PHASE THE FIRST: THE MAIDEN
TESS AND ALEC
Tess's life becomes a succession of journeys, and these journeys and
the resulting experience can be seen as leading to her education. Each
journey she takes and each place where she stays presents her with a
test. She returns to Marlott after each journey but the last one. Her
returning and leaving again are one example of the repetition of past
actions that runs through this novel. The repetition of actions, for
shows the impossibility of avoiding not so much
the effects of the past as its repetition. The past has embodied itself
in the persons of the present as well as in their surroundings. This
embodiment forces people against their will to re-enact the patterns of
the past. It is as if they were caught up in a great wind of history
which whirls them into the rigid forms of a predetermined dance.
Ask yourself, as Tess makes her various journeys, what
she has learned, if anything, and how–or whether–she has been affected
by her experience.
GOING TO THE SLOPES
On the journey to The Slopes, when Alec speeds down the hill, Hardy
compares the terrified, trapped Tess to a "wild animal" (page 51); this
is the first of the hunted/wounded/trapped images of Tess that run
through the novel. At this point, Tess is able to act to defend herself
and to resist Alec's advances; she rubs off his "kiss of mastery" (page
51) and jumps out of the gig for her hat, which she deliberately let
fly away. Tess thinks of returning home but decides to stay; at this
point, Tess still feels she has choice. Is she really free at this
point so that she is responsible for her decision? Does this decision
to stay make her responsible for Alec's sexually violating her later?
Tess is first associated with birds in taking care of
the fowls and whistling to the caged finches (can the caged birds and
the blind Mrs. d'Urberville be seen as representing the condition of
Tess in particular or of
humanity in general–blind and caged?)
The meeting of Alec and Tess leads Hardy to comment on the
arbitrariness of life, which frustrates human desires and fulfillment:
the ill-judged execution of the well-judged plan of things, the call
seldom produces the comer, the man to love rarely coincides with the
hour for loving. Nature does not often say "See!" to her poor creature
at a time when seeing can lead to happy doing, or reply "Here!" to a
body's cry of "Where?" till the hide-and-seek has become an irksome,
outworn game. We may wonder whether at the acme and summer of the human
progress these anachronisms will be corrected by a finer intuition, a
closer interaction of the social machinery than that which now jolts us
round and along; but such completeness is not to be prophesied or even
conceived as possible. Enough that in the present case, as in millions,
it was not the two halves of a perfect whole that confronted each other
at the perfect moment; a missing counterpart wandered independently
about the earth waiting in crass obtuseness till the late time came.
Out of which maladroit delay sprang anxieties, disappointments, shocks,
catastrophes, and passing-strange destinies (pages 38-9).
How are we to read this paragraph?
- Does the principle Hardy enunciates here mean that
human beings are fated to be unhappy in love?
- If so, is the principle generally true, or does it
apply to every individual? In other words, this principle may be a
general truth which applies to most people, but not all; for example,
"Smoking causes cancer" is true, but not everyone who smokes gets
cancer. Or this principle may be an absolute law which applies to every
human being, like "Human beings die."
- How does this principle apply to Tess? Does it mean
that the chances are that Tess will be unhappy in love but that it is
possible that she may not be? In this case, would she be at least
partly responsible for the course her life takes? Or does it mean that
she is inevitably doomed to unhappiness in love, no matter what she
does? In this case, would she be a victim of fate?
- No matter how you decide that the principle in this
to Tess, do the circumstances of Tess's life and her actions support
that reading? Keep in mind that Hardy has been accused of imposing
statements on his novels which are not supported by the text. If Hardy
has forced a meaning onto the novel rather than drawn a conclusion from
the preceding and following actions, then this principle would be
irrelevant to deciding whether Tess is a victim of fate, is
self-victimized, or both. Such forcing would also be a flaw in
the novel and Hardy's art.
DISCUSSION OF TESS OF THE D'URBERVILLES