Tess of the d’Urbervilles – Task Six

  1. Comment on TWO images found in this passage. How might they connect to the broader themes of the book?

“Sensitive as gossamer” – this reinforces the idea that Tess is fragile and beautiful, and easily broken. The idea is continued in the same line when her skin is described as “blank as snow” – the connotations of whiteness and purity are more clear in the comparison to snow, but these ideas make Alec’s actions seem all the more brutal as the reader sees Tess’s weakness and vulnerability clearly.

“a pale nebulousness at his feet” – this illustrates how little could be seen, and how far from safety Tess is. The isolation of the location, and the encompassing darkness, show that she is completely without help.

  1. Why does Hardy make use of so much description of the setting?

Hardy makes extensive use of description for many reasons. Due to the nature of the scene, and Victorian attitudes to sex, it was impossible for Hardy to write the scene explicitly (in full view). As such, he relies on the ability of the reader to understand what is happening based on various clues. In the darkness, the only animals around are “rabbits and hares” (strongly associated with sex). The location is described as “blackness”, indicating both how far from safety Tess is, but also how secret Alec is able to keep the matter. The word itself, “blackness” has clear connotations with evil and fear. The description is vital in the line “and upon her eyelashes there lingered tears” – why do you think this line is so important in the scene?

Of course, in addition to this, Tess is described in close connection with ideas of purity (“white” contrasting with “dark”) and innocence/ vulnerability (“gossamer”/ “snow”).

Finally, notice that the world is almost everywhere “asleep”. This shows that nature is indifferent to the affairs of human beings – it does not have a morality, so it is not outraged by what Alec does. In nature, there are no crimes.

  1. Why is Tess referred to as “Tess d’Urberville” in the penultimate paragraph?

The reference to Tess d’Urberville in the penultimate paragraph is used to tie her closely to her ancestors, suggesting that she is being punished for her association with them (“the sins of the father”). It also implies that she is now belongs to Alec, and is in some sense his wife. In Victorian values, there would be huge pressure on Tess and Alec to be married in order to make the sexual relationship (if we can call it that) legitimate.

  1. How does Hardy suggest that Tess’s fate was inevitable?

Hardy suggests that Tess’s fate was inevitable in many ways. Primarily, by portraying her as a weak and vulnerable girl in the presence of the predatory Alec. Second, he refers to the “sins of the father”, suggesting that according to certain books of the Bible, Tess was to be punished by God for the same crimes that had been committed by her ancestors. Finally, Hardy links fate to the attitudes and superstitions of the working class poor in this time and place. Because the poor had been so dominated by the wealthy for so long, they adopted the idea that such things were inevitable, that the rich would always make the poor suffer. It is this attitude that leads to the crushingly depressing line, “It was to be”.

  1. How does he show that some Christians may feel that she may have deserved it?

As mentioned, Hardy uses the “sins of the father” to suggest that, because Tess’s ancestors had raped and abused girls when they returned from the crusades, Tess was to suffer the same fate as a punishment for their sins.

  1. What is the “social chasm” her refers to?

The social chasm can be said to refer to a number of things. However, it seems mostly to indicate that Tess would be regarded very differently by her society after what happened on the Chase. People would not treat her as the innocent and pretty young girl; they would judge and look down on her. It also reveals that Tess herself could not think of herself in the same way ever again. The event destroyed Tess’s innocence and this changed forever the way she saw herself and the way the world saw her.

  1. Hardy tells us that Tess felt her personality was divided in two: Tess before, and Tess after. How does this connect to Angel Clare?

As we will see, there is a huge difference in the way Angel treats Tess before and after he knows about what happened to her on the Chase. He perceives her as pure and Christian, but is mortified when she tells him what was done. He idealises her almost as a caricature, and is appalled by the reality. Because he is a massive hypocrite scumbag without an ounce of compassion in his soul. God, I hate him.