Nature Element in Tess of the d'Urbervilles

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      Hardy was deeply interested in Nature. He has a sensitive temperament which was open to the effect of Nature in Tess of the d'Urbervilles. In his novels, he has given very accurate description of natural scenes and sights. In this connection Grimsditch has observed, “A strong characteristic of Hardy is the wide awakeness of his senses to external impressions. An average intelligent observer notes small things and straightaway forgets them, while the possessor of a highly trained memory retains a greater number in his mind, more or less isolated or disconnected. But an artist of Hardy’s power not only absorbs minute details and changes in the world around him, but also links them up with human personality with consummate skill. His ears are open to every slight sound; he sees (and makes us see) every delicate shade of colour, and he constantly creates the illusion in the reader’s mind that he is in the actual spot described. We can see the dust rising up from the hot roadway, bear the rain’s varying sound as it falls on different crops, mark the twisting and turning of leaves in a breeze, note the cloud closing ‘down upon the line of a distant ridge, like an upper upon a lower eyelid, shutting in the gaze of the evening sun’. His power of framing vivid and beautiful metaphors and similes has much to do with his success in reproducing impressions from without. There are ugly exceptions and occasional illustrations only to be understood by technicians, but for the most part, they are telling and give that impression of utter rightness which alone stamps simile or a metaphor with success.

      As regards the part played by Nature in the novels of Hardy Lord David Cecil has observed “Hardy was a very sensitive boy responding precociously to experience; and the life in which he grew up stamped itself so deeply on his imagination that, when his faculties had reached the creative stage of development, he conceived his picture of life in its term. The most living part of his work is always concerned with it, and it is responsible for some of its most characteristic features. Nature, first of all, played a larger part in his books than in those of any other English novelist. It is not just the background in his drama, but a leading character in it. Sometimes it exercises an active influence on the course of events; more often it is a spritual agent, colouring the mood and shaping the disposition of human beings. The huge bleak darkness of Egdon Heath dominates the lives of the characters in The Return of the Native, infusing into them its grandeur and its melancholy; the solitary wistfulness of the woods is the keynote of sentiment of The Woodlanders who lived among them. As its title suggests, the distinctive mask of the character of Hardy’s second novel comes from the fact that they dwell “Under the greenwood tree”. His most living characters, moreover are always natives of the countryside. Farmers and shepherds, thatchers and hedgers, they, most of them, never stay beyond its borders. A few, indeed, go off as soldiers and sailors like the Loveday brothers in The Trumpet Major, very rarely one with exceptional intellectual aspirations, like Clym Yeobright or Jude Fawley, will depart to seek fulfillment in a higher sphere. But soldiers and intellectuals alike remain countrymen still. However much they travel or educate themselves, they bear the stamp of field and village on every fact of their personalities. Out of their original environment, they are aliens. Indeed, so far as the motives of rural life, they turn on the conflict between rural circumstances and the aspirations cherished by those confined in them towards a more refined existence. Jude longs to satisfy his desire for learning; Eustacia Vye yearns for the colour and luxury of life in Paris; Grace and Fancy hesitate to marry their rustic sweet hearts because a glimpse of the world has made their taste fastidious.”

      In Hardy’s novels Nature serves as a background for human scenes. But he confines himself only to the somber aspects of Nature. It is mainly because of his temperament that he does not turn to other aspects of Nature. He presents a gloomy wintry day, the “God crust sun” “a pond edged with grayest leaves.” Sometimes Nature seems to share in human moods and emotions but in reality, it is the reflection of human moods, feelings and passions which the percipient human mind observes in Nature. We can explain it by taking a few examples from Tess. Hardy says:

“The Vale of Blackmoor was to her the world, and its inhabitants its races thereof. From the gates and stiles of Marlott she had looked down its length in the wondering days of infancy, and what had been mystery to her then was not much less than, mystery to her now. She had seen daily from her chambers—window lowers, villages, faint white mansions; above all the town of Shaston standing majestically on its height; its window shining like lamps in the evening sun.”

      Again when Tess and Angel come in close contact at Talbothays dairy farm, Hardy says.

Amid the oozing fatness and warm ferments of the Farm Vale, at a season when the rush of juices could almost be heard below the hiss of fertilization, it was impossible that the most fanciful love should not grow passionate. The ready blossoms existing there were impregnated by their surroundings.”

      The above quoted lines suggest that Hardy realizes that Nature has a holy plan, It is clear from the sentence, “The ready blossoms existing there were impregnated by the surroundings.” The air is very often described as “balmy and clear.” The good intentions of Nature are clearly described in the following lines:

“It was a typical summer evening in June, the atmosphere being in such delicate equilibrium and so transmissive that inanimate objects seemed endowed with two or three senses, if not five. There was no distinction between the near and the far, and an auditor felt close to everything within the horizon. The soundlessness impressed her as a positive entity rather than as a mere negation of noise. It was broken by the strumming of strings.”

      In his treatment of Nature Hardy is close to Wordsworth. Like Wordsworth, he is ‘constantly on the watch to find a human meaning in every part of the fact of Nature.’ His remark when Tess returns to Marlott after being seduced by Alec, is worth quoting. He says:

      “On these lonely hills and dells, her quiescent glide was of a peace with the clement she moved in. Her flexuous and stealthy figure became an integral part of the scene. At times her whimsical fancy would intensify natural processes around her till they seemed a part of her own story. Rather they became a part of it; for the world is only a psychological phenomenon and what they seemed they were. The Midnight airs and gusts, moaning amongst the tightly-wrapped buds and bark of the winter twigs, were formulated of bitter approach. A wet day was the expression of irremediable grief at the weakness in the mind of some vague ethical being whom she could not class definitely as - the God of her childhood and could not comprehend as any other.”

      But in spite of this similarity, Hardy differs from Wordsworth. To Hardy Nature has no sympathy with the finer emotions and sentiments of mankind. A study of his novels shows that Nature is disgusted with the race of men. He was much affected by science which destroyed the finer and peaceful effects of Nature. If we turn from the discord and strife of men to Nature for relief and peace of mind, there too we find the same struggle for existence. Thus he has presented “Nature red in tooth and claw.” He returns to mankind in disgust. Just mark what he says:

“Since; then, no grace I find
Taught me of trees,
Turn I back to my kind
There atleast smiles abound
Worthy as these,
There, now and then, are found
How unlike is it to Wordsworth’s belief!”

      Now it becomes clear that Nature has no sympathy with man. We can explain it by quoting some lines from Tess when Angel Clare feels that Tess has deceived him by concealing her ugly affair with Alec, he deserts her. He is sad. All his expectations of happiness have been thwarted. The night comes and increases his misery instead of giving him some consolation. Hardy says:-

“The night came in, and took up its place there, unconcerned and indifferent; the night which had already swallowed up his happiness and was now digesting it listlessly, and was ready to swallow up the happiness of a thousand other people with a little disturbance or change of mien.”

      From the above account, we conclude that Hardy only observes the somber aspects of Nature. “Hardy has most fondly described,” observes Cazamian, “the elementary, grand and sad aspects of nature; the land which appears to him most is that which is freest from human dwellings....” Arthur Compton-Rickett believes that Hardy’s interpretation of Nature reveals his outlook on men and women. He says, “without overwhelming you with his intimate knowledge of natural phenomena, he can make you feel, by his delicate and multifold allusiveness, the significance of the country’s life.....In fact, his interpretation of nature gives us the clue to his outlook on men and women.”

University Questions

“Nature herself is one of the characters in Hardy’s best novels.” Discuss.
Attempt a brief critical comment on Hardy’s interpretation of Nature with special reference to his novel Tess of the d’Urberville.

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