Tess of the d’Urbervilles – Task Fifteen

“You, and those like you, take your fill of pleasure on earth by making the life of such as me bitter and BLACK with sorrow; and then it is a fine thing, when you have had enough of that, to think of securing your pleasure in heaven by becoming CONVERTED!”

This is a terrifically spirited riposte from Tess. She says that the upper classes have a life of luxury because they can exploit and take advantage of the poor, and then when they tire of this they convert to Christianity to wash away their sins so that they may be accepted in heaven. Listen to the anger in those plosive B sounds. Tess is furious, and this is a superb critique of the class system in Victorian England.

 

“Remember, my LADY, I was your master once! I will be your master again. If you are any man’s WIFE you are mine!”

Alec suggests that in the eyes of nature, because he was Tess’s first, he is her true husband. However, the quotation reveals the utterly controlling nature of Alec’s love. He talks of being her “master”, as though she is a slave, and then says she is “mine”, as though she is property.

 

“The beauty or ugliness of a character lay not only in its ACHIEVEMENTS, but in its AIMS and impulses; its true history lay, not among things done, but among things WILLED.”

This is a show of compassion from Hardy. He says that our character is not just defined by what we do, it is as much formed by what we TRY to do. While we may not always be successful in being good people, the important thing is to strive to be good. This is far superior to being seen to do good things, but for suspect or malicious reasons.