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The ‘rape scene’, towards the end of Chapter XI is an interesting passage, and provides a pivotal moment in the novel, one which Tess will always refer back to. After an exhausting night of dancing with her friends, Tess is saved by Alec after tittering at her workmate covered in treacle. On the journey home with Alex, after the ‘triumph’ of her escape wares off, the fatigue of the week’s work sets in and Tess becomes drowsy.
Throughout the journey Alec pesters her with his ‘love-making’, playing on her ‘inexpressible weariness’.
Hardy creates a languid mood along the early-morning country road, which is conveyed by the ‘drowsiness’ that ‘overcomes’ Tess. When she first slips into slumber, a ‘moment of oblivion’, and leans on his shoulder, Alec interprets it as a sexual advance, even though it is just a fatigue-induced weakness.
Hardy describes Alec’s attempt to embrace her as ‘enclosing her waist’, which creates an image of capture and incarceration, and Tess’ ensuing reaction is one of defence and disgust. The way Hardy inserts ‘devilish’, when describing Tess is ironic I feel.
From his very introduction in the novel, Alec has had satanic connotations, and this ensnaring of an innocent virgin only emphasises this. Alec immediately rotates the situation to place the blame on Tess, which highlights how masterful he is at seizing opportunities. He places a great deal of pressure on Tess to return his affections, and bullies Tess into feeling sorry for reacting in a way that any proper woman should.
The fact hat Alex has led the cart far out into the woods, in absolute blackness suggests to the reader that he intended to carry out the rape beforehand, and that it wasn’t a spur of the moment.
He has led her into such a situation that she cannot help but trust him – he is in absolute control. After agreeing to stop and gain a sense of direction, Hardy describes how Alec ‘steals a hearty kiss’, which suggests that the affection was totally one-sided, and that something of Tess’ had been taken away, and that she was unprepared. Just before he leaves, Alec tells Tess how he has given her family a new horse and presents for the children. He has timed it so that Tess will think about even after he has left.
However, Tess is not so easily taken in, saying that ‘it hampers [her] so’, because she realises that this was all intended to make her ‘love him ever so little’. Already Alec has used a variety of methods in an attempt to woo Tess; he has imposed himself upon her, enticed her and got her lost. Even though she shivers, Tess does not want to show a vulnerability to Alec, and tells him she is ‘not very’ cold when he asks. However, Alec imposes the contents of the druggist’s bottle upon her. Hardy allures to Alec’s impending unwanted sexual urges when he describes how his fingers ‘sank into her as into a billow’.
This penetrating act portrays her softness, delicacy and pliability, and shows Alec’s sexual pressurising of Tess. Hardy uses verbs such as ‘plunged’ and ‘pushed’ to portray the forcefulness with which Alec goes out his task and suggest the his barbaric nature. I feel that in this passage Tess is likened to the moon; both are pale and innocent, and Hardy mentions the ‘moonlit person’ of Tess. Also, the lunar sequence has long been soon associated with the menstrual cycle, and hardy mentions that as soon as the ‘moon had quite gone down’, Tess becomes entombed in darkness, as the night itself becomes pitch black.
The imagery of the ‘pale nebulousness’ of Tess as she lies on the forest floor at the feet of Alec is quiet powerful, I feel. Whereas Alec seems to fit into the darkness, perhaps a suggestion of his evil, dark nature, Tess remains a beacon, and cannot help to be in her pure, white dress. There is also the suggestion of nature conspiring against Tess, especially the way in which the fog seems to wrap around her, which raises the suggestion that she was doomed, and that the act was inevitable. I find the two descriptions of the leaves that Tess lies upon in this passage extremely interesting.
Initially, Hardy writes about the ‘thick leaves’, but once Tess falls asleep, they are referred to as ‘dead leaves’. This, I feel, reinforces the notion of doom attached to Tess, and perhaps emphasises the effect that Tess has upon living things. Throughout the play, Tess is attached to death, such as Prince, Sorrow and indeed later on Alec. I especially enjoy this passage as Hardy uses the encompassing black of the night to heighten the senses of the reader, accentuating the sense of sound and touch, as ‘darkness and silence ruled everywhere around’. There is an element of the savage to Alec in this chapter.
He appears to seem at one with nature, and Hardy allures to his primeval ruthlessness. Hardy then adopts of philosophical tone in his writing, which differs from his traditional narrative technique, and laments the fact that Tess’ ‘guardian angel’ didn’t exist, suggesting that the heavens are silent. He suggests that there is no goodness in the world if a pure woman can be robbed of her dignity in such a way. Hardy uses a number of metaphors to describe Tess, whilst in the ‘hands of the spoiler’, describing Tess as ‘blank as snow’, and questions how such ‘beautiful feminine tissue’ could be blemished in such a way.
The fact that the rape took place in The Chase is interesting, as it the ancient forest over which her ancestors once presided, but Hardy emphasises the fact that there are no chivalrous knights to protect her. Hardy deals with the actual rape itself in a detached and ambiguous manner, with a lingering sense of fatalism attached. With a rare authorial intrusion, he cites that ‘it was to be’. The human in Hardy reacts that the human tissue should be so ‘coarsely’ imprinted upon, and contemplatively underlines the pity that the purity and beauty of Tess has been forever tainted, and that she is indeed a ‘maiden no more’.