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?
PHASE THE SEVENTH: FULFILLMENT
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.
- Virginia Hyman asserts, "Perhaps
more than any other character, Tess is defined by her place on the
evolutionary scale. Each of her characteristics is described by its
relationship to something in the past."
- Hardy also uses Biblical, classical,
and historical allusions, a common literary practice, to provide yet
another link between the past and the present and to add various
meanings. For example, does Hardy's reference at the end to "Two
Apostles," by the Renaissance painter Giotto, suggest that Tess's
execution re-enacts the crucifixion? And if so, can her death support
such a large meaning and wealth of associations?
- The end repeats earlier actions,
reinforcing the theme of life as an ongoing cycle which includes the
possibility of fulfillment. The empty house where they have sex and are
happy is the counterpart of the d'Urberville manor where they are
alienated and unhappy. Salisbury Plain and Flintcomb-Ash are both
barren. Tess lying in the coffin where the sleepwalking Angel placed
her parallels the altar which Tess sleeps on while Angel watches her.
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?