Tess of the D’Urbervilles - Sample Essay
Thomas Hardy professed himself disillusioned with the idealised traditional Victorian di?? nouement or ‘regulation finish’, which he described as ‘indescribably unreal and meretricious’. His distaste for such unrealistically happy endings is obvious in Tess’ fate, which he retained despite the fact that he received letters from readers imploring him not to let her die. Her death was the natural and, in one way, the more satisfying ending.
It is therefore somewhat jarring to find in the work of one who was so vehement in his wish that Tess should be ‘Faithfully Presented’ to find irregularities in the flow of events which impede the smooth consistency of the plot and characters. Most strikingly, throughout the book are incidents of the failure of characters to perform the right action or make the right decision, in a situation in which it may have greatly reduced their suffering and resulted in a naturally happy ending.
For example, after Tess’ confession and Angel’s rejection of her, Hardy repeatedly refers to the fact that ‘if she had been ‘a woman of the world [she] might have conquered him’ by exploiting the ‘back current of sympathy’ which remained in Angel (Ch XXXVI); ‘If [she] had been artful’ he would ‘not have withstood her’ (Ch XXXVII). However, she does not see this – she accepts his rejection. If Tess had suggested that no one could ‘know or care about’ her ‘misfortunes’ or ‘reproach’ the couple for them, Angel would have had to admit the thought ‘arose in… [his] own mind’.
From Angel’s departure to his return, Tess manages to retain her devotion to him despite his treatment of her, the hardships she endures in his absence, his lack of communication and the torment of Alec D’Urberville’s pursuit. She shows an incredible persistence and largeness of spirit in resisting the temptation to surrender her hopes of her husband recalling her. But eventually, driven by concern for her family, a desire to be their ‘Providence’, she crumbles – just days before Angel finds her. The coincidence of times and the tragedy of the narrowness of the interval is unrealistic and even clichi??
d. Existing merely to heighten the suspence and tragedy. Many of the unreasonable jumps and coincidences in Tess serve to hurt the heroine and emphasise her position as a victim both of society and a cruel fate. This may be a deliberate device on the part of the author, who was an admirer of Tess, to invite the sympathy of contemporary readers who may have been disturbed by her sexual encounter with Alec early in the novel, and who needed reassuring that Tess was in fact “A Pure Woman”, and the victim of unfortunate events rather than their instigator.
Tess’ purity, so emphasised, and her ‘automatic tendency to find sweet pleasure somewhere’ even after the hardest setbacks may also seem implausible, but Tess is a complex personality characterised by duality – her split nature being seen in her division between peasantry and middle class, her illustrious name and low origins, her two dialects and the mysterious maiden/harlot contradiction on the edge of her nature. Tess has enough spirit to defend herself against the ‘Queen of Spades’ and determinedly take her leave of Alec, and even when she submits to Angel Clare’s judgement she attempts to defend herself a little.
Tess stands as a symbol of the split between to two worlds of traditional agriculture and progressive industry and also between those of traditional rural culture and the more ‘refined’ and educated class. Hardy’s main implausibilities lie way in which the fate which the ‘President of the Immortals’ has in store for her seems inevitable when viewed with hindsight and is facilitated by so many acts of Chance. Chance governs Tess’ fate. In the first chapter, Parson Tringham describes how his researches into the D’Urberville/Darbeyfield link had been instigated by a casual sighting of the higgler’s cart and ‘been led to make inquiries’.
Without this fairly vital chanced happening, unless the parson had been inspired some other way, it is doubtful that any of the events that followed would have occurred. The Durbeyfields’ discovery of the illustrious link gives them the idea of contacting the Stoke-D’Urbervilles and – it is hinted – marry some ‘noble gentleman’. Although she at first refuses to countenance this, such thoughts lead Tess to drift off and neglect the cart – which should have been driven by her father, but for the fact that he was rendered incapable by the ale he had consumed in celebration of his newfound aristocracy.
By Chance, the lantern also goes out as a mail-cart is speeding down the road, causing the death of Prince. The fact that she ‘regarded herself in the light of a murderess’ (Ch V) over the horse’s death and the family’s loss of income is the only reason Tess acquiesces to be sent to visit Mrs D’Urberville at the Chase, the site of her ruin. It is clear then that Chance played the major role in conducting Tess to the Chase. But later, Chance was also the pivotal player in the collapse of her marriage to Angel – particularly, the fact that she could not tell him her trouble before the marriage.
He even supposes that if only she had told him them he would still have loved and married her. However, despite her efforts, Chance prevented her from confessing her secret during their days at Talbothays. When she tried to tell him outright, he inadvertently made it very difficult for her. When she wrote him a letter containing the story, by an extraordinarily unfortunate circumstance, it slipped under the carpet and he did not see it.
When Tess has finally used her allowance from Angel, while working at Flintcombe Ash, she travels to Emminster, intending to ask the Clares for help – something that requires great courage of she who is proud and does not want to beg, as well as ashamed to admit the seperation between she and Clare. By Chance, the family is with the congregation when she arrives, and she is forced to the way she came and lurk in the bushes where it chances that she overhears to conversation between the Clare brothers and Mercy, which completely destroys her confidence and prevents her from returning to the Clares’ house.
She is left in a very financially frightening position. Finally, it is all due to Chance that she happens upon the preaching of none other than Alec D’Urberville, so many years after she departed Trantridge. It is also a coincidence that he has been converted by Angel’s father, and has fallen in with the sign-painter with whom Tess travelled. This chance meeting rekindles his lust for her, and is the direct cause of the renewed pursuit. Although she resists him for a long time, with the death of her father and the eviction of the family she finally feels it is her duty to support them by surrendering to Alec.
The tragic coincidence of Angel’s arrival so soon after she has given up hope causes her to become bitter, even driving her slightly mad, and she kills Alec in her distraction. There is a sense of inevitability about the remaining chapters – she has sooner or later to be hunted down by the authorities, and her seeming desire for death aids her capture. Chance is one of the most common plot devices in Tess, and coincidences and chance happenings abound to a frustrating degree, especially when they increase Tess’ anguish needlessly.
However, a novel cannot be expected to adhere to the pattern of real life, howeber ‘Faithfully Presented’ – coincidences are natural to hold the plot together and prompt dramatic events. The tragedy of the sum of unfortunate circumstances which lead to Tess’ downfall are poignant because of the attachment one forms with Tess, but Tess of the D’Urbervilles is a tragic novel, most of its drama relying on the imminence of suffering in her short life.