I found this article while looking for a quote earlier today. Worth a read…
Tess‘ final journey is a symbolic one through the world of sounds, colours and lights. Hardy manages to create not a photograph of the landscape, but a certain mood of the characters, using different elements of nature: the night, the roads, the birds’ songs, the beautiful colours of landscapes.
Here, Stonehenge, a collection of giant stones arranged in a circular form has special connotation for the novel, apart from its purpose to serve as an astrological calendar and a ceremonial place for religious or tribal worship. It draws Hardy’s philosophy about the indifference of nature to suffering and it shows man’s ephemeral character, civilization and human’s vanity. But its main symbolism is that it represents death for the heroine who eventually accepts her destiny, that of a heathen and her rejection by the Christian religion as a sinner. This Temple of the Winds implies the idea of primitive religion, worshipping nature while performing rituals, being older than the centuries. Its symbolic shape and its location in a landscape not disturbed by man, represents both solitude and death, the Stone of Sacrifice: ‘vast upward structure, close in his front, rising sheer’.
Tess and Angel stop in Stonehenge after they have traveled a long way and need rest. The stones are still warm from the sun, radiating heat all during the cool night. Tess realizes that her mother’s family is from the area, “One of my mother’s people was a shepherd hereabouts, now I think of it. And you used to say at Talbothays that I was a heathen. So now I am at home.” Angel recognizes that Tess is “lying on an altar” – like a sacrifice to the ancient pagans who used to practice there. In a modern sense, Tess is sacrificed to the laws and morals of the nineteenth century.
Another important element is nature, which contributes to the final scene: the coming of light is the coming of death, the winds die out, the stones are still and the scene is now ready for the sacrifice: the sky was dense with cloud, some fragment of a moon’.
The physical props are suggested by vegetation and stone. The turf, the grass help her finding her way along to an open loneliness and black solitude, that one could both ‘see’ and ‘feel’. Then, the stone is an obstacle, an interdiction ‘rising sheer from the grass’; this shows the eternity of nature versus the Man’s ephemeral character, the time immemorial and rituals: Stonehenge.
All in all, Tess’s experience and nature elements present a very important connection, as they contribute to the solemnity and the tragedy of the moment when Tess is hanged.