Literary Criticism on Thomas Hardy's Tess of the d'Urbervilles

Also Read

1. Hardy: Some Opinions on Tragedy

      A plot, or tragedy, should arise from gradual closing in of a situation that comes of ordinary passions, prejudices and ambitions, by reason of the characters taking no trouble to ward off the disastrous events produced by the said passions, prejudices and ambitions.

      Tragedy, it may be put thus in brief: A tragedy exhibits a state of things which unavoidably causes some natural aim or desire of man to end in a catastrophe when carried out.

      The best tragedy—the highest tragedy in short—is that of the worthy encompassed by the inevitable.

2. William Henry Hudson: Hardy - A great Tragic Artist

      In the use of tragedy Hardy bears comparison with the great figures in literature, and he falls short of their stature chiefly because he inclined to pursue his afflicted characters past the limits at which both art and nature are customarily satisfied to halt. In the use of pathos, however, he is unsurpassed. Is there anywhere in literature a finer delicacy, a more exquisite handling of sorrow, than the description of Tess’s christening of her child by candlelight in the bedroom?

3. William Henry Hudson: Hardy’s Pessimism

      Hardy held that there is no active intelligence, no just and loving God, behind human destiny, but that Creation is swayed by an unconscious mechanical force, sightless, dumb, mindless and equally indifferent to either the sufferings or the joys of mankind. Not until the last page of “The Dynasts”, is any hope offered of possible release from the fell clutch of circumstance; and then only a faint suggestion that, at some unguessable future moment, consciousness may begin to stir in the blind and senseless, ‘Immanent Will, and inspire it to, ‘fashion all things fair’ ...Hardy’s pity for all suffering creatures was terribly acute. He himself agonized in the agony of others, and he was never able to cultivate that protective skin of semi-apologetic callousness by which the majority insulate themselves against a torturing participation in the world’s sum of misery.

4. Herbert B. Grimsditch: Hardy’s View of Life

      It may be true that Thomas Hardy sees more of the dark side of life than of the bright side. But it cannot be said that he distorts characters and events to fit in with
a preconceived theory; his theory is drawn from the facts as he observes them. And, however, much we may feel that in his works man is a helpless support in the grip of fate, however much our self-conceit may recoil from his conception of the comparative insignificance of humanity in the cosmic scheme, we must be sensible of the light he throws on many beautiful aspects of existence; and the most beautiful of all is the spectacle of mankind, undaunted, bearing troubles with fortitude, hating cruelty and injustice, and ever aspiring, albeit ineffectually, towards the heights.

5. W. Watson: Hardy’s Philosophy

      There is one thing which not the dullest reader can fail to recognize—the persistency with which there are alternately smolders and flames through the book Mr. Hardy’s passionate protest against the unequal justice meted by society to the man and the woman associated in an identical breach of the moral law. In his wrath, Mr. Hardy seems at times almost to forget that society is scarcely more unjust than nature. He himself proposes no remedy, suggests no escape—his business not being to deal in nostrums of social therapeutics. He is content to make his readers pause, and consider, and pity; and very likely he despairs of any satisfactory solution of the problem which he presents with such disturbing power and clothes with vesture of such liberating and throbbing life.

6. J.Mc Lauchlan: Hardy’s Philosophy

      Basic to Hardy’s conception of the universe is that it is ‘without Providence. This is supremely relevant to the tragedy of ‘Tess’, for in this novel he gives artistic expression to his views of man in a universe without God. Man’s tragedy arises from the fact that without God he is subject to all the natural forces of the universe. Although these are neutral, not hostile, it’s through their indifference, that man’s gratuitous and incomprehensible suffering comes. Nature is indifferent to lesser creatures as well, and they too suffer. All creatures suffer but man’s capacity for suffering is intensified by the fact that he has developed consciousness, with aims and desires for which the forces of nature have no regard at all.

7. Mrs. Oliphant: Hardy’s Anti-religious Attitude

      Mr. Hardy’s indignant anti-religion becomes occasionally very droll, if not amusing. Against whom is he so angry? Against “the divinities’, who are so immoral—who punish the vices of the fathers on the children? Against God?— who does not ask us whether we wish to be created: who gives us but one chance, etc. But then, if there is no God? Why, in that case, should Mr. Hardy be angry? We know one man of fine mind whom we have always described as being angry with God for not existing. Is this perhaps Mr. Hardy’s case? But then he ought not to put the blame of the evils which do exist upon this imaginary Being who does not.’

8. Cazamian: Hardy As a Poet of Nature.

      A great poet of nature there freely displays an exceptional gift for description, which owes a vast range to the perception, both of fine shades and of vast, solemn harmonies. What strikes us first in these pictures is their precision. Hardy has the acute discriminating sense of an observer who takes in things with an attention at to literature; they are wholly direct, and grow out of the object itself... Hardy has most lovingly described the elementary, grand and sad aspects of nature; the land which appeals to him most is that which is freest from human dwellings; he loves the sea, but does not often describe it; he loves more to paint the woods, where the seasons go through the infinitely varied circle of rich postures; the sober hills of his native district; the bare uplands where the furrow of a Roman road runs straight and empty to the horizon; and gloomy vastness of the moor in which every living being vanishes as if swallowed up in the depth of the centuries whose image is called up by its immobility.

9. William Henry Hudson: Hardy as a Prose Lyricist

      As a writer, Hardy was a living paradox. A natural poet, much of his poetry is nevertheless in prose. He had the poets’ largeness, minuteness and intensity of vision—a three-fold faculty displayed throughout his novels; yet among his hundreds of typical lyrical poems hardly a score are free from grating harshness and pinchbeck angularity. The explanation of the paradox is that Hardy’s genius was entirely sculpturesque. Given a gigantic block of stubborn prose he could chisel as a master and carve not only tremendously impressive, figute-groups but also vast sculptured landscapes with all the varied details of nature, even to a filigree of bare branches against the sunset.

10. William Henry Hudson: Hardy as a Prose - Poet

      As a writer, Hardy was a living paradox. A natural poet, much of his poetry is nevertheless in prose. He had the poet’s largeness, minuteness and intensity of vision-a three-fold faculty displayed throughout his novels; yet among his hundreds of typical lyrical poems hardly a core are free from grating harshness and pinchbeck angularity. The explanation of the paradox is that Hardy’s genius was entirely sculpturesque. Given a graphitic block of stubborn prose, he could chisel as a master and carve not only tremendously impressive figure groups but also vast sculptured landscapes with all the varied detail of nature, even to a filigree of bare branches against the sunshine.

11. Irving Howe: Hardy’s Romanticism

      Hardy could no more avoid the conditioning influence of romanticism than a serious writer can now a, void that of modernism; it was part of the air he breathed. His romanticism enabled Hardy to break past the repressions of the Protestant ethic and move into a kindlier climate shared by Christian charity androgen acceptance; but it was also romanticism, with its problematic and perverse innovations, which threatened his wish for a return to a simple, primitive Christianity. In Tess of the d’Urbervilles, the romantic element appears most valuable as an insistence upon the right of the individual person to create the terms of his being, despite the pressures and constraints of the external world. Yet, because Tess is a warmhearted and unpretentious country girl barely troubled by intellectual ambition, Hardy’s stress is upon the right of the person and not, as it will be in Jude the Obscure, upon the subjective demands of the personality. Sue Bridehead anticipates the modern cult of personality in all its urgency and clamor; Tess Durbeyfield represents something more deeply rooted in the substance of instinctual life.

12. Lord David Cecil: Hardy’s Themes.

      Hardy’s subject is human life. But human life can be looked at from many aspects and in many relations. Hardy regards it in its most fundamental aspect. He sees human beings less as individuals than as representatives of a species, and in relation to the ultimate conditioning forces of their existence. His subject is not men, but man. His theme is mankind’s predicament in the universe.

13. E.A. Baker: Hardy’s Characters

      There are three grades of characters in Hardy’s novels: first, those who are protagonists of the whole human drama; then, the people in contact with them or who have some part in their fairs; these are cogs in the machinery and of small interest in themselves; and lastly the rustic bystanders, who provide comic relief, but also 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 observes who see more of what is going on than the gentle folks are aware, and they are continually dropping shrewd comments.

14. Lionel Johnson: Hardy’s Women Characters.

      Of the women, whose characters and fortunes are portrayed by Hardy, most various opinions may be held ...An admiration of their versatility in maintaining their consistency, the sentiments which they provoke: an amazed awe of the infinite ingenuities which their sincerity can devise for its protection. ‘A very little wit’, wrote Swift, ‘is valued in a woman, as we are pleased with a few words spoken plain by a parrot.’ That is too often the dangerous and ignorant view of woman’s wit, entertained by Hardy’s men, with distressing consequences.....Not one of them all is a copy of any other; but these are the general distinctions to be traced among them.

15. R.A. Scott-James: Nobility of Characters in Facing a Cruel Destiny

      There is no comparable fault or error in the protagonists of The Woodlanders or Tess; yet we are not disgusted, unless it is by the violence with which Tess’s life is ended. If in these cases we are not shocked, but on the contrary are profoundly moved by the behavior of the persons and the sublimity of the scene, I think we shall discover that it is because the disaster is not complete. Destiny may pitiless and cruel, but the nobility of the characters in facing it which courage and sympathy towards one another evokes a compensating admiration.

      And even in Tess, when ‘Justice’ was done, and ‘the President of the Immortals, in Aeschylean phrase, had ended his sport with Tess’, and had shown the last of her, so grimly, on the gallows, the penultimate scene had its compensation. It brought happiness—Tess called it happiness—in the final reunion and understanding between herself and Clare. When the pursuers at last find them at Stonehenge. ‘It is as it should be’, she murmured. ‘Angel, I am almost glad—yes, glad! This happiness could not have lasted. It was too much. She faces the end with her habitual courage. ‘I am ready’, she said quietly.

16. Pierre D’Eudeuil: Hardy’s Women Characters

      Hardy is above all a painter of women. Nothing indeed is as rare as a writer capable of depicting with equal success the character of both sexes. Hardy does not handle masculine psychology with the same penetration. His male characters are either sensual or effeminate, or victims of a kind of internal attraction. He doubtless discovered in a woman a complexity which remained more prominently before his eyes, a submission to instinct which involved her in more intimate relationship with the whole ordering of things.

17. Benjamin Sankey: Character Portrayal in Tess

      Hardy had treated the tragic consequences of a seduction in Far From the Madding Crowd (the story of Fanny Robin); one of the restrictions he accepted in that case was that of leaving the woman’s character more or less blank, with no trait more strongly marked than a weak trustingness in the man she loved. In Tess of the d’Urbervilles Hardy proceeds less conventionally, giving a full-scale development to Tess’s character, and making that character a pretty strong one. Hardy’s treatment of the subject continues to follow the conventions in certain respects: d’Urberville, for instance, fits neatly into the accepted pattern for seducers. But the significance Hardy gives the events is different from what it had been in earlier treatments of the subject. What Hardy supplies is not a story of misvalued innocence (Desdemona), or seduced frailty (Hetty Sorrel, Fanny Robin - or Lydia Bennet), but rather that of a complex personality seeking happiness under difficult conditions. Tess’s sexual relationship with d’Urberville, the birth and death of her child, and so on, comprise a painful sequence of experiences, even from what Hardy would call the standpoint of “nature” and “inner sensations”; (but as Hardy sees it, there is no reason in nature for Tess to receive further punishment. From the natural point of view, her experience constituted, as Hardy puts it at one point, simply a “liberal education.”) Tess’s punishment is not for breaking a moral code but for attempting to live by a personal code of integrity and dignity after her “fall” had disqualified her from a life on these terms. The disqualification comes from society’s ready-made categories, not from anything in the nature of things. It comes, specifically, from the limitations represented by Angel

      Clare, whom Hardy uses to embody the not quite efficacious good will of British society in transition.

      Hardy’s intention is not to motivate Tess in such a way as to make her seem “driven” to do what she does. He gives natural forces and social pressures their due, but Tess’s dominant motives include personal pride, loyalty and a sense of responsibility: and no purely “natural” motive wins out without enlisting Tess’s sense of integrity or loyalty. (Tess is punished just as often for doing the right thing as for doing the wrong thing.) Tess’s sense of personal integrity—appearing from time to time almost as arrogance - explains her refusal to stay with d’Urberville, and her unwillingness to use her pregnancy to get him to marry her. The significance of her having stayed on with d’Urberville would be relatively small if Tess accepted her mother’s values; but her conviction of having a right to personal preferences and valuations sets her up for more serious difficulties. Tess has moved out of her class, tacitly accepting—without entirely understanding them—the moral values of another class (or perhaps of no class at all). Her own cede, partly a consequence of education “under an infinitely Revised Code”, is more troublesome than the one she might have inherited.

      The old folk values and beliefs had at least constituted a rough-and-ready way of surviving in an unsympathetic universe. They institutionalized the natural habits of resilience and blindness about the future. Tess’s parents are relatively happy because they never think for long about the consequences of their actions. (What thought there is takes the form of primitive cleverness—as in Mrs. Durbeyfield’s attempt to marry her daughter to the man she takes for a rich relative; the unscrupulousness, however, is accompanied by a healthy ability to take things as they come, and to forget unpleasantness.) Tess, on the other hand, feels the “ache of modernism.” For her, time is a different sort of thing than it is for her parents; she can remember things more clearly, and foresee the consequence of actions in more detail. She has regrets; she reasons. Her main hope, as Hardy makes clear, is to enter a world where her sensitivity and intelligence would mean something; but her past has disqualified her for that world. Naturally enough, Clare comes to embody the possibility of a life where her best instincts and purposes can be fulfilled: a benign human environment, where her instincts and ideals would harmonize. But Clare himself is a transitional figure. He has no way of coming to terms with the facts of Tess’s life.

      The values Tess tries to live by are sharply distinguished both from the values accepted by her parents (i.e. by a segment of British society) and from those which Nature seems to endorse; and Hardy uses the lot to define situations in which Tess’s earnest attempt to do the right thing, to follow her best instinct, leads her into difficulties. Is Hardy’s argument, then, that Tess and people like her would be better off to resort to a more “primitive” or more “natural” set of moral values? Apparently not. For Tess’s sensitivity and complexity—the qualities which make the character interesting, and which make the hypothetical human being valuable find expression in those personal scruples and ideals which exaggerate certain of her problems. In many ways, Tess represents the best that human nature has to offer, the outcome of long periods of advancement in sensitivity and self-respect. Hardy is not suggesting the abandonment of human values, but simply insisting on the difficulties present in any attempt to fulfill them. There is certainly no desire on Hardy’s part to reduce the character of Tess to a mere sequence of sensations, rather he would seem to have aimed at a character susceptible to the full force of natural instinct, social coercion, and personal values, and to have attempted to describe difficulties to which this combination of pressures might subject such a person. To be sure, Hardy’s purpose is quite different from that of James in A Portrait of a Lady, where the attempt is to locate difficulties which are purely moral in nature; and certain aspects of moral choice doubtless receive a more convincing treatment from James than from Hardy. But Hardy’s project was nevertheless moral in its implications. It was an attempt to confront a sensitive and well-meaning person, equipped with a decent set of values, with a world which makes no special allowances for those values.

18. H.C. Duffin: Tess - A Heroic Character.

      But her mental characteristics are no less rare and delightful. Tess is high-strung, impressionable and poetic; her soul soars into space when she gazes at the night heavens; in the stress of her emotions at the sound of Clare’s harp the whole of the twilight garden grows instinct with harmony and passion; and at his touch, her accelerated pulse drives the blood flushing to her finger ends. She is heroic, for we hear of “her many months of lovely self-chastisement, wrestling, community, schemes to lead a future of austere isolation”; and her long endurance of retributive agonies is sublime. And she shows perfect nobility and generosity of sentiment, in her attitude towards her simple rivals at the farm and her splendid faith in Clare, which amounts indeed to a quiet ineffable humility. Her knowledge that she has never wronged Clare or any human being awakes in her, just once, a passionate sense of cruel injustice. And as she tells Clare her story in the firelight, even more as she gets up from her bed of stone and goes forward to the men who have come to arrest her, saying quietly, “I am ready”, one feels that she deserves that rarest of all the terms that can be applied to man or woman—“great”.

      Whatever else we call her, Tess remains the most lovable of all Hardy’s heroines. All women adore her and some men. What she might have made of life, what life might have made of her, had circumstances and Clare been kind is beyond dreaming.

19. Edmund Blunden: Tess as an English Country Girl

      In the simplest aspect, it is scarcely possible to imagine a time when no one will be wanting to meet Tess, there where she stands not so much for her personal tragedy as for the English country girl, a figure as beautiful as those in Keats’s “Ode to Autumn” and more distinctly related to those our tilled fields, our needs and our processes. “The woman—or rather girls, for they were mostly young—wore drawn cotton bonnets with great flapping curtains to keep off the sun, and gloves to prevent their hands being wounded by the stubble. There was one wearing a pale pink jacket, another in a cream-coloured tight-sleeved gown, another in a petticoat as red as the arms of the reaping machine; and others, older, in the brown-rough “ Wropper” or overall. Her binding proceeds with clock-like monotony. From the sheaf last finished she draws a handful of cars, parting their tips with her left palm to bring them even. Then stepping low she moves forward, gathering the corn with both hands against her knees, and pushing her left gloved hand under the bundle to meet the right on the other side, holding the corn in an embrace like that of a lover. She brings the ends of the bond together, and kneels on the sheaf while she ties it. beating back her skirts now and then while lifted by the breeze. A bit of her baked arm is visible between the buff leather of the gauntlet and the sleeve of her gown; and as the day wears on its feminine smoothness becomes scarified by the stubble, and bleeds. At intervals, she stands up to rest, and to retire her disarranged apron, or to pull her bonnet straight. Then one can see the oval face of a handsome young woman with deep dark eyes and long heavy clinging tresses, which seem to clasp in a beseeching way anything they fall against. The cheeks are paler, the teeth more regular, the red lips thinner than is usual in a country-bred girl.

20. Irving Howe: Hardy’s Use of Folk Material

      The more Hardy became aware of the thrust of social change, the more he felt a need to turn back to those memories of the past which could yield him a fund of stories, legends, superstitions, folk sayings and fragments of wisdom. Hardy came to this material with a doubleness of vision. He commanded it completely, it was inseparable from the store of impressions he had hoarded from his youth, and hardly a critic or reader would dare challenge its authenticity. Yet in his use of this material, he could not avoid a certain self-consciousness, partly because he seems trying to relate the customs of the countryside to pagan and ancient sources. The easy grace of a Herrick in using folk festivals as emblems of dissolution and recreation was not always available to Hardy: since for Herrick such ceremonies were organically rooted in the life from which he drew, while for Hardy they became in part subjects for critical scrutiny and didactic inference.

      Folk material freezes the characteristic gestures of a culture, perhaps its gestures of yesterday: awkward, half-articulate, fixed in unchanging choreographies. It contributes tokens of the past, blurred remnants of history, brought with loss and distortion to the threshold of the present. It brings antiquity into oblique, sometimes comic relation with the modern. It creates an illusion of time suspended, the earth as a setting for a sluggish repetition of dramas of desire and frustration. It reveals the underpinning of paganism and superstition beneath the visible appearance of rural Christianity. It yields a surface piquancy, the small shock of the pleasantly strange, to set off against the grimness of Hardy’s fables. And it permits him to impute a fatalistic pessimism to the cycle of history, the way things are and must be.

21. Douglas Brown: Hardy and the Art of the Ballad

      One by one the striking things about Hardy’s art as a story-teller fall naturally into place as functions of balladry. There is the reliance, especially at the outlet, upon the sharp definition of scene and background. There is the easy alliance of the grotesque and disproportionate with the substantial and natural, and the unselfconscious boldness with which they are offered. There are the slighter rhythms and movements of the story suggesting that the sung stanza is never far behind. There are the neat, rounded, and intertwining groups of events, the simple and decisive balancing of characters. There is the vivid sense of the meaning of scenery, the human and the natural involving one another. There is the narrative method whereby encounter (whether of person with person, or person with Fate) is the life of the tale. The ballad situations and the ballad coincidences are carried off partly by boldness and verve; partly by an art which holds all spare attention concentrated upon the vividness of the presentation itself. This happens in the Stonehenge scene of Tess. But turn, for a more brilliant illustration, to that extraordinary scene in The Return of the Native—one of the most personal and memorable in all Hardy’s—the dicing by glow-worm light. Nobody but a countryman nurtured in the traditional arts of balladry could have invented it; and only an imaginative writer leaning back towards the conditions of life that once bred balladry and its audience could have composed the passage as Hardy has.

22. H.C. Duffin: Hardy’s Style

      Hardy’s style is essentially of the philosophic type, an immanence of his mind. His style thus satisfies the first demand that all styles are called upon to fulfill. It perfectly corresponds with and expresses the profound intention of the writer. It is not conspicuously beautiful; it is not luxurious or alluringly harmonious; it is in the main a bare significant narrative of passion which beats in Psalms or in Ruskin’s prose, pure prose The harmony is intellectual; but of its kind it is admirable.

23. H.B. Grimsditch: Hardy’s Narrative Art.

      A strong characteristic of Hardy is the wide awakeness of his senses to external impressions. An average intelligent observer notes small things and straightway forgets most of them, while the possessor of a highly trained memory retains a greater number in his mind, more or less isolated and disconnected. But an artist of Hardy’s power not only observes 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, hear the rain’s varying sound as it tails 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 the technician, but for the most part they are telling and give that impression of utter rightness which alone stamps a simile of metaphor with success.

24. Ellen Moers: Tess as Cultural Stereotype

      Because of Hardy’s evident pretensions—because, as E. M. Forster puts it, his novels are designed “to give out the sound of hammer strokes as they proceed” - the reader can hardly stand indifferent: he either plunges into Hardy’s world with glad anticipation of “tragical possibilities”; or runs as fast as exasperation will carry him, the other way. A middling response to Hardy has in fact been something of a rarity. In the century that has passed since Hardy first took to novel writing, critical reaction to his work has careened from extreme to extreme, somewhat along the lines of Eliot’s remark at the expense of Hardy’s style. That is, his novels have been considered alternately vile or sublime, “without ever having passed through the stage of being good.”

      Hardy is either a marvelous natural storyteller, or a terrible bore. He either raises melodrama to the level of myth, or uses it to pad out his serials. His Wessex is either one of the great imaginary geographies, or an implausible blur. In scenes of passion, “Hardy can claim a place not much lower than that which the world has assigned to Shakespeare” (Carl Weber); or, “This extreme emotionalism seems to me a symptom of decadence” (T.S. Eliot). He is a shaper of the modern mind, or a shrewd appropriator of worn-out Victorian conventions. Either way, Hardy plainly knew what he was about. His crashing effects, rather like those in Wanger’s operas, may see profundities or mere tricks. But Hardy’s conscious skill, like Wanger, is not in question.

      The yea-sayers are still in the ascendancy. Hardy is perhaps the only English Victorian who has not been even temporarily dislodged from his place as classroom classic during the past half-century.

      But the Hardy novel that finally separates the philes from the phobes is Tess of the d’Urbervilles. For Albert Guerard, the work stands “at the summit of Hardy’s achievement. It is both a popular novel and a great novel.” For Carl Weber “it is to be regarded not merely as Hardy’s greatest novel, but as one of the great works in English Anglo-Saxon social landmark.” “I have put in it,” said Hardy, “the best of me.” Howe on the whole agrees. He sees the novel “if not as (Hardy’s) greatest then certainly his most characteristic.” And he puts the question of our reaction to Tess as a challenge: “Those readers or critics who cannot accept its emotional ripeness must admit that for them Hardy is not a significant novelist.”

      According to Howe, Hardy fashioned Tess from a “cultural stereotype” elevated “through the sheer intensity of his affection” into a high plane of moral seriousness. The problem is, which cultural stereotype. Tess is everything. She is the milkmaid, sensual, full-bodied and open-hearted, with swimming eyes and a flower mouth which takes on, at moments of strain or terror, “almost the aspect of a round little hole.” She is also “A Pure Woman,” as Hardy’s subtitle puts it. In spite of her peasant upbringing, close to the earth and the men who work it, Tess manages to reach maturity in ignorance of what goes on under the hedges of rural England. “Why didn’t you tell me there was danger in menfolk,” she asks her sluttish, fecund mother, after being seduced by Alec d’Urberville. “Why didn’t you warn me? Ladies know what to fend hands against, because they read novels that tell them of these tricks; but I never had the chance learning in that way.”

      Then there is the emancipated, modernized Tess. Perhaps because she doesn’t waste her time on novels, she attains “a leading place” at school, passes all her exams and is singled out as material for a good schoolteacher. Education enables Tess to speak throughout the novel in a mixture of folk and stage English, “expressing” (as Hardy puts it), “in her own native phrases—assisted a little by her Sixth Standard training-feelings which might almost have been called those of the age—the ache of modernism.”

      There is also the good-girl, governess-type heroine of Victorian convention. This is the self-denying and self-punishing Tess, who sacrifices herself on behalf of her indigent relations whenever Hardy remembers to bring that Dickensian brood back on stage. In discharging this role, however, Tess is allowed a total condescension: she “became humanely beneficent towards the small ones, and to help them as much as possible she used, as soon as she left school, to lend a hand at haymaking.” Underneath it all, Tess does not really belong to peasant Wessex: she is the doomed descendant of the ancient, noble race of d’Urberville. This last romantic stereotype may have been Hardy’s favorite, for he used it to open the novel and to seal its finale. When Tess finally dispatches her wicked lover with a carving knife, Hardy asks us to ponder “what obscure strain in the d’Urberville blood had led to this aberration—if it were an aberration.”

      Earth goddess, modern woman, doomed bride of balladry, prostitute, Victorian daughter, unwed mother, murderess, and princess in disguise: Hardy’s Tess is surely the all-purpose heroine. Mr. Howe puts it in this way: “Tess is finally one of the great images of human possibility, conceived in the chaste, and chastening, spirit of the New Testament.” Another way to put it is that Tess is a fantasy of almost pornographic dimensions, manipulated with clearly sadistic affection. “Why it was,” Hardy ruminates, “that upon this beautiful feminine tissue, sensitive as gossamer, and practicably blank as snow as yet, there should have been traced such a coarse pattern as it was doomed to receive....”

      Howe reminds us of Hardy’s revealing attitude toward novel-writing. He did not take the form seriously, always preferred to consider himself a poet, and admitted that he wrote to please the public. He took a thoroughly down-to-earth view of his professional obligations: “the writer’s problem is, how to strike the balance between the uncommon and the ordinary so as on the one hand to give interest, on the other to give reality.” All this was in the great Victorian tradition, but Hardy lacked the convictions about the novel (and perhaps about its public) that had inspired his predecessors. As a novelist he appears to have been a follower, not a maker of taste—and nowhere more obviously than in his New Thought” novels of the 1890s.

      Hardy was in the habit of speaking scornfully of the early and mid-Victorian novelists, as he helped himself to the leaving of their genius. Howe and other Hardians have noted his indebtedness to Dickens, Trollope, the Brontes, George Eliot, Wilkie Collins; they could make more of his debt to Walter Scott. Though visitors to Max Gate were treated to his low opinion of Scott’s novels, Hardy had the respect of the professional for a work like The Bride of Lammermoor, which he considered “an almost perfect specimen of form.” Indeed, he duly rifled the work for much of the romantic folderol in Tess of the d’Urbervilles. To Hardy’s somewhat overripe, if calculated, excesses, there is in fact no better antidote than a return to the gusty romance, the canny rustics, the gothic scenery, the storms and pastorals and hearty good humor of Walter Scott.

25. Albert Guerard: The Originality of Tess

      The grand rugged simplicity and unembarrassed humanity sets Tess of the d’Urbervilles (together with Hardy’s The Mayor of Casterbridge) apart from other famous Victorian novels. Dickens, Thackeray, George Eliot and Trollope were dead—Dickens with his dazzling show of inventive and comic genius, but often pausing to remind us that he is wiser than his characters and more tender than his readers; Thackeray, who reminds us that he is more sophisticated than both; George Eliot, who calls attention to her own intelligence and moral integrity. (Trollope was rather more modest, but his fictional world was small and genteel.) As for novelists still active in 1891, Robert Louis Stevenson was writing good stories but writing in a pretentious and labored style, and Meredith was writing his witty epigrammatic novels of sophisticates. George Gissing and George Moore did dramatize the simple and the poor, but often in order to show them brutalized and degraded by environment. All these were good writers and several of them great writers, but all were in some sense patronizing: patronizing toward their characters or their readers or both. What strikes us, as we turn from their novels to Tess of the d’Urbervilles, is a fine unforced sympathy and natural humility—a humility of attitude in the face of basic human difficulties, a humility of manner and style.

      The “formula” of the novel and even certain details suggest affinities between Tess and the “sub-literary” popular novels of the time: the seduction of the pure unprotected working girl by a rakish mustached aristocrat, the fact that Tess is sixteen when the story begins (the standard age for heroines in these sub-literary novels), the sufferings forced upon her by a most unattractive “intellectual,” the compelled choice between the ruin of her family and virtual prostitution. But even a characteristic title of 1890—Laura Jean Libbey’s Will—ful Gaynell, or The Little Beauty of the Passaic Cotton Mills—reminds us that Tess Durbeyfield inhabits a very different fictional world. It is rather the immemorial and far more genuine world of the ancient folk stories and popular ballads: a world in which tragedy and even gross bad luck are reduced to the simplest and the starkest terms. There is no place in such a world for false niceties of principles or for elaborate intellectual reasonings. And perhaps this accounts for the unreality and even the more pretentious style which Angel Clare brings into the book whenever he appears. His inhibitions and complacencies intrude on an older and more natural world.

26. Edmund Blunden: Hardy Talks About Tess.

      Questioned further about his book, Hardy admitted that he was sorry not to have been able to rescue Tess at the last, as so many had hoped, but so it had to be. “You must have felt it a pain to bring her to so fearful an end.” “Yes. Such dreams are made of that I often think of the day when, having decided that she must die, I went purposely to Stonehenge to study the spot, It was a gloomy lowering day, and the skies almost seemed to touch the pillars of the great heathen temple.” As for “a pure woman,” it was suggested that Tess’s first love-trouble did not deprive her of that name, but that “her absolutely unnecessary return to Alec d’Urberville” did; to that Hardy replied, “But I still maintain that her innate purity remained intact to the very last; though I frankly own that a certain outward purity left her on her last fall. I regarded her then as being in the hands of circumstances, not normally responsible, a mere corpse drifting with a current to her end.” When it was forecast that the broad result of the book would be a greater freedom for open and serious discussion of some deep problems of human life. Hardy went slow. (He had of course no desire to set himself up as a protagonist in the manner of W.T. Stead.) “That would be a very ambitious hope on my part. Remember I am only a learner in the art of novel-writing. Still, I do feel very strongly that the position of man and woman in nature may be taken up and treated frankly.”

27. Douglas Brown: Social and Individual Fate in Tess

      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 the Durbeyfields’ own moving from home is full of disquiet. The migration of so many others, the dissolving social order, is not particularly dwelt upon; but the ironical reception of the forlorn family at Kingsbere, its ancient home, 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 described 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.

28. Arnold Kettle: Tess As a Social Document.

      The subject of the Tess of the d’Urbervilles is clearly stated by Hardy to be the fate of “a pure woman” in fact, it is the destruction of the English peasantry. More than any other nineteenth-century novel we have touched on, it has the quality of social document. It has even, for all its high-pitched emotional quality, the kind of impersonality that the expression suggests. Its subject is all-pervasive, affecting and determining the nature of every port. It is a novel with a thesis—’a roman a these—and this thesis is true.

      With the extension of capitalist farming (farming, that is to say, in which the landowner farms not for sustenance but for profit and in which the land workers become wage-earners) the old yeoman class of small-holders or peasants with their traditions of independence and their true native culture, was bound to disappear. The developing forces of history were too strong for them and their way of life. And because that way of life had been proud and deep-rooted its destruction was necessarily painful and tragic. ‘Tess’ is the story and the symbol of destruction.

29. C. Duffin: Tess - A Simple but Poignant Story.

      Tess is the most poignant of all Hardy’s stories. This is not because of anything that the heroine may be thought to symbolize, or any thesis that may be implied, but because Hardy is here writing more singly than in any other work about casual wrong, the will to recover, the growth of love, faithfulness, frail happiness, and death. It is much simpler novel than most of kinds; he gave them great parts to play, and let them play these parts well. His estimate of women is high, but tempered and conditioned by keen observation of the realities around him.

30. Albert J. Guerard: The Simple World of Tess

      Such is the world of this novel and its antique simplicity of art. The modern reader may prefer the complex and subtle triumphs of our own time—the verbal magic of Faulkner and Joyce, the intricate artistry of Proust, Mann and Gide. The novel has moved in those directions, and is not likely to retrace its steps. But I suspect many novelists today must envy Hardy his storytelling ease and freedom from inhibition. Quietly and without the slightest embarrassment he offers us his frankly Shakespearean opening chapter, then introduces us to a band of white-robed country girls in the May-Dance inherited from a remote past. One of them is Tess, whom we must now follow through her years of suffering and over the Wessex the sacrificial altar—of Stonehenge. The reduction on a fog-drenched night, the birth and strange baptism and death of her child, the slow recovery of strength in the symbolic atmosphere of a dairy, the symbolic wounding of the pheasants and the symbolic rat-catching, the death of horse Prince and all the rest of the appalling bad luck which is made to seem part and parcel of the very scheme of things, the revenge of Tess and the final revenge of society—these are hardly ‘subtle’ materials with which to build a novel. And yet here they are, the material of a great and serious novel which has an incomparably moving story to tell and at least one important thing to say. This is that human beings and their longings for happiness are more important than the social convention and psychic inhibitions which try to thwart them.

31. Duffin: Tess - A Soul’s Tragedy

      To the agony of Tess—there is no equal but in Shakespeare. In Shakespeare’s tragedies, the doom works a mysterious and far more terrible ruin in the souls of the people. Each of his play is a “Soul Tragedy”. Hardy brings it once again in Literature after Shakespeare. Consider the tragedy of Tess: the tragedy lies not in her desertion, her struggle for bread, her frightful death; but in her sin, the intensifying agony of her despair, her bewilderment of soul at Clare’s behavior, culminating in the awful wrecking of her nature in the foul shallows of d’Urbervilles renewed amours. To be crushed to death is nothing for ‘a pure woman’ to-be ’ crushed to impurity—there is a “Soul’s Tragedy’, that has no equal in horror.

32. William R. Rutland: Tess - A Tragedy

      Judged by another famous theory of tragedy, the theory that tragedy lies, not in the conflict of right with wrong, but in the conflict of right with right, the same conclusion must be reached: for in Tess all Hardy’s powers are put forth to make us feel the right on one side only. Yet a third view is that the center of tragedy must lie in action which issues from character; in other words, the victim must be the chief cause of his own catastrophe.

33. Bruce Hugman: Harsh Truths of Life In Tess

Tess of the d’Urbervllles is rich in the beauty and sadness of existence.

      Pathos and beauty are Tess’s recurring experiences. She is an unusually sensitive and passionate girl who suffers cruelly at the hands of a harsh world and a narrow-minded lover, and it is only through her suffering that she is able to find perfect, though brief fulfillment.

      In the novel we see reflected Hardy’s awareness of the harsh truths of life: that Tess is more responsive a creature when pale and tragical; that happiness comes as an infrequent contrast to misery; that personal fulfillment is rare; that death is inevitable. These are not the observations of a fatalistic pessimist but a man who sees that an awareness of such truths is essential if man’s brief portion of life is to be lived to the full, and if men are conscientiously to avoid wasting life’s opportunities.

      These perceptions are balanced throughout the novel. We are constantly aware of the grand time scale of the centuries at the same time as the tiny time scale of individual human life. We are intensely aware of time: not so much of specific months or periods but the progress of time and the continuous rhythms of change.

34. W.L. Cross: The Tragedy of Tess.

      Tess of the d’Urbervilles, (1891) his mightiest production, is a tragedy that at no period in our history other than these fin desiecle days could have been written; or if written, could have been understood. And what is its novelty? Surely it is not the subject matter, for recall, ‘Clarissa Harlowe’ and ‘Adam Bede’. It had been a tacit assumption in English tragedy that the dramatic hero must commit some deed from which he suffers. The deed may be a crime as in ‘Macbeth’; it may issue from a fault in judgment, as in the case of ‘Brutus’, or from a stubborn vanity, as in the case of ‘Lear’. That they are likely to be innocent victims of the deed may be admitted, and therein lies the deeper pathos of Shakespearean tragedy. The way George Eliot, somewhat like Shakespeare, traced the events of her somber novels to free individual acts of will we have elaborated. The tragedy of Tess of the d’Urbervilles begins in a crime and ends in crime. Alec pays the penalty for his misdeeds. But Alec is only a subordinate character. Tess is the main and central character who, from first to last, Hardy insists, is free from any wrongdoing. In this reversal of the tradition of tragedy both in our drama and novel. Hardy is an innovator.

35. H.W. Massingham: Tess as a Greek Tragedy

      The new novel is as pitiless and tragic in its intensity as the old Greek dramas. Not Aeschylus himself nor any of his brethren who so rigidly illustrated the doctrine of hum sn fate, could have woven a web that should more completely enmesh a human soul than Mr. Hardy has done in the case of his heroine, Tess

36. R.H.Hutton: Tess - Tragic and Dramatic

      While we cannot at all admire Mr. Hardy’s motive in writing this very powerful novel, we must cordially admit that he has seldom or never written anything so truly tragic and so dramatic. The beauty and realism of the delineations of the life on the large dairy-farm; the sweetness and, on the whole, generosity of the various dairymaids’ feelings for each other; the vivacity of the description of the cows themselves; the perfect insight into the conditions of rustic lives; the true pathos of Tess’s sufferings; the perfect naturalness, and even inevitability, of all her impulses; the strange and horrible mixture of feeling with which she regards her destroyer, when, believing that all her chance of happiness is over, she sells herself ultimately for the benefit of her mother and brother and sisters; the masterful conception of the seducer as a convert to Antinomianism, and the ease with which his new faith gives way to a few recitals by Tess of her Husband’s ground for scepticism (with which, however, we are not favoured); the brilliant description of the flight of Clare and Tess, and of the curious equanimity with which Tess meets the consciousness of having committed murder, seeing that it has restored her for five days to her husband’s heart—are all pictures of almost unrivalled power, though they evidently proceed from the pantheistic conception that impulse is the law of the universe, and that will, properly so called, is a non-existent fiction. We confess that this is a story which, in spite of its almost unrivaled power, it is very difficult to read, because in almost every page the mind rebels against the steady assumptions of the author, and shrinks from the untrue picture of a universe so blank and godless—Shelley’s blank, grey, lampless, deep, unpeopled world.

37. W. Watson: Tess - A Tragic Masterpiece.

      In this, his greatest work, Mr. Hardy has produced a tragic masterpiece which is not flawless, any more than Lear or Macbeth is; and the easiest way of writing about it would be to concentrate one’s attention upon certain blemishes of style, read the author lecture upon their enormity, affect to be very much shocked and upset by some of his conclusions in morals, and conveniently shirk such minor critical duties as they attempt to abnegate one’s prejudices, inherited or acquired; to estimate in what degree the author’s undoubtedly impassioned ethical vision is steady and clear; and, while eschewing equally a dogmatic judicialism and a weak surrender of the right of private censorship, to survey the thing created, in some measure, by the light of its creator’s eyes. What is called critical coolness seems, on a cursory view, an excellent qualification in a judge of literature; but true criticism, when it approaches the work of the masters, can never be quite cool. To be cool before the, Lear or the Macbeth was simply not to feel what is there; and it is the critic’s business to feel, just as much as to see. In so tremendous a presence A the criticism which can be cool is no criticism at all. The critical, hardly less than the creative mind, must possess the faculty of being rapt and transported, or its function declines into mere connoisseurship, the pedant’s office of mechanical appraisement...

      There is one thing which not the dullest reader can fail to recognize—the persistence with their alternately smolders and flames through the book Mr. Hardy’s passionate protest against the unequal justice meted by society to the man: and the woman associated in an identical breach of the moral law. In his wrath, (Mr. Hardy seems at times almost to forget that society is scarcely more unjust than nature. He himself proposes no remedy, suggests no escape—his business not being to deal in nostrums of social therapeutics. He is content to make his readers pause, and consider, and pity; and very likely he despairs of any satisfactory solution of the problem which he presents with such disturbing power and clothes with a vesture of such breathing and throbbing life.

38. C. Black: Moral Earnestness in Tess

      Mr. Hardy’s new novel is in many respects the finest work which he has yet produced, and its superiority is largely due to a profound moral earnestness which has not always been conspicuous in his writing. Yet this very earnestness, by leading him to deal with serious moral problems will assuredly, cause this book to be reprobated by numbers of well-intentioned people who have read his previous novels with complacency. The conventional reader wishes to be excited, but not to be disturbed; he likes to have new pictures presented to his imagination, but not to have new ideas presented to his mind. He detests unhappy endings mainly because an unhappy ending nearly always involves an indirect appeal to the conscience, and the conscience, when aroused, is always demanding a reorganization of that traditional pattern of right and wrong which it is the essence of conventionality to regard as immutable. Yet more, of course, does he detest an open challenge of that traditional pattern, and Tess of the d’Urbervilles is precisely such a challenge.

      The true country life of hard toil makes a continual background to the figure of country-born Tess; but the background is not always dark. The wholesome life of the dairy farm, and the wonderful pictures of changing aspects and seasons, the descriptions of three or four solitary walks, remain with us like bits of personal experience.

39. Dorothy Van Ghent: Dilemma of Moral Consciousness in Tess

      We have said that the dilemma of Tess is the dilemma of moral consciousness in its intractable earthy mixture; schematically simplified, the signifying form of the Tess universe is the tragic heroism and tragic ineffectuality of such consciousness in an antagonistic earth where events shape themselves by accident rather than by moral design; and the mythological dimension of this form lies precisely in the earth’s antagonism—for what is persistently antagonistic appears to have its own intentions, in this case mysterious, supernatural, for it is only thus that earth can seem to have “intentions.” The folk are the bridge between mere earth and moral individuality; of the earth as they are, separable conscious ego does not arise among them to weaken animal instinct and confuse response—it is the sports, the deracinated ones, like Tess and Clare and Alec, who are morally individualized and who are therefore able to suffer isolation, alienation, and abandonment, or to make others to suffer; the folk, while they remain folk, cannot be individually isolated, alienated or lost, for they are amoral and their existence is colonial rather than personal.

40. Evelyn Hardy: The Moral Lesson in Tess

      Despite its lyrical qualities, and the imaginative fire which makes it glow like an inspired canvas, Tess is didactic; it seeks to teach a great moral lesson. The urgency and the passion which drive Hardy forward spring from two convictions. First, if writing is to be valid it must be true to life, the author must be allowed to tell his tale in his own way, to represent aspects of life as he sees them. An aspect which had always troubled Hardy’s compassionate heart was the betrayal of innocence. Everyone knew that seduction occurred, both in rural and town life, the only difference being that if a man’s daughter had an illegitimate child in town lodgings the family was not necessarily ejected from their home, whereas in the country, tenants being more sparsely scattered and their lives more readily observed, they were apt to be victimized by the squire. Yet no one dared to write of such things, or if they did, the girl remained a shadowy figure alluded to indirectly, or relegated to an inferior position in the dramas. Hardy’s sin in the eyes of professional critics was three-fold—he handled his theme at length, he made Tess the heroine of his tale, and he dared to call her “a pure woman.”

      Now a great and daring work raises up detractors and champions simultaneously especially when the chief character of that work is a woman. Convention must be outraged before it may be altered. After the publication of Tess Hardy found himself publicly shunned, ridiculed by some and ardently defended by others. One society hostess divided her guests into sheep and goats—those who championed Tess and those who derided it. As for the professional critics they called the novel “disagreeable, ridiculous and affected”, or showed their own paucity of imagination by declaring, in a phrase which now seems ludicrous, that few people would deny the terrible dreariness of this tale, which, except during a few hours spent with cows, has not a gleam of sunshine anywhere.

      There were more of this nature. On the other hand, the critic of The Times described it as Hardy’s greatest work, “daring in its treatment of conventional ideas, pathetic in its sadness, and profoundly stirring in its tragic power

      A feminine critic perceived that the book’s value lay in understanding that a woman’s moral worth is measurable, not by any one deed, but by the whole aim and tendency of her life and nature.

      Hardy’s insistence that Tess, although an adultress and a murderess, remained ‘A pure Woman’, was based on his second conviction. To a reviewer who questioned him on this point, he replied:

      I still maintain that her innate purity remained intact to the very last; though I frankly own that a certain outward purity left her on her last fall. I regarded her then as being in the hands of circumstances, not normally responsible, a mere corpse drifting with the current to her end”.

      It was this contention which outraged Victorian sentiments. How could one bring up one’s daughter to revere-chastity if a well-known writer perverted the moral law? In these days, when Tess is given to sixth-form girls to study, it is difficult to re-create the prevalent emotional values, and to understand the controversy which raged round this book.

      Yet Hardy’s conviction was based on the words of no less a teacher than Christ himself. “Judge not that ye be not judged” or “Go and sin no more” might have been placed on the title page instead of the lines from Two Gentlemen of Verona. When the reviewer of the Quarterly spoke of Hardy’s affection of expounding a great moral law”, and The Times reviewer contradicted him (by perceiving that Hardy was an idealist and maintaining that it is well for us that he should remind us how terribly defective are our means of judging others) they were criticizing aspects of the same theme...

      But the most fervent are not always the most lucid. Hardy writes with passionate conviction but his arguments lack consistency. Sometimes he arraigns the social law, sometimes the comic. The force which comes from single conviction and a single purpose is not his. Nevertheless, we are conquered. In spite of the unreality of many of the characters (chief amongst them Angel with his unfeeling arguments and cold, sterile behavior, and Alec, the “twopence-coloured” villain with his cigar and mustaches) in spite of the staginess of the final setting, and the over-persistent dwelling on unkind Fate and Chance, we are carried away by reason of the book’s poetic truth and Hardy’s creative fervor. Tess of the d’Urbervilles remains a masterpiece which the French, Germans, Italians, Dutch, Russians and Japanese were quick to appreciate.

41. Walter Allen: The Poetic Imagery in Tess

      Sometimes the poetry is the poetry of attendant and pervasive circumstances.
An example of this is the inscription but it is more than description, it is setting of the Valley of the Great Dairies in Tess of the d’Urbervilles the setting to Tess’s meeting and falling in love with Angel Clare. Yet whatever the kind may be, the poetry and the imagery through which it is rendered are always precise, not merely with the scrupulous accuracy of a poet like Clare but with the insight, the regard for minute particulars and for the pattern which contains them, of Gerard Manley Hopkins. So reading Hardy, one is often struck with the strangeness that characterizes something seen and rendered as it were for the first time, with the innocent eye, a small instance is the road that is seen as bisecting Egdon Heath “like the parting line on a head of black hair”. But the accuracy is no less when the object rendered is of much greater moment. Thus Hardy describes Tess at having been “caught during her days of immaturity like a bird in a spring”. In another novelist, this could be a sentimental cliche. It is not in Hardy. As John Holloway says in his book The Victorian Sage’ it is “an exact and insistent image to remind us that when Tess was seduced at night in the wood, her experience really was like that of an animal caught in a trap—as might happen in the very same place. The image goes to the heart of Tess’s situation. She is caught in tragedy because she is animal; but if she had been merely animal, or if she had been Retty or Izz Huett, there would have been no tragedy.

42. Dorothy Van Ghent: Symbolism in Tess

      The dramatic motivation provided by natural earth is central to every aspect of the book. It controls the style: page by page Tess has a wrought density of texture that is fairly unique in Hardy; symbolic depth is communicated by the physical surface of things with unhampered transparency while the homeliest conviction of fact is preserved (“The upper half of each turnip had been eaten off by the live-stock”); and one is aware of style not as a specifically verbal quality but as a quality of observation and intuition that are here—very often—wonderfully identical with each other, a quality of lucidity. Again, it is because of the actual motivational impact of the earth that Hardy is able to use setting and atmosphere for a symbolism that, considered in itself, is so astonishingly blunt and rudimentary. The green vale of Blackmoor, fertile, small, enclosed by hills, lying under a blue haze—the vale! of birth, the cradle of innocence. The wide misty setting of Talbothays dairy, “Oozing fatness and warm ferments,” where the “rush of juices could almost be heard below the hiss of fertilization”—the sensual dream, the lost Paradise. The starved uplands of Flintcomb-Ash, with their ironic mimicry of the organs of generation, “myriads of loose white flints in bulbous, cusped, and phallic shapes,” and the dun consuming ruin of the swede field - the mockery of impotence, the exile. Finally, that immensely courageous use of setting, Stonehenge and the stone of sacrifice. Obvious as these symbolisms are, their deep stress is maintained by Hardy’s naturalistic premise. The earth exists here as Final Cause, and its omnipresence affords constantly to Hardy the textures that excited his eye and ear, but affords them wholly charged with dramatic, causational necessity; and the symbolic values of setting are constituted, in large part, by the responses required of the characters themselves in their relationship with the earth.

43. Douglas Brown: The Simple Magnificence of Tess

      It is true to say that Tess is a flawed work of art, but it is little to the purpose. 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 sleep-walking, the episodes of agricultural life at Flintcomb-Ash, the climax at Stonehenge, are powerful and original imaginative inventions. The rather tawdry theatricality of the 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 defect—this calamity. But the insistent tenderness exacts concurrence, by a force like make-believe. The falsities, the intrusive commentaries, the sophisticated mannerism in the prose, do only local damage.

      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 spring from traditional way 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 quality invested in Alec d’Urberville. We feel the lost independence and the helplessness of agricultural men in this decrepit figure. The art ordering the whole is marvelously secure of its purpose. The metaphorical terms reside so naturally within the ballad narrative. The preparation for such later scenes as Tess harvesting at Marlott, Tess in the early dawn at Talbothays, is perfect. For Tess is not only 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, Mrs. Hardy has recorded, “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 life, 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 irrevocable. It is 1890, in south west England.

44. Arnold Kettle: The Excellence of the Final Scene in Tess

      It is easy enough to list the imperfections of this novel. What also needs explanation is its triumph, epitomized in that extraordinary final scene at Stonehenge; There is nothing bogus about the achievement here, no sleight of hand, no counterfeit notes of false emotion. The words of speech have not quite the ring of speech nor the integral force of poetry; the symbolism is obvious, one might almost say, crude. And yet this very clumsiness, the almost amateurish manipulation of the mechanics of the scene, contributes something to its force, to its expression of the pathetic yet heroic losing battle waged by Tess against a world she cannot successfully fight and can only dimly apprehend. The final mood evoked by Tess of the d’Urbervilles is not hopelessness but indignation and the indignation is nonetheless profound for being incompletely intellectualized. Hardy is not a Shakespeare or an Emily Bronte. His art does not achieve that sense of the inner movement of life which transcends abstractions. He is constantly awakening his apprehension of this movement by inadequate attitudes and judgments. But in spite of this weakening “Tess” emerges as a fine novel, a moral fable, the most moving expression in our literature—not forgetting Wordsworth—of the destruction of the peasant world.

45. E.Gosse: Tess—Hardy’s Greatest Novel

      Nearly fifty years have passed since those excited days, and it is now possible to look upon Tess of the d’Urbervilles with clearer eyes. Few readers will be disposed to quarrel with the judgment that it is the greatest of his novels. Not the most perfect work of art; that distinction belongs to The Return of the Native. Not the most powerful piece of portraiture; that is found in The Mayor of Casterbridge. But just as most critics agree that King Lear is Shakespeare’s greatest work without being his best play so Tess of the d’Urbervilles is Hardy’s greatest, without being his most artistic or most nearly perfect novel. Of course, there are flaws in Tess. The Alec who “twirled a gay walking cane,” who “clenched his lips” and exclaimed “you artful hussy!” is too obviously related to the villain of melodrama. The carpet that “reached close to the sill” and so in opportunely concealed the letter that Tess had slipped under Clare’s door discloses the author too openly in the act of setting the stage. Brazil, to which Clare suddenly exiled himself and from which he conveniently returned when the plot needed him, is presented with a disregard for the facts that is only equaled by Dickens’s pictures of America in the pages of Martin Chuzzlewit. Let all this be freely granted. There still remains in Tess in abundance of Hardy at his best. Every aspect of his art and thought is here represented. Wessex superstitions and peasant folklore, delicate descriptions of nature and magnificent accounts of the passage of the seasons, humour and pathos, irony and tragedy, all are here found between the covers of one book. And here there is one thing not found in any of Hardy’s previous novels; moral indignation at social injustice With Fitzgerald he had expressed regret over the sorriness of this scheme of things, but not regret such as Wordsworth felt for what man has made of man. Hardy’s humanity was never so movingly expressed as in Tess. It has become a critical commonplace to maintain that this obvious sympathy for his heroine is an artistic flaw, that he is too openly trying to “edify”. But if the free expression of sympathy for those who suffer from human injustice is to be denied an author, how many plays of Shakespeare will have to be condemned! Hardy’s open admiration for Tess is one of his noblest acts. In the face of the danger of almost universal condemnation, he exclaims with Shakespeare:

Poor wounded name  My bosom as a bed
Shall lodge thee

46. Henry James: Tess—Flawed but Beautiful

      The good little Thomas Hardy has scored a great success with the Tess of the d’Urbervilles which is chock-full of faults and falsity and yet has a singular beauty and charm.

      I am meek and shamed where the public clatter is deafening—so I bowed my head and let Tess of the d’Urbervilles pass. But oh yes, dear Louis, she is vile. The pretense of “sexuality” is only equaled by the absence of it, and the abomination of the language by the author’s reputation for style. There are indeed some pretty smells and sights and sounds. But you have better ones in Polynesia.

47. Mowbray Morris: Tess — A Disagreeable Story

      Considering the book then, with our necessarily imperfect knowledge, it seems only that Mr. Hardy has told an extremely disagreeable story in an extremely disagreeable manner, which is not rendered less so by his affectation of expounding a great moral law, or by the ridiculous character of some of the scenes into which this affectation plunges the reader. No one who remembers how Mr. Hardy used to write in his earlier and happier moods, can accuse him of having been born without the sense of humour. But his assumption of the garb of the moral teacher would appear to have destroyed his relish for this salt of life. Even then it surpasses our comprehension how any man who had once known its taste could have penned that impossible episode where the three green-sick dairy-maids, in their scant white night-gowns, sit shivering on end in their beds, “like a row of avenging ghosts”, to gaze with reproachful admiration on their successful rival. Of course, as the scene is laid in the author’s favorite Wessex, the reader is pleased with many charming natural descriptions, with many clever sketches of village lives and humours. Mr. Hardy’s rustics have always, it is true, had a smack of caricature about them; but they have generally been extremely amusing caricatures, and rounded, moreover, as Dickens’s, are rounded, on the essential facts of humanity. While for his powers of description, only Charles Kingsley and Mr. Blackmore have rivaled, we will not even of them say surpassed, him in bringing that beautiful West Country home to us; and there are passages in these three volumes equal to the best he has yet done in that way. But it is hard to conceive what further pleasure a wholesome-minded reader will find in this book.

Previous Post Next Post