"Tess was in Love with her Own Ruin" in Tess of the d'Urbervilles

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      Self-mortification. Some critics have raised their finger against Tess’s exceeding sense of self-mortification. No matter what circumstances attended her, the tendency towards martyrdom and self-effacement was predominant in her. She collapses before her insidious seducer saying:- “Whip me, crush me— Once victim always victim — that is the law.” Tess’ excessive sufferings and misfortunes and her morose philosophy of calm abandonment undermine her ‘will to live’ and leave a very sad impression on the reader. Her sense of self-mortification outbalances her sense of self-preservation.

      Her viewpoint. We are reminded of the words of Hardy:- “And as each and all of them were warmed by the sun, so each had a private little sun for her soul to bask in; some dream, some affection, some hobby, at least some remote and distant hope.” What was the sun of her soul—that bouncing fine and picturesque courageous country girl? perhaps none. It was perhaps Life, that irresistible law of life, which sets the balls rolling or else she must have committed suicide. Not once, but several times, she has expressed her desire to die, to Alec she says, “I wish I had never been born—there or anywhere.” Her depression is then so terrible that she wishes to “have hidden herself in a tomb.” She is living on a “blighted star” and what hopes, dreams, she could have except to take life as it offers to suffer passively. Suffering is endured by Tess with calm abandonment and tells the circumstances “Do what you like with me.” Passivity and inaction can be as well destructive as action. Hardy alludes to it when he says that ‘had Tess fled with Angel in that lonely lane... he would probably not have withstood her.’

      Murderess. Tess feels inclined to sink into the ground with shame when she saw her father in a carriage and scoffed at by the girls. The self-reproach which Tess continues to heap on herself for her negligence in falling asleep on the cart and so causing the old horse, Prince’s death, makes her regard herself as a “murderess”. She continues to sink in her own esteem.

      At Dairy. When Tess attempts to prefer the other dairy maids before herself to Angel, Hardy calls it “self-immolation. While proceeding to Flintcomb-Ash farm, she thinks that her husband will never love her and she wants other men to think scornfully of her. She likes to ward off the casual lovers, she snips off her eyebrows and makes herself unattractive in other ways.

      Passivity. There is something abject, something unconsciously self-destructive in her passivity, and thus when Angel carries her in his arms, in the sleep walking scene, she finds herself wishing that they could fall together “and both be dashed to pieces—how fit, how desirable.” When Alec comes to offer her help to settle down at his Trantridge house, she wonders why she is not on the other side of the vault. She wanted to be one of the dead under the tombs. Self-solicitude is near extinction in her.

      Law of Life. It is only the irresistible law of life that kept her alive and hopelessly struggling against overwhelming odds. There is, in man, the invincible instinct towards self-delight. The recuperative power which pervades organic nature is surely not denied to Tess. When Angel returns to her, she is emotionally perturbed. She then loads herself with self-guilt till Angel’s original Tess “spiritually ceased to recognize the body as hers—allowing it to drift, like a corpse upon the current, in a direction dissociated from its living will.” She is a despairing soul which allows herself to be destroyed by someone else.

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