The title of this section resonates with ironies. Tess's relationship with Alec is fulfilled with his murder; Tess and Angel consummate their marriage and fulfill their love outside of society, in nature, hunted by the law. Her role as victim is fulfilled by her sleeping on the altar at Stonehenge, an altar where victims were sacrificed to the gods. The fulfillment of Tess's life is her death; the season is also one of fulfillment, for it is July. Is there a suggestion that another cycle is about to begin with Angel and Liza-Lu? Because she is "a spiritualized image of Tess" (page 404), would such a relationship seem more likely to succeed than his relationship with Tess?


Determined to be reunited with Tess, Angel tracks Tess down. He wonders why he judged her by her actions rather than by her intention or will. But when he finds her living with Alec, how does he judge her? He later realizes that his Tess "had spiritually ceased to recognize the body before him as hers–allowing it to drift, like a corpse upon the current, in a direction dissociated from its living will" (page 386). If Angel has truly changed his view of and feelings about purity, why does he accept her assertion that it is too late for them? Does he apply the distinction between her will or intention and her actions to Tess after her confession? Might another man have said that her situation with Alec did not change his love for her? Is it really too late, or is there still too much of the old Angel Clare in the converted Angel Clare?

He does accept her when she runs after him. Does she become acceptable because she has removed Alec, whom he called her true husband on their honeymoon? Or does her appeal to him and her obvious love for him call forth his love? Does he believe she really killed Alec?

Is Tess's hanging the culmination a tendency to self-sacrifice? She accepts being captured by the police as proper; moreover, she is "almost glad–yes, glad! This happiness could not have lasted. It was too much. I have had enough, and now I shall not live for you to despise me!" (page 403).

Is it Tess's misfortune to be pursued and loved by Alec and by Angel? Between them, do they unintentionally doom her? Is she their victim? Irving Howe, who prefers Alec, answers yes:
Alec has a certain charm, in his amiable slothful way; Angel bears an aura of tensed moralism. What they share is an incapacity to value the splendor of feeling which radiates from Tess. Each represents a deformation of masculinity, one high and the other low; they cannot appreciate, they cannot even see the richness of life that Tess embodies....He [Alec] may not be admirable, but he can be likeable, simply because commonplace vice is easier to bear than elevated righteousness.... Together the two men represent everything in Hardy's world, and not his alone, which betrays spontaneous feeling and the flow of instinctual life.
Dorothy Van Ghent holds a similar view, though she expresses no preference for either Angel or Alec:
Both Angel and Alec are metaphors of extremes of human behavior, when the human has been cut off from community and has been individualized by intellectual education or by material wealth and traditionless independence.

Does her past make her death inevitable? The past continually manifests itself in the present. Does this continuity contribute to a sense of inevitability?

Many readers challenge the validity of the reference to Aeschylus in the last paragraph. They charge Hardy with intruding his beliefs onto her death; he thereby burdens the novel with a meaning that does not illuminate our understanding of Tess or her death, nor is that meaning justified by the preceding action. Irving Howe calls his philosophizing in this novel "bits of intellectual flotsam marring a powerful narrative." Probably the most common criticism of Hardy's fiction is his tendency to philosophize.

D.H. Lawrence too finds Hardy's philosophical statements a fault and a distraction: "his feeling, his instinct, his sensuous understanding is ... very great and deep, deeper than that, perhaps, of any other English novelist. Putting aside his metaphysic, which must always obtrude when he thinks of people, and turning to the earth, to landscape, then he is true to himself." Many, if not most of Hardy's generalizations are associated with Tess.

After describing the Durbeyfield household and Tess's concern for her younger siblings, Hardy comments:

        All these young souls were passengers in the Durbeyfield ship–entirely dependent on the judgement of the two Durbeyfield adults for their pleasures, their necessities, their health, even their existence. If the heads of the Durbeyfield household chose to sail into difficulty, disaster, starvation, disease, degradation, death, thither were these half-dozen little captives under hatches compelled to sail with them–six helpless creatures who had never been asked if they wished for life on any terms, much less if they wished for it on such hard conditions as were involved in being of the shiftless house of Durbeyfield. Some people would like to know whence the poet whose philosophy is in these days deemed as profound and trustworthy as his song is breezy and pure gets his authority for speaking of "Nature's holy plan." (page 19)
Is Hardy impose meanings with this paragraph, or do the ideas expressed grow naturally out of the description of the Durbeyfield household? Are these thoughts Hardy's or Tess's? If they are Tess's thoughts, has Hardy consistently presented Tess's thoughts, or has he shifted to his own thoughts with the reference to the poet at the end? A little later, is Hardy imposing his beliefs on Tess when he has her describe the earth as "blighted (page 26)? Is the inexperienced Tess capable of such a thought?

How are we to feel about Tess and her end after finishing it?
May 14, 2009