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 J.Hillis Miller,
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.


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:
            In 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 paragraph applies 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 general 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.


Phase the First: The Maiden
  Chapters 1-11, pages 1-73
Overview of Hardy
The Opening
Tess's Personal Traits
Tess and Alec
Phase the Second: Maiden No More
  Chapters 12-15, pages 74-100
Rape or Seduction?
Phase the Third: The Rally
  Chapters 16-24, pages 101-152
Nature and the Froom Valley
Phase the Fourth: The Consequence
  Chapters 25-34, pages 153-227
Tess and Angel
Phase the Fifth: The Woman Pays
  Chapters 35-44, pages 228-307
Tess and Angel Part
Phase the Sixth: The Convert
  Chapters 45-52, pages 308-372
Alec Again
A Pure Woman
Phase the Seventh: Fulfillment
  Chapters 53-59, pages 373-405
The Ending

December 14, 2005