Chance and Fate in Hardy’s Novel Tess of the d'Urbervilles

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      In Hardy’s novels, chance and fate plays a predominant part. His characters are puppets in the hands of malignant chance or fate which robs them of any chance of happiness. It works both from without and within. All the misery and sorrows that we see in the world, are there because of some external power called Fate. Fate thwarts human happiness in many ways but most common of them is chance. Duffin observes, “Coincidence is so frequent in Hardy that there is some danger of its being regarded as a mannerism, or even as a weak device for bringing about crisis. The method is, however, quite deliberately employed, and is well-rooted in Hardy’s philosophy. The vast web of existence is hopelessly inextricable and it is to the privileged few ‘that the junctions and crossings and interweaving of the web become clear and explicable and when the artist records it the result is marvelous in our eyes. Shakespeare’s lines converge, giving the effect of inevitability; Hardy’s main lines converge, too, but they are constantly cut by other lines with the result that we have as each such section a touch of that irony so dear to Hardy. His coincidences are not forced — they are always explicable, and sometimes explained; nor are they so imaginary as to be incredible, except in cases like the fall of the tower. The strange coincidence in “Tess” when she has but that moment severed herself from her seducer, and as she walks on in the sad Sabbath morn of October, a stranger appears suddenly at her side, and paints out slowly in letters of staring vermillion, the menacing declaration, ‘Thy, Damnation, Slumbereth, Not’—placing a comma after each word, as if to give pause while that word was driven well home to the reader’s heart, the philosophy of the practice in Hardy’s own words enn be explained.

      ‘Strange conjunction of circumstances, particularly those of a trivial everyday kind are so frequent in an ordinary life that we grow used to their accountableness.....’

      There is a constant struggle between man on one hand and, on the other, an omnipotent and indifferent Fate. Since Fate plays an active part in a human drama it is personified in various forms. In this connection, Lord David Cecil observes, “Hardy embodies Fate in various forms. Sometimes it appears as a natural force. Henchard’s plans for making himself rich are brought to naught by a bad harvest, the weather takes the part of Fate here. Sometimes it embodies itself as some innate weakness of character. Jude’s life is ruined because he has been endowed at birth through no wish of his own, with an intensity of sexual temperament which he cannot control, which is his undoing. Chiefly, however, the forces of Fate in Hardy’s novels incarnate themselves in two guises — as chance, and as love. Of these, chance is the most typical. In no other novels does chance exercise such a conspicuous influence on the course of events. Hardy has been blamed for this; and no doubt he does sometimes overdo it. But to condemn his use of chance altogether is to misunderstand his view of life. We are witnessing a battle between Man and Destiny. Destiny is an inscrutable force; we do not understand its nature or its intentions. And we cannot, therefore, predict what it will do. In consequence, its acts always show themselves in the guise of inexplicable, unexpected blows of chance.”

      Referring to the part played by chance in Tess, Cross says, “In harmony with Hardy’s view of character as the resultant of heredity and environment, is his notion of events that lie outside and beyond us; of happenings, chance, and fortune. The immortals would appear to have become enraged at Tess, and to have predestined her hard career. At the very threshold of life, she meets the wrong man. A few days before she marries Angel Clare, she pushes under the door of his bedroom a written confession, which slips out of sight under the carpet where it remains concealed until found by Tess on the wedding morning. On a Sunday, Tess tramps fifteen miles to the personage of the elder Clare to seek protection, there is no answer to her ring at the door, for the family is at church. At just the wrong time she now stumbled upon Alec once more. A letter she despatches to Angel in Brazil is delayed, and he reaches home a few days too late. This ironical arrangement of events, Hardy declares to be a true sequence of things, and asks, with a thrust at Wordsworth, where is a beneficent Providence? And coming to the prime events, he enquires, why was Tess born?

      Where are the clouds of glory? To her and her like birth itself was an ordeal of degrading personal compulsion, whose gratuitousness is nothing as the result seemed to justify, and at best could only palliate.

      Now let us see in detail how chance thwarts the happiness of characters in Tess. It is a chance that Jack Durbeyfield happens to meet Parson Tringham who informs the former that he has descended from the noble d’Urberville family. Jack Durbeyfield is passing his days well but this information has a tremendous effect on him and the novel. It is because of this news that Tess is sent to Trantridge to claim kinship with the rich Mrs. d’Urberville. In another way, chance also guides her to take this expedition. After receiving the grand news Jack Durbeyfield, her father drinks so much that he is unable to go to Casterbridge next morning. Tess goes to Casterbridge but on the way to Casterbridge Prince, the horse that was their sole breadwinner dies in an accident. Thus she gladly undertakes the journey to Trantridge with the hope of finding some job there. Thus we see that it is chance that leads to the tragedy of Tess.

      Again, it is chance that when Tess calls at the d’Urberville mansion. She meets the wrong man. This wrong man Alec destroys her chastity and she no longer remains ‘a pure woman.’ Just mark what Hardy writes in Tess—Thus the thing began. Had she perceived this meeting’s import she might have asked why she was doomed to be seen and coveted that day by the wrong man and not by some other man, the right and desired one in all respects—as nearly as humanity can supply the right and desired, yet to him who amongst her acquaintances might have approximated to this kind she was but a transient impression, half-forgotten.

      In the ill-judged execution of the well-judged plan to do things, the call seldom produces the comer, the man to love rarely coincides with the hour for loving. Nature does not often say See! to her poor creature at a time when seeing can lead to happy doing, or reply Here! to a body’s cry of where? till the hide and seek has become irksome, outward game.”

      This chance meeting of Tess with Alec ruins her life and robs her of any happiness. Again, Tess being an intelligent girl realizes his evil intentions but though she does not like it, she stays at his house. Something seemed to quicken her to a determination; possibly the thought that she had killed Prince.” A little later she quarrels with her companions over a trivial matter when they are returning to Trantridge from Chaseborough. It is just a coincidence that Alec appears on a horseback and asks her to jump on the horseback behind him. She being too tired to walk, does it. Her Fate is working against her. He seduces her. It is just the matter of chance that the wrong man got the pure woman. Hardy himself comments:

      “Why it was that upon this beautiful feminine tissue, sensitive as gossamer, and practically blank as snow as yet, there should have been traced such a coarse pattern as it was doomed to receive; why so often the coarse appropriates the finer thus, the wrong man the woman, the wrong woman the man, mainly thousand years of analytical philosophy have failed to explain to our sense of order.”

      But her tragedy does not stop here. When alter a few months she returns home, she meets a man who writes the following words on a wall in vermilion colour:


      He puts a comma after each word as if to lay greater emphasis. It is only a matter of chance that Tess happens to be there when the man writes these words. They have a great effect on her mind and she feels that he wrote them after having full knowledge of her life, Hardy says,

      But the words entered Tess with accusatory horror. It was as if this man had known her recent history; yet he was a total stranger.

      These words make her realize that her sin will not be forgiven.

      Tess loves Clare and they are going to be united. She does not want to deceive him. So she writes a confession and drops it into his room but by chance, the letter slips under the carpet. She is sure that Angel has got it but on the wedding day, she herself finds it. She again thinks about handing this letter to him but here she is dominated by the passion of love and tears it. This simple incident ruined her married life.

      But chance also does something good for Tess. Angle Clare has already deserted Tess. He is proceeding to Brazil. By chance he meets Izz and desires to take her with him to Brazil. Here chance comes to the help of Tess. Angel asks Izz.

“You love me very, very much Izz?

“I do - I have said I do! I loved you all the time we were at the dairy together.”

“More than Tess?

She shook her head:

“No”, she murmured, “not more than she.”

“How’s that?”

Because nobody could love more than Tess did. She would have laid down her life for’ee. I could do no more.”

      This conversation convinces him of Tess’ sincerity in love and the words she would have laid down her life for’ee continue to ring in his ear. He hungers for her love and soon returns to England. We feel that all will be well now, But the malignant chance plans otherwise.

      Angel Clare returns a little late. It is just the matter of chance that in his absence Tess is again seduced by Alec. In Clare’s absence, she has to suffer a lot. She goes to his house but by chance, she meets none there as all have gone to the church. Alec persuades her and makes her believe that Angel will not return to her. She accepts Alec but again Angel Clare appears before her. She turns him away from her door telling him frankly that he is late. But in a fit of anger, she murders Alec and joins Angel Clare on the way. She hopes to live with him forever. Now the human law thwarts her happiness. She is caught, found guilty and hanged.

      Thus we see that the malignant fate plays a dominant role in Tess through the agency of chance. Chance has been very hard on her especially on two occasions. First when she slips the letter of her confession into his room and it slips under the carpet. Had it not been so, perhaps, Tess would have lived a happy married life. Again, when Angel Clare returns he is a little late. Had he come earlier Tess would not have ended her life at the gallows but would have been a happy housewife.

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