The title of the second phase deals with the significance of Tess's
sexual experience in her view, in society's view, and in nature. With
which of these does Hardy side? Is her sexual experience the turning
point in her life, as the title suggests? Though it is clearly a
crucial event, what actually happened is unclear. Was she raped or
seduced? Once you decide that question, another question must be
decided, how responsible is she for what happened?
PHASE THE SECOND: MAIDEN NO MORE
RAPE OR SEDUCTION?
TESS AND ALEC
From his first appearance Alec seems to be a melodramatic villain, a
"dastardly" womanizer, with his crude, full lips, his bold eye, and his
dark moustache. His addressing Tess as "my beauty" suggests his sexual
nature. His subsequent behavior confirms this impression.
After the dance at Chaseborough, Tess refuses Alec's
offers to take her home and goes with him only to escape from the
confrontation with Car Darch and the others. Hardy comments, "At almost
any other moment of her life she would have refused such proffered aid
and company...But coming as the invitation did at the particular
juncture when fear and indignation at these adversaries could be
transformed by a spring of the foot into a triumph over them, she
abandoned herself to her impulse" (pages 66-67); she accepts his offer.
Is Tess's action determined entirely by the situation, which is so
upsetting that she feels faint? Is it chance that Alec is eavesdropping
at this particular moment? So do circumstances combine against Tess? Or
does she bear any responsibility? Does the prospect of triumphing over
her persecutors suggest pride may be a factor in her impulsive
decision? As Hardy later points out, she inherits her
which may take the form of recklessness, from her d'Urberville
ancestors. If her impulsiveness and recklessness are inherited, is Tess
responsible for her impulsive or her reckless actions or is she a
victim of heredity? Tess's d'Urberville traits develop the theme of the
continuing effect of the past. Are those effects unavoidable?
THE NIGHT IN THE WOODS
Though she is dependent economically on Alec and is socially inferior,
Tess has resisted his advances. She tells him she disliked and was
angered by his kissing her, that she does not love him, and that she
was sometimes offended by his love-making. Why only "sometimes"? (The
phrase making love in the nineteenth century meant courtship,
not the modern meaning of sexual intercourse.) When she thinks he is
making a physical advance, she gives him a little push which almost
knocks him off the horse. This push is "one of those sudden impulses of
reprisal to which she was liable" (page 60), which is inherited from
her d'Urberville ancestors and which she displays later.
In view of this resistence, why is she indecisive in
answering his request to treat her as a lover, "I don't know–I wish–how
can I say yes or no when–" (page 69)? Is she flirting, and is her
hesitation deliberately or even unconsciously encouraging? Or is she
inhibited by his social status, by his economic power over her and her
family, his gifts to her family?
The fog causes Alec to lose his way, and the moonlight
comes out when he returns to Tess sleeping. Have circumstances worked
against Tess? As in the Prince disaster, Tess falls into a reverie when
she is alone and then sleeps. Is this trait a factor in Alec's taking
sexual advantage of her?
Rather than describe the sexual encounter, Hardy
discusses its inevitability, cruelty, and arbitrariness:
it was that upon this beautiful feminine tissues, sensitive as gossamer
and practically blank as snow as yet, there should have been traced
such a coarse pattern as it was doomed to receive; why so often the
coarse appropriates the finer thus, the wrong man the woman, the wrong
woman the man, many thousands years of analytical philosophy have
failed to explain to our sense of order. (page 73)
Does this sentence say that, whether Tess is raped or seduced, the
event is fated because of the way the universe functions? Hardy then
quotes a fatalistic saying of Tess's people, "It was to be" (page 73).
Readers who believe Tess is raped cite the reference to
her d'Urberville ancestors, who "had dealt the same measure even more
ruthlessly toward peasant-girls" (page 73). Hardy rejects the idea of
retribution, of children being punished for the sins of their
ancestors, which "is scorned by average human nature" (page 73). Again,
d'Urberville reference connects the past and Tess's present.
WHAT HAPPENED THAT NIGHT–AND AFTERWARD?
In deciding whether Tess was raped or seduced, you may want to consider
- Does the conversation when Alec catches up with Tess
on her way home indicate she willingly had sex with him at some time?
She says, "...if I had ever sincerely loved you, if I loved you still,
I should not so loathe and hate myself for my weakness as I do now!...
My eyes were dazed by you for a little, and that was all" (page 76). If
Tess willingly had sex with Alec afterward, does that necessarily mean
that she agreed or submitted in The Chase? Could she have been raped
and then become his mistress?
- She asks the sign-painter, "suppose your sin was not
of your own seeking?" (page 79). The narrow mindedness and failure of
religion are indicated by his unconcern with her question.
- Tess is offended at her mother's suggestion about
getting Alec to marry her. Hardy explains,
She had dreaded him, winced before him,
succumbed to adroit advantages he took of her helplessness; then,
temporarily blinded by his ardent manners, had been stirred to confused
surrender awhile, had suddenly despised and disliked him, and had run
away. That was all. (page 81)
- One of the Marlott harvest workers, who are gossiping
about Tess and her baby, says,
"Well, a little more
than persuading had to do wi' the coming o't, I reckon. There were they
that heard a sobbing one night last year in The Chase; and it mid ha'
gone hard wi' a certain party if folks had come along." (page 90)
This indicates force and rape, but how reliable is this hearsay? In a
novel, does the information have to be reliable? Is the hint of rape
enough to sway the reader's decision?
- The question of reliability also applies to Joan's
advising her not to tell Angel Clare, "specially as it is so long ago,
and not your Fault at all" (page 192).
SIGNIFICANCE AND CONSEQUENCES
The immediate result of her sexual experience is the "immeasurable
social chasm" which separated Tess the Maiden from Tess the Maiden No
More. And only society and Tess's acceptance of society's judgment make
it a sin and her an immoral woman. In nature, she has done nothing
wrong. As she wanders along in the deepening twilight, she is an
integral part of nature. It is her guilt at breaking society's
and religion's prohibitions that isolates her. Hardy comments of them:
It was they that were out of harmony with the
actual world, not she. Walking among the sleeping birds in the hedges,
watching the skipping rabbits on a moonlit warren, or standing under a
pheasant-laden bough, she looked upon herself as a figure of Guilt
intruding into the haunts of Innocence. But all the while, she was
making a distinction where there was no difference. Feeling herself in
antagonism, she was quite in accord. She had been made to break an
accepted social law, but no law known to the environment in which she
fancied herself such an anomaly. (page 85)
The opposition between natural law and social/religious law operates
throughout the book. Does it contribute to Tess's misfortunes? Does the
phrase "made to break" suggest that Tess was raped, or does it only
mean that the natural act of sex was a transgression in society, so
that by doing something natural Tess "had been made to break a social
Besides isolating her from the community, her sexual
experience changed her
from simple girl to complex woman. Symbols of
reflectiveness passed into her face and a note of tragedy at times into
her voice. Her eyes grew larger and more eloquent. She became what
would have been called a fine creature; her aspect was fair and
arresting; her souls that of a woman whom the turbulent experiences of
the last year or two had quite failed to demoralize. But for the
world's opinion those experiences would have been simply a liberal
education. (page 99)
By transforming Tess, her loss of virginity has individualized her and
thereby cut her off from the folk or community to which she belonged in
the beginning. Initially, she was indistinguishable from the others,
which is why Angel Clare did not choose her as a dancing partner.
Hardy's calling her experiences "a liberal education," just a learning
experience, shocks many readers. Is her liberal education a fortunate
fall? The Fall of Adam and Eve, which introduced sin and suffering into
the world, is traditionally regarded as an unmitigated disaster.
However, a heterodox view arose that the Fall was fortunate; as a
result of the Fall, Christ took human form to redeem humanity from sin.
DISCUSSION OF TESS OF THE D'URBERVILLES