Tess of the d'Urbervilles: Critical Analysis

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1. The Writing And Publication of Tess

      In the nineteenth century, it was usual for novelists to publish their work first as a serial in one of the many magazines available, before bringing it out in book form. This obviously affected the way novelists designed their work, for if the serial was to be a success, every episode had to have something in it which would arouse and keep the interest of the readers, and so persuade them to buy the next issue. Another factor affecting novelists was that the editors of the magazines were very careful not to publish anything which they thought would offend their family readership. Hardy had problems with editorial censorship throughout his career, but these difficulties were especially marked in the case of Tess.

      He began the novel in 1888 for ‘Tillotson and Sons’, but when he sent them the first half they rejected it as unsuitable for their family readership. Further refusals from Murray’s and Macmillan’s magazines followed. Hardy then decided to produce a version which would be acceptable, omitting, as he says in the ‘Explanatory Note’, two scenes, and making other smaller changes, this version the Graphic accepted. In between the rejection and the final acceptance many changes were made apart from those which the taste of editors and public seemed to force Hardy to make. During this period of revision and alteration, Hardy stressed Tess’s d'Urberville ancestry, and gave Alec the name d’Urberville. Even after the novel was published in book form in 1891, Hardy continued to revise small details for the editions of 1892, 1895 and 1912. It is possible to study these changes in detail, since Hardy’s original manuscript survives, and it shows us that Hardy took immense trouble in preparing and revising his work. Whatever we may think of the finished product. It is the result of careful thought and painstaking attention to details.

      It is clear that when Hardy settled down in the fall of 1888 to write the novel that became Tess of the d’Urbendlles, the dominant image he had in mind was that of a girl, intelligent, natural, and good, destroyed by the operation of cruel and indefensible social attitudes and conventions. If Hardy’s last word on Tess was to be the inscription on the title page of the epitaph “a pure woman, his conception of the book from the very first was dominated by the figure, so frequent in Victorian fiction, of the ruined woman.

      Whether, as biographers have occasionally suggested, he had one particular real woman in mind is not an important question. The general situation was clearly common enough, and from the first Hardy saw his girl as a type as well as an individual. The rejected first name, Love Woodrow, is quite significant, linking Hardy’s heroine with another lost girl.

Children of the future Age
Reading this indignant page,
Know that in a former time,
Love! sweet Love! was thought a crime.
The Spirit of the Novel

      “The story of this Novel is not one of any complex human action; it does not deal with any daring aspiration, hardly with any notable motive. Tess’s “will to enjoy” is nothing extravagant, there is no hardihood in it which the relentless assimilating forces of worldly destiny might seize on and punish for its badness. She merely hoped modestly and humbly, for the happiness in life, which her instincts seem to promise her and it is for those instincts, implanted in her, that she is destroyed by anguish and crime!”

2. The Novel at a Glance

(i). Tess of the d’Ubervilles belongs to the Epic Form of Hardy’s novels. It maintains a dualism of merciless unhesitating tragic imagination and an impotent fervor of charity for its central figure, which is exceedingly important for the conveying of the epic motive of the entire book.

(ii). Throughout this novel, the atmosphere is charged with a piece of indignation against the fundamental injustice of man’s existence.

(iii). Tess’s tragedy is a specimen syllogism in the cruel reasoning of universal fate. “Her tortured life, unnecessarily sensitive, is nothing but the symbolic language, wherein the premises of Fate are quietly and ruthlessly worked out.”

(iv). ‘The Tragic idea of the World,’ which underlies the entire artistic range of Hardy, finds in this book its most terrible statement. Fate that haunts Tess, is cruel, merciless and relentless, ‘it swallows her up ultimately!’

(v). From first to the last the book in one relentless onward movement. The human narrative, the surrounding nature, the accompaniment of intellectual and emotional significance - all weave inextricably together and go forward, dominated by a unity of purpose, they write into a single epic statement, formidable in its bare simplicity, of the conflict between Personal and Impersonal—the conflict, which is the most vital of all Hardy’s noblest works.”

(vi). The scenery of the novel is equally obedient to its whole emotional process. The descriptions are done with extra-ordinarily minute intensity but their innumerable detail is fused by a continuous and large design, so that a multitude of small strokes build up a spacious background of living earth for the human events.

(vii). The mood, which governs this novel of Hardy is plainly not an acquiescence. It is a burning revolt against the evil it conceives.

(viii). The finest and most pathetic character in the novel is Tess, whose one reluctant affair with Alec d’Urbervilles, condemned her as a wanton. With the anguish of a gentle, tormented soul, she cried out to an unforgiving world, “Have mercy upon me, have mercy?”. But no one except Death, showed mercy to her. And yet after passing through the school of suffering, she emerges a woman, almost divine and godly.

(ix). The characterization of the novel is just sufficiently elaborated to be real and substantial and to give the theme definiteness and human particularity. There are no curious substantial, nor searching into the secrets of Psychology.

(x). The story of the novel is the story of the sin and the punishment of a beautiful village woman, Tess, who was forced to sin by a man (Alec d’Urbervilles she hated, and cast out by the man (Angel Clare), she loved. The first man, by showing her a very rosy picture, robbed her of her maidenhood and she became the mother of an illegitimate child. Then she was married to Angel  CIare, whom she loved very passionately, rather worshipped him like God. But learning her past chequered career, he, too, rejected her. The unfortunate Tess has to undergo terrible ordeal of suffering and agonies for her sin. Reappearance of Alec, her seducer, raises a storm of fury and anger in her. She kills him one night. Her husband, Angel comes to her, but only to hand her over to the police. Finally, death ends the agonized tortures of this poor unfortunate woman.

3. The Setting and Background

      The story of Tess of the d’Urbervilles is deeply, insistently set in time and place. To say, as so many readers must have said, “It could happen anywhere,” is, only a reflection which is misleading. If this were an adequate response to the book, then one would have to conclude that Hardy had wasted a great deal of his time and ours, for he is certainly at pains to give us the most precise and full account of the particular and local quality of Tess’s experience.

      Tess is a pure woman, but she is not the manifestation of some Platonic conception of womanhood. She is an English country girl, the product of a particular place and time and if, for instance, she had not, as Hardy reminds us more than once, had a different sort of schooling from her mother, she would not have been what she is. Tess is a Durbeyfield, dairy producer, who lives in the second half of the nineteenth century in that part of southern England that Hardy called Wessex. The very word Wessex, at once fictional and historical, tells us something of the nature of the author’s creative imagination, so steeped in history and sense of place. The history and geography of southern England, are not just a necessary background to Tess’s story, they are integral to it, entering at every turn and level into the essence of the situation that Hardy describes.

      Hardy is extraordinarily good at evoking the rich and complex relationships between man and nature. The mid-twentieth-century visitor of Dorsetshire and the adjacent counties will, it is true, be unlikely to move easily into Hardy’s Wessex. From his automobile, or even his bicycle, on modern roads, the countryside will be more likely to strike him as charming, perhaps dainty, in its lack of large-scale effects rather than associated with the more cosmic attributes that Hardy invokes. Egdon Heath itself turns out today to be disarmingly small-scale. But of course, the tempo and sensibility of Tess’s world of mid-Victorian England were very different. It takes Tess all day to get from Marlott to Talbothays. On her way home from Trantridgea journey of only about fifteen miles—she finds it necessary to stay over-night at Shaston. On such a scale Wessex becomes a continent, and a range of very moderate hills takes on the significance of the Alps, separating a harsh northern zone from a softer, more enervating southern one. Hardy’s evocation of nature, justly famous, is itself more intertwined with his sense of man and of man’s history that is some times observed. Again, nature is by no means used just as the backcloth against which human beings enact their parts, but as the actual organic basis of their lives and problems. It is no accident that it is at Talbothays in the fertile Valley of the Great Dairies that Tess’s “rally” is achieved or that her final capitulation to the importunities of Alec d’Urberville takes place at Sandbourne, ‘‘a Mediterranean lounging place on the English Channel” (an epithet that today not even the most determined advertiser of the attractions of Bournemouth would be likely to use).

4. The Social and Economic Background

      Tess’s “fall,” is integrally bound up with the social situation of the Durbeyfields (and d’Urbervilles), just as, in a later novel whose connection with Tess is in a number of ways interesting, the sexual relationships of Constance Chatterley are inseparable from the social relationships of Lawrence’s England. Tess goes to Trantridge, despite her apprehensions of danger, in an effort to do something about a situation with which neither she nor her family can cope in the old ways. And the world of Trantridge is contrasted at every point with the world of Marlott. The first time that we see Tess she is taking part in the “club-walking,” dating back to the village May Day dance of an earlier rural society, dressed in white and carrying a peeled willow wand and a bunch of white flowers. When she visits Trantridge a few weeks later, she reappears with “roses at her breast, roses in her hat, roses and strawberries in her basket to the brim.” It is early June and the roses and strawberries are forced. They are products of a world, typified by Alec d’Urberville himself, in which money, not nature or tradition, reigns. Tess becomes a fallen woman as a direct consequence of the fallen fortune of the Durbeyfields and the rising one of the Stoked’Urbervilles.

      If Tess’s fall is bound up with the collapse of the old peasant way of life, her ‘rally’, after the death of her child in the third phase (Hardy’s choice of the word was not casual), is achieved through her reabsorption into a life-stream more natural than the forces—Victorian bourgeois morality and religious dogmatism—that combine to condemn her. Life at Flintcomb Ash is close to nature too, but a far harsher nature, where the soil is less rich and the land cruelly exposed to the winter cold. Nevertheless, what makes Flintcomb Ash so grim a contrast to Talbothays is not simply the seasonal change or the harder, rougher work, it is the social relationships involved. Here the workers are completely proletarianized: between the girls and farmers, there is no link more human than the contract that commits Tess and her friends to work for a minimum wage from Candlemas to Lady Day.

      The very festivals of the countryside, originally seasonal, then overlaid with a religious significance, have become mere dates for the commencement and expiry of wage agreements; and this de-humanised process is underlined and speeded up by the introduction of new machinery. This is what gives the magnificent threshing—field scene at Flintcomb Ash its remarkable power, fusing as it does the personal and social and natural and economic aspects of Tess’s fate into an unforgettable visual picture— ’Urberville and the engineer, the two intruders from the North—the world of the new money-making industrialism—stand on the sidelines cynically watching the spiritual and physical havoc that they are wreaking upon Tess and her peasant world.

      The movement of this novel, in which the tale develops against a shifting background instead of growing from one tract of country side, also comes of those desolate journeyings over the Wessex countryside. The pattern is deliberate. The unspoiled childhood and the May festivities belong to the villages of Marlott. Tess’s first restoration has for setting the dairy farms of the “lush from Valley”. Her second restoration in full despair achieving a country stoicism occurs among the “sterile expanses of Flintcomb-Ash Farmlands”. The catastrophe is in Budmouth with its “fashionable promenades.”

      The social nature of Tess’s tragedy and her status as representative of a class caught up in an economic process that she cannot control or fully comprehend becomes clearer and clearer in the later stages of the novel.

5. Structure and Plot in Brief

      Tess of the d'Urbervilles is a novel about Tess from the time she is sixteen or seventeen to the age of about twenty-one. Using what has been termed — an epic form, Hardy has described her life during this period. There is a continuity of events from the time we meet her until she dies. We are told of her actions, her justifications for them, her trials and tribulations, and her efforts to overcome the circumstantial will against enjoyment. Other characters must, of course, come into the story, but only what is important to Tess is told us. There are no Subplots which interweave with the main story, only Tess’s story is important. She as a human being is explored thoroughly, both emotionally and intellectually. Hose events which have significance in her life are examined carefully.

      The novel is divided into seven phases, at the end of cach, a fateful incider? has changed Tess’s life. She begins each phase of her life with an altered view of herself and her destiny.

      The plot of Tess is one of the simplest that Hardy ever devised: the woman sins, the woman pays. The plot was used by innumerable Victorian authors whose names will never be remembered. In the hands of Hardy, however, this hackneyed pattern is formed into a work of art. Hardy denies and challenges two traditional themes, (1) the stain of unchastity can never be erased and (2) the pious possibility of purifying atonement. By taking the sentimental pattern and coating it with irony, Hardy is able to evoke reactions to situations opposite to the usual ones. His woman is presented as innately pure, before and after her “sin.” She is absolved of responsibility for her fall, being but a child untutored in the dangers of men. Should she suffer for this eternally? The reader, impressed by her courage and nobility of character, shouts, “No!”

      Hardy’s plot is primarily one of action, for he sees life as a series of actions. It must not, however, be commonplace, or it will not sustain the interest of the reader. He, therefore, includes the fantastic, the surprising, that which will strike the imagination of the reader. In a few instances in this book he stretches the limits of credulity of the reader, for example, the sleepwalking scene. Chance and coincidence, which are discussed more fully above, play such a large part in his plots that at times they seem contrived.

6. Tess: A Masterpiece

      Tess of the d’Urbervllles is one of the first ten greatest novels in the various languages of Europe. It is the masterpiece of Thomas Hardy. It is one of the supreme achievements of its writer’s genius. It is an epic novel, for it is convened only with the life and tragic death of a country maid named Tess Durbeyfield. It is the best manifestation of Hardy’s creative genius. Its main characteristics and qualities make it a typical novel of Thomas Hardy. Indeed Tess of the d’Urbervilles is a very great novel. It enjoys a worldwide popularity. It is superb in its characterization. Its design is architectural. It deals with Hardy’s philosophy of realism. It can be taken to be an example of the strict working out of the law of cause and effect. It illustrates Hardy’s theory of Will. Fate plays an important part in its scheme of things but we are aware of its working only when Hardy steps forward and begins to give his comment. This novel is the story of a pure woman who is loved by a man whom she hates and who is deserted by a man whom she loves with her soul.

7. A Revolt against Conventional Morality

      The present piece is the greatest novel of Thomas Hardy. It is a record of his impressions. It is not an argument. It is neither didactic nor aggressive. It is only representative in its scenic parts. It deals with the tragic and beautiful story of a young girl who is forced to sin by a man she hates and is cast out by the man she loves. This novel is one of the immortals belonging to the world of literature. It contains Hardy’s portrayals of moral villainy of men and women. It manifests his magnificent understanding of human deeds. If we look for Hardy’s particular strength for his place in the story of English fiction, we shall find them in his success with woman characters, in his mastery of place and atmosphere, in his easy-going yet compelling storytelling. The essentials of the present novel are the story of Tess Durbeyfield, the character of this heroine and the physical world in which she lives or moves. This novel is based on a theory of Thomas Hardy. According to Hardy chastity does not consist in physical or bodily purity. It implies the purity of heart. There is something spiritual about it. Despite her reluctant affair with Alec, Tess is a pure woman. Character is her destiny. This character of Tess is molded by heredity and environment also. There are certain weaknesses in her character. That is a why she meets a tragic end. This novel is a revolt against what is called the conventional morality.

8. The Treatment of Nature

      Nature fills an important place in the scheme of the epic novel. The scene of action changes from place to place with the progress of the story. It is a long way to reach the Heathen Temple of Stonehenge from the vales of Black Moor and Var via the great Diary of Talbothays and the Flintcomb Ash. Nature serves the purpose of a background to the human drama. It is an agent of fate also. Fate plays a very important role in the present novel as it does in the other Wessex novels. It works through nature, chance coincidence and love. It is fate that makes Tess love Angel Clare. The present novel is free from the Victorian vice of word-printing. Hardy does not pause to describe natural scenery at length in this novel. Every description of natural scene or landscape has to make its own contribution. It creates, shares or reflects the mood of different characters also. The scene changes with the changing climate of Tess’s spirit. It moves from the secluded vale of Blackmoor to the hushed valley of Flintcomb Ash and then to the fashionable but sandy Sandbourne. At last the scene is laid in the great Plain near the Druid temple of Stonehenge.

9. The Materials of the Novel

      If we examine the materials of this great and serious novel, we find that it is built up with the seduction of Tess on a foggy night, the birth, baptism and death of sorrow the undesired, the slow recovery of strength in the symbolic atmosphere of the great dairy of Talbothays, the symbolic wounding of the pheasants, the symbolic rat-catching, the death of the horse Prince and all the rest of appalling bad luck. This is made to seem part and parcel of the very scheme of things, the revenge of Tess and the final revenge of society on her. These materials are not too subtle for building a serious novel. They show that human beings and their longing for happiness are very useful things for building a novel. They are more important than anything else for this purpose.

10. The Excellent Characterization in Tess

      The present novel bears witness to Hardy’s power of creating women-characters successfully and well. Tess is a sensitive, passionated and earthly figure. There is in her a splendid animal luxuriance, a flowering of the flesh, a physical element which believes in the purity of her spirit and intentions. Tess is more sinned against than sinning. She is ruined to death while struggling against the gaunt of circumstances. Tess passes through a school of suffering and emerges a woman, almost divine and godly. Mr. and Mrs. Durbeyfield are her parents. They are created to show how heredity molds the character of a man or woman and how this character becomes his or her fate. Marian, Izz and Retty are the three chambermaids of Tess. They are minor characters. They represent the rustics of Hardy’s novels. They serve almost the same purpose as is served by the chorus in the plays of ancient Greece. Mr. and Mrs. Clare give us some idea of how Angel Clare is a product of conventional morality. He symbolizes the intellectual side of modern civilization. Alec d’Urberville is an incarnation of measureless grossness. He represents the newly-grown class of rich people.

11. A prose-Tragedy of High Perfection

      As usual, the plot of Tess of the d’Urberville is very simple. It grows out of the elementary passions and ambition. It is based on the eternal triangle in which two men—Alec and Angel—love the same woman named Tess. She hates the former who shadows her. She loves the latter who deserts her. With something of the animality of the former, the latter would have lived happily with Tess. But fate wills it otherwise, the present novel is a love-tragedy. The conflict is the soul of its action. This conflict is both internal and external. The result of this conflict is that Tess goes to wall. Odds are in infinity to one against her chance of living happily in this vale of tears. She knows well that she lives on a blighted star. The President of the Immortals sports with her till she is washed down into the gulf of ruin and death. Thus this masterpiece of Thomas Hardy brings the prose tragedy to a very high point of artistic perfection.

12. Dualism in the Novel

      There is dualism in this novel of Hardy and this dualism is exceedingly important or the conveying of the epic motive of the whole book—the dualism of a merciless unhesitating tragic imagination and an important fervor of charity for this central—charity that seems always desiring to protect this figure from the steady, injurious process of the imagination which conceived her, yet can do nothing but painfully watch her destruction. For so, the entire content in the book’s form, from the first materials of its story of the limits of their surrounding emotional significance pervaded by the conflict of two forces — “the inherent will to enjoy, and the circumstantial will against enjoyment.” This conflict throughout the story and through all emotional accompaniments is grasped by a great epic unity of form.

13. Epic Unity of the Novel

      We can extract perhaps a good deal of its significance, and analyse its narrative substance, but it is the epic unity of the novel that is its greatest and noblest quality. No more than the intellectual and human elements in it, do the successive incidents below, with too much for awareness the severe gradual sloping of the whole not even when they are poignant as Tess’s christening of her baby, or so charming as Clare carrying the dairy maid across the Hooded stream.

      “And whereas the dramatic stories have in the main fixed an unaltering background, here as seems proper to the epic movement, the setting alters with the progressive emotion of the story, turning blacker and harsher as the tragic stress deepens. It is more than logical propriety, that the scenery of Tess’s life changes from the prodigal beauty of the values of Blackmoor and from the grim upland winter of Flintcomb Ash, with its hard soil, immensely exposed to scathing rain and windy snow; and that her occupation correspondingly changes from idyllic dairying under the humorous Crick (with his delightful stroll of William. Dewey fondling to the bull and Jack Dollop singing in the church) to aching toil among, the Rivedesr at reed-drawing, or the threshing machine under the eyes of vindictive curmudgeon?”

      From first to the last, “Tess of the d’Urbervilles” is one relentless onward movement. The human narrative, the surrounding nature the accompaniment of intellectual and emotional significance, all weave inextricably together, and go forward dominated by a unity of purpose; they write in a single epic statement, formidable in its bare simplicity, of the conflict between Personal and Impersonal— the conflict, which is the inmost vitality of all Hardy’s noblest work.

14. Some Defects in the Novel

      This great tragedy is characterized by some defects also. A careful reader is bound to reach its moments of grotesque failure. Some people hold that the sleepwalking scene is a notorious point of failure. This novel has many instances of moralizing. Unlike a modern novelist, Hardy steps forward and begins to give us his comments. This sort of comment is against our taste. The novel is full of several improbabilities also. They strain our sense of probability. The conversion of Alec d’Urberville is a psychological surprise. A man of Alec’s nature is not expected to be capable of any profound psychological development. We fail to believe why Tess surrenders her body to Alec when she hates him like anything. Poverty alone cannot and should bow the will of such a heroic woman to stoop down to meanness. Even if this thing is possible, then we fail to understand why Tess stabs Alec to death. It is something quite improbable for an educated man to accept a murderess. He deserts a pure woman whom he woes passionately. He accepts her when she has sinned twice deliberately. Despite his mental development in Brazil it seems to be something not probable. We fail to know how he delays to run to her even when he has returned home. There are certain turns of chance which strain our sense of probability. In spite of all these defects Tess of the d’Urbervilles remains the splendid masterpiece of Thomas Hardy.

15. Hardy does not Defend his Characters

      “Poor wounded name”, Quotes the title page on “Tess of d’Urbervilles” “My
bosom as abed shall lodge thee.” Indeed, there are few books, written with such intensity of personal feeling. The book has been accused of defending a theme, but criticism could not be more inept. Neither does it defend Tess; for what is there in that lovely nature needs defense? To defend the characters, whom he creates, is not a dignified attitude for a novelist to assume and Hardy’s fiction is always dignified. The person in the novel, who stands most in need of defense, is Angel Clare; and fortunately for the art of the book he does not get it. “But what the story does for Tess is to accept her with all the perfect sympathy and understanding of love. A charity, that is infinitely larger than forgiveness accompanies her, loving her weakness as well as her strength exquisitely understanding how her beautiful nature is forced by agony into crime.”

16. Artistic Purity

      Tess is considered as the greatest novel. Hardy’s earlier novels of Character and Environment deal ostensibly with past times. The Woodlanders and Tess of the d'Urbervilles have for their setting the years of the contemporary agricultural tragedy. In these, and particularly in the second, the artistic purity is unsullied. The weaving of a ballad tale into the agricultural environment, together with the expression of Hardy’s profound and vigorous feeling for the status of man in the natural order, no longer absorbs sufficiently the novelist’s anxiety, his sense of imminent disaster. The simplicity and force of conception have given Tess a legendary quality. Here is not merely the tragedy of a heroic girl, but the tragedy of a proud community baffled and defeated by processes beyond its understanding of control. The resonance of the tale makes itself felt over and over again. The superb opening, the death of Prince the horse, the lovely elegiac scene of the harvesting, the sequence in the dairy farm, the scene of the sleepwalking, the episodes of agricultural life at Flintcomb-Ash, the climax at Stonehenge, are powerful and original imaginative inventions. We scarcely try to understand the calamity. The insistent tenderness exacts concurrence by a force like make-believe.

17. The Fine Opening of Tess

      Hardy composed nothing finer than the opening of Tess, and the style of it is entirely his own. The whole invention is at once substantial with social and historical perception, and quick with metaphorical life. How effectively the May-Dance evokes a country mirth springing from traditional ways and reliance upon natural processes. The three ominous visitors, one of them later to become an agent of destruction, suggest how the dance of vitality is jeopardized by the thrust of sophisticated urban life. Then the appearance of the spurious country squire adds to the sense of jeopardy. The masquerader, the economic intruder, the representative of processes at work destroying the bases of agricultural security, stands with the spiritual intruder. Alongside the image, there unfolds that of the old father’s discovery of his ancient but unavailing ancestry; a disclosure of the community’s past which helps to define what Tess represents in the ensuing tale, at the same time as it sharpens the intrusive and invading in Alec d’Urberville. We feel the lost independence and the helplessness of agricultural man in this decrepit figure. The art ordering the whole is marvelously secure of its purpose. The preparation for much later scenes as Tess harvesting at Marlott, Tess in the early dawn at Talbothays, is perfect. For Tess is not merely the pure woman, the ballad heroine, the country-girl, she is the agricultural community in its moment of ruin. For two years preceding the writing of Tess, Hardy explored in greater detail than ever before the scenes of the story, and was powerfully impressed by the massive evidence of the decay in agricultural life. Here is the impulse behind the legend. It dramatizes the defeat of Tess, the country girl and representative of an ancient country line, and her ruin by the economic and spiritual invaders of country life; it ends in Stonehenge, in passivity, the primitive place confirming a sense of doom which has gathered intensity all along. What has happened in the agricultural society is by now (1890, in South-west England) irrevocable.

18. The Sleep-Walking Scene

      The powerful, if faulty, sleep-walking scene records the passivity and the doom more poignantly. It balances precariously between sentimentality and tragedy, yet its impact transcends its place in the story. Hardy has constructed a perfect imaginative equivalent for the deepest perceptions which inform the novel as a whole. For the most part, the narrative issues as if from the consciousness of Tess herself, impotent in the hold and motion of an alien force. She is awake and strong-willed, yet passive, stunned. You may feel that her strange passivity (she makes no effort to alter the course of events) is welded into her strength. She is the agricultural predicament in metaphor, engaging Hardy’s deepest impulses of sympathy and allegiance. Clare is helpless too: a blind, unknowing force, carrying the country-girl to burial. Hardy’s sense of curt, impersonal powers who order human destiny, here becomes a strength to his fiction. Clare is the impassioned instrument to some will, some purpose, checking the disastrous life of the cities, from the intellectual and spiritual awareness and confusion of the world outside the agricultural community, and doomed to destroy the worthiness, drastically. All the suffering with which Hardy felt the defect of agricultural life by nullifying urban forces, has gone into the invention.

19. The First Movement

      When Tess first returns to agricultural activity, after her seduction, in the harvesting at Marlott, the scenes are sufficiently impressive: the passage of her withdrawal from the field to feed her child is inspired. Yet it is spoiled by a commentary almost vulgar, as are the scenes describing the baptism and death of the child. Book Three, The Rally; however, sustains its power more steadily, a revelation of Hardy’s sensuous understanding, that quality of feeling and instinct with which Hardy is thought to have been more generously endowed than any other English novelist. Talbothays is no paradisical dairy-farm. Language eager with details of activity, language rich and particular in sensuous perception, balances Tess’s despair. Against the background of farm and dairy-house, labor in the compact community, and the presence and voices of the work-folk, emerges the story of the fine young lord and the milkmaid and the three forlorn girls whose love is unrequited. To sketch it out like that is to suggest how we ought to respond to it.

20. The Second Movement

      The Second movement whose power and beauty are sustained at length balances the account of life at Crick’s dairy farm. It records the life of Flintcomb-Ash. The starting point is a matter of agricultural economics. Flintcomb-Ash directly reflects the new farming, contrasting, very essentially with Talbothays. It is as essential to the meaning of the novels the historical analysis of the opening, or the violent uprooting of the family driven out of the agricultural community at the end. And it affords an apt environment for this bitter part of the narrative. Tess’s second recovery is painfully gradual, described in grave and labored prose. The end of the movement is very moving; it brings as close to Hardy’s distinction as a tragic writer. There is deep distress in this contemplation of Tess and the girls and the little laboring society of which they are a part. There is the worrying rigor of this life, and there is the will to persist and to labor on regardless.

21. Epilogue to the Movement

      An epilogue to this movement of the second recovery balances the harvest scene at Marlott which was prologue to the first. Harvest tide has returned. But now the human threshers stand side by side with the invading threshing machine. The narrative quality suggests the sleep-walking scene again. The sleepwalker, impersonal agent of destruction, is now the machine. The sleep-walking scene gave a first impression of some mechanical force not to be bulked, once released. Now the impression grows clear. The helpless Tess of the earlier scene is here the trapped, exhausted Tess whose task is to feed the machine. Her predicament gets a richer imagery from another group of laborers of “an older day, who cannot resist, or accept, the new power, and who are bewildered and defeated.” But in this second passage a dull, hard fury make the impact more disturbing. Hardy then emphasizes the less human quality of the life that has replaced the older life of the thresher, an older life embodied earlier at Talbothays. Tess is powerless and passive, caught by the machine’s noise and motion, unable to speak, unable to rest.

      Into this situation, reinforcing an aspect of its meaning, comes the invader, the son of the merchant from the North, dressed in a fashionable suit. Tess in Clare’s arms as he sleepwalks, Tess in the clutch of the threshing machine, Tess before Alec d’Urborville—her predicament is the same. Detail by detail Hardy restores the predicament to mind.

22. The Dissolving Social Order

      Hardy sets the culminating family tragedy against the ominous background of
the Lady-Day migration of so many village folk. The erasure of long local life by these contemporary migrations, Hardy perceived, was a grave social and spiritual loss. It is no accident of art that the story of Tess should end amid scenes of uprooting. The narrative of Durbeyfield’s own moving from home is full of disquiet. The migration of so many other, the dissolving social order, is not particularly dwelt upon; but the ironical of the forlorn family at Kingsbere, its ancient name, dramatizes a personal bitterness of spirit. Only a place in the family vault, a home there, remains to the derelict inheritors. It is this homeless despair of a family which has lost its rights and independence in the village community, that gives Tess finally into the invader’s power.

      The sensation of moving unresistingly through a dream recurs in the passages that describe Tess impelled towards her doom and trapped for the last time. The hints of madness are indecisive enough to leave a nightmare quality around her experiences. The situation is blurred for her; the forces that have defeated her are beyond her comprehension.

23. Chracters at A Glance

Tess Durbeyfield: She is heroine of the novel, her life exemplifies the clash between “the inherent will to enjoy and the circumstantial forces against enjoyment.” Intelligent, attractive, and naturally dignified, she is sixteen years old at the beginning of the story.

John Durbeyfield: He is Tess’s father, whose natural aversion to work is intensified by the discovery that he is descended from an ancient noble family.

Joan Durbeyfield: She is Tess’s mother, simple-minded and phelgmatic, she is little affected by the blows of misfortune.

Eliza Louisa (‘Liza Lu) Durbeyfield
The second child Durbeyfield’s. She is twelve years of age at the beginning of the story.

Abraham Durbeyfield: Tess’s small brother, he is nine years old when the story begins. He is the third of the Durbeyfield’s seven children.

Sorrow: Tess’s child, who died in infancy.

Alec d’Urberville: The son of Simon Stoke. His talents range from seduction to evangelical preaching.

Mrs. d’Urberville: The blind widow of Simon Stoke. She is mistress of “The Slopes,” a mansion built by her husband after he retired from business in the north of England and assumed the name of the ancient d’Urbervilles.

Angel Clare: Youngest son of the Reverend Mr. Clare of Emminster. Being too liberal in his thinking to prepare for the ministry, he turned to agriculture for a career.

The Reverend Mr. Clare of Emminster: Angel’s father, a self-sacrificing clergyman of charitable sentiments but rigid opinions.

Mrs. Clare: Angel’s mother, a kind-hearted woman somewhat inclined to be swayed by the values of a class-conscious society.

The Reverend Felix Clare: Brother of Angel who is a curate

The Reverend Cuthbert Clare: Brother of Angel who is a classical scholar, and fellow and dean of his college at Cambridge.

Mercy Chant: Daughter of friend and neighbor of the Reverend Mr. Clare, who would like to have Angel marry her. She is finally betrothed to Angel’s brother Cuthbert.

Richard Crick: The master-dairyman of Talbothays.

Marian: Milkmaid at Talbothays. Love for Angel Clare leads to her drinking after he marries Tess. She later gets Tess a job at Flintcomb Ash. 

Izz Huett: Milkmaid at Talbothays. Angel Clare impulsively invites her to go to Brazil with him after he abandons Tess.

Retty Priddle: Milkmaid at Talbothays. Her love for Angel Clare results in her conspicuous decline after he marries Tess.


      We may conclude, with the words of a critic: “The novel survives its faults magnificently. The simplicity and force of its conception have given it a legendary quality. Here is not merely the tragedy of a heroic girl, but the tragedy of a proud community baffled and defeated by processes beyond its understanding or control. The resonance of the tale makes itself felt over and over again. The superb opening, the death of Prince the horse, the lovely elegiac scene of the harvesting, the sequence in the dairy farm, the scene of the sleepwalking, the episodes of agricultural life at Flintcomb-Ash, the climax at Stonehenge, are powerful and original imaginative inventions. The rather tawdry theatricality of that climax, the deceptive offer of tragic symbolism, reveal themselves only on reflection. We scarcely try to understand—we feel that Hardy himself did not altogether measure this defeat—this calamity. But the insistent tenderness exacts concurrence, by a force like make-believe. The falsities, the intrusive commentaries, the sophisticated mannerisms in the prose, do only local damage.”

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