Dramatic & Epic Nature in Tess of the d'Urbervilles

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      A cursory reading of the history of English fiction reveals this fact that for the most part two kinds of novels have existed. First, there are novels in which the author’s purpose it to illustrate the niceties of a type or character. In novels that fall towards this category, the incidents are selected and arranged in a manner as to subordinate them to the main purpose of the author. The second important class of novels consists of those works of fiction, in which the object of the writer is to interest the reader in the succession of events. The illustration of character there is of subsidiary importance. The former class of novels is primarily analytical and critical of human personality, showing, the elements of a complex character by means of its actions in relation to other characters. The letter type of fiction is essentially constructive and dramatic, showing life as complex of actions and characters. The first kind, the novel of character, can claim to have had more famous, the second novel, the novel of incident, more numerous adherents and followers. The novels of Richardson, Smollett, Fielding, Thackeray, George Eliot, and Charles Dickens are novels of character.

      Thus we see that the novel of character stresses human personality, whereas in the novel of incident, the interest centers round action or situations. In between these two famous, almost main, classes of novel, there is another known as the Dramatic. In this type of novel, there is a correspondence between the action and the characters. The novel of character shows the contrast that exists between appearance and reality, The novel of incident gives the mastery over character to action. The Dramatic novel tells us that appearance and reality are one and the same thing. It further tells us that character and incident are of equal importance.

      The novels of Thomas Hardy are of the Dramatic type. Hardy’s characters progressively move towards a crisis, and then they move towards an end, determined by the action. In other words the characters are so well knit up with the plot that the characters determine the action which in course of time changes the characters. The characters like Bathsheba and Farmer Baldwood and Sergeant Troy, first create difficulty and then try to solve it. “There is no external framework, all the characters and all is at the same time bound by action.” The characters change and the change creates new situations. The development or unveiling of the plot at the end of the action is highly significant as is the case in dramas. The last scene completes the story and fully reveals the character. The completeness of the action means either comedy or tragedy.

      That is why the novels of Hardy so easily fall into division, which derives its nomenclature from the technique of the drama. His Jude the Obscure, Tess of the d’Urbervilles, The Return of the Native and The Mayor of Casterbridge are tragedies. His Under the Greenwood Tree, The Hand of Echelberta, The Trumpet Major, A Laodicean and the Well-beloved are comic stories. His Desperate Remedies, A Pair of Blue Eyes, Far From the Madding Crowd, Two on a Tower and The Woodlanders are tragic-comedies.

      The dramatic quality of Hardy’s novels too accounts for the easiness and readiness with which they have been put on the stage. About the middle of 1880, J.T. Green, the well-known dramatic critic and writer upon the stage, sought Hardy’s pessimism for the adaptation of The Woodlanders as a stage play. In 1804, there was produced at the Adelphi, a London theatre, a melodrama based upon Hardy’s Tess of the d’Urbervilles, Hardy was himself present at the performance. There is no record, however of what he thought of it. It will not be out of place to mention here that the Author was the recipient of letters from numerous famous actresses—Ellen Tarry, Sarah Bernhardt, and Mrs. Patrick Campbell among the rest—asking that they might be permitted to play the same part, if Hardy himself were to produce a dramatization of his famous story. An event of great significance to Hardy and his reader were the preparation by Baron F. D. Erbuyer of an opera founded upon Tess. This opera was presented at Covent Garden on July, 14th 1909. It was a great success. Mr. and Mrs. Hardy were present and among the distinguished audience was Queen Alexandra.

      It will be of very great interest and importance to the readers of this books, to know that a dramatic version of Far from the Madding Crowd was prepared by one of the members of the Dorchester Debating and Dramatic Society. The play was performed, as was customary, in the Com Exchange. It was received with enthusiasm and admiration. The Debating and Dramatic Society, which contained men of real merit and sterling worth, staged on November 15th 1920, a dramatic version of The Return of the Native. Hardy was immensely pleased at this presentation, and told the producer that “the dancing was just as it used to be at Higher Bockhampton, in my childhood.” These instances could be easily multiplied to show that the dramatic element in the novels of Hardy is well-made. Thus Hardy wrote a number of plays which go to confirm one in the opinion that novels of this celebrated author belong to the dramatic type.

      The following extract from John Buchan’s History of English Literature is relevant and materially helpful to an understanding of the question under discussion.

      “A novel must show constructive skill, proportion, a well-balanced plot, if it is to succeed as a story; it must prove the author’s insight into character and his knowledge of life; and it must be able to retain the reader’s interest by the manner in which it deals with the events which befall the dramatist personae. There are novels of adventure, of character, and of manners, according to the space relatively occupied by these in the working out. Mr. Hardy writes novels of character and secondarily of manners. The adventurous element is very small, and the action seldom unexpected. The end of the story may often be guessed long before it is reached. The novels, with the exception of Desperate Remedies, the earliest, are never sensational and when, as in Tess or Jude the Obscure, there is a climax of tragedy, this is reached so gradually that the reader is fully prepared for what is coming, and though he may grieve, there can be no violent excitement. The profound effect is due to psychological insight and revelation of character. Complex passions and difficult situations are treated, the problems considered are intricate and their solution depends on modern social conditions as well as on the fate, which rules the lives of the individuals.”

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