Tess of the d’Urbervilles – Task Sixteen

  1. How is the title of this section ironic?

To be “fulfilled” usually means achieving some kind of happiness. In this regard it is a strange name for the phase, though on some level, Tess does achieve some fulfilment – a brief period of happiness with Angel before her death (and the end of her suffering).

“Fulfilment” is also the end result of a process. So the fulfilment of your time in school will be your exam results. In this sense, the novel is fulfilled – all of the foreshadowing and symbolism reaches its inevitable conclusion as Tess is executed.

  1. How does Stonehenge figure in Tess’s end?

Tess lies down on an altar at the end, as though she is offering herself up for sacrifice.

3. What do you think it represents?

Stone Henge is a pagan construction. Tess holds many pagan beliefs, not least her love of nature. So, for Tess to reach her fate in this place seems entirely appropriate.

4. Is there a suggestion that another cycle is about to begin at the end of the novel? Explain your thinking.

Tess asks Angel to marry her sister, Liza Lu, at the end, as the two walk away, we get a strong sense of a new relationship beginning (albeit one which is a bit creepy to modern readers).

5. How much do you feel that Alec and Angel make a victim of Tess?

Both are responsible for her suffering. While Tess is in no position to help herself, both men are able to offer some kind of support. Alec is at least open about his motives, whereas Angel, who professes to love Tess so deeply, abandons her.

Both men are guilty of pushing Tess towards her fate, though we must also acknowledge that her social, economic and sexual status all contribute.

6. Does Tess’s past make her death inevitable?

Tess’s sense of shame at having been raped fuels many of her later decisions. However, the symbolism of the “stubbard tree”, the cock crowing on her wedding day, Angel placing her in a coffin when he sleepwalks, the episode with the pheasants… It seems inevitable throughout that Tess will only find peace when she is dead. Alec’s actions deny Tess happiness with Angel, and in an outburst of anger she stabs him to death. Certainly, her past make her death more likely – how much it is inevitable is perhaps less clear cut.