Minor Rustic Characters in Tess of the d'Urbervilles

Also Read

      Broadly speaking Hardy’s characters may be divided into three groups. First those who are protagonists in the whole human drama i.e. who take leading parts, secondly those who are in contact with them and have some part in their affairs, and lastly “the rustic bystanders not only provide comic relief, but also to fulfill a much more important function. Their services in making the machinery run smoothly and perspicuously are invaluable, and they also help to bring out not only the immediate but also the ulterior significance of all that is taking place. In a sense, they, represent Hardy himself. They are quiet but deeply interested observers who see more of what is going on than the gentle folks are aware, and they are continually dropping shrewd comments.... they are asked in tradition, the traditions of a primitive class, rooted in the soil, which it is their function to typify. They are as external as the woods and fields and heaths; whereas the diffident lovers, the weak or faithless women, are anguished victims of despair, are symbols of a present phase of disturbance, restlessness, and maladjustment” as Baker as observed.

      The minor characters of Hardy have been given various terms. They are called ‘the rustic chorus’; and the philosophic party’. The word chorus is used in its classical sense. In the Greek drama, the function of the chorus was to give such information to the audience as was not otherwise available. The rustics in Hardy’s novel often give an important information. They are called the philosophic party because sometimes their comments contain greatest truth than the philosophy of many philosophers. They are sometimes called ‘the rustic standards’ as they only stand and watch without taking any active part in the novel.

      These rustic characters were first of all introduced in the novel, Under the Greenwood Tree. He made them a necessary part of the great tragedies that followed it. They have great importance in Far from the Madding Crowd, in The Mayor of Casterbridge and in The Return of the Native. But in his final works Tess of the d’Urbervilles and Jude the Obscure they are more or less discarded. Though in his final works, they are not present in plenty yet they play a significant role in “Tess”. They appear in groups only three or four times. Hardy ignored these characters in Tess and Jude merely because he wanted to purify and simplify his style so that he might concentrate on the great social issues he proposed to discuss in these novels. In Tess they appear only at three places. We meet them for the first time in Tess in village Marlott; then we find them at Talbothay’s dairy-farm.

      Although they are rustics, they are not by any means unthinking. They are not merely designed as stage furniture. On the contrary they have their own logic—They fulfill an important function and render an invaluable service in working the machinery smoothly and well. Their world serves as a background to the tragic world of Thomas Hardy. They are full of the tradition of a primitive class, rooted in the soil. They are as eternal as the woods and fields and heaths.

      The rustic chorus does not take any active part in the main action of the novel but are content with observing what is going on around them. Hence they are called ‘rustic standards.’ In fact they see more of what is going on than the gentle folks know. In The Return of the Native Diggory Venn is a regular spy watching over Thomasin’s affairs.

      These quiet observers sometimes make comments which contain greater truth than the philosophy of many philosophers. At One place in Tess Hardy himself calls these rustics as ‘philosophers.’ He says, “The chief pleasure of these philosophers lay in going every Saturday night, when work was done, to Chaseborough, a decade market town two or three miles distant.” They are simple, honest village folk who know things in their true colours. Their comments are full of truth and serve as a warning. We can illustrate it from Tess. When after the discovery that he has descended from the old knightly family of the d’Urbervilles, Jack is historic, both Jack and Joan Durbeyfield feel that Tess their pretty eldest daughter, has bright future. They are sitting in the Inn. They are surrounded by some rustics who observe them. One of them remarks, “Tess is a fine figure O, fun, as I said to myself today when I saw her vamping round parish with the rest. But Joan Durbeyfield must mind that she don't get green malt in floor.” It means that if Joan is not careful, Tess may find herself in trouble. We know how true the remark proves. The rustic chorus, as has been said above, serves the same purpose as was served by chorus in Greek dramas. They give us very important information which is not otherwise available to us. At one place in Tess their information proves to be of vital importance to the course of the action of the novel. When Angel Clare being bitterly disappointed, runs away from Tess, he meets Izz by chance. She agrees to his proposal of taking her with him to Brazil. But he suddenly asks her, “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 remark totally changed his mind and he went to Brazil alone. During his stay in Brazil he hungered for the love of Tess.

      Hardy appears to have agreed with Aristotle when we realize that humour often springs from these rustic characters. They provide rich humour from time to time. They provide comic relief. Tess is a serious novel dealing with the problems of chastity in women. There is little scope for humour. They sing and dance to make others happy. The May Dance in the Marlott village, their conversation at Talbothay’s dairy-farm renders humour to the novel. When we see them, we feel relieved from the intensely tragic atmosphere of the novel.

      “With the Wessex peasants, religion is little more than superstition: they practice Pagan rites as enthusiastically as they sing in the village choir. If they are conscious of any godhead it is as much the Earth, their Great Mother who increases their flocks and gushes from the cider presses, as the Jehovah of the Old Testament. Their, wisdom and happiness is age-long and inherited. Antaeus-like, they are strong with their parent Earth.

      A great critic S.C. Chew is of the opinion that they do not form a separate class. He says, “The peasants of Thomas Hardy do not form a class apart from the other characters in the Wessex Novels, for almost by imperceptible gradations the background or chorus of yokes is connected with the principal characters who are higher in the social scale. Hardy has protested more than once against the city man’s view of the undifferentiated ‘Hodge’. In Tess he remarks that these rustics are beings of many minds, being infinite, indifferent; some happy, many serene, a few depressed one here or there bright even to genius, some stupid, others wanton, others austere. The importance of these people varies with the social state in which the several stones are set. In Under the Greenwood Tree we are in the midst of them, in The Woodlanders they play a great part, in The Return of the Native rather less; Far From the Madding Crowd and still more in The Mayor of Casterbridge they serve rather as part of the background and as a sort of chorus that observes and comments upon events.

      The peasants and rustics are part of the landscape. They are thoroughly at ease in their world. They lead unspeculative lives close to Nature, never rebelling against circumstance. If they complain at all — and it is only the feeble among them that do so—it is usually of small physical ills of little moments. Hardy shows no concern for their social condition often he seems to be out of sympathy with the advance of so-called education, believing that the schools obliterate more of value than they give. He lays no stress on their poverty; in fact he declares that their misery has been much overestimated. It is the rustics in the Wessex Novels, who are happy, for the secret of happiness, as is said in The Woodlanders lies in limiting the aspirations. They are quietists without being aware of the fact. Not that they are necessarily unintelligent. Many are shrewd, some witty, nearly all unconsciously humourous. The humour is merely an exaggeration touched with literary reminiscence and artistically justifiable, of qualities to be met with in real life. Often of course, they are not so much humourous as the cause of humour in Hardy who juxtaposes their primitive manners and quaint conceits to the ideas and behavior of more educated people. Their humour consists largely in comments upon the breed, general experiences of humanity; birth and courtship, and marriage, and death and success or failure in enterprise. To a great degree it depends upon homely preventions of the sort of learning that, heard Sunday after Sunday, all their lives, it has become part of themselves — the moral and devotional exhortations of their clergymen, the more picturesque portions of the scriptures and the Prayer Book (“My Scripture manner which is my second nature” says one of the rustics) and the good old unsophisticated hymns the staves of which they left with such good will.”

      Hardy’s rustic characters may be compared with the minor characters of Shakespeare. In this connection, Lord David Cecil observes, “Here Hardy is in the straight tradition from Shakespeare. These minor characters are the direct descendants of Bottom and Dogberry and the rustics who gather in response to the Falstaff’s call to arms at the house of Justice Shallow — ‘character parts’ as they say on the stage, made up of a few strongly marked, deliberately caricatured personal idiosyncrasies ....Like Shakespeare’s they can also stir serious emotion.”

      “Indeed, these characters — it is their most important function — are necessary to set Hardy’s main and serious drama in perspective with human life as a whole. The chorus is the symbol of the great majority of humdrum mortals, who go on living through their uneventful day whatever catastrophe may overtake the finer spirits placed among them. Henchard and Eustacia may love and suffer and die; but the rustics go on. It is they who bring the children to birth, dance at the wedding, mourn at the graveyard, and speak the epitaph over the tomb. They are eternal as the earth by which they live. And their very prosaicness anchors the story to reality. It gives the reader a standard of morality by which he can gauge the tremendous heights and depths to which the main characters rise and fall. In his last two big novels. Tess and Jude’ he leaves them out. And they lose by it. We feel them to give a distorted picture of life, as his greatest work do not. Nor, for all that they are drawn in so stylized a convention, are these figures unreal. Taken individually, they may seem exaggerated, but taken — as they are meant to be taken — in a corporate mass, they build up a picture of average mankind in its rural manifestation that is carved out of the bedrock of life”.

University Questions

What part does the philosophic party play in Tess of the d’Urbervilles?
Write a note on Hardy’s rustic characters with special reference to Tess of the d’Urbervilles.
Discuss the role of minor characters in the novels of Hardy with special reference to Tess of the d’Urbervilles.

Previous Post Next Post