Tess of the d’Urbervilles, Hardy’s last but one novel, was first published in 1891 at the end of the Victorian era which spanned 1836-1901. During this period society was dominated by a very strict moral code that dictated the way people behaved. Victorians had a low tolerance of crime, a strong social ethic and there was sexual repression.
These so-called social laws governed their lives and very few people dared to speak their mind or express their own points of view, as they were afraid of being shunned from society and being treated as outcasts.In fact it was also a time of contradictions – although moral values were strong, there was much poverty among the lower classes. Victorians are generally thought to have had strong, rigid, religious beliefs but in fact there were changes during Victoria’s reign with a rise of Methodism and some Evangelism, which Hardy himself may have had a brief phase of in his youth.
In 1859 Charles Darwin published The Origin of the Species.His theory of evolution was widely accepted as the most accurate idea of how life has evolved when he first introduced his ideas to society, particularly by atheists and by some members of the Church, while others criticised it greatly. The Victorians, whatever their beliefs, were in regular attendance at church because that was essential to the family’s respectability, to their standing within society and to their progression at work. By the end of Victoria’s reign high ethical ideals of the British Empire were of major importance.Women in the nineteenth century had little power or prospects, difficulties arose for women with the idea of the ‘ideal woman’ shared by many people in society. It was felt that women should be regarded as pure and clean, and because of this view their bodies were seen as temples not to be used for physical exertion or pleasurable sex, but more to bear children and look after the household.
This would have been different for each class, with women from the high classes doing little or no work while lower class women would have still had to work.Legal rights of married women were not much different to children as they could not vote or even own property; they were often seen as the property of their husbands. Women could not hold jobs unless it was that of a teacher or a domestic servant, or lower working class jobs mainly because of the idea that women were unequal in the working environment and at an educational aspect, they were not allowed to go to university or to learn subjects that were “irrelevant” as they were mainly supposed to know things necessary to bring up children and to keep a house.The idea of different social “Classes” were prominent with the higher classes being aristocracy and nobility including clergy and the Church.
There was then the middle class made up of people such as factory owners, bankers, merchants, lawyers and other professions and although they could be extremely rich they were not normally privileged in any special way. There was then the British lower class, with a large gap from middle class. They were spilt up into two sections; the “working class”, and “the poor”. The working class would consist of factory work, seam stressing, mining and various child labour jobs like chimney sweeping.
The poor” were those who were either not working, or not working regularly and receiving public charity. In Victorian times “Classes” were regarded as very important, and would be especially important when it came to marriage and the idea of marrying into higher classed family. At the beginning of the novel Hardy introduces Tess as innocent, malleable and pure, as part of the May Day dance wearing a white gown and the only person to wear a red ribbon, ‘the only one of the white company who could boast of such a pronounced adornment’ symbolising her virginity and purity as well as illustrating her individuality.Hardy describes her as ‘not handsomer that some others, possibly’ but to have ‘large innocent eyes’ representing her as free from wrongdoings or sin. Tess is also regularly compared to nature throughout the novel, ‘Ideal and real clashed slightly as the sun lit up their figures against the green hedges and creeper-laced house-fronts’ are the May dancers of which Tess was one of them, focusing on the idea of purity. Her movements and ideas are also closely tied in with nature, for example, the second time she leaves home “On a thyme-scented, bird-hatching morning in May. In the chapters where she begins work at Talbothays Dairy Tess is the happiest she has been in her life. The weather and her surroundings reflect her happiness and her growing relationship with Angel.
“Thus passed the leafy time when arborescence seems to be the one thing aimed at out of doors.Tess and Clare unconsciously studied each other, ever balanced on the edge of a passion, yet apparently keeping out of it. All the while they were converging, under an irresistible law, as surely as two streams in one vale. ” As the summer ripens so does their relationship. Amid the oozing fatness and warm ferments of the Froom Vale, at a season when the rush of juices could almost be heard below the hiss of fertilization, it was impossible that the most fanciful love should not grow passionate. The ready bosoms existing there were impregnated by their surroundings.
” Tess’ family manipulate her to go seek help from the d’Urbervilles when the horse is killed by using guilt as Tess feels she is responsible ‘Her face was dry and pale, as though she regarded herself in the light of a murderess’ so when her family suggest the idea of Tess going ‘claim kin’ although she is reluctant she complies.When Tess first meets Alec d’Urberville she is reluctant to ask for help ‘Tess’s sense of a certain ludicrousness in her errand was now so strong’ confirms that Tess would much prefer to pay back the family herself rather than have to seek help elsewhere. This also shows that Tess is a strong character as she likes to do things for herself. Instead of Alec turning Tess away he is attracted to her ‘her rosy lips curved towards a smile, much to the attraction of the swarthy Alexander’. After Tess has returned home she receives a job offer by letter addressed from Mrs. d’Urberville, ‘Mrs. ‘Urberville’s handwriting seemed rather masculine’ suggesting that it is Alec who wants her there and has written the letter himself.
Tess’ guilt about the horse make her feel in honour bound to take the job working for the d’Urbervilles. Returning from a night out with her fellow workers Tess falls out with one of them and is rescued by Alec. Instead of taking her home safely he purposely gets lost with her in the woods culminating in his taking advantage of her. This causes an ‘immeasurable social chasm’ because sex before marriage was against the laws of society.Hardy compares Tess to nature in this chapter ‘Why it was that upon this beautiful feminine tissue, sensitive as gossamer, and practically blank as snow’ to show how fragile she is ‘sensitive as gossamer’ and how she was pure, but ignorant to the problems in the world ‘blank as snow. ‘ The extent to which Tess was innocent can be debated as Hardy avoids to what extent she was compliant but through reference to the ‘primeval yews’, ‘roosting birds’ and ‘hopping rabbits’ he stresses the naturalness of this event.
Although Hardy’s description of Tess in the encounter with Alec is sympathetic she still blames herself because later, when she tells Angel of her past, she says almost in a rhetorical manner ‘am I too wicked for you and me to live together? ‘ Tess would not have got into this dilemma if her mother had told her about life and sex, but in the Victorian times as it was a very misanthropic subject little was passed on, and because of this society makes Tess suffer as a result.When Tess’ baby, Sorrow, falls ill and Tess baptises the dying infant, Hardy uses religious imagery to make her seem pure by using the colour white ‘she stood in her long white nightgown. ‘ This is ironic because Tess is no longer ‘pure’ in the Victorian idea as she has had a baby out of marriage. Conversely, the wearing of white could also relate to the purity of her intentions. Hardy elevates Tess to a heroine status when she takes the baptism into her own hands.
She is portrayed as ‘a divine personage with whom they had nothing in common’ and ‘her high enthusiasm having a transfiguring effect upon the face which had been her undoing, showing it as a thing of immaculate beauty, with a touch of dignity which was almost regal. ‘ Whilst she is baptising the baby, ‘the miniature candle-flame inverted in her eye pupils shone like a diamond’ uses the candle as a reference to Christ the light of the world, suggesting the elevation of Tess to the Holy Spirit’s presence in the baptism of Sorrow.To Hardy’s Victorian audience the baby would have been bound to ‘hell’ because it was a ‘bastard,’ also the fact that Tess had to give the infant a Christian burial herself when the reverend had refused “I would willingly do so if only we two are concerned. But I must not – for certain reasons” suggest that Hardy believed that the social morals and implications were wrong and his personal views about religion show through. At the time of writing the book he was most probably an atheist, although he was still influenced by the Church.This was because of his family’s association and his personal convictions that the Church was, and should remain, the social, ethical, and educational centre of the community. This would have been in Victorian times incredibly wrong as Tess herself was not ordained and could be seen as ‘going against God’ as well as the fact that the baby was born out of wedlock all went against society, and Hardy writing about this would have been extremely rebellious at the time.Hardy shows that Tess loves her baby very much even though society spurns ‘bastards’ when Tess is baptising the baby she says “Heap as much anger as you want to upon me, and welcome; but pity the child! ” This is defiant of Tess because society would say that she should not feel this way about her ‘bastard’, and Hardy uses this as a way to show his point of view, that although the baby was conceived in a different fashion it was not the child’s fault and that it should not be deprived of its mother’s love.
Hardy also shows Tess’ love for the child in the language he uses ‘Her darling about to die, and no salvation. ‘ Angel and Tess’ relationship is presented by Hardy in the two viewpoints of each of the lovers. Both Angel and Tess are very young and neither see each other as they really are. Angel sees Tess as the ‘ideal’ woman ‘What a fresh and virginal daughter of Nature that milkmaid is! ‘ Angel shows how he, like the rest of society, is stuck in the way of thought that women had to be ‘pure’ and ‘innocent. He uses the word ‘virginal’ and refers to ‘nature’ to emphasise his beliefs. It is quite ironic that he thinks this way because Angel is ‘his own man’ as he goes against his family’s expectations that he should follow in the family “trade” and become a minister. He also has had a relationship with an older woman, suggesting that in this relationship they had sex, meaning that he is not actually ‘virginal’ himself.
This shows that, in some ways, Angel is a man of his time – with very different rules for men and women.Tess on the other hand perceives Angel differently and sees him as intelligent and his own man, ‘At first Tess seemed to regard Angel Clare as an intelligence rather than as a man. ‘ She also shows this when listening to him playing the harp “But you, sir, can raise up dreams with your music, and drive all such horrid fancies away! ” Hardy uses language to show how Tess also sees Angel ‘It was true that he was a present out of his class.But she knew that was only because, like Peter the Great in a shipwright’s yard, he was studying what he wanted to know.
.. ecause he was learning how to be a rich and prosperous dairyman, landowner, agriculturist. ‘ This shows how Tess sees him as though he is clever and chooses the path he wants and is a bit of a ‘free-thinker. ‘ As the relationship between Tess and Angel begins to develop Tess gets more and more of a feeling of guilt and unworthiness because although she loves Angel she feels she is no longer ‘pure’ and can, therefore, never marry “I don’t think marrying is in his mind at all; but if he were to ask me I should refuse him, as I should refuse any man”.She feels guilty because she is not letting the other girls to have a chance to marry Angel ‘There was no concealing from herself the fact that she loved Angel Clare, perhaps all the more passionately from knowing that the others had also lost their hearts to him. ” The more she becomes emotionally attached to Angel the more she feels that her past has put her too far out of his reach.Prior to Tess’ encounter with Angel in the garden she wanders through its uncultivated edges and Hardy adds a jarring note to the idyllic surroundings talking of the “tall blooming weeds emitting offensive smells” and how Tess “went stealthily as a cat through this profusion of growth, gathering cuckoo-spittle on her skirts, cracking snails that were underfoot, staining her hands with thistle-milk and slug-slime, and rubbing off upon her naked arms sticky blights which, though snow-white on the apple-tree trunks, made madder stains on her skin”.
All in the garden is not rosy, particularly the reference to madder stains which are red, a colour used pointedly by Hardy here and elsewhere as symbolic of later events. At the early May dances Tess wears a red ribbon on her white dress, later the d’Urberbille’s house is “of the same rich red colour” and the paint used for the Christian slogan that Tess sees after her seduction by Alec is also red. Yet Tess was oblivious to imperfections in her surroundings being uplifted by the Angelic music of Angel Clare who, fittingly, plays a harp. “Tess was conscious of neither time nor space.The exaltation which she had described as being producible at will by gazing at a star came now without any determination of hers; she undulated upon the thin notes of the second-hand harp, and their harmonies passed like breezes through her, bringing tears into her eyes. ” When she encounters Angel she is embarrassed and blushes.
She turns his questions away from herself by making general comments on life and asking about him instead. “‘Are you afraid? ‘ ‘Oh no, sir–not of outdoor things; especially just now when the apple-blooth is falling, and everything is so green. ‘But you have your indoor fears–eh? ‘ ‘Well–yes, sir. ‘ ‘What of? ‘ ‘I couldn’t quite say. ‘….
… ‘Life in general? ‘ ‘Yes, sir. ‘ …
… ‘Come, Tess, tell me in confidence. ‘ She thought that he meant what were the aspects of things to her, and replied shyly– ‘The trees have inquisitive eyes, haven’t they? –that is, seem as if they had. And the river says,–‘Why do ye trouble me with your looks? ‘ …
But YOU, sir, can raise up dreams with your music, and drive all such horrid fancies away! ‘”Tess is trying to prevent Angel knowing more about herself and putting up a barrier between them. In the lead up to Tess’ confession to Angel, Hardy uses imagery that suggests to the reader that Angel will react badly, creating a feeling of tension and a will to stop Tess speaking. “The ashes under the grate were lit by the fire vertically, like a torrid waste. Imagination might have beheld a Last Day luridness in this red-coaled glow, which fell on his face and hand, and on hers … A large shadow of her shape rose upon the wall and ceiling.
ach diamond on her neck gave a sinister wink like a toad’s”. The glow of red over Tess and Angel foreshadows the final outcome and, particularly, Angel’s having a hand in it. The ashes also suggest wasted passion and the shadow rising up the wall gives a ghostly and threatening impression. Toads have, for centuries, been seen as malevolent creatures, and the diamonds having ‘a sinister wink’ suggests an impending doom.
Tess is also wearing more elaborate clothing such as the diamonds, this contrasts with the simple, white and pure clothing she has been seen wearing before.Predictably Angel’s reaction is bad and Hardy describes Angel in a negative fashion as though he has “withered” like a plant and he was “paralyzed”. “His face had withered…
These and other of his words were nothing but the perfunctory babble of the surface while the depths remained paralyzed. ” This shows that his whole reaction and feelings to Tess have changed, Angel no longer sees Tess as the same woman, he doesn’t know her and therefore can’t love her. This is also shown in Tess’s change in clothing, Tess is now wearing diamonds. “You were on person; now you are another.
….. he woman I have been loving is not you.
” The woman that Angel loved has died in his mind; this is shown quite clearly when Angel sleepwalks, believing Tess to be dead. “When he reached the middle of the room he stood still and murmured in tones of indescribably sadness-“Dead! Dead! Dead! ‘” He then lifts Tess and places her in a coffin. Obviously their marriage will no longer work and they agree to part. Angel leaves Tess and gives her money, but because she sends a lot of hit home to her parents, it doesn’t last long and Tess is too proud to ask the Clare family.We then see from here Tess’s downward spiral, this is also reflected in nature, for example when she finds dying pheasants – “their rich plumage dabbled with blood.
” The birds are writhing in agony and their suffering reflects Tess’s mental suffering and pain – “with the impulse of a soul could feel for kindred sufferers as much for herself. ” She kills the birds and is ashamed of her own gloom saying to herself; “I have two hands to feed and clothe me. ” This also shows that, in her suffering, she has found an inner strength to keep going.To support herself she then finds work – hard, physical and cold work, lifting swedes, and very different to the work she had at the dairy farm. Hardy uses Tess’s change in work to illustrate her change of circumstance mentally as well as physically. Alec then comes along and is kind to her. After the death of Tess’s father and, consequently, the family being thrown out of their home, Alec offers hope and support to them all. Alec has found God and wants to make amends by marrying her (ironically Angel’s father was the man who converted Alec).
When Alec is reintroduced at this point to the novel the bitter irony of Tess’s predicament it heightened dramatically and she continues to suffer as a social outcast for a deed that wais Alec’s fault. Hypocritically Alec has the luxury to repent and to even win acceptance as a preacher. At first Tess does not accept Alec as he seems like a wolf in sheep’s clothing and Tess is a much stronger woman now and is less ignorant to conniving men, especially Alec. Tess needs her husband more than ever and writes to Angel pleading with him not to judge her on her irretrievable past, ironically Alec asks Tess to do the same thing for him.With her family’s worsening financial state and her need to be loved, she accepts him. Tess then goes to Sandbourne and accepts her new life with Alec. Although not happy she is now living in good surroundings and well dressed. “She was loosely wrapped in a cashmere dressing gown of grey-white, embroidered in half-mourning tints.
” The impure white symbolises how she has lost her inner purity, even when she was with her baby she still wore white but now she has chosen a life with Alec she is no longer pure.The “half-mourning tints” is a premonition of her death, ironically embroidered on to something that Alec has given her, when he is Tess’s reason for death. While living with Alec, to avoid being shunned by the harsh Victorian society, she passes for a married woman. Then Angel returns with renewed loyalty and love for Tess. Tess recovers this same love and loyalty for Angel, and once Angel has left she then realises she hates Alec because, again, he has been her undoing and so she kills him.This is related through the landlady helping the reader to keep sympathy with Tess, as the reader does not actually see her commit the murder, it is unveiled gradually through Alec’s spreading blood on the ceiling; “The oblong white ceiling, with this scarlet blot in the midst, had the appearance of a gigantic ace of hearts. ” This is again referring to red, but in this case is “scarlet” and the shape suggests that it’s Alec’s heart that has been stabbed, or that, in fact, Tess’s own heart is broken.
When describing the incident to Angel later on she says “My heart could not bear it. “Tess spends a few days with Angel and they find an old uninhabited mansion in the country, this is their haven for five days. On their arrival Angel “parted the shutters to the width of two or three inches. A shaft of dazzling sunlight glanced in to the room. ” The sunlight represents hope and happiness, a small window of hope and a little bit of happiness now that Tess is once again with Angel. On discovery they escape and stop at Stonehenge a “heathen temple” to rest.
Tess is so tired that she lies down on an oblong slab, like a sacrifice to the ancient Gods or a sacrifice to the false morals of society.There are also links here with Christ’s death – like Christ she is seen as being sacrificed and Tess tells Angel to look after her sister Liza Lu in the same way that Christ asked his mother to look after one of the disciples. Christ knew it was his fate to die, Tess really also knows, when she wakes she asks; “‘Have they come for me? ….
I am ready,’ she said quietly. ” Throughout the book Hardy makes many references to fate, the decisions that Tess makes and the things that happen to her create a domino affect of events that cannot be reversed.Her fate is already chosen and all she can do is live through the events as they happen to her. Hardy shows us this at the scene with Alec and Tess in the forest where he concludes the chapter with “It was meant to be. ” Tess also recognises and accepts her fate, when she talks to Angel after their marriage fall out “I think of people more kindly when I am away from them; adding cynically, ‘God knows; perhaps we shall shake down together some day, for weariness; thousands have done it! ” When she must atone for murdering Alec, she accepts her inevitable and uncontrollable fate when she is arrested “It is as it should be.
Fatalism is first shown in the book when Tess’s mother reads an astrological book that says Tess would marry a gentleman, this seems like a happy fate and eventually turns out to be true, but Tess marries a gentleman that makes her life miserable and doesn’t marry him until every chance of happiness seems to have faded away. Fate was not a new concept with Hardy as the ancient Greeks used fate as a guiding force in their plays. Hardy evokes the Greek concept that we are all destined to be controlled by fate, and that Tess was meant to go through all of these problems throughout her life, ultimately causing her downfall.Tess is controlled by fate throughout the book, as Hardy shows us with many examples, and the fact that Tess herself accepts her fate at the end of the book is quite shocking. Her life is short and tortured and when she leaves it the world is unchanged, even Liza Lu and Angel will go on without her, her life was only as a plaything of the gods.
So although Tess is portrayed by Hardy as almost a stereotype of women in the harsh Victorian society, at the end of the book she is killed off mercilessly. This shows how society steered Tess and, although Tess plays a big role in the book, in the grand scale of things she is still insignificant.Hardy’s views on society are shown through the novel here, it is not just fate but also society’s flaws and unjust judgements that cause her death. Society’s strict moral code dictated that women should be pure and virginal and not have sex or children outside marriage. Any woman who broke these social ‘laws’ would then be shunned by society, as Tess was when she had her baby, aptly called Sorrow.
This is illustrated when Tess is in the church and the congregation gossips about her pregnancy and the fact that she is out of wedlock, which depresses Tess.When Sorrow then later falls ill, Tess’s father refuses to let the parson baptise the dying infant, for fear that the parson will find out the family’s secrets. Again showing how great an influence society plays over people’s decisions. Because of these social laws and morals Tess is seen as ‘impure’ – almost as though she is soiled goods.
If these social morals were different, Tess’ would not have been so frightened to tell Angel her history and Angel’s love may have grown for a real woman, not an imaginary one.Alec would then, not have reappeared in Tess’ life and there would have been no need to kill him and suffer the consequences. Her hatred of Alec is partly caused by the power that society enables him to have over her. Hardy shows how society’s flaws and inability to accept people and to look over past mistakes helps to draw a map of Tess’s fate, and in Hardy’s own way get across the message that society needed to be changed. Hardy uses Tess in the novel as an example of a typical woman, at first she is ignorant of the danger of men and as a result of this later suffers for it.As the novel progresses Tess becomes a more rounded character and is more wary and understanding of the real world. We see her make decisions that sometimes are bad and at other times she makes decisions which are good, we also see her struggle on with life no matter how tough is seems to be. As a general character for Victorian times it could be argued that Hardy uses Tess as a negative image of women as she has a baby out of wedlock, or it could be seen as a positive image because of Tess’s ability to continue on with her life through all the struggles and torments she endures.
From a personal point of view I think that Hardy shows Tess as a rounded character, a person that has made mistakes in the past and has had her fair share of wrong doing. Consequently I think that Hardy uses Tess to present a realistic image of women that would have been hard to see in the time of the novel because of the way that society is seen to cover up the average woman and put them into categories like ‘pure’ or ‘impure’ – the two extremes avoiding anything in-between. Hardy ends the book with Tess’s death to show the reader how society has composed Tess’s fate and her final downfall.Tess and Angel rest at Stonehenge after fleeing from Sandbourne, Hardy does this because the original purposes of the ancient monuments are mysterious and unknown, especially in Hardy’s time. Angel notices Tess rests “lying on an alter” this is shown almost like a sacrifice to the ancient pagans who used to practise there, however, this could be seen, metaphorically, that Tess is sacrificed to the laws and morals of the nineteenth century. The ending is an upsetting one as the reader feels pity for Tess as the events in her life seem to have been out of her control – she has been a puppet of fate.
‘Justice’ was done, and the President of the Immortals, in Aeschylean phrase, had ended his sport with Tess. ” She was not able to get off the path already destined for her. Hardy uses the novel as a tool to warn people of how the dangers of society could ruin lives. He ends it, showing Tess’s insignificance, as though the world has moved on already. Angel and Liza-Lu stand on a hill top to watch for the raising of the black flag that would notify them of Tess’s death.
They are already removed – as soon as the flag flies they move on.