Main Characteristics of Tess of the d'Urbervilles

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      The Plot. No writer can praise his own novel, yet if his words about his novel are properly weighed, one can easily recognize the hidden spirit of his creation. Here are some lines from the preface of Tess of the d’Urbervilles.

      But responsive spirit in which Tess of the d’Urbervilles has been received by the readers of England and America would seem to prove that the plan of laying down a story of the tune of tacit opinion, instead of making it to square with the merely vocal formulae of society, is not altogether a wrong one, even when exemplified in so unequal and partial achievements as the present.” The readers can easily call on the meaning that Hardy likes the plan of Tess. His other novels are, no doubt very good but the readers do not see this perfection of plot there. Almost all his novels are loosely woven, it is only in Tess of the d’Urbervilles where he exhibits himself a perfect and dexterous plotter.

      The Theme. Besides, the theme of the novel is very high. He has thrown away with disgust all the conventional theories made by the narrow-minded members of the society. He has emotionally proved that the purity of mind is the only criterion by which a character is tested, its worth is estimated. The purity of the body, no doubt, is worth preserving but if it is lost, it is not a great loss. This novel is one where in the great campaign of the heroine begins after her experience which has usually been treated as fatal part of protagonist or at least as the virtual ending of her enterprises and hopes? Even then we see that the public showed a fondness for the book and many praised it highly. Hardy has tried to make the inflexible moral code of the society flexible. He has proved that the defective can be more than entire and the goodness of the character lies in the intentions and motives and not in ends and achievements. Tess, despite her loss of chastity, is a pure woman, because she is sincere, innocent, simple, artless and emotionally truthful.

      The Characters. The characters are very few but they are chosen with such a grand skill that they play their best without any perspiration on their foreheads. Angel is all liberality, all generosity, all humanity, but he is made to fall from his lofty seat to give more deepening effect to the story. Tess no doubt from the very beginning is shown an obedient daughter, passes through so many difficulties and miseries for the sake of her own pride and we know the respectful existence is the worth of life. If somewhere she bows she bows for her parents, not for her own self. This bowing is not her defeat, but a brighter success. It hints upon one more aspect of her character. Even the villain of the novel has a bright side in his character. After his conversion he does not want to satisfy only, he wants to marry Tess for good. If the characters like Alec, who had been in the habit of spoiling the chastity of maidens want to stick to a single woman, it is purely a call of their souls and not of the bodies. Moreover, he wanted to expiate his sins by this method. Each of the minor characters is as good as the dominating one.

      Easy Natural flow. Hardy is often blamed for his defective prose. The critics have condemned his narration by declaring it wrong (grammatically). But in Tess of the d’Urbervilles, that weakness is also brought into control. It does not look like the labored language of his other novels. Here the narration has a natural flow and in certain spots, it is so poetic that one wants to kiss the hands of the writer. Highly bombastic words are no more in it. The short sentences with which he begins his chapter are very appealing. As—

“The season developed and matured.”
“It was a hazy sunrise in August.”
“Her narrative ended;” etc.

      Mirror of Society. The dialogues are very sweet and romantic. Whenever any superstition is talked of, the teller believes in it and listener does not. It creates a very grand situation. If the cock gives an afternoon crow, Tess fears and Angel shrugs his shoulders. General belief which is represented through his characters is quite real and in this respect Hardy is praiseworthy.

      Nature. The nature description is classical. The dusk of the dawns and evening, the dazzling sunlight of the noon and the darkness of the night, different changes in the climates and the seasons, the scenes of fields and meadows, rivers and mountains, uplands and valleys, showers of rain and fall of snow, all find their due part in this novel. “On a thyme-scented, bird-hatching morning in May— he left her home for second time.” “The sun, on account of the mist, had a curious sentiment, personal look, demanding the masculine pronoun for its adequate expression.” “The light which still shone was derived mainly from a large hole in the western bank of cloud; it was like a piece of day left behind by accident, dusk having closed in elsewhere,”

      “The night was as sultry as the day. There was no cooling after dark unless on the grass.”

      These few extractions show that Hardy is always alive to Nature, which finds full exhibition in Tess of the d’Urbervilles.

      Humour. A current of very serious humour always flows underneath the grim and melancholic sobriety of the story. The shirking nature of Mr. John Durbeyfield brings all the calamities upon Tess and becomes the cause of her tragedy, but it excites a very grave humour which sometimes changes into contempt. The greatest humour comes out of the dialogue of Mr. Crick, the Dairyman. It is a fact that Crick does not want to make others laugh but he speaks in such an innocent manner that they are bound to laugh.

      Philosophy of Life. But the greatest quality which has brought this novel the highest praise is Hardy’s philosophy. This is the most prevailing factor of the novel. Hardy’s pessimism is placed in the search light of Optimism to change into meliorism. On the one hand, he speaks through Angel -

“God’s not in his heaven
All’s wrong with the world.”

      And on the other hand, he struggles against the misfortunes in the character of Tess. All around Tess is darkness, and she does not proceed further. Though Hardy has tried much to convince the readers that he believes in continuous struggle, yet the final impression which the novel yields upon the minds of the readers is the remark of Shakespeare which he quotes in the preface of this book—

“As flies to the wanton boys, so are we to gods”
“They kill us for their sport!”

      And this high melancholic pessimism is the only thing, because of which Tess is a masterpiece of Hardy.

University Questions

Tess of the d’Urbervilles is generally regarded as Thomas Hardy’s masterpiece. Why?
What are the main characteristics of the novel Tess of the d’Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy?
Is it a fact that Hardy can be seen in all the colours in Tess of the d’Urbervilles?

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