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.
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