Joan Durbeyfield: Character in Tess of the d'Urbervilles

Also Read

      Hardy is above all a painter of women and the character of Joan Durbeyfield is the example. She is the representative of Hardy’s all-rural women who despite their rude rusticity have a strange tenderness of heart and purity of mind. In Tess, she is the woman who deserves all praise from the readers. Even Tess, who is declared by Hardy’s ‘pure woman’, has some spots in her character, but her mother, though she often faces the horrible hardships, and falls into the situations where her feet begin to stagger, she remains pure and unstained. As the mother of our heroine, she has a very important part to play in the present novel.

      Joan Durbeyfield is a typical of Hardy’s rural women who despite their rude rusticity have a strange tenderness of heart and purity of mind. She is a woman worthy of our praise because in spite of the hardships she faces, she remains pure and unstained. She has been described as being over-loaded with the house-work. “As usual, Mrs. Durbeyfield was balanced on one foot beside the tub, the other being engaged in the aforesaid business of rocking her youngest child. The cradle-rockers had done hard duty for so many years, under the weight of so many children, on that flagstone floor, that they were worn nearly flat, in consequence of which a huge jerk accompanied each swing of the cot, flinging the baby from side to side like weaver’s shuttle, as Mrs. Durbeyfield, excited by her song, trod the rocker with all the spring that was left in her after a long days soothing in the suds.” She is a passionate lover of the tune and it said that “No ditty floated into the Blackmoor Vale from the outer world but Tess’s mother caught up its notation in a week,”

A Liberal Woman

      Hardy has proved that even illiterates can be more liberal than the literates who hold that liberality is impossible without literacy. Joan exercises the greatest tolerance and never complains about her difficulties. Tess dances in the club till dark and she with one hand pulls the string of the cradle and with the other washes the clothes of her children. When Tess returns she does not mind because she wants that her children should feel happy. Her husband stops working and starts drinking. She tolerates and never rebukes him for his shirking nature. Tess returns from Trantridge robbed of her feminine wealth, she only cries of pain when Tess convinces her that she was too innocent to understand the purpose of Alec, till it was too late. Again she returns from Wellbridge deserted, and again Joan sighs and never complains, never rebukes. Even on the death bed, she tolerates the lethargy of her husband and never asks him to work. She herself can undergo any pain, any difficulty, any torture but cannot see that the others also should suffer. This liberality on her part has encircled her in a halo, in which she looks very elegant.

The Greatest Well Wisher of Tess

      A major part of her love is reserved for Tess, her eldest daughter. The family may go to hell, there may be some arrangement for the bread of the children or not, even her husband may die if he wants, but Tess’s life should be settled. Her greatest desire is to see her future prosperous and her present happy. She wants that she should become a respected wife of a respected gentleman. She preaches her daughter's deception only due to her unlimited affection for her. Just note the language of her letter which is brimful of her love — “Many a woman—some of the Highest in the Land—have had a trouble in their time; and why should you Trumpet yours, when others don’t Trumpet theirs? No girl would be such a fool, specially as it is so long ago and not your fault at all. I shall answer the same if you ask me fifty times.” She is so affectionate to Tess that after reading the letter Tess has to sigh, “O mother—mother!” She is the only person in the family who compels her to go to Trantridge and claim kinship from the d’Urbervilles; she is the only person who believes her every word; and she is the only person in accompanying her in shedding tears. When Tess is happy—she is happy, though at that time she may be starving.

      Through her character Hardy proves that “love is in whole history a woman’s life, in the life of man it is mere episode.” He fully utilizes his gift of divining the souls.

Rustic Innocence

      Like all other women characters of Hardy, Joan is also devoid of artificiality and affectation. She talks what she means. She never exercises hypocrisy and in her delineation, Hardy has taken special care that she should represent the rustic innocence of the countrymen. When her husband gives her the news of their belonging to the respected family of knights, her joy knows no bounds. Immediately she wants to share this happiness with Tess and after giving her the news she asks, “Don’t that make your bosom plim?” But to the question of Tess that if it would be of any good to them, she has no answer. It is sheer innocence, happiness without any ground!

      Her reaction to the great news, when Joan comes to know about the noble descent of her husband, she is also filled with joy and excitement. She joins him at Rolliver’s Inn on the pretext of bringing him back. She is a romantic soul and the news fires her imagination. She already starts thinking of some grand schemes for a glamour match for her daughter. She is sure that out of this discovery of her husband’s ancient lineage “great things” might come.

Ideal Woman According to Bible

      Angel Clare’s mother reads out the qualities of an ideal woman to him, “Who can find a virtuous woman? For her price is far above rubies. She riseth while it is yet night and giveth meat to her household. She girdeth her loins with strength and strengtheneth her arms. Her children arise up and call her blessed; and her husband also praiseth her.” And when we try Joan on this criteria we find her quite fit except that her husband does not call her blessed and neither does he praise her. Otherwise, it is she who pulls the cart of family out of the mud into which it is thrown into by her husband from time to time. Tess learned this working and laboring from her mother. She is bold and courageous and never gives into the adverse circumstances.

      Joan Durbeyfield can be said to be an ideal woman according to the norms of the Bible. She quite fits into the description of an ideal woman that is given by Angel Clare’s mother. The only thing is that her husband neither praises her nor calls her blessed. When the cart is thrown into the mud by the husband from time to time, it is she who pulls it out. She is never given into adverse circumstances and faces them boldly and courageously.

Optimistic and Endurance

      She sees the bright side of the things and perpetually tries for the betterment of Tess and her family. Like Angel and Tess the world does not look her as an amalgam of sadness and worries. It is not a vanity. She believes that the life is to enjoy; whatsoever methods one has to adopt to attain the happiness, one should attain it.

      Joan is an optimist and always sees the bright side of things. She is persistently on the trial for the betterment of Tess and the family. In fact, she is shown to be somewhat over-optimistic when she starts building sandcastles on hearing the news about her husbands noble ancestry. She tries to support the validity of this news with The complete Fortune-Teller. Joan also thinks that Alec d’Urberville will propose to Tess to be his wife. She is almost sure that Alec would marry her and nurturing this thought in her mind she tells her husband that “He ‘ll marry her amongst likely, and make a lady of her; and then she will be what her forefathers were.” Her own optimism reaches its height when she thinks that if Alec does not marry her before he will surely marry her after seducing her. She believes that life is to enjoy and one should adopt whatever methods one can apply to obtain it.

      Joan is a woman of great tolerance as she never complains about her difficulties. She wants her children to be happy thus she does not mind Tess dancing in the club till late. She manages both, washing the clothes and rocking the cradle by herself. She shows great tolerance with regard to the shirking nature on the drinking habit of her husband. In spite of his negligent ways, she is never seen indulging in any kind of an argument or row with him. She only cries on being told by Tess about her loss of virginity. She doesn’t even utter a complaint against the apathetic ways of her husband while she is on her death bed.

Defects and Drawbacks in Her Character

      Like all the country women, Joan has no high moral or the moral code. She never allows herself to fall into the conflict of good and bad. She knows only one thing that one should try to be happy without making any other person sad. This is the only cause that she advises Tess to marry with Alec even on the term of giving her body to him before marriage, provided she ensures that Alec would not refuse. Again in the case of Angel she asks her to conceal her past because others also do in the same way. No doubt she sacrifices the moral principles for prosperity and happiness, yet she is loving.

      Joan is superstitious and does not have very high moral codes. Her motto is that one should try to be happy in life without making any other person sad. For the purpose of marrying Alec she advises her daughter to even give up her body to him but to make sure that he marries her. When Tess seeks her advice regarding her marriage with Angel, she advises her to conceal her past because she feels that this is what the others also do. In spite of these few drawbacks in her character she is a loving person.

Main Aspects of the Character in a Nut-Shell

1. Being the mother of the heroine and the embodiment of rustic innocence she has a great importance in the plot of the novel.

2. She is liberal and helps Hardy in carrying out his theme that liberality is possible in the illiteracy also.

3. She is the greatest well wisher of Tess.

4. Her innocence and workmanship is exemplary.

5. She is found fit when tried on the criteria of Bible, as on ideal woman.

6. She is an optimist.

7. Though she has no moral, yet she is loving.

Previous Post Next Post