Tess of the d’Urbervilles – Task Nine

“She went stealthily as a cat through this profusion of growth, gathering CUCKOO SPITTLE on her skirts, cracking snails that were underfoot, staining her hands with THISTLE MILK and slug-slime, and rubbing off upon her naked arms sticky blights which, though snow-white on the apple-tree trunks, made madder STAINS on her skin…”

  1. The language here is incredibly sensual, emphasising the S, TH and K sounds. It is a place of overflowing fertility, and this sensuality emphasises Tess’s sexual ease.
  2. Tess walks through this sexualised setting and again her white skin is “stained” by red. However, here there is no sense of shame attached to her being stained – it is entirely natural. Hardy suggests that sex in nature is natural, and only the rules of society make it something to be ashamed of.

 

“My life looks as if it had been wasted for want of chances! When I see what you KNOW what you have READ and SEEN and THOUGHT, I feel what a nothing I am!”

The listed verbs are all indicators of how little Tess thinks of herself, but how superior she feels Angel is: “know”, “read”, “see”, “think”: these all suggest his greater experience of the world, but despite this, he is still very childish in his emotions, unlike Tess who has matured.

 

“Do you know that I have UNDERGONE three quarters of this labour entirely for the sake of the fourth quarter?”

Carrying the other maids is considered a “labour” by Angel; he has orchestrated the meeting with Tess. While this may be seen as romantic, can it not also be seen as predatory by Angel? Tess is isolated and cannot turn him away.

 

How very lovable her face was to him. Yet there was nothing ETHEREAL about it; all was real vitality, real warmth, real incarnation. PERFECT, he, as a lover, might have called them off-hand. But no — they were not PERFECT.”

Hardy stresses that Tess is not perfect, and this is what makes her beauty real – not “ethereal”, spiritual. Hardy goes to great lengths to persuade the reader that Tess is not an archetype, a stereotypical depiction of a woman – she is a real woman with faults and flaws, but she is all the more beautiful for this.