Tess of The d'Urbervilles: An Epic Novel

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      There are many kinds of novel. We are familiar with the novels of character such as anyone of the novels written by Dickens. Then there is the novel of plot. We have got the dramatic novel which is different from the epic novel. The dramatic novel deals with a conflict of forces. The novelist hinges upon this conflict and builds up a vivid picture of life with the help of a series of fundamentally and ultimately chained scenic events. Its action is a woven intricacy of many curving and recurving lines, It carries the threaded lives of several persons through a single complicated pattern of destiny. The interest of its story concerns not one but several characters. It is not characterized by a simple forward movement. It has a system of vital currents ramified to and from and the whole elaborate event obeys one general trend. Its scenic background is fixed and unchanging. If the writer wants to put forth his views on life he does so not directly but through the dialogues of his characters. He can explain these views by their actions. Thus the writer of a dramatic novel. Expresses his conception of life in an aesthetic manner. Thomas Hardy has written three great dramatic novels namely (i) The Return of the Native (ii) The Woodlanders and (iii) Far from the Madding Crowd. The Mayor of Casterbridge is a dramatic novel so far as its plot in concerned. It consists of the actions and reactions of many characters. But it is an epic novel also, for it deals with the life and adventures of a single character.

Single Theme

      When we come to the epic novel, we know that it concerned with a single theme. It is the life story of a single person. Its great tune is played upon a single character. It is concerned with one human theme which goes forward with a sweep. The writer enjoys a free play for making comments and for adding to this formation of life. He gives his emotional as well as intellectual judgment of life. It is not necessary for him to keep himself in the background like the writer of a dramatic novel. The story of an epic novel is woven round a single character like Tess. The main setting of this epic novel is fixed and unaltering. The Mayor of Casterbridge is an epic novel in so far as it deals with the life history of Henchard only. Jude the Obscure in an epic novel. Though Hardy has drawn Jude and Sue with usual skill and penetration, yet the novel deals with the history of Jude’s life only. Sue is the subject of the novel in so far as she affects Jude. The story begins and ends and remains concerned with Jude.

Tess: As an Epic Novel

      When we come to Tess of the d’Urbervilles, we discover that it is an epic novel. The writer of the novel comes forward and usurps the seat of judgment several times. He passes comments on fate, society, religion and female chastity on many occasions. This novel deals with the history of a single life. There is but a single string binding all the events of its story. This story begins and ends and remains concerned with a poor damsel who is born in a village which Mars her lot. It is perhaps not for nothing that Thomas Hardy has named this village as Marlott. This story moves forward with a surge and sweep. It is without any exciting forms or ingenious devices of narrative. The story stands out with its magnificence of movement. There is a cloud of vast cruel forces, laboring to overshadow the fate of one poor girl only. It is a story of the sin and punishment. Tess is this girl. She is cast out by that man (Clare) whom she loves and worships as a God. When he learns her past sinful career, he casts her away. Then Tess has to undergo many sorrows and sufferings for her sin. She is more sinned against than sinning. She is again discovered by her dear husband Angel when he reappears. This raises a storm of anger in her. She stabs her seducer to death. Then comes a short happy interlude which is followed by the tragic end of Tess’s life for she is arrested, tied and hanged in the end.

The Changing Setting

      The setting of the epic novel is neither fixed nor unaltering. Its background alters with the progress of its story. As the tragic stress deepens, this background becomes blacker and harsher. The scene of Tess’s life changes from the great beauty of the vale of Blackmoor or the vale of Var into the upland winter of Flintcomb-Ash with its hard soil, its rains and winter snows. The occupation of Tess changes from idyllic dairying under humorous Mr. Crick to aching toil under Farmer Gorby. From the first to the last Tess is one relentless movement. All things weave inextricably together and go forward dominated by a unity of purpose for it deals with a conflict between personal and impersonal forces. There is a sort of dualism in this novel. This dualism is between a merciless unhesitating tragic imagination and an important fervor of charity for the central figure which desires to protect Tess but can do nothing but painfully watch her destruction. There is also a conflict between the two forces of the inherent will to enjoy and the circumstantial will against this enjoyment. This dualism is helpful in conveying the epic motive of this novel.

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