Tess of the d'Urbervilles
Hardy's writing often illustrates the "ache of modernism", and this theme is notable in Tess, which, as one critic noted, portrays "the energy of traditional ways and the strength of the forces that are destroying them". Hardy describes modern farm machinery with infernal imagery; also, at the dairy, he notes that the milk sent to the city must be watered down because the townspeople cannot stomach whole milk. Angel's middle-class fastidiousness makes him reject Tess, a woman whom Hardy often portrays as a sort of Wessex Eve, in harmony with the natural world. When he parts from her and goes to Brazil, the handsome young man gets so ill that he is reduced to a "mere yellow skeleton." All these instances are typically interpreted as indications of the negative consequences of man's separation from nature, both in the creation of destructive machinery and in the inability to rejoice in pure nature.
Another important theme of the novel is the sexual double standard to which Tess falls victim; despite being, in Hardy's view, a truly good woman, she is despised by society after losing her virginity before marriage. Hardy plays the role of Tess's only true friend and advocate, pointedly subtitling the book "a pure woman faithfully presented" and prefacing it with Shakespeare's words from The Two Gentlemen of Verona: "Poor wounded name! My bosom as a bed/ Shall lodge thee." However, although Hardy clearly means to criticise Victorian notions of female purity, the double standard also makes the heroine's tragedy possible, and thus serves as a mechanism of Tess's broader fate. Hardy variously hints that Tess must suffer either to atone for the misdeeds of her ancestors, or to provide temporary amusement for the gods, or because she possesses some small but lethal character flaw inherited from the ancient clan.
From numerous pagan and neo-Biblical references made about her, Tess has been viewed variously as an Earth goddess or as a sacrificial victim. Early in the novel, she participates in a festival for Ceres, the goddess of the harvest, and when she performs a baptism she chooses a passage from Genesis, the book of creation, over more traditional New Testament verses. At the end, when Tess and Angel come to Stonehenge, commonly believed in Hardy's time to be a pagan temple, she willingly lies down on an altar, thus fulfilling her destiny as a human sacrifice.
This symbolism may help explain Tess as a personification of nature — lovely, fecund, and exploitable — while animal imagery throughout the novel strengthens the association. Examples are numerous: Tess's misfortunes begin when she falls asleep while driving Prince to market, thus causing the horse's death; at Trantridge, she becomes a poultry-keeper; she and Angel fall in love amid cows in the fertile Froom valley; and on the road to Flintcombe-Ashe, she kills some wounded pheasants to end their suffering. In any event, Tess emerges as a character not because of this symbolism but because "Hardy's feelings for Tess were strong, perhaps stronger than for any of his other invented personages.
A Pure Woman, Tess of the d'Urbervilles or just Tess, is a novel by Thomas Hardy, first published in 1891. It initially appeared in a censored and serialised version, published by the British illustrated newspaper, The Graphic. Though now considered an important work of English literature, the book received mixed reviews when it first appeared, in part because it challenged the sexual morals of that era.
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