| This page consists of brief, somewhat random
notes; this is as much as I could manage because of the lack of time.
HARDY AND PUBLICATION
Thomas Hardy had a difficult time finding a publisher for Tess of
the D'Urbervilles, which was first serialized in a magazine and
then published in book form. A number of magazines rejected the novel.
The editor of Murray's Magazine refused to publish "stories
where the plot involves frequent and detailed reference to immoral
situations" even though he knew "well enough that these tragedies are
being played out every day in our midst, but I believe the less
publicity they have the better, and that it is quite possible and very
desirable for women to grow up and pass through life without the
knowledge of them." The editor of Macmillan's Magazine objected
on similar grounds: "You use the word succulent more than once to
describe the general appearance and condition of the Frome Valley.
Perhaps I might say that the general impression left on me by reading
your story... is one of rather too much succulence."
Hardy resented having to make changes in order for Tess
to be published. Hardy accused magazine editors and publishers of
failing to "foster the growth of the novel which reflects and reveals
life." For Hardy, "Art consists in so depicting the common events of
life as to bring out the features which illustrate the author's
idiosyncratic mode of regard." The true artist paid for writing in
English by having his personal vision squelched and by "the complete
extinction, in the mind of every mature and penetrating reader, of
sympathetic belief in his personages" (New Review, 1890).
The novel sold well and was a success financially. This
is not to say that it was not attacked by some as depressing or
shocking. One reviewer felt the novel "except during a few hours spent
with cows, has not a gleam of sunshine anywhere." The Quarterly
Review agreed that "Mr. Hardy has told an extremely disagreeable
story in an extremely disagreeable manner." Of this review, Hardy
commented in his diary, "Well, if this sort of thing continues no more
novel-writing for me. A man must be a fool to deliberately stand up to
be shot at." After the public outcry against Jude the Obscure
in 1896, Hardy wrote no more novels.
TESS OF THE D'URBERVILLES AND TRAGEDY
Is Tess of the D'Urbervilles a tragedy, and is Tess a tragic
figure? The answer to these questions may depend on the way you define tragedy. Or you may apply
Hardy's concept of tragedy to the novel and decide whether it fits his
definition. Over the years, he made a number of references to tragedy.
- "A Plot, or Tragedy, should arise from the gradual
closing in of a situation that comes of ordinary human passions,
prejudices, and ambitions, by reason of the characters taking no
trouble to ward off the disastrous events produced by the said
passions, prejudices, and ambitions" (1878).
- "Tragedy: It may be put thus in brief: a tragedy
exhibits a state of things in the life of an individual which
unavoidably causes some natural aim or desire of his to end in a
catastrophe when carried out" (1885).
- "The best tragedy–highest tragedy in short–is that
of the WORTHY encompassed by the INEVITABLE. The tragedies of immoral
and worthless people are not of the best" (1892).
Do you agree with Hardy's definition(s) of tragedy? Is
he really describing tragedy?
Walter Allen bases his argument of Tess as a
tragedy on the image of Tess as a trapped animal, an image which "goes
to the heart of Tess's situation. She is caught in tragedy because she
is animal, but if she had been merely animal, or if she had been Retty
Priddle or Izz Huett, there would have been no tragedy."
Hardy added the subtitle, A Pure Woman, at the last moment. It
has created problems for readers and critics ever since the novel's
appearance. The title offends many on moral grounds, for whom Tess is a
"ruined," immoral woman. Others are puzzled intellectually; what is
Hardy's basis for calling her pure? Hardy defended the subtitle in an
1892 interview with Raymond Blathwayt:
... I still maintain that her innate purity
remained intact to the very last; though I frankly own that a certain
outward purity left her on her last fall. I regarded her then as being
in the hands of circumstances, not morally responsible, a mere corpse
drifting with the current to her end.
The subtitle has been defended in various ways. For example, Hardy is
showing that the traditional Christian view equating virtue and purity
with virginity is wrong. Or Hardy is distinguishing between the act and
the intention, a distinction Angel Clare finally makes in the novel.
Irving Howe offers a more subtle explanation:
in her incomparable vibrancy and lovingness,
she comes to represent a spiritualized transcendence of chastity. She
dies three times, to live again:--first with Alec D'Urberville, then
with Angel Clare, and lastly with Alec again. Absolute victim of her
wretched circumstances, she is ultimately beyond their stain. She
embodies a feeling for the inviolability of the person, as it brings
the absolute of charity nearer to the warming Christian virtue of
charity. Through a dialectic of negation, Tess reaches purity of spirit
even as she fails to satisfy the standards of the world.
For F.B. Pinton, her purity derives from her victimization:
... she is the victim of chance--of heredity,
physical and temperamental; of the position she was born into, and all
the other factors that impinge on her life. She could not be held
responsible for them; she was, in Hardy's words, "a pure woman."
STRUCTURE OF THE NOVEL
The novel is organized around a natural cycle; Tess progresses through
the stages of the cycle. which are indicated by the headings for each
of the seven sections. John Holloway describes the events and stages in
Darwinian terms: organism, environment, struggle, adaptation,
fertility, survival, resistance; Hardy envisaged the individual as
subject to the same ultimates as a species-- establishment and
extinction. Charles Darwin (1809-1882) theorized that animals compete
for survival and that those species which develop traits that improve
the chance of survival, through mutation, for instance, are most likely
to survive. This concept is best known as "survival of the fittest," a
phrase developed by Herbert Spencer.
DISCUSSION OF TESS OF THE D'URBERVILLES