Tess of the DUrbervilles
Traditional values and Intellectual Evolution in Thomas Hardy’s “Tess of the D’Urbervilles”
Hardy’s novels are grounded in a realist portrayal of a society defined by constant advancement. The preceding Enlightenment era developed a sense of shedding traditional values in pursuit of intellectual evolution, and this only accelerated into the constant striving for progress of the Victorians. “Modernity” encompasses a web of issues, ideas and concepts ranging from industrialisation to sexualisation. One could also use the term to describe changes in class distinction, political systems and even societal loss of faith. Although it is not specified when exactly Tess of the d’Urbervilles is set, Hardy conveys a strong sense of contemporaneity by firmly embedding the plot in Nineteenth Century culture; he depicts the changing conditions of agricultural labour, a changing class structure where wealth eclipses the importance of ancestry, and he even points to specifics such as Tess’s education within the National Schools movement.
All of these allusions suggest that the author wishes to address themes of current debate and this is explicated in the novel’s Explanatory Note: “The story is sent out in all sincerity of purpose, as an attempt to give artistic form to a true sequence of things… I would ask any too genteel reader, who cannot endure to have said what everybody nowadays thinks and feels, to remember a well-worn sentence of St Jerome’s: ‘If an offence come out of the truth, better is it that the offence come out than the truth be concealed.’” (p3) The phrases “a true sequence of things” and “what everybody nowadays thinks and feels” convey an awareness of an evolving opinion surrounding topics of contemporary importance. “Modernism”, as a term, is usually retrospectively applied, however Hardy uses it within the novel itself when Angel muses that Tess’s disposition has the “ache of modernism”. This uncomfortable description, alongside statements in the Explanatory Note, indicates that the author does not share the view that Victorian progress is inherently positive, and that the novel intends to represent flaws in its incessant forward march. Tess of the d’Urbervilles could be perceived as a depiction of traditional rural life and the industrial forces that are destroying them. Machinery and urban scenes are often portrayed with hellish imagery whereas nature is given a softer perspective, alluding to Pagan Gods of fertility and Druid mythology. Hardy’s description of “the engine-man” (345) most aptly encompasses his view of mechanised agriculture. The language itself suggests that this man, intrinsically out of place in the country setting, serves as a microcosm for the industrialisation of Victorian England: “By the engine stood a dark motionless being, a sooty and grimy embodiment of tallness, in a sort of trance, with a heap of coals by his side” (345). The author’s choice of description could almost be applied to an urban factory, and everything about the figure is shrouded in mystery. He is given little sense of identity – a “being” masked by darkness, not a person with character or human features.
Every quality of the “engine-man” explored by Hardy is wholly at odds with his surroundings: “He was in the agricultural world, but not of it.” (345) These factors evoke a sense of two very different worlds clashing – the city and the country, modernity and tradition. This is also not seen to be an isolated occurrence – Hardy emphasises the movement of this machine “from farm to farm, from county to county” (346) implying a continual spread throughout the country. The author states that “as yet the steam threshing-machine was itinerant in this part of Wessex” (346) and although this appears transitory, the opening words “as yet” convey a feeling of inevitable foreboding. Another aspect of the “engine-man” that could be seen to be representative of modernity’s industrial movement is Hardy’s impression that it separates man from nature: “His thoughts being turned inwards upon himself… hardly perceiving the scenes around him, and caring for them not at all; holding only strictly necessary intercourse with the natives… The long strap which ran from the driving wheel of his engine to the red thresher under the rick was the sole tie-line between agriculture and him.” (346) This introspective and callous attitude represents the tunnel vision of urbanisation: Progress for progress’s sake without consideration for the flaws that modernity may bring. The “engine-man” is almost as contrasting to the “natives” as he is to the crops he imperviously harvests. This suggests that Hardy adopts a view that those from the cities had no desire to care for those in the country; that rural inhabitants were perceived as a means for sustenance that will soon become unnecessary when the threshing-machine loses its status as “itinerant” in favour of permanence. Hardy’s realist literature usually has an undercurrent of pessimism, though the natural world does not share the “Plutonic” (345) descriptions of industry.
In place of fire and darkness the forest is given a mythical hue. In describing the Chase there’s a “soft azure” (18) over “one of the few remaining woodlands in England of undoubted primeval date, wherein Druidical mistletoe was still found on aging oaks, and where enormous yew trees, not planted by the hand of man, grew as they had grown when they were pollarded for bows.” (18) The constant historic references add to the sense of nostalgia, there’s a feeling of belonging and glimpse of, perhaps, what all of England could still be. Modernity’s inescapable advance is a stark contrast to Hardy’s idyllic natural world. Although cities are not prominent in Hardy’s literature, their influence looms over the fictional Wessex and their importance should not be understated. Some natural scenes even seem described through the lens of a modernist artist or architect – Hardy comments that “the world seemed constructed” (18) when describing Tess’s homeland, and refers to “what Artists call the middle distance” (18). Their physical presence is largely avoided, however, through descriptions of their significance seeping into agricultural provinces we are offered insight into Hardy’s view of urbanisation: “Families who had formed the backbone of the village life in the past… had to seek refuge in the large centres; 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.” (372/373) This is a witty, yet scathing perspective of rural poverty inflicted by city growth in the 19th Century. It states explicitly what the novel’s negative portrayal of mechanised agriculture and contrastingly idyllic pastoral landscapes implies more subtly – industry and machinery are detrimental to provincial life, forcing inhabitants to migrate.
One could attempt to summarise Tess of the d’Urbervilles as an encounter between industrial modernity and traditional rural life, however Hardy is not so na?vely nostalgic as to suggest his folkloric countryside is the real alternative to Victorian cities. Many, including Marxist critic Raymond Williams, counter the idea that Tess’s downfall is a representation of rural England undone by modernity. Certainly this is an aspect of the novel, though Hardy’s cynicism concerns matters deeper than an increasingly urbanised society. Tess is not the antithesis of modernity – her education in the National Schools movement is a facet of modernism, and even her ambitions to rice socially could be considered in this bracket. The author even attacks Victorian attitudes to premarital sex by adding the subtitle “A Pure Woman” – this could be described as sexual modernity. Even if Tess were the embodiment of traditional values she is not, fundamentally, undone by any symbol of industrialisation such as the “engine-man” – Alec D’Urberville is more representative of the landed nouveau riche, and Angel Clare of intellectual idealism as opposed to modernity. The rigidity and double standards of Christianity, particularly regarding sexuality, are in fact more traditional values that abet Tess’s downfall through the condemnation by her family village. When considered in more depth, we see that Hardy does not present a clear modernist/traditionalist dichotomy. There are aspects of both that he critiques, and both have an influence on the trajectory of the plot.
Sexualisation and secularisation are both important facets of modernity, and Hardy addresses them in many of his novels including Tess, gaining many detractors in the process. His interest in the latter is clear from his own life – Hardy strongly considered entering the Church, but his declining faith led him towards writing. Romans 12:19 states ““Vengeance is mine; I will repay,” saith the Lord” meaning Christian Justice is to be repaid divinely. The biblical implication is that suffering endured in this life may benefitted from after death, however any sins Tess inadvertently commits (or has forced upon her), are punished temporally. She is admonished for the unintentional death of Prince and even her own rape, and Hardy emphasises this irony by using quotation marks around the word “justice” in relation to Tess’s ultimate execution. The paradoxical nature of the Church is also exemplified by Alec’s conversion: the way Christianity adopts a man (who is, by his own admission, “a bad fellow—a damn bad fellow” (89)) yet casts out Tess (who Hardy claims to be “A Pure Woman”) clearly shows the author highlighting the double standards of traditional Christian values. Loss of faith is further explored as Angel Clare turns away from religiosity in the hope that his “intellectual liberty” (133) will answer questions that Christianity failed to. Although it is less explicit that Angel’s humanism, Tess’s “ache of Modernism” also emanates some of Hardy’s religious cynicism. This can been seen in her description of the world as a “blighted… star” (37); despite the pessimism, there remains a sense of spirituality that permeates the text through references to Paganism. The criticisms of Christianity and examples of lost faith don’t leave a spiritual vacuum or atheism.
Hardy questions organised religion and is cynical in his spirituality, but the ending of the novel is left open to interpretation: ““Justice” was done, and the President of the Immortals (in Aeschylean phrase) had ended his sport with Tess. And the d’Urberville knights and dames slept on in their tombs unknowing… As soon as they had strength they arose, joined hands again, and went on.” (420) The irony of the word “Justice” here could be a bitterness towards Christian notions of divinity, however something about the connotations of carelessness in the word “sporting” give a sense of a capricious Pagan-styled God. The inherent spirituality of the phrase doesn’t have the confidence of an atheist – it seems closer to the resignation of a pessimistic Christian or just a spiritual, yet confused, declaration. Neither of these options point to a simple encounter between modernism’s secularisation and traditional organised Christianity but more of a critique of and cynicism towards one flawed society evolving into another. One possible reading of Tess of the d’Urbervilles could consider Alec and Angel as sexual antitheses: Alec striving for liberal, physical sexual modernity and Angel in pursuit of an idealised, natural woman taken from arts and literature. One could argue that Hardy clearly criticises sexual modernity as Alec is evidently conveyed as an intrinsically evil character, however it is not as simple as this. They are alike in their efforts to force Tess to symbolise her entire sex: Angel describes her as “a visionary essence of a woman – a whole sex condensed into one typical form” (146) and Alec’s attempts to generalise her induces the response “Did it never strike your mind that what every woman says some women may feel?” (89) This is one of several instances where Tess attempts to assert her individuality, though ultimately it is vain as both lovers fail to separate the individual from their general conception of femininity while she is tragically torn in the middle.
Hardy was evidently concerned with modernism’s effects on societal change during his life, and Tess of the d’Urbervilles explores these ideas extensively. There is a strong feeling of contextual debate, emphasised by the realist depiction of the struggles of normal life, particularly in a victimised class – rural women. I do not, however, believe that the novel is particularly concerned with an “encounter” between modernity and the traditions of rural life. This would imply a sense of distinction between the two, whereas Hardy’s portrayal of modernism is far more convoluted, and his commentary both agrees and disagrees with differing facets of it. Modernism is defined by its continual state of motion, yet the author’s pessimism towards past, present and future remain a constant. Alec is by no means a symbol of modernity, and Tess is less a symbol of natural, traditional life than an example of moral purity as a victim struggling against the current of change, from one flawed system to another.
Analysis Of Tess Of The D’Urbervilles As An Ideal Character
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.
Analysis Of Tess Of The D’Urbervilles As An Ancient Greek Tragedy
Indubitably, Thomas Hardy’s ‘Tess of the D’Urbervilles’ is largely reminiscent of the archetypal Grecian tragedy; evoking an overwhelming sense of pity/catharsis for the female protagonist. However, the constituents of said ‘tragedy’; though in essence prevalent throughout, are discordant throughout the majority of Hardy’s novel. It is generally stipulated than in order to be defined as a ‘Greek Tragedy’; a number of elements must work in unison: the protagonist, though critical to the plot, must remain emotionally detached- the plot propelled by action; irrespective of the thoughts and psychology of the central character and often, as a result, omitting the presence of a consistent narrative. Aristotle stated that tragedy, at its core is ‘an imitation, not of men, but of action and life, of happiness and misery’- a plot in which the characters serve to purge the emotions of the spectators and create a focus of empathy, in a tale compelled by nothing more than the misfortune of fate, the cosmos and the Gods.
However, discrepancies arise when looking into the semantics of Hardy’s novel- Tess’ fate, cannot be prescribed to the fault of the Gods, nor the work of higher beings; Tess possesses no credible form of hamartia, as the faults which seem to denounce her recognition as a ‘virtuous being’ are prevalent within all other central characters: her ‘defining’ sexual impurity, almost satirically paralleled by the acts of her ‘spiritually enlightened’ husband. Therefore, it is not through the Victorian prism of purity that Tess is assigned her hamartia; Tess’s one and only fatal flaw is that which, ironically, coincides with Aristotle’s theory of tragedy in the sense that it is beyond her control: she is a woman. It is her gender which serves to condemn her.
Hardy seemingly inverts the concept of tragedy, insofar that, as opposed to an imitation of the joys and dejections of life, Tess is used on an individual level to paint a bitter portrait of realism and inculpate the society which dictates such melancholy. Rather than purging the audience of their inner turmoil through a, typically male protagonist; Hardy humanizes Tess’s condition: men embodying the authority of God- the figures of Angel (biblically symbolizing the hope of redemption for the fallen woman ) and Alec (signifying impious temptation) dominating the course of the maiden. The cosmos and God’s which are to blame for our misfortunes are demeaned to a very factual level: it is men whom oppress her through ignorance of their own faults and exacerbation of hers; as she is ultimately judged by societies’ delineation of ethics.
In a sense, Hardy mirrors the ideology of the Greek tragedy, to the extent that, just as the knowledge that the perennial intervention of the God’s relieves us of the blame for our destinies; the invisible construct of society with its judgments on sexuality, womanhood, morality and status are entirely accountable for the demise of Tess. Hardy propagates this concept of accountability through the unorthodox addition of a narration throughout; often satirically mocking the concept that Tess is vilified by the God’s for her actions- noting that ‘Providence must have been sleeping’ at the moment in which the maiden’s fate is determined by rape. Rather than being propelled by action, Hardy speculates on the events occurring, the human witness punctuating the novel, suggesting that intervention and a divergence of fate is entirely possible; just as, as the author, Hardy has the ability to manipulate and/or alleviate the deterioration of Tess.
Cumulatively, the nature of Tess’s death serves to mock the Victorian detachment from the plight of the ‘fallen’ woman- the penultimate scene, whereupon Tess’s symbolically sacrificial demise in the ruins of Stonehenge occurs, vitriolically described as ‘justice’ by the author. However, the detachment from the constraints of Victorian society and the unrefined and essential ‘purity’ of Tess in terms of her authenticity as a woman upon her death is clearly perpetuated- the historical burial ground in which she lies possessing no respect or glorification of wealth, lineage or sexual purity, the stones- ‘Older than the centuries; older than the d’Urbervilles!’- belittling and trivializing the matters which have disproportionately denounced Tess throughout.
As a result, the audience, though reluctantly, enters the cathartic stage stipulated within the theory of tragedy, however, distinguishable, not for the emotions of their protagonist and the concurrent sense of self-gratification gained, but a purging of their own guilt and prescription to the immorality of the society which murdered what, in the end, is portrayed to be nothing more than a girl. It is this realism which resonates until the final word: Tess is not a victim of the God’s, the cosmos, or the divine- she is a victim of humanity… and that is the most tragic reality of all.
Social Class or Something More: Relationships and Motivations in Rebecca and Tess of the d’Urbervilles
Both Tess of the d’Urbervilles and Rebecca are texts in which social class proves to be a factor in the relationships between lovers. Tess is born into a low class poor family, which significantly alters the outcome of events in her life. Contrastingly in Rebecca, the narrator marries into a different social class, which poses a strain on her relationship. Despite this, it is evident that social class is not the most important factor in relationships between lovers, as other factors in the novels prove themselves to be more significant.
In both Tess of the d’Urbervilles and Rebecca, the main female character are of a lower social class than their male partners. In Rebecca, the narrator sees herself as ‘ill bred’ and in Tess, she is described as ‘simple Tess Durberyfield’ which portrays both of the characters’ low social standings. Their partners in contrast are all of high social classes, Alec’s family living in a place where ‘Everything looked like money’ reflecting his wealth and high social status. Angel’s family are also described as ‘middle-class people’ and when Angel describes Tess, he says ‘she is not what in common parlance is called a lady.’ portraying that Angel too recognises Tess’ lower class. Similarly, in Rebecca, Maxim’s class is made clear from the beginning, when Mrs Van Hopper poses the question ‘I suppose your ancestors often entertained royalty at Manderley, Mr de Winter?’ These harsh contrasts between the social classes of lovers are a common occurrence in novels of this era: men were typically presented as the stronger (and therefore wealthier) characters, and women as more vulnerably (and therefore poorer) characters. The social divides between lovers in both novels cause strains that wouldn’t exist without these divides, and social class in therefore depicted as being an important factor in relationships between lovers.
It is arguable, where Tess is concerned that Alec’s social class was the reason for Tess’ rape. Tess, due to her social class and position as a woman in the 19th century, felt as if she could not fight back or resist Alec. Even after the rape, Alec is shown to be entitled due to his social class, for example when he says to Tess, ‘Remember, I was your master once! I will be your master again.’ Since Alec’s rape is Tess’ biggest demise in the novel (everything after this seems to be a downward spiral for Tess), this portrays that social class is the most important factor in relationships between lovers. Contrastingly, in Rebecca, it is not Maxim’s social class that takes the biggest toll on the narrator, but rather the class of Maxim’s ex-wife, Rebecca. The narrator becomes increasing paranoid that she is not good enough for Maxim due to her social standing. She is told by Maxim’s sister that ‘you are so very different from Rebecca.’ which leads to the narrator’s eventual self-hatred. She is seen comparing herself to Rebecca constantly, ‘the things I lack, confidence, grace, beauty, intelligence wit – Oh, all the qualities that mean most in a woman – she possessed.’ This portrays social class to be an important factor in relationships between lovers as it caused the narrators ultimate paranoia and self-hatred in the novel.
As presented by Hardy, Tess in encouraged by her mother to be with Alec due to his social class. If she had not, it is arguable that the rape could have never occurred, and nor would have Tess’ ultimate demise. Tess’ passive nature, instilled by her class, also played a part in her going to Alec. ‘I suppose I ought to do something…’ she says. Her mother previously said that Alec would ‘make a lady of her; and then she’ll be what her forefathers was.’ portraying that restoring the family to it’s original wealth and status was important in Joan’s decision to send Tess to Alec. This shows that social class is an important factor in relationships between lovers.
Unlike in Tess, the narrator of Rebecca feels that she has changed from being put into a different class group. She says, ‘At any rate I have lost my diffidence, my timidity, my shyness with strangers. I am very different form that self who drove to Manderley for the first time, hopeful and eager…filled with an intense desire to please.’ This quote portrays that the narrator has lost some of the most essential parts of herself, which would in turn alter her relationship. This therefore portrays that social class is an important factor in relationships between lovers.
Despite social class being a defining factor, the factors of honesty and secrecy are presented as being the most important factors in relationships between lovers in Rebecca. The secrecy and lack of honesty surrounding Rebecca and her death in Rebecca cause the narrator’s paranoia to spiral out of control to such an extent that she doesn’t believe Maxim loves her. Maxim’s secrecy causes him to alienate the narrator. ‘Are you worried about something?’ I said. ‘I’ve had a long day.’ He said.’ this quote suggests that Maxim is with-holding information from the narrator. She also seemingly hates herself for not being good enough for him, to such a point where Mrs Danvers convinces her to consider suicide because she believes Maxim to be unhappy in their relationship. She says, ‘He doesn’t want you, he never did.’ and goes on to coax her to jump out of the window, ‘Why don’t you jump?’ It is clear that if Maxim had been honest with the narrator from the beginning, she wouldn’t have gone through such paranoia and self-hatred. Although their relationship does conquer their issues in the end due to Maxim’s eventual honesty, the relationship would evidently been much more smooth if honesty was implemented from the beginning.
The factors of loyalty and acceptance are presented as being the most important factor in the relationships between lovers in Tess of the d’Urbervilles. This is because, although it can be said that if Tess was honest about Alec’s rape to Angel initially, things could have gone better, it is evident that the social pressures for women to be pure in this time meant that Angel’s reaction would have likely been the same. The deep rooted hypocrisy against impure women in the novel, but also in this era, meant that honesty would not make this relationship work. Although Angel eventually forgives Tess, it is too late – Tess’ emotional trauma causes her to commit murder (as the land lady finds Alec, she says ‘the gentleman in bed is dead!’). If from the beginning Angel had been loyal and accepted her past, perhaps Tess’ ultimate demise would not have occurred. Due to this, it is evident that loyalty and acceptance are the most important factors in the relationship between lovers in Tess of the d’Urbervilles.
Although not the most important factor, acceptance and loyalty are presented as a significant factor in the relationship between Maxim and the relationship. Without them, the narrator would not have been so supporting in clearing Maxim of Rebecca’s murder. After his confession, the narrator reacts loyally and affectionately, ‘My darling…Maxim, my love’. Therefore, it is clear that acceptance and loyalty are a significant factor in the relationship between lovers in Rebecca.
While the theme of social class takes a predominant position in both novels, it does not ultimately become the demise of any relationships in either novel. Both novels contain stronger factors which defy the relationships between lovers: in Rebecca, the relationship between the narrator and Maxim depended ultimately on honesty, and in Tess, Angel and Tess’ relationship could have only truly succeeded if Angel had shown loyalty and acceptance to Tess from the beginning.
Tess of the D’Urbervilles: Final Analysis of the Main Heroine
They say that we are harder on those we love—in this case, whom Tess loves: Angel Clare. Indeed, the reader holds Angel to higher standards, expects more of him, and indignantly reminds others of his greater obligations and ties to Tess. Thus, we are wont to judge Angel more harshly, and quicker to discard judgment of both Angel and Alec on an objective basis. When, however, we place emotions aside and rationally analyze events set into action by the consequences of both men, it is only logical that Alec’s actions are the heavier felony. It is he who harms Tess most directly—through his rape and initiation of her ostracizing from society, his detrimental persistence and persuasion, and finally, his merciless taunting and incitement of Tess’s last act of desperation which finalizes her long-doomed fate.
Alec not only violates Tess as an individual, but condemns her fate for life when he selfishly and deplorably rapes her. A child in all ways, Tess has her innocence shattered and her future destroyed as Alec scars her in every respect—physically, socially, and most enduringly, psychologically—in a single night. Physically, Tess bears the child of Sorrow, her own scarlet letter personified. Sorrow’s imminent death furthers the pain as he serves a sort of memento mori, foreshadowing the fate of the damned. Socially, Tess is ostracized from society upon her return, transforming her amiable and social personality into that of a recluse for a year, until her rare stroke of luck in landing at Talbothay Dairy and meeting Angel. But even then, she is psychologically burdened with the albatross of her dark secret, which prevents her from ever fully enjoying herself guiltlessly, as she should. This debilitating self-effacement, coupled with her strong conscience, ultimately destroys any hope of reconciliation and lasting happiness she has with Angel.
Angel truly loves Tess and, up until Tess’s revelation of her dark past, treats her as something of a deity. His true flaw is not inherent malevolence and disregard for others—as is the case with Alec—but rather, the same limitations of the Victorian society around him: his reactionary values and double standards. As cowardly as this flaw comes to be, it is of utmost importance to note that it would not have emerged had Alec not disgraced Tess from the very outset.
Furthermore, while Angel may leave Tess and shamefully shirk his duties as a husband, he does leave her ample money so that she can provide for herself physically, if not mentally. Angel’s neglect ultimately causes her major harm indirectly—through intervention of fate, when Tess chances upon his brothers and Mercy Chant and, due to the context of the external situation and her innate pride, chooses not to ask his parents for further funds. Nonetheless, Angel did not consciously and directly refuse care for Tess and cast her out onto the street, and soon feels great concern and guilt when he realizes she has not touched the money. Alec, on the other hand, is solely guilty of this sort of direct harm, in which no additional outside forces are necessary.
Alec later returns to his selfish ways in persistently chasing Tess down and persuading her to join him, utilizing a mixture of lying, manipulating, deriding, and playing on her desperation and duty as a daughter to fend for her family. Eventually, he cruelly taunts her and Angel after Angel has returned from Brazil for Tess, and it is this taunting at such an unstable and emotional point in Tess’s life that incites her to commit the one act that damns the remainder of her stunted, sorrowful existence. Upon killing Alec, her fate is sealed, and whatever little happiness that is left for her with Angel is only all the more bittersweet and short-lived.
Finally, the greatest defense of Angel is that he ultimately does reform his ways, and in a complete turn-around of his beliefs, risks his life wholly in effort to save Tess even when she is guilty of manslaughter. Alec, on the other hand, dies sinful and utterly unredeemed. While Angel’s initial actions may have been the more psychologically painful for Tess, it is partially because he is adding salt to an open wound—Alec’s actions have already established the foundation of Tess’s emotional vulnerability and instability. In the end, when she is surrounded by men at Stonehenge, it is her situation in society that leads to her literal destruction—and the cause for that physical, social state can be traced most directly to Alec. Angel may have caused Tess the greater psychological pain by force of her love for him—we care more when the ones we love betray us—but it is Alec who ultimately has the most detrimental effect on her life—by directly causing its end.
Tess of D’Urbervilles: an Example of an Unconventional Heroine
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.
Industrialization in Tess of the D’Urbervilles
“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.
Romance in Influence and Tess of the D’Urbervilles
Courtship is the behaviour in which, normally, the male attempts to persuade the female into a romantic relationship or marriage. In ‘Persuasion’ by Jane Austen, as well as ‘Tess of the D’Urbervilles’ by Thomas Hardy, courtship is displayed in a kaleidoscopic view which thus portrays a plethora of meanings and interoperations. These two books however give an extremely contrasting view of courtship despite the fact they were written in the same century. This is evident as in ‘Persuasion’ Austen presents courtship to be derived by emotions as well as very gender-stereotypical ; yet in ‘Tess of the D’Urbervilles’ it seems to be simply lustful and the consequences of falling for false courtship.
In ‘Persuasion’ the character Frederick Wentworth leaves Anne a heartfelt letter in which we are able to see how courting a beautiful experience as it is says:” A word, a look, will be enough to decide whether I enter your father’s house this evening or never.” The use of asyndectic listing catalogues that for Anne to give a single sign of attraction and that would be enough for Wentworth. Furthermore the use of stating the consequences, make Wentworth’s motivation for writing this letter clear, and by using the adverb ‘never’ we are able to tell how he is illustrating strong and passionate emotions towards Anne. The 19th century reader may see this as a final attempt of wooing Anne and putting the faith of their relationship in her hands, however a modern day reader may see this as Wentworth simply wanting to known if she feels the way he does as he can wait no longer. Socially, this would have been seen to a very romantic gesture as this is considered courtship by Wentworth admitting his feelings towards Anne. Despite this, we are able to see how in ‘Tess of the D’Urbervilles’ Hardy presents a courtship which is purely based on lust from Alec d’Urberville as he says:”Well, my big Beauty, what can I do for you?” The adjective ‘big’ gives the whole phrase a sexual connotation as this could be interpreted as her physical appearance as Tess may be a well-developed female. In addition to this the capitalisation of the word ‘Beauty’ could state how Alec finds this the most attractive feature of Tess. A 19th century reader may find this somewhat repulsive as this is a very vulgar way in which to talk to a lady of who you had just become acquainted too, and a modern day reader may agree to this yet to a lesser extent due to the fact that sexuality and sexual comments have become more accepted, yet this may offend some readers. In social context, we are able to why Tess carried on with this interaction as she needed help from someone of higher status. Hence we are able to see a clear difference in the way Austen and Hardy present the theme of courtship, as Austen presents it to be a very romantic and sincere expression of one’s emotions and this is juxtaposed to how Hardy presents it as to be based on sexual desire and ardour.
In ‘Persuasion we are able to see how in the 19th century courtship was a very male dominated action as it says:“if Mr Elliot should some time hence pay his addresses to you … accept him” The verb ‘pay’ foreshadows that Mr Elliot will soon make his interests in Anne and Lady Russell advices Anne to ‘accept’. This therefore demonstrates not only how courting is a male dominated, but it also gives us an insight that when one does court a lady it is for the intentions of a relationship or possibly marriage. A 19th century reader would have seen this to be very common and therefore seen as a social norm, however for a modern day reader may not understand this concept and find that this as an extremely romantic gesture, of which it is. Yet this is contrasted as unlike in ‘Persuasion’ we are able to tell that in ‘Tess of the D’Urbervilles’ courtship could be used as a fa?ade to enable the male to get what they want. This is seen as Tess questions:”Why didn’t you tell me there was danger? Why didn’t you warn me?” The use of the rhetorical questions demonstrates Tess’s resentment towards Alec, as the noun ‘danger’ highlights the fact that Tess was raped by someone who had misused her trust and this has left her with many questions as well as doubts. This therefore highlights how courting Tess was used to make her trust Alec, and once she had trusted him, he abused the truth that they had. A 19th century reader would therefore feel that Alec is the antagonist in this story as by misusing the trust he was able to create a negative perception to himself, however a modern day reader may find that this is more common as it seems as if males in the modern day society misuse their trust more often. Therefore we are able to see how the key fundamental idea to do with courting differs within the time frame of 100 years, which therefore may make the reader question what changed during this society in order to change the actions or morals behind courting.
In conclusion, the chosen writers Jane Austen and Thomas Hardy present the theme of courtship in two completely different lights in this novel. Austen presents it in a soft and affectionate manner, which is reflective of her book ‘Persuasion’ as it is purely a amorous book. However the way in which Hardy presents his book may grab the modern day reader’s attention as it portrays a deep dark meaning and teaches the reader about trust which is desecrated and the consequences of trusting to easily. Therefore the way that the writers present the theme of courtship highlights their writing style and the message of their books.
Ideal Marriage From Tom Hardy’s Perspective
Thomas Hardy once said, “A Plot, or Tragedy, should arise from the gradual closing in of a situation that comes of ordinary human passions, prejudices, and ambitions, by reason of the characters taking no trouble to ward off the disastrous events produced by the said passions, prejudices, and ambitions.” To this end, in Tess of the D’Urbervilles, the author uses the literary device of nemesis, i.e. poetic justice to great effect. In the novel’s final phase, “Fulfillment,” the reader is confronted with justice dealt to three of the characters, Alec for corruptedness, Angel for unforgiveness, and Tess for being a murderess. Nevertheless, in choosing to end the novel on the hopeful note of a marriage between Angel and Liza-Lu, Hardy provides a means both for Angel’s redemption and the continuation of Tess’ legacy.
At the beginning of Chapter 53, an aged and sallow Angel returns from Brazil cured of his obstinate idealism and desperate to right the wrongs he committed against Tess. Unfortunately, since the two letters she has written him are contradictory, he cannot know whether she will take him back. When he finally finds her he discovers that she has been masquerading as Mrs. Alec D’Urberville, and therein lies his punishment. The “mere yellow skeleton,” once the shining Angel Clare, realizes the folly of his hard-heartedness all too late and finds himself a cuckold (Hardy 378). In accepting Alec’s economic support, Tess has allowed her family loyalty to undermine her morality, thus dooming her to the fate of a fallen woman. Angels’ reappearance incites great emotional distress on the part of Tess because she blames Alec for extinguishing the hope that her true husband would return. Therefore, in a fit of passion, she murders Alec, punishing him for his corrupting influence and consequently placing herself at the mercy of the English justice system. Whether it can be rationalized or not, all three characters receive poetic justice at the hands of Hardy, and therefore set the scene for the renewal of hope exemplified in the relationship formed between Angel and Tess’ sister ‘Liza-Lu.
At first Tess avoids retribution for her crime by escaping with Angel to the countryside. It is only when she begins to seriously consider her inevitable capture and execution that she intimates to Angel that he should marry her younger sister. In this scene once again her family loyalty influences her decisions, as she first says, “Angel, if anything happens to me, will you watch over ‘Liza-Lu for my sake?” Further supporting her argument she states, “‘Liza-Lu is so gentle and sweet…she has all the best of me without the bad of me…if she were to become yours it would almost seem as if death had not divided us” (Hardy 394). On a superficial level, by asking Angel to his sister-in-law, Tess is merely ensuring the economic security of her family, who she has made sacrifices for throughout the novel. This idea is vital to the novel’s resolution because in shouldering this responsibility Angel would be able to redeem himself for his sins against Tess. Moreover, the marriage would be an act of atonement because Angel would have to take yet another bride from a poor family and flout civil laws against marrying a deceased wife’s sister (the Deceased Wife’s Sister Bill condoning this was only passed in 1907).
It is debatable whether or not Tess actually believes her own exclamation of, “O I could share you with her willingly when we are spirits” (Hardy 394)2E Even though ‘Liza-Lu is described as a “spiritualized image” of Tess, it is probably less important that the deceased Tess live vicariously through her sister than the living Tess feel that Angel has someone to fulfill his ideal of purity (Hardy 396). Nevertheless, it is important to consider that even though the old Angel told Tess that he was in love with someone else in her form after her confession, it is entirely possible that the matured Angel finally loves Tess for who she is, “a pure woman” despite tragic circumstances. This reveals itself when Angel responds to Tess’ entreaty that he marry ‘Liza-Lu with, “If I lose you I lose all!” (Hardy 394). Tess thinks that she is giving Angel what he wants in terms of an ideal marriage with a purer version of herself, but the reader can hardly imagine that the union of ‘Liza-Lu and Angel, born out of necessity and a sense of duty, will be a joyful one.
In general, one would not be mistaken in assuming that in most novels, marriages denote happy endings. However, in Tess of the D’Urbervilles, the auspiciousness of this plot twist is questionable. It is difficult to believe that Angel will soon forget Tess. Moreover, even if he does, will he judge ‘Liza-Lu by his old idealistic standards or continually compare her to his dead wife? In the end, it is ironic that Tess is executed for the only act in which she asserts herself against her seducer. The reader experiences a conflict between desire for Tess to emerge as a strong character and the Victorian convention of the long-suffering heroine. It is vital to consider that although Alec and Tess are both punished by death for their ethical transgressions, at the novel’s conclusion, Angel is left alive and full of regret. The marriage to ‘Liza-Lu is therefore of extreme importance because if Angel devotes himself to his new wife he can begin to redeem himself for wronging Tess. An interesting point of speculation is that any child of Angel and ‘Liza-Lu would be a part of Tess and a perpetuation of the noble line of the D’Urbervilles. In biology there is a phenomenon known as kin selection which explains the tendency of altruism among family members as a desire to perpetuate genes held in common. If Tess can guarantee that her genes are preserved in a child of Angel and ‘Liza-Lu, who is to say that while the mighty can fall, they may not rise again?
The Critical Role of Paganism in ‘Tess of the D’Urbervilles’
Upon reading Thomas Hardy’s Tess of the D’Urbervilles, one may notice that references to pagan goddesses and ancient religions of the past are strewn throughout the book. These allusions range from the affectionate names of endearment by which Angel Clare refers to Tess, such as “Artemis” and “Demeter,” to the climax leading to the end of Tess’s wretched life at Stonehenge. The motif’s frequency suggests that it carries more meaning than meets the eye, and that paganism is not present in the novel simply as a means to carry forward the plot. It is very easy for the reader to spot the link between Tess and the goddesses of antiquity. What is Hardy trying to prove to the reader by associating Tess with divinities from a bygone time? Ultimately, the entire novel carries across a potent message about the identity of Tess herself.
Before considering the relation of paganism to the story, it is important to consider certain elements of this motif. Ancient religions saw the female figure as highly significant in society because it carried with it the association of fecundity and prosperity. The ability of the female to give birth was celebrated and regarded with respect in ancient times. There are multiple theories as to why women started to be seen through a different perspective. According to Kass, man might have grown envious on the female’s ability to give life while society insists that he brings death about at war, and therefore ended up restricting the female lifestyle to that of a domesticated housewife. Others described the female body as a source of sin and temptation, as imperfect and so it needs to be kept out of public life. During the Victorian era, when Hardy was writing, the gap between men and women was especially wide. Women were expected to drape their whole bodies with wide dresses and skirts to distort the shape. Girls were left mostly uneducated since schooling was discouraged and they didn’t learn much except for some basic grammar and arithmetic, sewing, cooking and other ‘useful’ skills. Their future would be based on either marrying and finding a fortune that way while also raising a family, or become a governess to earn your own money if you belong to a middle class family. Women from the lower classes had less chances of rising up the social ladder. Should they fall to temptation or worse still lose their virginity to a rapist, they will be deemed as fallen, failed women in the eyes of the society – even if it is perhaps not their fault.
Hardy portrays his protagonist Tess as one such woman. Her best bet in life was to work in the fields or as a milk maid. Alec’s act of violation upon Tess leads her to be shunned by everyone around her, even by the man who supposedly loves her. Therefore, why is Tess compared to a goddess, when these divine entities are associated with power and respect, two things the poor girl completely lacks in the novel? The reasons for these depend upon the reader’s interpretations. Hardy may be trying to emphasise Tess’s innocence and therefore going against the conventions of his time. By establishing Tess as a goddess he is assimilating her with spirituality and purity, and thus justifying the subtitle of the novel being ‘A Pure Woman’. This must have caused a stir during the Victorian era as it degraded everything they thought is right and moral. However, Hardy was simply asserting the rights of women in society. Each time Angel Clare refused her apologies and every excerpt stating how Alec D’Urberville never was punished for his actions is a piercing cry of satire straight from the author to the reader’s heart. Alec’s status as subordinate to Tess in terms of spirituality,and innocence is shown through his occupation as a priest, while she maintains her prestigious place as a goddess. Angel Clare’s coming from a highly religious family also suggests that like Alec, he is worshipping Tess from down below, unable to reach her level of goodness. This again heightens Tess’s innocence in spite of having her virginity robbed away from her, something condemnable during her time.
The reader witnesses the sacrificing of Tess in a process very similar to that of Christ. She escapes to Stonehenge, where she performs kenosis on her pure, spiritual form and allows herself to appear to her tormenters in all her humanity, much like Jesus Christ let the Jews arrest him without resistance. Such an episode is probably meant to raise pity in the reader, who feels sorry that Artemis, the goddess of hunting is now the hunted one. Thomas Hardy sacrifices Tess with the hopes that her fictional death will save the lives of many real, tormented women who are suffering because of actions they didn’t commit. The rejection of her status as a pagan goddess who stems from Ancient Greece and Rome – the elite civilisations – may also be a signification of the community’s letting go of civil behavior and return to barbarism by condemning the girl to death. There is one may say the performance of kenosis on humanity, both from the side of Tess as well as that of the community. Since Tess is the bearer of humanity and civilization in a barbaric world, her death leads to cutting ties with civilization, involving language itself, and thus ending the narrative as a whole. In a way, the entire novel is an allegory to the life of Christ. There is the celebration of the harvesting and Tess as the goddess with her child, the symbol of fecundity. Her attempt to transcend by sinking down from her godlike status to be with a human man she loves is what kills her, just as Christ demonstrates his love for all humanity and suffers death by crucifixion. The duality of the Christian voice may be there also to serve to show others how in reality both heathens and Christians alike depended on a greater being for survival. Both communities thrived on peace and harmony. Yet Christians seemed to be quite as bloodthirsty as the alleged barbaric heathens as they too carried out a deadly ritual by sacrificing poor Tess. Threfore, Hardy is briging a gap between heathens and Christians seemingly telling them that everyone is the same, in spite of the faith they claim to have. Therefore, the book is a celebration of paganism and a yearning for the past echoed through a Christian voice.
One may also compare Hardy’s Jude the Obscure with Tess of the d’Urbervilles in the sense that both seem to be aiming to imitate the bygone classical past of virtue and dignified endeavor. While Jude is trying to master his Latin and Greek as well as to acquire a good education, he is put down by society simply because of his social class. Tess herself is unable to raise herself out of the murky waters she was thrown in because she does not belong to a society that appreciates women, unlike the society of the classical era. Therefore, it is easy to come to the conclusion that Thomas Hardy did not quite agree with the conventions of his time, and would have liked to see changes applied. Through his novels, he aimed to urge his readers to open their eyes and understand what is taking place in the world around them, that it is not necessarily right and that not everyone benefits from the social system. Tess, the pagan goddess, had to grasp at the past in order to generate the present in the future, thus encouraging the readers to consider and learn from history so that mistakes are not repeated.
List of works cited
Coghill, Jeff, CliffsNotes on Hardy’s Tess of the d’Urbervilles (United States of America: Books Worldwide, Inc. 2001)
Hardy, Thomas, Tess of the D’Urbervilles (Ontario: Dover Publications, Inc, 2001)
Hughes, Kathryn, “Gender Roles In The 19th Century”, British Library, 2014 <https://www.bl.uk/romantics-and-victorians/articles/gender-roles-in-the-19th-century> [accessed 7 November 2016]
Kass, Leon, The Beginning of Wisdom: Reading Genesis (New York: Free Press, 2003)
Shilling, Chris, The Body and Social Theory (London: Sage Publications