Thomas Hardy has been a very successful writer. He was penalised for writing novels in which were not ‘proper’ at the time he wrote it. Tess of the D’Urbervilles was said to be ‘pessimistic’ and ‘immoral’ by critics of the 19th century. This meant Tess of the D’urbervilles was one of Hardy’s last ever novels. The public at this time were clearly not ready for Hardy’s abrupt style of writing. It was only later given the attention it deserved.
Thomas Hardy wrote many other books such as Mayor of Casterbridge and Far from the Madding Crow. When criticised he turned towards poetry, and succeeded doing that as well as novels.
He was born in 1940 in Upper Bockhampton, in Dorset. He was a lover of music and had a good education thanks to his parents, and quit doing architecture to keep writing thanks to his wife, Emma Gifford. Hardy was a very opinionated man, and in his twenties lost his religious faith.
This was not uncommon as Charles Darwin’s ‘origin of species’ speech caused many people to turn their backs on the bible’s teachings, and turn towards science, the more believable view. His own thoughts of the suffering in the world meant Hardy could no longer believe there was a loving God.
Local ways were strongly kept in Dorset, but in 1847 the introduction to the railway mean town and country gradually started to merge together. People would seasonally leave for jobs, and leave doing farm work altogether, to replace with city work.
Hardy preferred to feel a sense of belonging to one place. Hardy eventually left the country, but wrote a lot about it and its inhabitants in a serious way. He did not support the industrial revolution, he put the threshing machine in a bad light when Tess is at Flintcomb-ash. Women were not supposed to lead life as Tess did in that time.
Tess was forced to work, and her journey through rape, motherhood, working, travelling, marriage, break up, friendship and even murder, created a complicated, yet expressive plot. It seems people were not ready to handle a storyline like this in the 19th century. All of Thomas Hardy’s modern views were put into the book, yet they were not accepted by others. People did not see Tess as a ‘pure woman’, as Hardy did. It caused much controversy, as it questioned views on society, sexual morality and religion. Tess of the D’Urbervilles is about a normal country girl who ends up leading an extraordinary life.
She leaves home with a ‘relative’ named Alec D’Urberville. She returns home after he rapes her, to have his baby that later dies. She is later requested to go to a dairy farm, in which she falls in love with the charming Angel Clare. They get married, but when he discovers Tess’ past, he leaves her. He goes to Brazil and after a year of not replying to Tess’ letters, she turns back to Alec D’Urberville. Her stressful working days are over, as he supports their family. However Angel returns, to find her with Alec, and she tells Angel to leave.
But her growing hate of D’Urberville means she kills him, and runs to the arms of Angel, yet after a few days on the run, blissfully with Clare, she is caught. ‘Justice was done’ and she is hanged. An important part of the book was for the reader to feel the emotions Tess felt, so as to think how Tess felt, and how Hardy felt about society. Tess of the D’Urbervilles was written to show the emotional rollercoaster women like Tess could possibly face. Hardy’s use of description enhances the reader’s understanding of Tess’ emotional state in the novel in many ways. Page 109 uses the personification that the sun is God-like.
He’ looked down upon youth like it was interesting for him. The sadness of Tess at this time correlates to how hazy the sun is. Even though it seems Tess does not love her baby, she truly does. The sun fades and goes in, as if turning against Tess. The sun represents a God, and this personification represents the views Thomas Hardy had about God, and how he turned against God when he saw the suffering in the world, and the unpredictable misfortunes Tess constantly faces, portrays this suffering. It shows God is not with people all the time, as the sun is not either.
It seems the sun that is so bright in spring and summer giving life to new things can turn dull, with the ability to take away life. His description of the weather depicts Tess’ emotions well, and he tries to make a point of how anyone can get hurt by an unloving God. Hardy describes Tess on page 111 as a girl, not Tess by name, as if he does not know her. It shows how people might think Tess had been changed by her experiences, but carried on as every other woman did. His description of Tess shows how alone and isolated Tess feels, ‘living as a stranger and an alien here’.
Society at the time viewed Tess badly, and would not accept Tess as a pure woman, as the book’s subtitle suggests she is. People she knew looked down upon her for this, whereas is modern day she would have more attention and love for being a victim of Alec D’urberville. The end of the chapter is dark and depressing; it is at the end of the day, as well as the baby’s life. Hardy makes clear how he feels about vicars and religion. A little baby that had died of illness is cast aside from the church, and is not permitted to have the respect of a proper Christian burial.
This is all because of how it came about, and it is buried along with ‘notorious drunkards, suicides and others of the conjecturally damned’. Tess of the D’urbervilles tells a story of how harsh and unfair the world, society, and especially the church can be. The vicar hears Tess’ circumstances, yet still refuses to let the baby have a proper burial. The little jar of flowers signifies how Tess cares for the baby, and is the only small piece of spring left in the harshness of winter, as if Tess’ love for the baby is the only piece of happiness left.
By chapter 16 spring has come and with it Tess’ hope and happiness; ‘Some spirit with her rose automatically as the sap in the twigs’- clearly stating how as spring comes, Tess’ mood began to improve. She leaves home three years after her baby dies- ‘silent reconstructive years’. Page 133 describes amazing beauty of the countryside around her, and the air and new sights, along with Tess being able to enjoy the scene without anyone watching her, that ‘sent her spirits up wonderfully’. Once again the weather improves as she does, but this time the weather itself improves her mood, rather than the weather only representing how she feels.
Tess sees as dark patch, which turns out to be the tomb of her ancestors. This gives some inclination of her destiny, and a warning that she should not go that way. It was the information about her ancestors that led her to Alec D’Urberville in the first place, and the downward spiral to her tragic fate at the end of the book. This premonition may not be seen whilst reading the book unless looked at carefully. Hardy has incorporated key clues to what will happen to Tess. She accidentally came across it, representing how she came to die at an unexpected time, as she was so young.
The countryside scene along with the Talbothays Dairy encourages the reader to think Tess was to have a good future. Describing trivial things, such as the cows, shows how happy she is, as at Talbothays there are no longer any problems left to describe. Hardy also uses lots of complimentary adjectives, such as ‘glossy smoothness’, ‘homely figures’, ‘succulent’, and ‘dazzling brilliancy’, to describe the countryside, and how at home she feels there immediately. The place is made out to be beautiful, as Tess’ contentment soars at this time.
This is almost wholly because of Angel Clare, whom she falls in love with. This is one of the happiest moments in the book. A lot of chapter 17 is based around Angel Clare and Tess talking, and flirting, which seems to be a bit of a relief from the heavy plot for the reader so far. Phase the fifth-the woman pays, is a very dramatic section. Tess’ life goes from its happiest, to its worst. Hardy again uses personification, by using the objects around Tess to represent how isolated and uncared for Tess feels. He either says how they are engrossed in their own problems, or simply don’t care.
All material objects around announced their irresponsibility with terrible iteration’. If Tess feels not even objects care, how will she feel about people? This is the chapter where Angel Clare tells her she is not the woman he thought she was, and that he cannot forgive her. He merely says to Tess that she is ‘another woman in your shape’. When Tess realises Angel will never view her as he once did, Hardy describes the change in Tess’ beautiful face. Her face turns white, her cheeks flaccid, her mouth dry, and like a small round hole, her eyes making Angel’s flesh creep.
Not only does the weather react with how beautiful Tess is, but her looks too. It appears Tess is in disbelief, as she staggers, implying she cannot handle the terrible news she is hearing. She then bursts into ‘self-sympathetic tears’. In the 19th century Angel’s decision and thoughts would be understandable. Women were supposed to be innocent and pure when they got married, men did not have the same restrictions as women, and this seems unfair nowadays. But Hardy is trying to make the point that she is still pure, she did not choose what happened to her, she labels herself as a victim.
On her way there to Flintcomb-Ash, Tess feels lonely without Clare, and depressed, back to how she felt when she got raped and her baby died. She ends up spending a night sleeping outside. But while she is there she hears a noise, and realises that there are wounded pheasants around her. Some of the lucky ones are dead, whilst others lay in pain. Tess does the nicest thing possible and puts them out of their misery.
Tess says ‘to suppose myself the most miserable being on earth in the sight o’ misery such as yours! She feels bad for ever feeling so sorry for herself, and using comparisons to the awful tortures these animals faced, Hardy describes how Tess finds the reason to go on and stay strong. She does not have much left emotionally, but she is still healthy. She is ashamed of herself. She realises it is only human society that has condemned her to the awful punishment she has received from Angel, and people around her, not nature itself, which has not hurt her yet, as it has done to the ‘poor darling’ pheasants. Flintcomb-Ash is completely different to Talbothays farm; it is the worst moment of Tess’ life.
She has a horrible boss, only one friend, a huge amount of work that will never be finished, and the safety net that she once had when at the Dairy has gone, as Angel has gone. She ‘can only produce a flattened purse’- she runs out of money. Yet pride stops her from asking Angel’s parents for it. She stays working at the awful farm, in which keeps her labouring all day, as she needs money and time away from her family, and people she knows, as it is clear she feels humiliated by what has happened. Patience keeps her going, the hope that she will see Angel soon.
Her and Marian talk of better times, to forget how unpleasant Flintcomb-Ash is. ‘Green, sunny, romantic Talbothays’ is how the dairy is described, whilst Flintcomb-Ash is ‘a starve-acre place’. The descriptions of the warm Talbothays reflects how happy she was there, compared to the weather at Flintcomb-Ash, which is dreary, depressing and cold, like Tess’ feelings at this time. The start of chapter 43 describes Tess and Marian’s tedious work, and the way Hardy describes how bad it is, makes the readers realise just how much Tess feels the need to keep her pride.
She does not like to be dependant on others, or a burden, and it proves that her spirit has not yet been broken by all that has happened to her. Hardy compares the two girls to flies on a brown face, which shows how insignificant they look. It also shows the dirtiness of the farm, how it was brown and filthy. He compares them using flies earlier on in the book as well, to show the differences between the two farms. In the earlier chapter he compares how flies have an impact on a billiard table, to show how green the vast fields at Talbothays were. Hardy picks the character with the least depth, to be at Flintcomb-Ash with Tess.
This creates an even heavier look of depression on Tess. Men and women had to face harsh conditions when working on the threshing machine; it seems from Hardy’s description. He is trying to portray his dislike of mechanisation. The machine at Flintcomb-Ash is like a monster that must be fed and maintained. The workers have lost their identity and their ability to communicate when working on it. This farm seems to be using machines that are old, unlike the modern tools at the dairy; Flintcomb-Ash is miserable, dead and old. The workers are made to stand out in the cold, doing the same repetitive sequence over and over again.
This was boring, and bad for the health of the workers. This does not help Tess’ already unstable emotions. She is grateful for her health when she sees the pheasants dying, without that, along with sheer determination, she has nothing. Alec D’Urberville returns in this scene, which inflicts even more stress and anxiety upon Tess, along with the stress caused from the expectations of her insulting, uncaring boss, Farmer Groby. Eventually Tess gives up on Angel. You can see this start to happen as Tess says to Alec ‘once a victim always a victim’. It is a sad view on life, but Tess has come to think this, and worst of all accept it.
She seems to hate herself for it and turns to self-pity. When her family falls apart, she helps them by succumbing to Alec’s offers. Angel enters Sandbourne looking for Tess, and the first thing described is the artificiality of the town. This again goes alongside how Tess feels, how fake Tess and Alec’s relationship is. Their love is not based on love but of obsession, and security. Angel wonders where Tess, the ‘cottage girl’, could be amongst all this wealth and fashion. She is not where she is happy and comfortable. She is also not happy and comfortable with Alec.
Sandbourne has a fashionable watering place, piers, detached mansions, promenades, gazebos and fanciful residences. Angel sees it as a ‘fairy place suddenly created by a stroke of a wand’. This implies that this place is all pointless, like a figment of someone’s imagination. It does not matter compared to real things, such as the love Angel has for Clare, Alec just replaced it with material objects. When Tess sees Angel she is wearing an expensive cashmere dressing gown, with matching embroidered slippers and a frill gown, and has clearly been changed by D’urberville.
Alec wants her to look good rather than feel good. This then makes Angel feel inferior to her. This shows how in a place like Sandbourne, relationships start to be based on looks, not real love. Angel later thinks that she is not the same girl he fell in love with, that her spirit had drifted away from her body, ‘in a direction dissociated from its living will’. Through all the harsh times Tess has been through, once she gave up, her spirit that Angel loved so much was no longer with her-she had been engulfed by the artificiality that was Alec D’Urberville. In the end it seems her spirit returns back to her.
She kills Alec to be with Angel. And that evening the night is solemn and still. This shows how Tess is calm, and content, yet sad and reminiscent now back in the arms of Angel Clare. I think this is probably the happiest moment of Tess’ life, not at the dairy. She was a nai?? ve girl then, but after all she has been through, she is even more appreciative of having Angel there. When she is caught for the murder she seems ready to die, because all that time she had been working, depressed and lonely, and killing Alec was worth it, for those few days with Angel.
In conclusion Hardy used description in an original and imaginative way. He uses many different methods to help the audience understand the emotions Tess feels. He wrote the book to get people to feel attracted to Tess as a character, and then used her to help people see his opinion of society, women, sexual morality and religion. He used a lot of the surroundings around Tess to portray how she felt and what she was going through. The artificiality of Sandbourne demonstrates the artificiality of Alec and Tess’ relationship, whilst when she is happy there is good weather, and when she is depressed the weather turns bad.
He uses personification to illustrate what she thinks everyone thinks of her, and what they really do think of her, and uses it to show Tess’ slight paranoia that even objects have bad opinions of her. He says a lot about how she feels towards the different characters, and her thoughts are often reflected in her actions, he tells us of how her strong-willed personality helps keep her emotions under control, and how her beauty is reflected in how she feels, and affects how other people feel about her.
I think this is a moving novel with a well thought out plot, yet with a very original use of description, and has created a lot of new opinions to be formed about the world, whether or not it was accepted when it was first written in the 19th century. Thomas Hardy’s Tess of the D’urbervilles will remain an incredibly expressive, remembered classic for a long time.