Tess of the DUrbervilles
Gender Inequality in Tess of the D’urbervilles
Set in the Victorian age, Tess of the d’Urbervilles is a poignant tale of a common country girl who experiences cruelty from two very different men. Thomas Hardy is often portrayed as being pessimistic and rather realistic in illustrating the double-standards and hypocrisy of his age. The novel encompasses many themes, such as hypocrisy, fatalism, and the relationships between man and woman. In this essay, the topic of whether Tess was a victim of male cruelty, her own conscience, or other factors will be discussed.
To begin with, Tess is undoubtedly a victim of male cruelty. It is not only one man that victimize her, but several. For example: When Alec saves Tess from the returning workers at Trantridge and they ride into The Chase, Alec takes advantage of the situation that he has put them both into and states all the good thing that he has done for Tess’ family [like buying the Durbeyfields a new horse and giving the Durbeyfield children some toys]; thereby seducing Tess. This is why one the workers said: “Out of the frying pan into the fire!” Alec also takes advantage of Tess on several other occasions such as the time when Tess’ family was evicted after Mr. Durbeyfield dies, or when Tess was working for Farmer Groby. Alec also blames Tess for his loss of faith after his conversion. This shows that Tess is continuously suffering at the hands of male cruelty from just one man – let alone the many others. Hence, Hardy portrays Tess as a young woman whose fate has been inter-twined with cruelty at the hands of her male counterparts.
Secondly, Tess also faces cruelty from Angel Clare. This is evident from the way Angel left Tess for her past misconduct – even though he was equally responsible for committing a similar crime. He even has the nerve to ask Izz Huett to accompany him to Brazil, so that she could act as his wife, and she tells him about Tess saying: “She would have laid down her life for ‘ee. I could do no more.” This shows Angel’s unnecessary and emotion-based judgments imposed on Tess, causing her much distress. Also, after Angel comes back from Brazil – as a ‘changed man’ – he seeks Tess out and interrogates her mother about Tess’ whereabouts; expecting Tess to forgive him. This shows that even men who were brought up in virtuous surroundings, such as Angel, caused terrible injustices and sufferings on Tess. Hardy portrays the difficult position of women in the 19th century, and exposes Victorian double standards.
Addressing the second part of the question, Tess may also be a victim of her own conscience and decisions. Tess is filled with pride – which is the main factor that causes the novel to be classed as a Greek tragedy. The novel states: “Pride, too, entered into her submission – which perhaps was a symptom of that reckless acquiescence in chance too apparent in the whole d’Urbervilles family.” On many occasions in the novel, Tess makes several of her decisions based on pride. For example, she is too proud to ask help from Alec or Angel because she does not want to be viewed as helpless or dependant. Also, when Angel chooses to leave her, she doesn’t even argue with him sufficiently, let alone cry or plead with him. Hardy states in the novel: “If Tess had been artful, had she made a scene, fainted, wept hysterically…he [Angel] would probably not have withstood her.” This pride within Tess is one of the main causes for her downfall. Therefore, Hardy coils Tess in her own faults – like pride and her indecisiveness – with male cruelty, which leads to her mortal ending.
As aforesaid, Tess’ indecisiveness also victimizes her. On many incidents, Tess fails to make a decision or at least an appropriate one. For example, Tess falls asleep on certain climaxes in the story – when she was riding Prince [which led to his death] and when she was in the forest with Alec. This is definitely not the right stance to take in either situation. Some critics may argue that Tess was a naïve country girl who couldn’t possibly have foreseen the consequences of her actions. Others may argue that she was tired and that is why she decided to sleep. However, it doesn’t make sense to fall asleep on either occasion because they were extremely dangerous situations – it doesn’t make sense to fall asleep whilst conducting a horse, nor is it a soothing practice to fall asleep in the middle of nowhere. Both instances would be restless, and filled with anxiety and paranoia. Other instances in which Tess is indecisive is that she has ambivalent feelings towards Alec as well as Angel. She believes that Alec would be her biological husband and that Angel doesn’t deserve to have an impure woman such as herself. But she dislikes Alec – for her own reasons – and loves Angel. This causes problems throughout her youth and leads to her hanging. In this way, Hardy incites Tess’ naivety, recklessness, and – in a sense – a lack of responsibility.
In addition, Tess also makes many incorrect decisions. For example, when Tess’ mother advises Tess not to tell Angel about her past wrongdoing, saying: “Many a woman… have had a Trouble in their time; and why should you trumpet yours when others don’t trumpet theirs?” She does not take her mother’s advice and tells Angel about her relations with Alec – which then causes Angel to flee from Tess. Then, later in the novel, when Angel seeks Tess out, she cannot decide whether or not to go with him. Any logical person would have settled with Alec and not given a second thought about Angel. But Tess decides to leave Alec and flee with Angel – which is a brash and emotionally-induced stance to take. Critics may argue that Tess was in love with Angel and had no love for Alec, and that was why she decided to leave Alec. In defiance to this, Angel abandoned Tess and fled from her for a crime that she deeply regretted and constantly asked forgiveness for. On the other hand, Alec treated her well and wanted to liberate her by sheltering her and her family. If anything, Tess was more indebted to Alec as apposed to Angel who left her with the bare minimal to survive on. Hence, it doesn’t make sense for Tess to still harbor love for Angel, even though Alec has treated her better. Hardy again emphasizes Tess’ recklessness and lack of responsibility.
Aside from this, Tess also falls prey to other factors. Firstly, Tess’ life is wrapped in a series of coincidental occurrences. She says: “My life looks as if it had been wasted for want of chances! When I see what you know, what you have read, and seen, and thought, I feel what a nothing I am!” For example, in the first part of the novel, Tess is at the spring dance along with her country fellows and Angel wishes to join them. However, unexpectedly Angel coincidentally doesn’t dance with Tess. Hardy uses this occurrence to foreshadow the disorder between Angel and Tess in later life. Another pure example of fatality in the novel is that Tess becomes pregnant on the first sexual encounter with Alec. Critics may argue that Tess and Alec may have had a more intense relationship before they broke away. However, this wouldn’t be a fair argument to make since the sexual encounter is only mentioned once – hence the reader can only recall one encounter. Hardy uses this to portray Tess’ unlucky fate from the very stage in the novel. Also the baby dies – again a completely coincidental happening. Lastly, when Tess tries to tell Angel for the last time about her relationship- with Alec, and resorts to writing a note, the note falls between the floor and the carpet – meaning Angel never got to see the note and leads to her short-lived happiness of his unapparent acceptance. All of these occurrences show that luck isn’t on Tess’ side and leads to her downfall.
Another factor which contributes to Tess’ victimization is the very strict norms of Victorian society. It was because of the shame that Sorrow would bring on the Durbeyfield family that John Durbeyfield resorted to disallowing Parson Tringham from baptizing the poor child. It was because of the response of the society that Parson Tringham refused to bury Sorrow in a Christian graveyard – even though he agreed that Tess’ baptism of Sorrow would be accepted in the eyes of the Christian God. Angel’s parents were a major obstacle that Angel had to overcome in order to marry Tess – because Tess isn’t a woman of noble ranking or of high education. Angel leaves Tess because she had a previous sexual relationship – which was not acceptable in Victorian society – whereas Angel committed the exact same crime! Hardy makes clear the hypocrisy and the double-standards of the era, the blind eye of the Church towards those in need of support and, how the society exploited some members of its sphere.
So, to conclude, Tess of the d’Urbervilles is entangled with many factors which cause Tess suffering and remorse. Although male cruelty does play a major part in Tess’ suffering, the decisions of her own conscience and the roads that she takes; plays a larger role in her mortal destruction. There are also many other factors that collectively lead to her end.
Tess of the D’urbervilles: How Our Actions Affect on Our Life
Sometimes the smallest actions can lead to the most significant outcomes. For example, one who does a good deed may inspire another person to pay it forward until there is a chain of positive reaction. The smallest deed can serve as a catalyst and create a domino effect, impacting the lives of one or thousands. However, this idea works both ways in that an inconsequential incident can also lead to complete destruction and the collapse of an entire system. This idea is explored in Thomas Hardy’s Tess of the D’Urbervilles, a tragedy in which a young woman is led to her unfortunate destiny by elements out of her control. Within the novel Hardy explores the aspects of society that exert influence on Tess’s life and shape her circumstances so that she eventually succumbs to her tragic fall. Several minor characters within the story become pivotal through their influence on Tess’ life, and constricted by their Victorian ideals most are quick to make false and unfair judgments. From Parson Tringham to Angel’s judgmental brothers, Hardy informs the reader of the sweeping power of seemingly insignificant actions as forces that lead Tess to her inescapable tragic fate.
Parson Tringham, an extremely minor character, seems to have one of the greatest influences on Tess’s fortune as he casually meets her father one evening by chance. As John Durbeyfield passes him, the parson greets him: “Good night, Sir John” (1). When John inquires why Parson Tringham referred to him as “sir”, an ill-fitting title for a peasant, the parson informs him of his honorable lineage. John Durbeyfield’s discovery that he is the last of the noble d’Urbervilles sets off a chain reaction for the rest of the book, as their ancestry becomes more of a curse than a blessing and repeatedly haunts Tess and shapes her fate. Parson Tringham also let the information slip on a whim, as he tells John, “At first I resolved not to disturb you with such a useless piece of information… However, our impulses are too strong for our judgment sometimes” (3). If the parson had followed his instinct not to tell Durbeyfield of his lineage, Tess’s fate would have been entirely different. Parson Tringham proves that the most insignificant encounters can have a profound impact on the course of someone’s life, as Mr. Durbeyfield becomes arrogant and makes several disastrous choices based on the knowledge of his heritage.
Mr. and Mrs. Durbeyfield contribute to Tess’s downfall as they make irresponsible choices and urge Tess to make decisions that have disastrous consequences. When John Durbeyfield learns he is a d’Urberville, he uses it as an excuse to get embarrassingly drunk and shirk his responsibilities. Because he is unable to sell their hives the next day, exhausted Tess takes over and unintentionally kills Prince, who the family depends on as a means to make money. Although her father’s irresponsible behavior is partly to blame for the horse’s death, Tess takes the fault and feels terribly remorseful. Joan Durbeyfield then pressures her daughter to claim kin with the d’Urbervilles of Trantridge, and putting her ego aside Tess reluctantly agrees because of her remaining guilt over Prince’s death. When Tess later has the opportunity to move to the d’Urberville home, Joan persuades John to let Tess go by appealing to his sense of pride, saying, “He’s struck wi’ her— you can see that. He called her coz! He’ll marry her, most likely, and make a lady of her; and then she’ll be what her forefathers was” (42). John Durbeyfield is moved by Joan’s mention of his fine lineage and is swayed to agree that Tess should leave. While John could have prevented Tess’s departure, his pride combined with Joan’s foolish meddling brings Tess to agree to stay with the d’Urbervilles. Later Tess’s mother has misgivings about Tess staying with the d’Urbervilles, expressing, “’Tis a chance for the maid— Still, if ‘twere the doing again, I wouldn’t let her go till I had found out whether the gentleman is really a good-hearted young man and choice over her as his kinswoman” (48). Joan, recklessly impulsive, pushed Tess to go to the d’Urbervilles without any idea of Alec’s character, a decision that leads to Tess being raped by Alec.
Pressured by her mother to stay at the d’Urberville home, Tess is careful to stay away from Alec until a random accident leads the village woman Car Darch to torment Tess until she flees to Alec as an escape. Tess, avoiding Alec for her mistrust of him, walks back to Trantridge with a group that includes Car Darch, who was “till lately a favorite of d’Urberville’s” (64). Intoxicated Car walks along unsteadily with a basket of groceries on her head when one of the group points out that treacle from her basket had begun to leak down her back. Everyone laughs as Car Darch rolls on the ground to clean her back, but the moment Tess joins in Car Darch leaps up as “a long-smoldering sense of rivalry inflamed her to madness” (65). In a jealous rage over Tess’s perceived relationship with Alec, Car flings insults at Tess while the rest of the group joins in until Tess’s “one object was to get away from the whole crew as soon as possible” (66). Car and the other villagers hurt Tess’s fragile ego and make her feel as if she has no other option but to go with Alec when he offers to take her away, although “at almost any other moment of her life she would have refused such proffered aid and company” (66). A simple accident and Car Darch’s belligerent nature changes Tess’s fate entirely as she is subsequently raped by Alec, illustrating the influence of a few jeers.
Once Tess has moved on from her rape, she decides to start anew at Talbothay’s dairy, where she falls in love with the gentleman Angel Clare and is influenced by her fellow dairymaids Izz, Retty, and Marian to both pursue and evade Angel’s attention. As Tess grows to admire Angel, the maids express their own love for him as well. Their enthusiastic proclamations only encourage Tess’s desire for Angel: “There was no concealing from herself the fact that she loved Angel Clare, perhaps all the more passionately from knowing that the others had also lost their hearts to him” (146). Because the dairymaids are so vocal about their admiration for Angel, Tess is ever more reluctant to refuse his affections. Tess enjoys the attention of being Angel’s favorite, but as Angel’s love becomes more passionate Tess begins to feel guilty and apprehensive for her perceived inferiority to Marian, Izz, and Retty. Constrained by Victorian ideals, Tess feels unworthy in comparison to the virginal maidens who remain supportive despite their own unrequited love. When Marian tells Tess that her and the maids support Tess’s impending marriage, Tess cries to herself and “resolved with a bursting heart to tell her history to Angel Clare” (201). Although the dairymaids did not mean to make Tess ashamed and only wished for her happiness, it leads Tess to make the tragic mistake to tell Angel of her sordid past. When he learns that Tess is not pure, he rejects her and travels to Brazil, leaving Tess depressed, unemployed, and increasingly desperate.
In a final moment of desperation, Tess travels to Angel’s home to receive support from his parents, but upon overhearing a few unkind words from Angel’s brothers, Tess flees and gives up hope that Angel’s family will help her. As she is walking she sees Mercy Chant and is reminded that the woman had been intended for Angel before he married Tess. Tess then hears one of Angel’s brothers say, “Ah! Poor Angel, poor Angel! I never see that nice girl without more and more regretting his precipitancy in throwing himself upon a dairymaid, or whatever she may be” (303). His comparing Tess and Mercy makes Tess feel again ashamed and unworthy as Mercy is a pious and pure woman deserving of Angel. Tess is also taken aback by the scorn and believes that Angel’s entire family is set against her and Angel’s marriage and wants nothing to do with her: “Innocently as the slight had been inflicted, it was somewhat unfortunate that she had encountered the sons and not the father, who, despite his narrowness, was far less starched and ironed than they and had the full gift of charity” (304). If Tess hadn’t heard the brothers’ criticism, she would have completed her visit to Angel’s parents. However, because these are the only words she hears of the Clares’ opinion of her, she assumes that Angel’s father will be just as scornful of her. She tearfully flees “without knowing that the greatest misfortune of her life was this feminine loss of courage at the last and critical moment through her estimating her father-in-law by his sons” (304). Tess misses her last chance to be with Angel because of an unfortunate chance encounter, a final example of the influence others have on Tess’s fortune.
Throughout Tess of the D’Urbervilles, Hardy employs several minor characters to illustrate the devastating effect that uncontrollable forces have on Tess’s fate. While Tess is not entirely powerless in her destiny, her fate is shaped by the people and society around her. It is ultimately Tess’s choices that lead to her tragic fall, and yet many of the forces that sent her in different directions influenced these decisions. From Hardy’s example of Tess it can be concluded that the society and people that we surround ourselves with have a powerful hand in molding our futures. No matter how much control we believe we have over our lives, there are always extrinsic forces at work that we must adapt or succumb to.
A Story of Tess in Tess of the D’urbervilles
In the book, Tess of The d’Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy, the main character, Tess is put into dire situations more from fate than her own decisions. For much of the story, Tess is impacted by events that are very much outside of her control and these events lead her to situations in which she makes decisions that ultimately impact her negatively. Had it not been for fate, Tess would never have been set down the path that she was set down and so she would not have found herself in the situations in which she had to make choices. For this reason, it is clear that Angel’s assertion that she has been “more sinned against than sinning,” to be completely valid.
The first act of fate that sets off Tess’ eventual downfall is her father’s run-in with a townsman that tells him of his family’s supposed heritage.
It was on account of a discovery I made some little time ago, whilst I was hunting up pedigrees for the new county history. I am Parson Tringham, the antiquary, of Stagfoot Lane. Don’t you really know, Durbeyfield, that you are the lineal representative of the ancient and knightly family of the d’Urbervilles, who derived their descent from Sir Pagan d’Urberville, that renowned knight who came from Normandy with William the Conqueror, as appears by Battle Abbey Roll? This new found sense of notoriety prompted John Durbeyfield to pursue his long-lost family members in order to take advantage of his ancestors’ wealth. This is what causes Tess to meet Alec, the main contributor to her downfall. Tess had no control over whether or not her father ran into Parson Tringham or whether or not her pursued this new information. This occurrence was purely an act of fate.
The next brush of fate that Tess encounters in when she sees Angel at a dance but neither of them talk to each other. If the two had crossed paths more completely than they likely would have fallen in love, then and Tess would not have been romantically linked with Alec at all. However, the two did not speak to each other although it is clear that they did share a link from the first time that they had seen each other.
From her position he knew it to be the pretty maiden with whom he had not danced. Trifling as the matter was, he yet instinctively felt that she was hurt by his oversight. He wished that he had asked her; he wished that he had inquired her name. She was so modest, so expressive, she< had looked so soft in her thin white gown that he felt he had acted stupidly.
However, it could not be helped, and, turning and bending himself to a rapid walk, he dismissed the subject from his mind.
Angel knew, from the moment that he saw Tess he knew that she was special. However, he refrained from speaking to her. This was not a decision of Tess’ and it was fate that kept the two apart that night.
The next twist of fate is when Tess goes to deliver the beehives. Tess must deliver them after her father gets too drunk to do so himself. On Tess’ journey, she falls asleep and her horse is impaled by a mail cart.
In consternation Tess jumped down and discovered the dreadful truth. The groan had proceeded from her father’s poor horse, Prince. The morning mail cart, with its two noiseless wheels, speeding along the lanes like an arrow, as it always did, had driven into her slow and unlighted equipage. The pointed shaft of the cart had entered the breast of the unhappy Prince like a sword, and from the wound his life’s blood was spouting in stream and falling with a hiss into the road.
It is not Tess’ fault that her father became too drunk to deliver the beehives himself nor is it her fault that the mail cart was going too fast and killed her horse. These are both things that happened to Tess, not because of Tess.
This unfortunate business with the horse leads Tess to yet another fateful journey in which she meets Alec. She is made to go ask her long-lost relatives, the d’Urbervilles, to set her up with a rich man at her mother’s request. Tess goes off the find this new family and when she comes across their house the narrator explains the reality of the d’Urbervilles.
The d’Urbervilles – or Stoke-d’Urbervilles as they at first called themselves – who owned all of this, were a somewhat unusual family to find in such an old-fashioned part of the country. Parson Tringham had spoken truly when he said that out shambling John Durbeyfield was the only real lineal representative of the old d’Urberville family existing in the county or near it; he might have added, what he knew very well, that the Stoke-d’Urbervilles were no more d’Urbervilles of the true tree than he was himself. Yet it must be admitted that this family formed a very good stock whereon to regraft a name which sadly wanted such renovation.
However, through no fault of her own, this is not known to Tess and her family. Soon she meets Alec and he tells her that she will be unable to meet Mrs. d’Urberville due to the fact that she is an invalid. Tess explains that they are a part of the same family and Alec offers to show her around the grounds while she waits for the cart to return. During this time Alec tells her that his mother will be able to find work for her. This meeting causes the beginning of Tess’ relationship with Alec and it was through fate that the events lined up so perfectly to bring the two together.
Tess and Alec grow closer, much to the dismay of Car Darch. Car is jealous of Tess and so she tries to fight her in the streets. Alec then appears in horseback and offers to save Tess from this situation. Against Tess’ better judgement, she agrees and she rides off with Alec. Alec and Tess start to talk and she tells him that she does not love him and she grows angry when she tries to explain that she does not like it when he flirts with her. Eventually, Tess falls asleep and Alec tries to put his arm around her. She quickly awakens and he tells her that he loves her. Tess then realizes that they should have been back by now. Alec says that he does not know where they are due to the fog so they dismount the horse and he leaves to figure out where they are. When Alec returns, Tess is asleep and he begins to take advantage of her unconsciousness by raping her. Though many proclaim that Tess should have known better then to get onto the horse with Alec, it was, at the time the evil she did know over the evil that she did not know. Tess had no reason to think that she would get raped is she left with Alec to avoid being beaten by Car. It was not her fault that Alec is a terrible and if you look at her situation, she really did not have another choice. Again it was fate intervening on the course of her life.
As Tess’s own people down in those retreats are never tired of saying among each other in their fatalistic way: “It was to be.” There lay the pity of it. An immeasurable social chasm was to divide our heroine’s personality thereafter from that previous self of hers who stepped from her mother’s door to try her fortune at Trantridge poultry-farm.
It was not Tess’s choice to be raped by Alec and so the circumstance that she found herself was due to fate and not her own free will.
It was also all in fate that Tess became pregnant from this encounter with Alec. She does not tell Alec but she also does not hide the child’s existence. The baby eventually grows sick and is expected to die. Tess then attempts to get the child baptized before it dies but her father refuses to send for a parson so Tess must baptize the baby on her own. The baby dies the next morning and Tess goes to see the parson to inquire as to whether or not the baby can be buried on holy ground. The parson informs her that he cannot bury the infant himself due to church politics but she may bury it in the churchyard and so she does so. This causes Tess to lose her faith in God and the Church as a whole.
If before going to the d’Urbervilles’ 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. But it had not been in Tess’s power nor is it in anybody’s power – to feel the whole truth of golden opinions while it is possible to profit by them. She – and how many more – might have ironically said to God with Saint Augustine: “Though hast counselled a better course than Thou hast permitted.”
This shows that Tess is not to blame for her loss of faith and that her circumstances permit such a reaction to be shown. If Tess had been able to have her child baptized and buried on Holy ground by the parson than she would likely not have lost her faith in God.
From here Tess goes to work as a dairy maid on a dairy farm where she happens to meet Angel, the same man that she saw when she was at the club-walk but did not talk to. Angel is the son of a preacher and his two brothers are now parsons as well; Angel, however, is a farmer. Eventually the two fall in love and, after much convincing on Angel’s part, decide to get married.
Now, then, Mistress Teresa d’Urberville, I have you. Take My name, and so you will escape yours! The secret is out, so why should you any longer refuse me?
If it is sure to make you happy to have me as your wife, and you feel that you do wish to marry me, very, very much I do, dearest, of course! I mean, that it is only your wanting me very much and being hardly ably to keep alive without me, whatever me offences, that would make me feel I ought to say I will.
You will – you do say it, I know! You will me mine forever and ever.
He clasped her close and kissed her. Yes! This was an act of fate. Tess never could have predicted that Angel would be at the dairy farm or that they would fall in love with each other. Tess did not leave home in order to find love but she left to find a fresh start.
The first time in the book that Tess is given a choice is when she chooses to tell Angel about her past with Alec. She chose to do so after the two were married and Angel came clean about an affair that he had had with an older woman before he met Tess. She knew that the consequences of that action would most likely be irreparable to her relationship with Angel but she did it anyways. After she told Angel the truth, he decided to leave her and go to Brazil, leave Tess heartbroken and alone. Tess was in no way forced to give Angel this information and she would have a much happier life if she did not tell him. This choice led to many other consequences throughout the rest of the book that would be avoided if she listened to her parents’ advice and remained silent on that matter.
Although Angel leaving was not completely Tess’s fault because she cannot control the actions of anybody other than herself, he passivity in the situation is. Tess could have done more to stop him but she just him go. Tess even offers to drown herself in order to make Angel feel better about the situation.
During the interval if the cottager’s going and coming, she had said to her husband, I don’t see how I can help being the cause of such misery to you all your life. The river is down there. I can put an end to myself in it. I am not afraid Tess made the choice to let Angel make the decisions about how this situation was going to play out. If Tess was more assertive at this time, then Angel may not have made the decision to leave Tess behind and go to Brazil.
Eventually, Tess, by another twisted act of fate, sees Alec as a preacher. After much convincing that Angel would never return for her, Tess becomes Alec’s mistress yet again because she needed money. Tess had the option of going to her husband’s parents and asking for money but she was far too embarrassed about the situation to do so. She could have found a way to make money without returning to Alec but she chose to take the easy way out. Tess is at fault for making this decision and not waiting for Angel to return like she knew in her heart he would.
The final occurrence that undoubtedly led to Tess’ demise was the murder of Alec. After Angel returned, Tess grew so angry that Alec had lied to her and taken advantage of her yet again that she returned to their room and stabbed him.
He heard me crying about you, and he bitterly taunted me and called you by a foul name; and then I did it. My heart could not bear it. He had nagged me about you before. And then I dressed myself and came to find you.
This was completely Tess’ fault and cannot be blamed on fate. Tess made the conscious decision to kill Alec. She knew what the consequences to such an action are and yet she did it anyways. Tess then returned to Angel and told him what she had done but he did not believe her. She then made the choice to stay in town for the night instead of fleeing. This led to her eventual execution as the authorities found where she was hiding out and arrested her. Although it was fate that led her to that moment, it is Tess’ fault that her relationship with Alec evolved in the way that it did.
Although it can be argued that Tess had control of her own destiny, it is clear that fate played a large hand in how her life ended up. Had fate not intervened and caused her to make acquaintance with Alec in the first place then Tess would not have wound up in a position where she was in so much pain that she made the decision to murder him. While Tess’s life cannot all be blamed on fate, it also cannot all be blamed on the, albeit poor, choices that she made when under difficult circumstances. Given the information Hardy provided the readers in the text, it can clearly be seen that Tess has been sinned against far more than she has sinned and despite that, she did not find peace in her life.
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 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.
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?