Tess of the d’Urbervilles – Task Twelve

Angel is unable to forgive Tess because he believes her crime is so heinous as to make her a different person. He says that, “”O Tess, forgiveness does not apply to the case! You were one person; now you are another.” It is because he has put Tess on such a high pedestal that by suggesting she is human, or that she is any way imperfect, means destroying the idea of her he has held in his head for so long. It is interesting to note that Tess has no such problems in forgiving Angel because she loves him as a flawed and human person. This is rank hypocrisy on the part of Angel, and he compounds his offence to Tess by saying, “Decrepit families imply decrepit wills, decrepit conduct.” He suggests that her “failing” was inevitable because of her family’s heritage. This allows him to have the security of his view of ancient families, while condemning Tess entirely. Previously he had laughed at Tess’s fears of her family name but, now that circumstances suit him, he returns to it in order to condemn her.

The couple separate because Angel cannot divorce Tess (adultery must be proven for this to happen), but he cannot remain with her. He also explains, “How can we live together while that man lives?” This shows the sense of shame Angel attaches to Tess while also foreshadowing that Alec must be killed if the two are to be together.

Tess fits into several of these categories. However, a modern reader is most likely to sympathise with her. She had attempted to tell Angel of her past and he had ignored her; she had even confessed her family heritage and he had laughed it off, only to beat her with it later. As far as she possibly could, she sought the approval of Angel (and others) in her actions. Angel’s reactions are callous in the extreme, and show his liberal principles are really pretenses. She even volunteers to kill herself for him. She elegantly argues her position, saying “What have I done – what have I done? I have not told of anything that interferes with or belies my love for you.” She understands the situation in terms of the human heart and her own love for him. He sees the situation through a cold and cerebral mind which is more concerned with the ideas of the church or the views of other people – he does not love her for her own sake.

The course of Tess’s life parallels the seasons. The novel opens in late May, a hopeful time when life renews. She arrives at the d’Urberville home in late spring; her parents hoped for financial support from the wealthy d’Urbervilles, and Tess hopes to earn enough to replace their horse. A few years later, she has a renewal or rally in the spring. Her courtship with Angel takes place over the summer, a time of ripening and fulfilment in nature and of love and happiness in her life. She spends the winter, a time of death in nature, at Flintcomb-Ash.

It can be argued that Tess, as a child of nature, would be doomed to suffer through the Winter and thrive through the Summer. The episodes from the novel certainly suggest this, and Hardy makes use of pathetic fallacy throughout in order to reinforce this notion. However, it strikes me as more a means of strengthening Hardy’s conceit that Tess is a natural being, rather than a way of suggesting the inevitability of her existence.  There are other factors which suggest her life is predetermined, and these have nothing to do with the seasons. For example, the d’Urberville heritage suggests that she will receive the “sins of the fathers” and at the novel’s climax Hardy says that the President of the Immortals” had finished toying with her. Predestination recurs as a theme throughout the novel but it is not exclusively confined to the natural world.

This moment is extremely dramatic, and Tess is highlighted to Alec as the sun falls upon her in the darkness of the tent. Dramatically, this seems as though she is being deliberately identified, but it may also be another instance of Tess’s miserable luck. Equally, it is terrible fortune that her movement alerts Alec to her presence, and this begins his relapse from Christianity.

Due to the domination of the theme of fate, it seems impossible to argue (purely in dramatic/ literary terms) that the pair were fated to meet again. However, life is not so neat and tidy in this way, so it does seem either unlikely or dreadful luck for Tess. In order for the narrative to work, however, the reader knows that Tess would meet her tormentor again.