“Believe that tex? Do I believe in my own existence!”
“But,” said she tremulously, “suppose your sin was not of your own seeking?”
He shook his head.
“I cannot split hairs on that burning query,” he said. “I have walked hundreds of miles this past summer, painting these texes on every wall, gate, and stile the length and breadth of this district. I leave their application to the hearts of the people who read ’em.”
“I think they are horrible,” said Tess. “Crushing! killing!”
“That’s what they are meant to be!” he replied in a trade voice. Chapter 12
It must be hard for Tess to maintain her belief in Christianity in the face of this response from the sign-writer. She describes the brutal effect they have upon ordinary people, saying they are “Crushing! Killing!” The metaphorical language is designed to express the way the damning tone of the texts is a destructive force upon a believer. However, the worst part for Tess comes in the sign-writer’s reply: “they are meant to be!” The Bible, he suggests, takes the same harsh attitude to sin, and thus Tess understands herself to be a sinner, as proven by the Bible. Her sense of guilt is amplified by this. She cannot reconcile the brutality of the Bible with the gentility of her own version of faith.
“I wish I had never been born–there or anywhere else. ” Chapter 12
It is possible that Tess exclaims this with a sense of hyperbole, drawing attention to the misery of her own existence . However, Tess is speaking a truth and has not embellished it. At this point in the novel, she has experienced nothing but suffering, and thus believes she exists on a “blighted star”. If this is the case, and the world is one of only suffering for her, it is natural that she should wish to not exist at all.
“Let truth be told – women do as a rule live through such humiliations, and regain their spirits, and again look about them with an interested eye. While there’s life there’s hope is a conviction not so entirely unknown to the “betrayed” as some amiable theorists would have us believe.” Chapter 16
The key phrase here is Hardy’s assertion that Tess now looks at the world with “an interested eye”. The synecdoche refers to Tess’s recovery. Indeed, it is such that she has overcome her trauma sufficiently to have a sexual appetite. The phrasing is euphemistic, but Hardy indicates that Tess is capable of being sexually attracted to another.
“Sometimes I feel I don’t want to know anything more about [history] than I know already. […] Because what’s the use of learning that I am one of a long row only–finding out that there is set down in some old book somebody just like me, and to know that I shall only act her part; making me sad, that’s all. The best is not to remember that your nature and you past doings have been kist like thousands’ and thousands’, and that your coming life and doings’ll be like thousands’ and thousands’. […] I shouldn’t mind learning why–why the sun do shine on the just and the unjust alike, […] but that’s what books will not tell me.” Chapter 19
There is much to analyse in this section, but perhaps the most significant aspect is the line, “I shouldn’t mind learning… why the sun do shine on the just and the unjust alike.” Again, Tess is questioning her God, and she cannot formulate a theodicy to defend His actions: there seems no logic in the unjust experiencing pleasure while the just can suffer. This is another demonstration of Tess’s simple faith seeming more human (and humane) than the inscrutable and arbitrary god of the Bible.