion. Angel Clare saw absolutely nothing wrong in judging Tess’s sexuality and sexual history. In Victorian society his abandonment of Tess is entirely justified and expected. What Tess’s betrayal by Angel does is set off an unstoppable tragic spiraling. The murder of Alec – perhaps Tess’s reclamation of her virginity and innocence so she can bring “prized commodities” to Angel – eventually brings death to Tess.The novel’s ending is perhaps the most powerful indictment of the Victorian double standard. In contrast to the objective tone at times on display in the novel, the passionate anger of Hardy’s words boils over and envelops the novel’s final scene. Norman Page’s Thomas Hardy: The Novels examines the novel’s tragic conclusion in light of Hardy’s task and purpose.Hardy’s task is to confront his readers with something almost unbearably painful: the death by hanging, or judicial murder, of his heroine, who from any reasonable and humane point of view is herself a victim rather than a wrongdoer. Before the end of the chapter the narrator will have exchanged this objectivity [relating to Hardy’s depiction of the murder of Alec] for a very different tone, angry and ironic, and the swing from the sedate opening to the provocative and impassioned final paragraph is very powerful. (53)The reader can be left with nothing but disbelief and anger as the irony of the novel’s final lines impart the words “justice was done.” Perhaps, if it is at all possible to amplify the sense of injustice at the novel’s conclusion, Hardy allows the reader to imagine what the lasting impact of Tess’s death will be: “The two speechless gazers [Angel and Liza-Lu] bent themselves down to the earth, as if in prayer, and remained thus a long time, absolutely motionless: the flag continued to wave silently. As soon as they had strength they arose, joined hands again, and went on” (Tess 384). It would seem Hardy’s conclusion contradicts much of what he had accomplished (at least in terms of attacking the double standard) in Tess. Certainly there is no punishment in allowing Angel Clare to walk off with Tess’s sister, Liza-Lu. Surely no others mourn for Tess, let alone entertain the idea that Tess’s demise has been brought upon by the misuse, abuse, or defilement of her sexuality. Perhaps, however, Hardy’s conclusion is indicative of how deep and pervasive he felt the double standard truly was. Tess is executed and clearly justice has not been served.Even the tragic death of Tess, Hardy would seem to suggest, is not enough to change the ugliness of the inequalities that comfortably settled into Victorian life. Seemingly, in a description of the prison where Tess is hanged, Hardy’s captures the essence of the Victorian double standard: “Yet it was with this blot, and not with the beauty that the two gazers were concerned” (Tess 384). While the description is implicitly made about the view of the city taken in by Angel Clare and Liza-Lu, it could just as easily apply to the two men in Tess’s life, Alec and Angel. These two men both chose to see the “blot” (her sexuality) in Tess rather than her beauty (physically, spiritual, or otherwise). To each man, the blot they see is not anything in Tess but rather something placed on Tess by Victorian society; the hypocrisy of the age has blindly all men of the era. Rather than accepting Tess for who and what she is, each man chooses to treat her as society would have had it: unfairly and unjustly. The glare of the Victorian double standard was, sadly, too strong for either of these two men to see through. That is the tragedy of Tess.Annotated Works CitedBoumelha, Penny. Thomas Hardy and Women: Sexual Ideology and Narrative Form. New Jersey: Barnes and Noble Books, 1982. The text discusses Hardy’s major works and poetry, including Tess, in light of his portrayal of women in these works. More specifically, the text examines the progression of his treatment of female characters as well as the harsh criticism Hardy’s works received from Victorian and modern critics.Green, Laura Morgan. Educating Women. Athens, OH: Ohio University Press, 2001.An analysis of Victorian society, this work examines the relationship between the movement for education of women and the representations of women within novels found in the era. The text discusses the intersection of these two powerful trends, as they are unique to the time period.Guerard, Albert J., ed. Hardy: A collection of Critical Essays.. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall, 1963.This collection of essays examines the life and works of Thomas Hardy. Several essays discuss Hardy’s treatment of women in his works, in particular Tess.Kramer, Dale, ed. The Cambridge Companion to Thomas Hardy. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1999.A comprehensive examination of the life and works of Thomas Hardy. One chapter in particular details the radical and bold suggestions presented in Tess. The chapter discusses Tess as a response to the “ache of modernism” as well how the novel boldly challenged not only the conventions of the Victorian novel but of Victorian society itself.Mallet, Phillip, ed. The Achievement of Thomas Hardy. New York: St Martin’s Press, 2000.A collection of essays aimed at discussion of Hardy’s career as a writer and the contributions of his works as, both literary and social. Numerous references are made to Tess, all examining the work’s place in Hardy’s career and in literature itself.Morgan, Rosemary. Women and Sexuality in the Novels of Thomas Hardy. New York: Routledge, 1988.Morgan’s text discusses and analyzes the works of Hardy as well as various interpretative approaches to them. The underlying suggestion of this text is that beneath the dark surface of Hardy’s works lie significant accusations leveled at Victorian society.Page, Norman. Thomas Hardy: The Novels. New York: Palgrave, 2001.An intensive examination primarily of four of Hardy’s works, including Tess. One chapter discusses the gender dynamic found in Tess. This chapter details different aspects of male-female relationships, both in society and literature, during the Victorian Age.Sanders, Valerie. The Private Lives of Victorian Women. New York: St Martin’s Press, 1989.An examination of women’s autobiographies from the Victorian Age. The text discusses the problematic nature of such an examination and yet the far-reaching implication of doing so. No references are made specifically to Thomas Hardy, but the analysis found in the text is certainly applicable to the study of Tess.William, Merryn. Hardy. 1976. Sec. ed. New York: Longman, 1993.An introduction to the life and work of Thomas Hardy. It explores the climate in which Hardy lived as well his contributions to Victorian literature. The text offers biographical information about Hardy as a means of understanding the work Tess.Wright, Terrence. Tess of the D’Urbervilles. Atlantic Highlands, NJ:Humanities Press International, 1987.The text offers various critical approaches to Hardy’s Tess. It explores various components and elements of the novel, in particular the nature and growth of the character Tess. It explores both the novel’s strengths and weaknesses.
Some of the most readable and critically acclaimed social commentaries in the English language, such as Charles Dickens’ Tale of Two Cities and Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, employ a fascinating protagonist and numerous sarcastic intrusions. Thomas Hardy similarly produces a beautiful novel in Tess of the d’Urbervilles because of his intriguing characterization and his willingness to step into the story. While Hardy’s intrusions add to the story, his attempts to portray Tess as a completely admirable character fail; instead, she is a normal person -sometimes admirable, sometimes not- and it is due to this that she is so pitiable.Admittedly, Tess is a likable and admirable person at a few instances throughout the book. For example, when Tess realizes that Angel loves only a false image of her, she refuses to attempt to win him back even though it is in her power. As Jean Jacques Rousseau said, “Only when the voice of duty replaces physical impulse” does man find himself “ennobled” and “elevated”; Tess is a remarkably noble admirable person at this moment because most readers acknowledge that they would be unable to resist the same temptation. The “many effective chords” which she could have used to trap him were “left untouched” because Tess knew that she could never be what he wished her to be. Tess also shows her integrity frequently, and her complete lack of hypocrisy makes her ethics appear even more noble.Though Hardy constantly tries to make Tess into a perfect heroine, her many character flaws lower her from her admirable status. Tess’ need to blame everything on herself becomes increasingly annoying, as this self-blame oftentimes only hurts herself and her family. By the end of the book, her complete reliance on Angel is also frustrating; she is willing to kill herself without him though he is no better a man than she a woman. While some might argue this only shows her natural, admirable passion, Tess needs to value herself more. She is too submissive throughout, especially regarding her “crime”. Tess allows other people’s opinions of her to force her withdrawal from society rather than realizing that her being seduced is not her fault. She questions the fairness of societal laws overruling natural laws, but she never stands up for what she believes. She is incredibly irritating in Phase the Fourth of the book, when she vacillates between marrying and not marrying Angel, telling him and not telling him of her past. While this indecision may have been meant to show her inner confusion, her attempts to be better than she is are maddening.However, Tess is generally an admirable character and definitely a pitiable one. As the reader is completely exposed to Tess’ inner thoughts, he can see all of her faults. Despite her faults, however, her honest efforts to do what she feels best and her selflessness make her an undoubtedly admirable character. She is absolutely a pitiable character; knowing that Tess tries as hard as she can to do the right thing, it seems awful that she must suffer because of the people surrounding her. While her actions are partly to blame, she committed them with the best intentions, which only increases sympathy for her. Everyone knows that things like family, chance, and social law restrict our action, and we feel much pity for Tess, who tries as hard as she can but can still not escape the influences shaping her.Hardy’s intrusions provide the last cause for reader sympathy for Tess. For Tess of the d’Urbervilles, I would argue that this author commentary is necessary to a complete story. This book deals greatly with human passion, and Hardy’s ironic interruptions are needed. Tess seems very resigned to her fate, but Hardy shows the bristling anger that the average reader feels at imagining the wrongs that Tess suffers. If Hardy were to write this with uncontrolled rants or with a sterile, neutral tone, the whole effect of his compassion for Tess would disappear. This book is undoubtedly a social commentary, and as such, Hardy’s voice and opinions are welcome ways to merge the concrete with the abstract.According to Robert Heilman, Alec and Angel gain their interest from the fact that they are “not stereotypes”, but have good and bad qualities. Though Hardy tried to make Tess an ideal character, it is perhaps true of her, as well, that her faults that make her so admirable and personable. Seeing her struggle against outside forces as well as her own personality guarantees an audience full of pity. Hardy’s strong voice throughout and especially his interruptions make the book a more personal, satisfying experience.
“Although They Were Proud of Their Material Success, the Victorians were often Profoundly Uneasy about the loss of the Rural Community that Industrial Society Experienced.” From Your Reading of Tess of the D’Urbervilles and other Victorian Novels show how you have found this to Be True.Victorian Novels regularly portray Industrialisation as corrupt, dirty and unrestrained capitalism. In Tess of the D’Ubervilles Hardy does this primarily through the description and actions of the characters in a similar way to Dickens. Alec D’Uberville is part of a group of newly Rich industrialists from the north and the fact “ville” is included in his surname suggests that Alec is symbolic of all Town industrialists. Therefore Alec’s actions, such as the rape scene, where he took advantage of Tess’ “beautiful feminine tissue” suggests subtlety that industrialisation and industrialists are ravaging the country. Alec’s prominent, red bricked and obviously “new” house in the country as well as the fact he has bought rather than inherited the previously pastoral family name D’Uberville more graphically Hardy’s opinion that Alec and the industrialisation he represents has scarred and destroyed the natural agricultural land that the Victorian’s valued so dearly. Similarly, Bounderby in Hard Times, is an industrialist who’s caricatured arrogance “I, Josiah Bounderby of Coketown” and his rash “red and hot” reaction to the robbery of the bank turn us against him. He uses Louisa in a similar way to Alec, manipulating her into marriage and he is ultimately, like Alec proved to be not what he appears. Dickens’s equally cynical view of Bounderby suggests that like Hardy also viewed the Industrialisation that Bounderby and Alec represent with a sense of unease.Conversely, Hardy’s description of the life of Tess D’Uberville, the figure that ultimately we sympathise with, is described by J.R. Ebbatson as a mixture of ideas “creatively poised between images of Romantic pastoral and scientific background.” Hardy uses Tess to emphasise his revulsion of the industrial world that he has suggested through Alec’s behaviour in the novel. Tess is presented as a figure of purity in the book. She is dressed in white when we first see her, hinting at an almost angelic character and in the description of Sorrow’s baptisement Tess is “almost apotheosized” by the “ecstasy of faith” she raises her voice to “clerks pitch and the description of Tess with phrases such as “large, towering and awful a divine personage” add to the creation of a character that appears to be pure and divine. The sub title, “a pure woman” as well as words describing her in the first phase such as “angel” and “innocent” further emphasise Tess’ purity. Tess is also described in a very natural way. She is constantly surrounded by “rabbits” and “snakes” and is distraught at the death of the horse. She appears to have a natural affinity to nature and. she buries herself in the ground twice and she very sensitively breaks the necks of the injured pheasants. The fact that Tess is described in a very natural and also a very pure way encourages the reader to link the two ideas therefore giving the suggestion that nature is pure. Furthermore, the mistreatment of Tess by Alec throughout the novel and her rape by Alec (who is symbolic of the industrialists in the Victorian period) at the end of “The Maiden” gives the suggestion that Hardy thought that industrialisation of England was ruining the countryside and turning “the maiden” into the “maiden no more”. Louisa fills a similar role in Hard Times as she is portrayed as innocent and lovely through her protection of Tom. And her attitude when caught by Tomas Gradgirid at the Circus, “I wanted to see what it was like”, makes us realise that this natural and fee-spirited child is trapped by all the people around her such as Gradgrind and Bounderby who represent the Industry of Coketown. Furthermore Louisa’s insistence that Bounderby can only “take” a kiss is reminiscent of the way Alec took Tess’ virginity. Both Dickens and Hardy portray their opinion that England is being ravaged by the effects of rapid industrialisation in an allegorical way through the actions and descriptions of their ‘heroes’ and ‘villains’.In parallel to the use of characterisation in the Victorian Novels many authors reflected their views that Industrialisation was ruining the countryside through subtle imagery. Dickens’s suggests the countryside to be diseased in Bleak house through the underlying metaphor of disease. The Jarndyce case, with a name similar to Jaundice and Tom Jarndyce who is dead before the story begins. Both suggest the Victorian world is diseased by the industrialisation (as well as the legal system). Hardy describes Alec rather like a disease, “pale”, “coarse” and “lurking” and he inflicts “sorrow”, who dies on Tess. Equally Pip’s intentions to make a gentleman of himself and take a part in the industrialised world of London leaves him “pale” and “gaunt” at the end of the novel. Many of the Victorian writers viewed Industrialisation as a disease on their way of life. Something that was going to kill any traces of rural life.Alongside the infection of the countryside many authors considered industrialisation to be creating huge unhappiness in the community. The increased wealth of already wealthy landowners such as Sir James Chettam and Mr Brooke in Middlemarch and the poverty of more likeable characters such as Dagley highlights the fact that the Victorians considered the industrialisation in rural communities to be an extremely corrupting and malign problem. Bounderby’s pay offs to his mother in Hard Times supports the idea that industrialisation breeds corruption and Pip’s disappointment at his Great Expectations eloquently show the unease at the industrialisation. The fact Alec’s house sits so uncomfortably in its natural surrounding further highlights the unease the Victorians had at the industrialisation in Rural communities.Ultimately, the fact that Alec is not a completely bad character in Tess of the D’Ubervilles and appears to show genuine remorse at one point at his seduction of Tess and Tomas Gradgirnd’s change of heart at the End of Hard Times suggests that the Victorians looked at the industrialisation with a sense of optimism. However many of the novels written in the 19th century focus on the unease at the introduction of Industry into rural life rather than the optimism of industrialisation because the fears of people outweighed the bright optimism for a better more industrialised future.
Thomas Hardy, in Tess of the D’Urbervilles, takes great pains to relate the characters to their surroundings, especially in the parallelism between Tess’ emotional disposition and her physical environment. It is not surprising, therefore, that the two interpersonal relationships which are the most important to Tess’ life have their origins in a fertile garden and a lush grazing meadow, places where Man tames Nature but cannot escape being affected by Her himself. The timbre of Tess’ relationships with both Alec D’Urberville and Angel Clare is very clearly foreshadowed by the nature of the places in which both relationships were founded.The first relationship which affected Tess was that with her false kinsman, Alec D’Urberville. The rakish Alec becomes enamored of his “Coz” when she first visits the D’Urberville house in Trantridge, and within minutes of meeting her is plying her with all the fruits of the garden on the estate. When he tries to have her eat a strawberry from his hand, a lover’s act, she protests: “‘No — no!’ she said quickly, putting her fingers between his hand and her lips. ‘I would rather take it in my own hand.'” However, he insists and she acquiesces “in a slight distress.” After the first strawberry, though, she continued on “eating in a half-pleased, half-reluctant state whatever d’Urberville offered her.” He showers her with flowers, giving her roses to put in her bosom, affixing a few to her hat, and heaping them in her basket, “in the prodigality of his bounty.”Alec’s acts and Tess’ responses to them in the garden foreshadow two events later in the book. First, Alec’s seduction of Tess can be seen in the strawberry scene. Tess’ response to the inappropriate advance is rejection at first, but later she gives way and is “half-pleased” by Alec’s advances. Alec’s unholy bachelor union with Tess, although he did force himself on her by circumstance, did involve a degree of seduction, just as with the strawberry, and Hardy’s words on Tess’ situation with Alec after the night in the Chase were that she “had been stirred to confused surrender awhile.” This can be interpreted to mean that Tess stayed with him and surrendered herself to his advances for a period of a few weeks after the night in the woods. Also, Alec’s profusion of flowers foreshadows his persistent encomium of her and promises to help her family when he confronts her near the end of the book. This foreshadowing makes the scene set Alec’s garden very important to telling the reader the nature of Alec’s amorous relationship with Tess in a way marginally socially acceptable to the 19th century.The second relationship which affected Tess was that with Angel Claire. Her experience with him at Talbothays Dairy before his profession of love “amid the oozing fatness and warm ferments of the Var Vale” can be summed up in one passage in which the two were walking in the meadows just after dawn. The summer fog is the chief metaphor for Tess’ and Angel’s love. The fog is described sometimes as localized, with “dark-green islands of dry herbage” where the cows had lain down for the night and other times as “more general, and the meadows lay like a white sea, out of which he scattered trees rose like dangerous rocks.” But the fog invariably melted away in the sun, leaving “diamonds of moisture….like seed pearls” on Tess and then leaving her without the fog’s mystical quality, “the dazzlingly fair dairymaid only, who had to hold her own against the other women of the world.”This description of the vale and the fog can be read to foreshadow the nature of Tess’ romance with Angel. The fog is more ethereal than the sensuous flowers and strawberries of Alec’s garden, and so are Tess’ relations with Angel, begun so promisingly in the fertile vale, until their brief time together near the end of the book. Sometimes the fog is so thick that only the birds can fly through it, and dangers (the trees) loom. Such is Angel’s time in Brazil, when only winged prayer and letters could pass to Tess’ love. Even when the fog is less thick, only bits of green lively love can be seen. Such is the passionate, but brief love that Tess has with Angel during their courtship and before she tells him her secret. And when the fog is dissipated by the bright sun of Tess’ truth, it eventually reveals her beautiful to Angel across the sea, but by the time she came back for her, it had been dissipated, had left her but a normal woman for too long, and she had gone back to Alec as a result of necessity and his persuasion. This foreshadowing is not so obvious as that of Alec’s garden, but Angel’s love was “more Shelleyan than Byronic,” as befits an ascetic like Angel.These two passages of Tess of the D’Urbervilles, each no more than two pages long, go a long way towards intimating to the reader the nature of Tess’ relationships with her two lovers. These scenes from tamed nature, a garden and a grazing meadow, are characteristic of Hardy, who used setting throughout Tess both to foreshadow plot, as seen above, and shine light on his characters. This book, a classic in English literature, is richer for its author’s use of setting._Essay:: This essay concerns itself with Tess of the D’Urbervilles. I ask that my name not be mentioned in connection to this essay on your website, if that is possible.
In his novel Tess of the d’Ubervilles, as well as much of his poetry, Thomas Hardy expresses his dissatisfaction, weariness, and an overwhelming sense of injustice at the cruelty of our universal Fate disappointment and disillusionment. Hardy argues that the hopes and desires of Men are cruelly thwarted by a potent combination of all-powerful Nature, fate, unforeseen accidents and disasters, and tragic flaws. Although Tess, the heroine of the novel, is fully realized with physical, emotional, and mental attributes, grasping desperately to be her own master, she is nevertheless overpowered, becoming a victim of circumstance, nature, and social hypocrisy. Likewise, Hardy’s dark realities bleed into and saturate his poems.First, Hardy personifies Nature as a main character in the novel. Instead of allowing the influence of Nature to show only in weather and seasonal changes, allowing the reader to sense the plot, Hardy creates a Nature who is not the typical capricious but distant goddess. Instead, she is terrifyingly responsible for influencing and overpowering man. Hardy’s Nature is not only essential for the subsistence of the entire farming countryside, but the waxing and waning cycles – in the weather, time of day, and season, – which seem to influence the actions of the characters. Every disastrous occurrence seems preordained by the mood of Nature. Before Prince, the Durbeyfield horse, is killed, Tess’ brother wonders at “The strange shapes assumed by the various dark objects against the sky; of this tree that looked like a raging tiger springing from a lair; of that which resembled a giant’s head” (p. 24). While Abraham wonders at these ominous and disquieting shapes, Tess herself becomes intensely aware “The occasional heave of the wind became the sigh of some immense sad soul, coterminous with the universe in space, and with history in time” (p. 26). The sigh of this divine, timeless soul reinforces the idea that a sad life is preordained; even less can we carry out our free will.Nature revolves in seasonal cycles of rebirth and death; therefore the action and moods of Tess flow from hope into despair. Summer, with its heat and abundance, causes a tide of fertilization not only in Nature, but in the farmworkers. Everyone is swept along: “Amid the oozing fatness and warm ferments of the Var Vale, at a season when the rush of juices could almost be heard below the hiss of fertilization, it was impossible that the most fanciful love should not grow passionate. The ready bosoms existing there were impregnated by there surroundings” (p. 146). Likewise, the love between Tess and Angel becomes passionate and sultry. Her morals of staying away from men are thrown by the wayside, illustrating the fact that Nature does not follow any moral or societal law. “Every seesaw of her breath, every wave of her blood, every pulse singing in her ears, was a voice that joined with nature in revolt against her scrupulousness” (p. 175). Tess, try as she might, is swept along in the rush of summer. In the same way, Hardy places a poem of lost love and bitter lesson in the icy “Neutral Tones” of winter. “We stood by a pond that winter day / And the sun was white, as though chidden of God, / And a few leaves lay on the starving sod; / – They had fallen from an ash, and were gray.” The imagery of nature is brutal, like death. The seasonal death coincides with a spiritual and moral death. The speaker learns “keen lessons that love deceives,” calling the sun “God-curst” in his bitterness.Nature’s arbitrary power, which does not respect moral or ethical justice, is also condemned. The other farm girls, who yearn after Angel, are caught in the tide of summer as well. “The air of the sleeping-chamber seemed to palpitate with the hopeless passion of the girls. They writhed feverishly under the oppressiveness of an emotion thrust on them by cruel Nature’s law an emotion which they had neither expected nor desired” (p. 144). Hardy goes on to call this relentless, inexorable force of Nature torture. But not only is Nature cruel and tortuous, it is “shameless”, uncaring of the destruction havoc left in its wake. When Tess’ baby suddenly takes ill and dies, Hardy provides the reader with a rare commentary: “So passed away Sorrow the Undesired that intrusive creature, that bastard gift of shameless Nature who respects not the social law; a waif to whom eternal Time had been a matter of days merely..” (p. 94). Nature takes even the lives of the most innocent and unstained. Upon reflection of the weariness of life, he writes that perhaps Sorrow’s death is for the best. Life is a “battle” that squelches the hopes and dreams we build for ourselves.Furthermore, Hardy senses the repetitive, neverending cycles of Time, a component of nature. Tess says, “I am one of a long row only finding out that there is set down in some old book somebody just like me, and to know that I shall only act her part; making me sad, that’s all. The best is not to remember that your nature and your past doings have been just like thousands’ and thousands’, and that your coming life and doings’ll be like thousands’ and thousands'” (p. 125) Hardy expresses despair and resignment at the idea, using strange coincidences and parallels in his novel to illustrate the reoccurrence of all happenings. For example, long ago, the Stoke d’Ubervilles came from barbarians that raided and mastered the true and noble d’Ubervilles, now reduced to simple Durbeyfields. In the same way, now Alec d’Uberville, described as having “barbaric” features, quickly gives Tess “the kiss of mastery.” Years later, when they reunite, Alec exclaims, “Remember, my lady, I was your master once! I will be your master again!” (p. 326). Even more chilling are the hints that Tess is preordained to be a murderess. Early in the story, when Prince dies, “Her [Tess’] face was dry and pale, as though she regarded herself in the light of a murderess” (p. 29). Throughout, we read allusions to the legend of the d’Uberville coach, where the woman kills her captor.Hardy has a strong sense of the accidental, the coincidental catastrophe, and the too late. The mainstay of their agricultural existence, the Durbeyfield horse Prince is killed before Tess’ metting with Alec d’Uberville. Tess’ fellow milkmaids commit suicide or become alcoholic after Tess’ marriage to Angel. Tess rushes home at news that her mother is ill, but her father suddenly dies, leaving the family penniless. Angel returns too late.(The list is endless) The lethal combinations of such events lead to a downward spiral into catastrophe. In his poem “Hap,” Hardy states that if he knew a god’s profit was his suffering, he would at least have reasons to decline, disclaiming, “But not so. How arrives it joy lies slain, / And why unblooms the best hope every sown?/ – Crass Casualty obstructs the sun and rain, and dicing Time for gladness casts a moan/ These purblind Doomsters had as readily strown / Blisses about my pilgrimage as pain.”Hardy feels so strongly that life is doomed that he urges death rather than life. Tess consistently wishes for death and thinks of suicide. “there was yet another date that of her own death, when all these charms would have disappeared; a day which lay sly and unseen among all the other days of the year, giving no sign or sound when she annually passed over it but not the less surely there. When was it?” (p. 97) But more often than not, the thought of death is active rather than passive. After being forsaken by Angel she wishes death would come now: “I wish it were now.” (p. 273), and seriously contemplates hanging herself after Angel’s rejection. In his poem, “To an Unborn Pauper Child ” Hardy tells the child, “Breathe not, hid Heart: cease silently, / And though thy birth-hour beckons thee, / Sleep the long sleep (that sounds like Hamlet, doesn’t it?) / The Doomsters heap / Travails and teems around us here, and Time-wraiths turn our songsingings to fear.” The peace of sleep definitely outweighs the pleasures of life, few and far between. Hardy refers to Nature, Time, and Fate in original and dark ways: Doomsters, Wraiths, even Sportsmen (in another poem), illustrating the casual ways in which they control our lives.Hardy expands the blame, however, to humans. Tess, however godlike in form and conscience, does have her “tragic flaw” of passionate impulse, which contributes to her doom. Tess is portrayed as impulsive and indecisive at times a “vessel of emotion”, which Hardy attributes to “the slight incautiousness of character inherited from her race” (p. 89). In her courtship with Alec d’Uberville, Tess is angry at his advances “sometimes,” pleased “sometimes.” There is at least a temporary and partial acquiescence: “Tess eating in a half-pleased, half-reluctant state whatever d’Uberville offered her” (p. 36). This indecision and vacillation prolongs the relationship needlessly. Furthermore, there is the same duality in the way Tess treats her baby, varying between a “gloomy indifference that was almost dislike” and a “strangely combined passionateness with contempt.” Tess prolongs setting the marriage date, unable to stem off the relationship, yet racked with guilt about the episode with Alec. In “Tess’ Lament,” Tess says, “And it was I who did it all, who dod it all; Twas I who made the blow to fall.”It is this inner conflict the conscience urging her to confess her past to Angel and her simultaneous fear of rejection that leads to their separation. In two incidences, Tess has ample opportunity to tell Angel, but can’t. Her first excuse is lame. “Driven to subterfuge, she stammered “Your father is a parson, and your mother wouldn’ like you to marry such as me. She will want you to marry a lady” (p. 168). The second excuse reveals her d’Uberville heritage, but nothing else. “She had not told. At the last moment her courage had failed her, she feared his blame for not telling him sooner; and her instinct for self-preservation was stronger than her candour” (p. 186). She lies once and it is enough. When Tess writes Angel a confessional letter, circumstances prevent him from getting it, but she knows that there is still time to tell him. She makes it easy for herself by catching him at a moment when he naturally urges putting confession off. Tess understandably fails to tell Angel; it is agonizingly difficult choice to make; but it will result in misery and violence. Hardy sympathizes in his poem “The Coquette, and After” with “Of sinners two At last one pays the penalty The woman women always do!”In true Hamlet form, Hardy brings up another question of illusion vs reality. Not only are the characters affected by the outer world, their own hopes, dreams, and ideas lead to misjudgement and misunderstanding. Tess increases her own suffering by elevating Angel to the realm of a god. “She loved him so passionately, and he was so godlike in her eyes; and being, though untrained, instinctively refined, her nature cried for his tutelary guidance (p. 178). Indeed, Angel’s tragic flaw is his hypocrisy, yet Tess doesn’t look at all the facts. “He was all that goodness could be knew all tht a guide, philosopher, and friend should know. She thought every line in the contour of his person the perfection of masculine beauty, his soul the soul of a saint, his intellect that of a seeras if she saw something immortal before her” (p. 189) Likewise, Angel’s love is not as emotionally passionate as it is spiritual (his name), calling Tess Artemis and Demeter. “[Angel] could love desperately, but with a love more especially inclined to the imaginative and ethereal.” Angel falls in love with the thought of Tess, but does not love her as an entire person.Hardy is anti-modern, and though Nature is cruel, it provokes our emotions, unlike the deadening influence of machines. The machines in the field are described as dehumanizing, with powerful imagery of hell. “The isolation of his manner and colour lent him [the engineman] the appearance of a creature from Tophet (hell)he served fire and smokein the service of his Plutonic master.” (p. 319). The machines drain life, deaden the emotions, and isolate people from each other, unlike Nature, which can certainly be termed vibrant and ever-changing. Hardy, furthermore, uses irony to describe “the process, humorously designated by statisticians as “the tendency of the rural population towards the large towns,” being really the tendency of water to flow uphill when forced by machinery” (p. 346). In The Milkmaid, Hardy uses the train as the symbol of industrialism. “Is it that passing train, / Whose alien whirr offends her country ear?trains shriek till ears were torn.” But in “The Mother Mourns” Hardy personifies Mother Nature, asking why she gave power to Man to pursue his own demented creations. “Why loosened I olden control here / To mechanize skywardshe holds as inept his own soul-shell – / My deftest achievement – / Contemns me for fitful inventions / Ill-timed and inane”Both Angel and Alec have “feelings which might almost have been called those of the age the ache of modernism advanced ideas are really in great part but the latest fashion in definition a more accurate expression, by words ending in logy and ism, of sensations which men and women have vaguely grasped for centuries” (p. 123). This “ache of modernism” splits Angel’s reason from his emotions and accounts for his hypocrisy. Angel himself feels that he his free of social barriers and foolishness “He spent years and years in desultory studies, undertakings, and meditations; he began to evince considerable indifference to social forms and observances. The material distinctions of rank and wealth he increasingly despised” (p. 115) And yet, after Tess forgives him of the same crime, he cries out with revulsion, “O Tess, forgiveness does not apply to the case! You were one person; now you are another. My God- how can forgiveness meet such a grotesque-prestidigitation as that!” (p. 224) Suddenly, his mind blocks off his emotions (for in fact, he still loves Tess) and represses them until too late. “there lay hidden a hard logical deposit, like a vein of metal in a soft loamit had blocked his acceptance of the Church; it blocked his acceptance of Tess (p. 237). “With all his attempted independence of judgement this advance and well-meaning young man, a sample product of the last five-and-twenty years, was yet the slave to custom nd convetionality when surprised back into his early teachings in considering what Tess was not, he overlooked what she was, and forgot that the defective can be more than the entire” (p. 261).Conventional religion, Hardy argues, is not the key to salvation. Alec rejects the shallow fire and brimstone method, while Angel rejects the rigid institutional religion of his family, forcing one to automatic judgements and hypocrisy. Tess herself, although brought up religiously, does not believe in God. Hardy says ironically “If before going to the d’Ubervilles’ she had vigorously moved under the guidance of sundry gnomic texts and phrases known to her and to the world in general, no doubt she would never have been imposed on.She and how many more might have ironically said to God with Saint Augustine: “Thou hast counselled a better course than Thou hast permitted”(p. 96). Alec refuses to take responsibility for his actions when he feels that everything goes wrong. “How could I go on with the thing when I had lost my faith in it?I am not going to feel responsible for my deeds and passions if there’s nobody to be responsible to” (p. 323)In Tess of the d’Ubervilles and his poems, Hardy takes a tragic, searing stance on life that urges one towards bitterness and a feeling of impotence. Every instance of Hope and well-being is followed by disaster, through potent and devilish twists of accident, coincidence, seasonal weather, conventional social attitudes, one’s own nature, and other circumstances. All these factors beyond our control impart a dark cloud of inescapable doom. His poem “To Life” says it best. “O life with the sad seared face, I weary of seeing thee, And thy draggled cloak, and thy hobbling pace, and thy too-forced pleasantry!”
In Thomas Hardy’s tendentious Victorian novel, Tess of the D’Urbervilles, Hardy uses a format akin to that of a tragic hero to critique the double standards of Victorian society. His heroine, Tess, challenges Victorian standards by maintaining her innate purity and refusing to be defined by society even after committing acts that ought to both taint and define her. Unlike a tragic hero, Tess’ downfall is not due to a flaw in her character but rather in society’s ability to perceive her character.Tess embodies nigh on every characteristic that the ideal Victorian woman ought to be; that is: modest, selfless, loyal, dutiful, pure and beautiful. These traits are exemplified throughout the novel. Tess’ beauty is unquestioned; being referenced as her “trump card”. Her selflessness and duty are exemplified in her compliance with her parent’s wishes to “claim kin”, despite not knowing “what good will come of it”. Tess is also cautious to pursue her “love” of Angel out of modesty but, once married to him, is loyal even after acknowledging that he has “punished” her unfairly. On a characteristic level, Tess is “pure”, “kind” and exemplifies the model Victorian maiden. Despite this, Tess is “doomed” and on her “beautiful feminine tissue” is “traced a coarse pattern”. This challenges the idea of conventional heroinism as, despite fulfilling the abstract ideal, Tess is condemned and ultimately “the woman pays”.
Throughout the novel, various members of society attempt to classify and reduce Tess’ complexity. Alec refers to Tess as “temptress” and a “mere chit”, whereas Angel deems her a “goddess”. She is also referred to as “simple”, a “peasant” and her capacity for complexity and independent thought is dismissed by Alec as her “mind [being] enslaved to [Angel’s]”. These assertions aim to define Tess based either on her actions, her situation or whom the men in her life wish her to be, as was customary for women of the time to comply with. Tess subverts this idea by demanding to be acknowledged as an individual. She beseeches Angel to “call [her] Tess” and challenges her classification as a “peasant” by being a “peasant by position but not by nature”. Tess uses her quiet strength to consistently assert her independence which acts as a quiet yet powerful protest to the conventions of the time.
However, it is not only other characters but also society’s perception of Tess’ own actions that attempt to challenge her purity and identity. After being raped by Alec D’Urberville, and thus falling pregnant, she challenges both her and her illegitimate child’s right to dignity by questioning the “liturgical reasons” that prohibit her child from being baptised. This action is a direct challenge to the Victorian society to acknowledge her as a human being over and above her circumstances. Tess again challenges the impact of her actions on her status by accusing Angel of being “unjust” in his treatment of her despite her premarital affairs – to be conventionally warranting disgrace – and finally in murdering Alec “for [Angel]” as Tess feels justified in the action. Tess’ rape, infidelity (for the sake of her family) and, ultimately, her murder of Alec, ought to condemn Tess and yet she refuses to ignore the injustices dealt her despite accepting her execution. Tess does not allow her actions to define her character even after Angel insists “you were one woman, now you are another”.
Although Tess chooses not to be defined by her actions she is ultimately punished for them. It is here that Hardy challenges the idea of a tragic hero as it is not Tess’ character that leads to her downfall but rather society’s perception of it. Tess’ illegitimate child taints her ability to be a “truly Christian wife” and is the result of an action for which Angel claims “forgiveness does not apply”. These standards are born out of Angel being a “slave to custom and conventionality” and not by Tess’ own fault. Despite this, both Angel and society’s condemnation of Tess forces her into a place of fear and shame. As a result, Tess is forced to work long hours in cold weather at Flintcombe Ash to support her family and is frequently harassed by Alec who, too, is obsessed with making Tess a “moral woman”. The fact that “outside of humanity [Tess] had no present fear” only emphasises that it was society that caused her downfall. In the words of King Lear, Tess is more “sinned against than sinning” and is ultimately executed for her murder of Alec.
Tess’ personality ought to qualify her to be the perfect Victorian woman and yet she is condemned in the eyes of society and “doomed” to a life of hardship. This dichotomy is an unconventional take on a traditional Victorian heroine and is, consequently, a powerful tool in critiquing the standards of feminine perfection at the time.
Both Thomas Hardy’s tragic novel Tess of the D’Urbervilles, set in impecunious rural England, and Emily Bronte’s gothic novel Wuthering Heights, established at two adjacent houses in the Yorkshire moors, question whether the imperfect male constructs stem from the gender separatism prominent in the contemporary society or from an inflexible class structure. Thus, these novels raise controversy around the portrayal of their female protagonists. The texts were published in the 1800’s, and describe a generation where women had few choices and many obligations – a main concern of both Hardy and Bronte, who were anxious to express their thoughts on the social conventions and propriety at the time. The demise of the female protagonist within both novels involves their relationships with males. In Wuthering Heights, Bronte establishes clear contrasts between the two genders and appears to favor masculinity over femininity while depicting women as indecisive and unstable characters. Similarly, Hardy stresses the dominance of men in all aspects of society through their power and strength (both physical and mental). However, it is the morality of Tess, an exploited female, victim which is championed. Rather than condemning her for not conforming to social norms, Hardy celebrates her individuality and moral purity. This morality is all the more admirable given the social disadvantages that being born into a poor rural working class family places upon her.
Following the Romantic Movement, Bronte re-examined the position of women in society; she presents a world in which men control the personal and social outcomes of women within a social framework. Her exploration of gender roles in Wuthering Heights identifies the archetype of the ‘unreclaimed creature’ in the unequal Victorian society: the man. Edgar does not allow Cathy to leave Thrushcross Grange, which restricts her intuitive character. This drives her desire to defy her expected obedience, leading her to run away to Wuthering Heights while there she is suppressed by the ‘fierce, pitiless, wolfish’ Heathcliff, who brings her under a superior patriarchal dynamism as he cunningly uses Linton’s illness to put Cathy in the box that is her gender stereotype. Though his animal energy and passion are admired, he is certainly morally condemned as he ‘possessed of something diabolical,’ represented when Nelly describes him as a ‘bird of bad omen’ and ‘knave’ and by Joseph as an ‘evil beast.’ In a way then, Cathy’s fate is both determined by the constraining oppression of her class seen in Linton’s demands, and by the domination of the powerfully male Heathcliff.
Much like Bronte, Hardy uses society which plays a vital role in men’s actions as we see embodied in Angel the inequalities of British society so that his perception of females changes when he travels to Brazil – a land that rejects ideals and encourages diversity. “He had mentally aged a dozen years” as he learns to amend his previous judgements of Tess’ faults. Angel is a loving man constrained by the staid attitudes and assumptions of his family and social background. It is only when he leaves this environment that he is able to perceive the pettiness and prejudicial hypocrisy of his (and his community’s) attitudes, allowing him to realize that “the beauty or ugliness of a character lay not only in its achievements, but in its aims and impulses; its true history lay, not among things done, but among things willed.” Hardy both uses Angel to emphasize that in a corrupt bigoted society, innocent women suffer both at the hands of ruthless selfish men (Alec) but also tragically suffer at the hands of those who are essentially good but also trapped by their social prejudices (Angel). Angel becomes a “slave to custom and conventionality,” but returning from Brazil opens his eyes as he begs for forgiveness: “Tess! Can you forgive me for going away?” Brazil, in the late 1800’s, was far more advanced in its treatment of women – “[…] there can be no doubt that there was less discrimination against women in education than in most countries of the world at the time”
Wuthering Heights is structured through flashbacks in the form of a dual narration by Lockwood and Nelly Dean. This creates contradictory narrative perspectives, which intrigue the reader and aid the understanding of the plot. Allowing Lockwood and Nelly Dean to interact and lodge with the characters at Wuthering Heights and The Grange automatically creates a sense of obscurity as to their bias in the novel. “Who knows but your father was Emperor of China, and your mother an Indian queen […]” Nelly’s narration is compelling yet highly erratic as she speaks as if she is gossiping with a friend. The unreliability of the narrator shapes our view of Cathy’s “imprisonment” by men because Nelly’s hyperbolic opinion at some points of the novel suggests that men exaggerate their position and authority in society. Unfortunately, because of the law in the 19th century, men were able to dictate everything; even if their decisions were unbecoming there would be no objection raised against them: “In the legal realm women were decidedly dependent, subservient, and unequal.” Bronte appears to be more concerned with the dynamics of gender relations than with class conflict, but in a way Heathcliff’s background influences his relationship with Cathy so that the two issues are intertwined. On the other hand, “The desired effect – which the writer need not to be aware of – is a perpetuation of the unequal power relations between men and women.” Bronte is not purposely trying to degrade women but is rather hoping to explore the discrimination in society and how the immorality and deceit leads to the belittling of everyone eventually. A significant stage of the novel is when Linton and Cathy have an argument – Linton says ‘’He wanted all to lie in an ecstasy of peace’ and Cathy ‘wanted all too sparkly, and dance in a glorious jubilee.’ She says ‘his heaven would be only half alive’ while he said hers ‘would be drunk.’ The juxtaposition of the underlying imagery, metaphors and antithesis within the dispute exemplifies how Linton controls Cathy’s character by apparently being considerate. This tactic is mainly represented when Linton uses his illness as a powerful tactic to sway Cathy’s actions, again demonstrating the corruption and sometimes insidious control of the patriarchal society.
Bronte wishes to demonstrate how men’s actions can be completely counterproductive in such efforts simply to dominate and control women. This conception is demonstrated through the naivety of Linton, who seems to misunderstand that Heathcliff is using his illness to persuade Cathy over his inheritance. Sadly, it may not be Linton’s callousness but Heathcliff’s terror that causes him to act this way towards women, “With streaming face and expression of agony, Linton had thrown his nerveless frame along the ground: he seemed convulsed with terror” Heathcliff’s craving for revenge is almost monstrous; his own son dreads what he will do to him if he doesn’t do what he says: ‘In place of so entirely filling the canvas that there is hardly a scene untainted by his presence.’ It certainly seems here that it is Heathcliff’s domineering maleness rather than his social position which is prompting his behavior towards Cathy. Vital to the framework of the novel is the author’s and readers’ sympathy for the mistreatment of women in the nineteenth century. At the time, Wuthering Heights was deemed a highly corrupt narrative, since it confronted and threatened the disciplined civilized behavior of human beings. This theme is paralleled in Shakespeare’s plays, which were an inspiration to Emily Bronte: in Romeo and Juliet and in Hamlet, the treatment of young women is somewhat ruthless. Shakespeare’s most famous female characters were usually victims of men, a status which connoted the loss of their purity and innocence. Their inferiority was also significant in terms of the plot – since it helps us perceive the relationships between the men and women better: “Women were defined physically and intellectually as the ‘weaker’ sex, in all ways subordinate to male authority.”
Hardy was similarly concerned with the difficulties faced by women both in their relations with men and in the development of their social role. Writing forty years after Bronte, he too focuses on a rural environment, but here the changes brought by industrialization also impact women, creating tension between “the ache of modernity” and nature. Hardy’s use of seasons reflects this conflict, as when he uses summer to parallel the blossoming relationship between Angel and Tess. (Angel even refers to Tess as a “fresh and virginal daughter of Nature.”) Their relationship is therefore implicitly seen as “natural,” only to be thwarted by male arrogance and social prejudice. Tess is hypothetically ‘A Pure Woman,’ but is subjugated socially as “Victorian society exacerbates an age-old harsh and hypocritical definitions of virtue and exhortations for maidens to conform.” Social prejudice allows no room for her to ‘right her wrongs’ as “Once victim, always victim: that’s the law.” Her tragedy is pre-destined because of the way the society works; hence, she epitomizes the fact that ‘bad things happen to good people’ and vice-versa, as the perpetrator is left without receiving the repercussions for his actions while Tess is condemned for her “terrible sins.” In this manner, Hardy attacks the destructive nature of Victorian morality and hypocrisy.
Certainly, like Tess, Catherine is primarily presented as a victim, and although men’s control over women is pre-eminent, in Wuthering Heights society’s vital role is reflected in the strategically characterized, dominant narratorial voice of Nelly Dean as she personifies societal norms. She never had a husband and was told to “mind her place,” demonstrating the social oppression of women. Society was dismissive about women’s status and relative position. Women were forced to submit themselves to men in order to gain any form of social position. Catherine marries Edgar instead of Heathcliff for love, as she remarks, ‘if Heathcliff and I married, we should be beggars’ and concerning Edgar ‘he will be rich, and I shall like to be the greatest woman of the neighborhood.’ This mentality could be interpreted as suggesting that women were selfish and demanding riches and glory rather than that men were dominant. After the marriage, Nelly says, “It was not the thorn bending to the honeysuckles but the honeysuckles embracing the thorn” – Bronte’s use of natural imagery of the opposing plants here in relation to the personality of Catherine. The idea of the obstinacy of a thorn, and of the Lintons as sweet as honeysuckles, emphasizes the inversion of the expected social roles of both genders. This statement echoes modern views, as women are now allowed to experience life in an almost equal and far less oppressive environment, and certainly Bronte ensures that the characters of Catherine and Young Cathy embody a social change in attitudes towards female equality In a way then, her novel seems to imply that Cathy’s subjugation stems from society, even though the visual metaphor of a flower that represents ‘the love that clings without harming anyone’; ‘embracing the thorn’ alludes to how men still believe they have the ability to ‘tame’ the individuality of women, which is implicitly seen as socially dangerous.
“From simple girl to complex woman,” Tess’ situation can be seen to allude to The Book of Genesis, which is an important motif in the novel, as when we are told that Tess ‘regarded him as Eve at her second waking might have regarded Adam.’ The analogy here is that Tess is the distressed Eve, and Angel the honorable Adam, which reflects her own perception of her social rank. Hardy’s description of Tess’ garden being full of ‘weeds emitting offensive smells’ is a metaphor of her paradise which is soon to come crashing down again. The Garden of Eden represents not only paradise but also the loss of it: the introduction of sin. This is most clearly shown through the character of Alec, who adopts the persona and archetype of a Victorian melodramatic villain and seducer, and in effect seems to victimize the protagonist, and segregate her from her community, so that contemporary as well as modern readers would view him as a villain. Alec demeans Tess ‘The Maiden’ in PHASE THE FIRST into Tess ‘Maiden No more’ in PHASE THE SECOND. Through Tess, as an ‘untinctured vessel of emotion,’ Thomas Hardy explores the injustice faced by women in a patriarchal society, giving the novel a degree of verisimilitude: “I was born bad, and I have lived bad, and I shall die bad…” Alec embodies Satan as he rapes Tess under a ‘forbidden tree,’ giving her the ‘fruit’ that gives her sexual knowledge in exchange for her innocence. Many people have been taught that the fall and original sin of humanity is the fault of women and some, particularly contemporary readers, may feel that the subjugation of Tess is through her own indecisiveness – “the greatest misfortune of her life was this feminine loss of courage at the last and crucial moment.”
Male domination and the oppression of class divisions both have a major role to play in the subjugation of women and are far from mutually exclusive. Class divisions affect men just as men affect class divisions; it would be inapt to blame the full state of affairs on one factor. In Hardy’s and Bronte’s works, women all share a common trait of over-optimism and suffer as a result of their own unrealistic expectations of society.
When wilt thou awake, O Mother, wake and seeAs one who, held in trance, has laboured longBy vacant rote and prepossession strongThe coils that thou hast wrought unwittingly;Wherein have place, unrealized by thee,Fair growths, foul cankers, right enmeshed with wrong,Strange orchestras of victim-shriek and song,And curious blends of ache and ecstasy?(Hardy, “The Sleep-Worker”)Inherent in the ruthless progress of society, there paradoxically lies a growing moral deterioration. In Tess of the d’Urbervilles, Thomas Hardy “faithfully present[s]” Tess as a paragon of virtue, utilizing her as an instrument of criticism against a society too debauched to sustain the existence “of its finest individuals” (Wickens 104). Unwilling to compromise her strict adherence to personal morals, Tess suffers immensely; her ultimate inability to exist on this “blighted” (21) star exposes the regression of a hypocritically sanctimonious society, whose degraded values catalyze her destruction.Innocently unaware of “cruel Nature’s law[,]” (115) Tess is violated by the response which her sexuality arouses in Alec. Yet, although it is nature which induces Tess to lose her virginity, it is society which renders this loss a sin. Tess’s change from “a mere vessel of emotion untinctured by experience” (8) to one stained by a “corporeal blight” (98) elicits a severe social condemnation. Ironically, in its attempt to deny the natural instincts of mankind, social selection takes on the characteristic ethical absence of natural selection, “ensuring that the social relations among people will continue the natural relations among species” (Wickens 98). In “failing to distinguish itself ethically from [a nescient] [N]ature[,]” (Wickens 97) society thus neglects to fulfill its condition as a conscious entity. Moreover, by forsaking the responsibility of examining the moral ramifications behind Tess’s rape, society essentially ignores the underlying intent of the doctrine upon which it bases its denunciation.Underlying the social law which damns Tess, there lies a deeply entrenched and tremendously debased patriarchal interpretation of Christianity. Wanting to embody ideal Christianity without the responsibility of fulfilling Christian ideals, society ignores the compassion and forgiveness which this creed originally dictated. Rationalizing that it must be in accordance with the spirit of Christianity because it masquerades in the name of Christianity, society equates virtue and righteousness with those who best survive within the context of its corrupted standards. A soiled ideology is spawned, effectively excommunicating Tess and precluding her acceptance by society.Circumventing ethical considerations, society self-righteously justifies and insidiously champions the survival of the fittest and the exploitation of the weakest, thereby perpetuating the law, “once victim, always victim” (261). Having removed any moral considerations, it inaccurately judges morality by the physical outcome of circumstances. This depraved criteria of judgement renders society incapable of seeing that “[t]he beauty or ugliness of a character lay not only in its achievements, but in aims and impulses; its true history lay not among things done, but among things willed” (267). Society, with its perverted sense of justice, ostracizes Tess for her loss of physical purity, although her moral purity is absolute. Its conception of righteousness fosters an attitude which is both stifling and degrading towards those who are physically weaker,including women; society “worships the false idol of chastity[, remaining blindly]. . . committed to a set of attitudes towards the ‘fallen’ woman[,]” (Hazen 780).This mind-set engenders a fertile field for the development of the double standard, which decrees that those who function best within society’s perverse framework are entitled to greater leniency in all respects, whether socially, morally, or sexually; Tess’s unjust and undeserved victimization is juxtaposed with the priggish hypocrisy of Angel, who is condoned for “just the same” (177) action. In addition, Alec, the true violator of a moral law, remains unpunished. Hardy satirically exposes the gross injustice of the double standard and society in general by portraying the intense ludicrousness of Alec’s attempt, albeit temporary, to achieve salvation through ideological conversion. Only in an extremely sick society, Hardy suggests, could a rapist become a priest.”‘[S]ick with evil[,]” (Hazen 780) a society demands conformity to its degraded ideology. It suppresses individual values of morality, thus negating “the possibilities of human existence” (Howe 421). Rejecting meliorism, Hardy pessimistically states, “We may wonder whether, at the acme and summit of the human progress, these anachronisms will be corrected by a finer intuition, a closer interaction of the social machinery that which now jolts us round and along; but such completeness is not to be prophesied, or even conceived as possible” (31). Society annuls its adaptation to new moral conditions instigated by the choices of its individual members. With this moral paralysis, it effectively ceases to confront the choice of judgement and attempts to forfeit responsibility for itself. With a loss of active awareness, there is a loss of meaning. Confronting the ethical void in the world around her and a schism in the world within, Tess chooses to create meaning through consciously making decisions. Essentially, her actions constitute a “‘. . . basic endeavor to create a meaningful place for man in a world oblivious to his presence.’ Even without a sense of cosmic purpose, [Tess] maintains her desire for human order and ethical awareness” (Wickens 96).Tess responds to the moral void around her by formulating her own beliefs. When confronted with words condemning the impure woman, Tess responds, “I don’t believe God said such things!” (63). She forges a personal interpretation of religion as well as a personal system of values and consequently rejects the social order which opposes her very being. Faced with ostracization, deracination, and demoralization to a dehumanizing extent, Tess rallies and resists by becoming determined to “taste anew sweet independence at any price” (71). However, “Tess demands nothing that can be regarded as the consequence of deracination or an overwrought will. . . she is spontaneously committed to the most fundamental needs of human existence. Indeed, she provides a standard of what is right and essential for human beings to demand from life” (Howe 409). Despite her suffering, Tess bears herself with immense dignity, remaining consciously true to her ideals. Actively challenging society’s morals by upholding her own set of values, Tess possesses the courage and faith that allows her to reach a “purity of spirit even as she fails to satisfy the standards of the world” (Howe, 408).The grandness of Tess’s achievement is a stark contrast to the apparent insignificance of her being. “She was not an existence, an experience, a passion, a structure of sensations, to anybody but herself. To all humankind besides Tess was only a passing thought” (71). Even as she spiritually transcends the decadence of society, Tess lacks the power to amend its values. Her relationships with Alec and Angel, “mediators of attitudes, habits, and values current in their society[,]” (Hazen 780) illustrate this. Like the society that they represent, Angel and Alec “share an incapacity to value the splendor of feeling which radiates from Tess. Each represents a deformation of masculinity, one high and the other low; they cannot appreciate, they cannot even see the richness of life that Tess embodies” (Howe 415).”[F]inding no adequate response for her needs either in heaven or in earth, in the social world or the natural one,. . . [Tess] lacks the support necessary for going on” (Hyman 118). Physically worn and psychologically exhausted from the incessant struggle to maintain her purity in a corrupt world, Tess comes to the realization that the only way to achieve wholeness is to descend to society’s level and make a physical escape. In order to “taste anew sweet independence[,]” (71) Tess must sacrifice her life and thus liberate herself from his “blighted” (21) world. Her inevitable self-destruction gives rise to a sense of existential despair as it starkly exposes the decay of a society that offers death as the only way to maintain personal purity. Moreover, this “society [which] denies [Tess] the circumstances to be fully human[,]” (Wickens 102) is corrupt to the extent that it not only obliterates her existence, but even negates the significance of her self-sacrifice.Consequently, although “Tess’s suffering produces a[n]. . . immediate regeneration” (Hazen 780) through its liberating influence on Angel, this regeneration is limited to the rectification of Angel’s current viewpoint; the “hard logical deposit [which] had blocked his acceptance of the Church. . . [as well as] his acceptance of Tess” (189) remains uneroded. In essence, the system upon which he bases his conceptions (logos) does not change, for, as Hardy states, “Angel. . . would have inevitably thrown [Tess’s] fall in her face” (388). Thus, despite Tess’s great sacrifice, neither Angel nor society achieves a ” recognition of the necessity for moving beyond the logical attitudes and metaphysical responses toward a more conscious awareness of the objective reality. . . [W]hat [Hardy] reveals is that while such a necessity can be grasped intellectually it cannot be achieved by the intellect alone. Nor can it be achieved by one individual, [but rather by. . .] mutuality and interdependence: only another human being can fill the needs no longer fulfilled by a belief in Divine Providence or the beneficence of nature. What Hardy is best at doing he does here with Tess; he creates the sense of an universe bereft of meaning and the human yearning for a response that is not forthcoming” (Hyman, 118).On a cosmic level, Tess fades as “a transient impression half-forgotten” (31). Society will merely justify Tess’s death with the same standards that is used to denounce her. Angel’s union with Liza-Lu does not compensate for society’s extirpation of Tess, because Liza Lu is only “a spiritualized image of Tess,” (313) sharing her blood but lacking her substance. Fecundity [therefore]. . . becomes for Hardy part of an ulterior plot,. . . malign and entrapping, because it is designed without the needs of individual life in mind” (Beer 453). With the destruction of the individual, the evolution of mankind seems to become reduced to mere propagation, indicating an immense regression which belies the supposed development of society.Spiritually actualizing against the background of society’s regression, “[Tess] comes to seem. . . the potential of what life could be, just as what happens to her signifies what life too often becomes” (Howe 421). With Tess’s death, the momentum and significance created by her conscious adherence to personal ideals is lost, and Hardy admonishes society, “O foolish Galatians, who hath bewitched you, that ye should not obey the truth, before whose eyes Jesus Christ hath been evidently set forth, crucified among you?” (238). Yet, even if society realizes the significance of Tess’s struggles as it eventually does Christ’s, this would not be enough; a mere cognizance would not suffice to impart Tess’s momentum unto society and catalyze it to take responsibility for the formulation of personal judgements and actions. Society’s inability to advance towards self-actualization despite catalytic acts of momentous individual sacrifice reflects an existentialist failure to create and preserve meaning, thus threatening to reduce humanity to a state of sub-existence.So little cause for carolingsOf such ecstatic soundWas written on terrestrial thingsAfar or nigh around,That I could think there trembled throughHis happy good-night airSome blessed Hope, whereof he knewAnd I was unaware.(Hardy, “The Darkling Thrush”)Works CitedBeer, Gillian. “Finding a Scale for the Human.” Tess of the d’Urbervilles. Ed. Scott Elledge. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, Inc., 1991.Hardy, Thomas. Tess of the d’Urbervilles. Ed. Scott Elledge. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, Inc., 1991.Hardy, Thomas. “The Sleep-Worker.” Tess of the d’Urbervilles. Ed. Scott Elledge. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, Inc., 1991.Hazen, James. “The Tragedy of Tess Durbeyfield.”Howe, Irving. “At the Center of Hardy’s Achievement.” Tess of the d’Urbervilles. Ed. Scott Elledge. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, Inc., 1991.Hyman, Virginia R. “The Evolution of Tess.” Ethical Perspectives in the Novels of Thomas Hardy.Wickens, G. Glen. “Hardy and the Mythographers: The Myth of Demeter and Persephone in Tess of the d’Urbervilles.”