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PHASE ONE: "THE MAIDEN"
Have you ever wondered about your family's origins? Do you have a rich or famous ancestor- someone you found out about by chance when his or her name came up in a conversation? Learning about that person might fill you with pride and even change the way you think about yourself and what you think you might accomplish someday.
The discovery of noble ancestry is precisely what happens to Tess Durbeyfield and her family. The opening chapter introduces the family history and compares the wealth and nobility of the Durbeyfields' ancestors to their own poverty and country ways. The Durbeyfields' discovery of their titled past sparks a series of unrealistic expectations and brutal experiences that will in many ways form the social basis for Tess' tragedy.
We meet Tess' father John, a drunken and decrepit chicken trader, on his way home to the village of Marlott. The local parson takes John aside and informs him that he is really "Sir" John, the last living heir to the illustrious d'Urberville title, long thought extinct. How odd it seems to us that someone as tattered and illiterate as John is descended from one of Britain's oldest and most powerful families!
John's main concern is whether or not he can realize monetary gain from this nobility. To him it's an empty honor if he can't use it to improve his family's condition. Quoting the Bible, the parson admonishes John to put the knowledge of his grand heritage to more spiritual uses: "Chasten yourself with the thought of how the mighty are fallen." How many of us would take such a grim lesson from such an exciting discovery? John is bursting with pride and, like a rich lord, orders a local boy to do his bidding. The boy shrewdly plays dumb, at least until "Sir" John tips him. Hardy tells us that in this world money holds more power than does ancient glory.
The parson tells John that many poor farmers are descended from once-rich, titled families, implying to us that fortunes often change with the times.
NOTE: To many readers, John and, as we'll see later, the rest of his family represent the decay of agrarian England. In this farming culture, status was determined less by money and more by land ownership, family background, and hereditary privilege. After the Industrial Revolution of the late 18th century, technological advancement and the subsequent growth of cities and factories spelled doom for the old rural order. The new "Kings of Commerce" of 19th-century Victorian England (the setting of Tess' story) owed their position to manufacturing and money. This new order disrupted the old ways. People were forced to move often; family stability and the sense of belonging to a community and adhering to its rules and traditions began to disintegrate.
Industrialization also damaged much of England's fertile land. To Hardy the destruction of nature was the destruction of man's most essential tie to life. In many ways the isolation and alienation that many people feel in our present technologically advanced era had their beginnings in the industrial age that Hardy depicts in Tess.
Hardy put history into perspective in Chapter 1. Now he switches to a more immediate and intimate account of Tess' hometown, Marlott, and of its natural beauty and plain folk, with their ancient customs.
Marlott is secluded in the Vale of Blackmoor. Its landscape protects it from the teeming urban industrial centers sprouting all over England. In many ways Marlott's sheltered innocence reflects that of sixteen-year-old Tess.
NOTE: It is helpful while reading Tess to compare and contrast Hardy's landscape descriptions with the actions and thoughts of the characters who move through them. Hardy often uses environmental descriptions rather than psychological ones to tell us things about his characters.
The women and girls of Marlott are celebrating Club-walking Day, an ancient ritual for women only. Hardy tells us that like so many of us who observe holidays, these women don't know the meaning of their ritual. Club-walking was originally the May Day Dance, a pagan celebration of spring and fertility. Adolescent Tess, like spring itself, is about to enter her own fertile season.
NOTE: There are many primitive symbols in Tess, such as the club-walking dance and later Stonehenge, that show us how important a role instinctive, primitive drives play (often unconsciously) in our everyday lives.
Tess is among the white-robed club-walkers, but Hardy makes little of her at first. She is pretty but not extraordinary looking and has a strong sense of family pride. She staunchly defends her tipsy father against her fellow walkers' jibes. Hardy initially downplays Tess' individuality in order to make us see her as a cog in the larger wheel of society, nature, and the universe. While this approach reveals the insignificance and helplessness of the individual, it also forces us to see her as an archetype (a magnified representative) of her social class, of womanhood, of the pulsating force of life itself.
Angel Clare, the man Tess will later come to love, appears briefly in this scene as a bystander watching the festivities. As the novel progresses and you get to know Angel better, ponder the way his name not only reflects his character but comments ironically on his personality.
NOTE: As we shall see, Angel is a very spiritual man, truly concerned with other peoples' feelings and welfare. Notice, too, that in Chapter 20 he plays the harp, an instrument whose heavenly music is associated with angels. On the other hand, does Angel have the charitable, forgiving nature generally considered angelic? Some readers believe that Angel, with all his virtues, is more responsible for Tess' downfall than her self-seeking seducer, Alec d'Urberville. Couldn't Hardy also be using the name "Angel" to signify an avenging angel as well as an angel of mercy?
In this chapter Angel appears as a clergyman's son on a sight-seeing tour of Tess' valley. Tess is impressed with his refinement and education. Did you ever meet someone who was so wonderfully different from all the people you knew that you nearly fell in love on the spot? This is what seems to happen to Tess without her fully knowing it. As we shall later see more clearly, Tess, like a plant that has outgrown its pot, gropes for more and better space in which to grow. Still Angel is certainly not yet a shining prince. He's a gawky teenage boy who momentarily joins in the dancing but doesn't pick Tess to be his partner. Later on, after Tess and Angel do fall in love, she'll chide him for not dancing with her at this festivity- as if that would have changed her life.
NOTE: Haven't you dreamed of how your life might have turned out differently if a particular event had happened? Isn't such a "what if" game generally useless and painful? Throughout Tess Hardy seems to be telling us that while it is good to have high expectations, we must accept what happens in our lives, learn from our mistakes or tragedies, and move on.
We all become infatuated with people. Sometimes we're smitten by someone we've only seen once. This happens to Tess after her brief glimpse of Angel Clare. As time goes on Tess' crush deepens and Angel becomes a very important memory. On the other hand Angel basically forgets Tess and goes on with his busy life. The different ways in which they remember each other is very important to our understanding of their characters. As we shall see, Angel is often self-absorbed and preoccupied by many worldly opportunities and adventures. Tess, however, demonstrates an unusually fixed loyalty to those she cares for. Also, as a Victorian woman, her horizons are limited to either marriage and motherhood, or a few unskilled jobs. Perhaps this lack of opportunity, a result of her womanhood, her social class, and her lack of education, makes her think and dream as much about someone else's life as about her own.
Tess returns from the club-walking festivities to her dreary home, where we meet her cheerful but overworked mother, Joan. Unlike her husband Joan is descended from peasant stock. From her, Tess inherits her physical beauty and resilient spirit. Joan ecstatically informs Tess of her d'Urberville heritage. Unlike her mother Tess sees this nobility as yet another pipe dream, and busies herself with the practical problems of the household. This shows us how realistic Tess is despite her dreaminess over Angel Clare. She has practical aims, high ambitions, and the endurance to help make her dreams a reality. Unfortunately for Tess, as we shall see, as a poor girl her opportunities are so limited that she has to depend on other peoples' whims in order to make any progress in life. This situation will surely play a part in her becoming a victim rather than a success.
Joan leaves Tess to watch over the younger children while she goes to fetch (or perhaps join) Mr. Durbeyfield at the local tavern. Joan, a superstitious woman, reminds Tess to put their fortune-telling book in the outhouse, for leaving it in with the family overnight could spell trouble. Tess obeys her mother but because she is a more modern girl with some education she refuses to believe in black magic. Haven't you ever found yourself thinking you knew more than your parents, having more education, and even a more worldly understanding of life than they? At the same time, however, you may rely on their knowledge, experience, and ideas, even when you know they're wrong. Many times Tess will ridicule signs and omens, yet she becomes so fearful of new experiences that in the end she leans on superstition. Keep this in mind throughout the novel, particularly in terms of Tess' reaction to omens related to her marriage to Angel Clare.
NOTE: Tess is at the crossroads of her life and times. She's a teenage girl about to become a woman. As an archetype, or representative of her social class, she's a mixture of nobility and working class. As a representative of her historical time she straddles the worlds of agrarian England, with its folklore, superstition, and fatalism, and the modern industrial world, with its scientific orderliness and religious pessimism.
When neither her parents nor the brother she's sent to find them returns from the inn, Tess locks the other children securely in the house and goes after them herself. There's quite a role reversal here between Tess, who seems to manage all the practical details of the household, and her parents, who are off drinking and dreaming!
This chapter begins at Rolliver's Inn, before Tess arrives to get her parents. Rolliver's is an off- premises bar, which means that the illegal drinking is done in Mrs. Rolliver's bedroom. Notice how Hardy describes this chamber- full of exotic richness, diffused with a narcotic fog. This heady atmosphere undermines Joan's fevered plan to send Tess to claim kin with a wealthy, distant branch of the d'Urbervilles. As the night rolls on and the alcohol flows, Joan has already mentally married Tess off to a nobleman.
NOTE: Tess' parents seem similar to irresponsible children living in a dream world. Don't you think it's rather frightening that while Joan makes all these plans she never thinks to ask Tess how she'll feel about carrying them out? Joan is certain that Tess will agree to the idea: "Tess is queer," she says, "but she's tractable [easily led or controlled] at bottom." Think about this statement as you consider many of the choices that Tess makes against both her own better judgment and the callings of her heart. Remember, too, that Tess is a Victorian girl who has been brought up to please and serve, even sacrifice, to the desires of others.
Tess discovers her parents at the inn and helps them home. Realizing that her father cannot drive the bee hives (that they sell) to market, she volunteers to do it. She's sleepy and inexperienced, however, and her horse, Prince, runs into another cart and is mortally wounded. This is tragic because the Durbeyfields need a horse in order to carry on their trading business. They don't have the money to purchase a new one.
Tess tries to stop the flow of Prince's blood with her hand but to no avail. She turns pale, almost white, which symbolizes not only her shock but her innate purity. "The huge pool of blood in front of her was already assuming the iridescence of coagulation; and when the sun rose a hundred prismatic hues were reflected from it."
NOTE: As you can guess from the above quotation, blood symbolizes not only death but "a hundred prismatic hues" of existence. As Tess continues her journey we shall see that these "hues" include a series of opposites: life and death, violence and tender love, fertility and destruction. You've probably heard the expression "you can only hate someone you love." The closeness of opposites such as love and hate, or life and death, are very important to Hardy. For this reason the color red and the image of blood can represent things and emotions that initially appear worlds apart.
Remember the image of Prince's blood when you read about the discovery of Alec's death in Chapter 56. Also notice that certain farm machines that threaten the agrarian way of life are painted red, as is the mansion of Alec d'Urberville. Blood-red can also be a positive image in Hardy's world: Tess' health and vitality are reflected in her ruddy cheeks, and the sun, so necessary to life, is often described as red.
Tess, convinced she has murdered Prince, feels responsible for her family's subsequent lack of livelihood and therefore complies with Joan's wish that she go in search of their rich relations.
Why do you think Tess feels so much guilt and responsibility for an accident? Hardy never really tells us; he implies that her bad feelings about herself are for the most part unfounded. Degrading yourself is a rather common thing, however, particularly when you set high expectations and ambitions for yourself and haven't yet reached your goals. Tess seems older than her years in her willingness to accept adult responsibilities, but she's also very naive and inexperienced. Tess is, perhaps, a striking example of someone forced to grow up too quickly.
Do you remember how you felt on your first trip away from home by yourself? You were probably very excited and more than a little nervous, perhaps even scared. This is how Tess feels on her trip to Trantridge in quest of her rich relations. When Tess arrives at the manor house her first reaction is that it's strange that such an ancient family has a new and modern home. The farmlands appear to be kept more for show than for income. The new industrial world seems to be creeping into the countryside. In contrast to this newness is the mysterious primeval forest known as The Chase, which encompasses the d'Urberville estate like an unshakeable shroud. The Chase is so old that it puts Tess' venerable ancestry to shame. In Hardy's world nothing is as old or as essential as nature. The Chase will play an important part in Tess' trials, as we shall see in Chapter 11.
The story reveals that these d'Urbervilles are actually frauds- a family of successful merchants named Stoke who discovered the unused d'Urberville title and claimed it in order to enhance their monied respectability with an ancient revered name.
NOTE: It's to Tess' credit that she notices how inappropriate this modern estate seems for people with such a supposedly ancient background. You'll notice throughout the novel that often Tess intuitively divines things that she can't explain or logically act upon.
Of course Tess is ignorant of the fact that these d'Urbervilles are frauds and consequently have no familial responsibility to her. When she meets Alec Stoke-d'Urberville she assumes that he's her cousin and therefore treats him with a certain informality that he takes advantage of. Although Alec promises to make "cousin" Tess' presence known to his mother, he does nothing of the kind. Keeping Tess' presence secret, he fills her mouth with strawberries and her basket with roses. "She obeyed like one in a dream." Why does the shy Tess submit, though somewhat reluctantly, to such intimacies? Although Hardy never tells us explicitly he suggests many reasons. First Tess believes that Alec is her cousin and that kin are more likely to protect than harm her. Hardy also shows us how completely awed Tess is by the unfamiliar richness of her new surroundings. She seems assaulted by sensations, not the least of which are Alec's passionate advances. Tess is probably caught in such a whirlwind of impressions that, as Joan pointed out in Chapter 3, she follows where she's led.
CHAPTERS 6 AND 7
While Tess rides back home to Marlott one of the roses Alec gave her pricks her breast, causing it to bleed. Keep this sexual image in mind as a foreshadowing of her seduction in Chapter 11.
The Durbeyfields receive a letter from Mrs. Stoke-d'Urberville offering Tess a job. Tess notices that the handwriting is suspiciously masculine. Her parents are convinced that she will eventually marry "cousin" Alec. Tess doesn't tell her parents her suspicions and fears because of several factors that tend to paralyze her. She's feeling enormous guilt over the death of Prince and doesn't want to fail her family again. It's also possible that, like many teenagers, Tess would like to start living her own life. Hardy's refusal to give us a clear-cut explanation of Tess' motivation reflects the idea that Tess herself is unsure and still developing her mind and personality.
In Chapter 7 Tess goes off to work for the d'Urbervilles at Trantridge. Much to Tess' chagrin, her mother dresses her up as though she were going to a prom rather than to a job. Joan seems to share some responsibility for Tess' seduction, at least in Hardy's mind. Joan admits that Tess' chances with Alec have more to do with her uncommon beauty than her noble title. Mr. Durbeyfield, like his daughter, has some doubts about the whole situation. These doubts seem to have less to do with Tess' welfare than with the humiliation of belonging to an inferior branch of the family. Tess had planned to go to Trantridge in the hired wagon, but Alec arrives suddenly and insists on taking her himself.
Alec takes Tess on a "roller-coaster" carriage ride simply to force her to hold onto his waist. What a manipulative and violent way to woo someone!
NOTE: Consider Tess' journey with Alec to her strange new home. Hardy may be using this perilous ride to emphasize the danger of her relationship with Alec. The ride could also be a metaphor for the veering, uncontrollable quality of a young person's first experience of intense passion.
We don't get a very favorable impression of Alec because he laughs at Tess' fear of his driving too fast and cruelly rebukes her for being a proper little lady. Alec may be sensual and handsome, but he's not at all sensitive to human feeling. Finally Tess escapes from the wagon on the pretense of fetching her bonnet. She's determined to walk to Trantridge rather than play Alec's game. She even considers going home, but feels that it's too immature an idea, given her family's dire straits. Alec seems aroused by Tess' feisty temper. He soon takes another tack, courting her gently and at a distance, trying to regain her trust.
Tess' new job is that of "supervisor, nurse, surgeon, and friend" to Mrs. d'Urberville's beloved chickens. The old woman is eccentric and makes Tess bring her chickens to the manor house for daily inspections. When she learns that Mrs. d'Urberville is blind, Tess is convinced that Alec is responsible for getting her this job and for writing to her parents. She even thinks it's possible that the old woman doesn't know that Tess is kin.
Again, why doesn't Tess speak up? There are many possible reasons: Shyness, lack of confidence, fear, passivity- Tess has a certain measure of all these traits. It's also possible that there are situational reasons for Tess' silence. Hardy tells us: "Almost before her misgiving at the news [Mrs. d's blindness] could find time to shape itself," she's prodded along to the manor house. Many times in Tess, action overpowers reflection because characters don't have time to think before they act.
Mrs. d'Urberville demands that Tess (often described as a trapped bird) learn to whistle so she can train the Lady's bullfinches to sing. Tess practices to no avail until Alec teaches her how to purse her lips. Frightened that she'll lose her job, she lets him instruct her in an art that resembles kissing. He seems kinder to Tess now, and she begins to trust him a little. However, it is less a matter of free-willed trust than the fact that Tess, like Mrs. d'Urberville's birds, is dependent upon her keepers.
From an intimate portrait of Tess' life on the d'Urberville estate, Hardy moves in this chapter into the vast panorama of the environment that surrounds and influences Tess. The Trantridge community drinks "hard" and its women are sexually uninhibited.
Tess is unused to such a morally loose atmosphere. However, peer pressure and her own loneliness finally cause her to join the cottagers on their weekend outings to town. On one journey she finds her friends staying out very late and is forced to wait up so she'll have someone to accompany her home. The drunken farm folk are dancing a wild jig in a barn, enveloped in a dusty fog of hay and human sweat, like a "vegeto-human pollen."
NOTE: This "vegeto-human pollen" is one of Hardy's many fog images, representing a clouding over of human perceptions. Think back to the intoxicating haze in Rolliver's tavern that clouded the judgment of Tess' parents. In this chapter the "fog" is caused by a mixture of sexuality and drunkenness. Think about the many different things that "fogs" do to people when you read about Tess' seduction in the foggy Chase.
While it's true that fog makes it difficult for people to see clearly, it can create a beautiful image, too. One of the reasons that Tess will seem so ethereal to Angel later at Talbothays Dairy is because of the early morning fog that envelops her. Aren't strong feelings such as love and passion very much like fogs?
Her friends dance erotically while Tess sleepily looks on. Soon we find someone else watching Tess and the festivities- Alec d'Urberville. He offers the tired girl a ride home, but Tess prefers to wait for her fellow workers. As they trudge back home, Car Darch, one of Alec's ex-girlfriends, becomes the butt of a harmless joke. When Tess joins in the laughter, the jealous Car jumps her like a wounded cat. When the other women also attack Tess, Alec appears "miraculously" and again offers her a ride.
You've probably done things or gone out with people against your best instincts. Tess goes with Alec because her person and pride are severely threatened by Car and her friends. "Out of the frying pan and into the fire," cries Car's wise mother, letting us know that there's trouble ahead for Tess. Tess can be seen in two ways: as either a victim of circumstance or a victim of her own pride. After all, she could have stayed with her fellow workers and fought on their terms. But the fight would have been unfair and Tess, who is unused to violence, doesn't deserve to be beaten up for laughing, especially when everyone else was laughing, too. Can we really blame her for accepting Alec's offer?
Tess is so exhausted on her ride home with Alec that she doesn't even notice when he veers from the path. Suddenly she finds herself in an unfamiliar place called The Chase. Notice that the name of this primitive wood is related to hunting. Alec is hunting Tess. What could be more perfect than to have it happen in an age-old place where nature and sexual instinct reign?
If you take a careful look at the dialogue between Alec and Tess and at the way in which he says he loves her, you may see that Alec is not the stereotypic villain-seducer who cares nothing for his victim. If there were not an emotional turmoil churning inside Alec, would Hardy have depicted him as lost and disoriented in The Chase? Alec and Tess are both disoriented in this pagan place. Alec leaves her to rest while he goes to find out where they are. When he returns to her, she's surrounded by a fog so dense he can see nothing but a "white muslin figure he had left upon the dead leaves." This is the second time Tess has fallen asleep at a crucial time. (She also dozed off when driving Prince). Although she is strong and tenacious, Tess often loses control at the very moment she needs it most.
NOTE: Why do you think Tess' sleeping body is depicted as white and filmy as muslin? White, of course, is the color of purity, virginity, and innocence. This makes Alec's taking advantage of Tess even more horrible. But white also has a sickly connotation. It's the color of ghosts, unhealthiness, and sometimes, death.
Hardy plays with the image of whiteness throughout Tess, working with these two opposing connotations. He does this in order to emphasize that too much spirituality makes it impossible to live a full human existence. Throughout the novel, Tess tries to balance spiritual purity with healthy, sexual purity.
Does Tess respond to Alec's advances? Is she seduced or raped? Hardy doesn't make this clear, probably because the central issue is not Tess' deflowering but the trials that result from it.
Hardy is also interested in exploring the tragedy of mismatched couples: "Why so often the coarse appropriates the finer thus, the wrong man the woman, the wrong woman the man...?" The chapter closes with the fatalistic but soothing country folk maxim: "It was to be." But it's doubtful that Tess, with her modern, standard education, her ancient lineal pride, and her belief that people are responsible for their destinies, could ever find comfort in such a creed.
PHASE TWO: "MAIDEN NO MORE"
Did you ever find yourself trudging home to your family after a terrible incident, not knowing what you'll say or do, and feeling as if your whole life has suddenly changed? This is Tess' state as she heads back to Marlott, weighted down with a heavy basket. The basket, like many objects in Tess, has a symbolic meaning. It tells us how Tess feels about her life. Like the basket, she's laden down with "baggage": emotionally, she is weighted down with guilt, shame, and failure; physically, she is carrying Alec's child in her womb.
Alec whizzes by in his rig and tries to persuade Tess not to go. In the past few weeks he's made her aware that he's not a real d'Urberville. He doesn't know she's pregnant but offers her his protection and financial help, anyway. Perhaps he really does care about her; maybe he just wants her to continue to sleep with him. Tess refuses Alec's proposal because she doesn't love him. She says: "If I had ever sincerely loved you... I should not be so loathe and hate myself for my weakness as I do now." Tess is too noble to simply kneel to accepted morality. She doesn't leave Alec because of fear of what people might say. She leaves because to her sex and love go hand-in-hand and form a religion that she can't, in good conscience, go against. Tess refuses to lower her ideals either to advance herself socially and economically, or to legitimize her sexual relationship with Alec.
Tess is rather brave to choose to go home, jobless and pregnant, rather than remain at Trantridge as Alec's well-heeled mistress. Her mother is angry that Tess didn't get Alec to marry her- any other woman would have, she says. Joan doesn't care that Tess is unwed and pregnant- that wasn't unusual for peasant folk. She's angry that Tess hadn't the sense to take advantage of the situation. Joan's despair soon fades and like most farm folk, she gives in to fate and accepts the fact that Tess succumbed to the inevitable calling of her sexual nature.
CHAPTERS 13, 14, AND 15
In two short chapters Hardy deals with Tess' pregnancy and the birth and death of her baby, Sorrow. How short is this traumatic part of Tess' life! But haven't you ever noticed that the intensity of an experience is more important than its duration?
Tess' seduction by Alec and her subsequent pregnancy will tragically affect the rest of her life. Somehow, given the passionate, forward-moving rhythms of nature, the social stain on Tess' entire existence seems brutally unjust. Hardy condemns his society for deciding that certain natural functions, like sex, are horrible crimes when committed outside the sanction of matrimony.
NOTE: Hardy was very far ahead of his time in questioning prevailing attitudes toward sex, religion, and morality- attitudes that left no room for individual exceptions. Even in our sexually liberated era, how often have you heard people talking critically about women who have chosen to have children without getting married? In Hardy's time both the disgrace and the sanctions against a woman like Tess were a thousand times more severe.
Hardy himself seems to believe in the naturalness and purity of Tess' unwed motherhood. In Chapter 14 he shows her hard at work in the fields, still tenderly suckling her baby. Here she seems to be a woman in complete balance with the earth and motherhood. In the fields the other farm folk don't appear to hold anything against Tess, though they stare at her in church, the social institution of morality.
Tess is torn between her natural, motherly instincts and her religious and moral guilt over having given birth to an illegitimate child. She alternately holds her baby at a cool distance and smothers it with kisses. While Tess is enduring this agony- to love one's child but hate the circumstances of its conception is confusing- the narrative reminds us that in the scope of nature Tess is just a speck on the landscape: "She was not an existence- an experience, a passion, a structure of sensations, to anybody but herself." This experience is common to all of us when we find ourselves obsessed with our own problems, only to realize that no one else is paying us much attention.
Tess' baby becomes ill and is certain to die. Tess is overwrought that the child is unbaptized and therefore, according to church law, will find no home in heaven. Because her father refuses to let the preacher into the house, Tess ceremoniously baptizes the innocent child herself. Some of you will want to argue that a truly religious ceremony is one in which the heart and soul are sincere and pure. But to the society in which Tess lives, this baptism is blasphemy. Although the local parson shows his humanity by assuring her that she has saved her baby from Hell, he won't officiate at Sorrow's funeral simply because Tess' father insulted him by not letting him baptize the baby. The parson seems more concerned with saving face than with tending to Sorrow's soul. Because the parson will not officiate at the funeral service, poor, innocent Sorrow must be buried with suicides, criminals, and other social outcasts. The fate of this helpless baby may make you join with Hardy in questioning a society and a religion that treat a baby as if he were an evil individual. Such lack of sympathy makes us look critically at institutions that profess to be for human good but that have little to do with human needs or feelings.
When we experience the loss of a loved one, as Tess does with the death of Sorrow, the world looks different to us. Overnight, we change. Suddenly Tess finds herself not a child but a woman, aware of the fleetingness of physical charms, the transience of life, and the inevitability of death.
To dwell constantly on such thoughts makes it impossible to go on with life. Remember that Tess is still in her teens, brimming with life. To keep living means to keep hoping. Tess escapes Marlott and all its memories, and takes a job as a milkmaid at Talbothays Dairy in the distant Vale of Froom.
PHASE THREE: "THE RALLY"
Chapter 16 finds Tess surveying this new, unknown place as well as her own future, from the top of a hill. The Vale of Froom is also known as the Valley of the Big Dairies, in contrast to the Vale of Blackmoor, which is nicknamed the Vale of Small Dairies. Think of the contrasts implied in naming one region "small" and the other "big." Small, swampy Blackmoor Vale, the place where Tess was born and raised, is always described in narrow, confining terms. The "big" Vale of Froom, as we shall see, is more fertile than Blackmoor, more expansive, and more a part of the larger world. This name "big" suggests a place where Tess can grow up, test herself, and perhaps realize some of her hopes and dreams.
Although we can never escape our past, as Tess will soon realize, we can leave our homes and parents and begin to use our own experiences to grow into strong, responsible individuals. While the Vale of Froom gives Tess an invigorating shot of new life, it is also near the old d'Urberville estates and their grand burial vaults at Kingsbere Church. Hardy makes this connection of past (Kingsbere) and present (Talbothays) to show us that present and past, like man and nature, are and must be interrelated in our complex, ever-changing world.
Tess descends from the hilltop overlooking the Vale of Froom and enters the palpable rhythms of life at Talbothays Dairy. Mr. Crick, the chief dairyman, makes her feel comfortable in this buzzing farm community. How different this cheery, family-like enterprise is from Tess' isolated employment with the Stoke-d'Urbervilles, where her job as fowl mistress was limited to caring for a rich lady's pets! Talbothays has a much more important purpose- it supplies milk to countless people all over England. This gives Tess a feeling that she is doing something more important than indulging a wealthy lady's whims.
Think about the warmth, fertility, and generosity that practically ooze from Talbothays. Compare this later on to the farm at Flintcomb-Ash, where there's no community spirit, little fertility, and much dehumanizing industrialization. Flintcomb-Ash and the Stoke-d'Urbervilles' showplace farm both symbolize the modern age with its coldness, selfishness, and inhumanity. Talbothays, where Tess' "rallying" of spirit takes place, is an emblem of man and nature working together for the good of all.
NOTE: An ominous note rings when Tess alights at Talbothays. Suddenly the cows give less milk. The dairymen rationalize that the coming of a new hand, like Tess, always makes the cows nervous. Remember this bad omen as the novel progresses and more bad "signs" appear. You'll see that many of these omens actually foreshadow Tess' crises. Hardy uses omens and signs to show us that there is much more to life than cold, hard facts. Much of existence is a rare miracle that can't be explained scientifically.
On the other hand, Tess causes many of her own problems by being superstitious. Notice later on how she avoids seeing Angel's parents and getting their help because she has overheard his brothers' talking about her and considers it a bad omen.
Tess is shocked to see the young man she had so desperately wanted to dance with on that distant Club-walking Day. She learns that his name is Angel Clare. Though he's working among dairymen, he's of a higher social class. He's an outsider to this culture, learning its craft so he can start his own farm, perhaps in the Colonies. Tess is very curious about him but also afraid that because he saw her once at Marlott he'll somehow publicize her past and make her lose her new, safe haven.
This chapter introduces Tess to Angel Clare, the man she will come to love. The narrative gives us a "sneak" preview of his background and character, so we know more about him than does Tess. Like Tess, Angel's eyes are dreamy, as if he were forever dreaming of a wonderful future for himself and for the rest of mankind. Angel, though older than Tess, is even less certain than she as to how to fulfill his fantasies. He prefers to live with his thoughts of pagan nature worship and anti-church skepticism, than to tackle daily existence. More socially privileged than Tess, he has never had to struggle to survive. But like Tess he doesn't quite belong at Talbothays. Both are strangers in this region and both come from higher classes than the farmers they are living among. At Talbothays both Tess and Angel find themselves recovering from their tumultuous pasts. Perhaps a sense of having both suffered helps bring them together.
Angel first notices Tess at the breakfast table. It's clear he doesn't remember her from the club- walking dance. He sees her as an ideal, not a person, which will haunt their relationship for a long time. Angel calls her "a fresh and virginal daughter of nature." It's true that Tess is pure in the spiritual sense, but in the social Victorian context she is impure because she's not a virgin. Angel, of course, doesn't know this, but when he finds out it will color his perception of her purity. NOTE: As you read through Tess, consider the subtitle of Tess of the D'Urbervilles: A Pure Woman. It's probable that Hardy wants to tell us that purity is far more a matter of one's intent than of one's actions.
Angel and Tess finally have their first conversation. Tess discovers that Angel has been trying to please her and get her attention by arranging the cows so that she always milks the easiest one. Using his act of favoritism as an excuse to talk to him, Tess blushingly confronts Angel with the fact that his behavior is against the dairy's fairness policy.
If you've ever spoken to someone you cared for and were so nervous that everything you said sounded stupid, you'll know exactly how Tess feels about her tongue-tied conversation with Angel. Later that day she hears him playing his harp and, "like a fascinated bird," she tramps through an overgrown garden to listen outside his window.
NOTE: The garden images conjure up a sense of wild, sensual fertility. Weeds and plants grow in carefree abandon, and Tess doesn't mind getting "cuckoo-spittle" and "slug-slime" all over her hands and dress. She'll endure almost anything to hear Angel's unearthly music. The picture of rank, decaying plant life combined with images of a bird straining toward celestial music gives us a very vivid picture of Tess. She is clearly of the earth, without any shame in its creations. She is also reaching, as a bird, toward celestial music and higher experiences. Unlike Alec, who is completely animal passion, and Angel, who we shall see is completely intellectual vehemence, Tess is an exciting unity of spiritual and sensual impulses.
Angel notices Tess and once again they talk. Although almost strangers, they have a surprisingly serious conversation. They share their fears of an unknown future as well as their melancholy "ache of modernism." As Angel points out, this "new" ache is really just an old one in disguise- the ancient Greeks always talked about how it would have been better never to have been born.
Neither Angel nor Tess can understand why the other is so gloomy. (Haven't you ever been surprised that someone is unhappy when, in your eyes, they seem to have everything?) To Angel, Tess has a rare "rustic innocence." Tess sees him as a highly educated upper class young man with a world of opportunity before him.
It's clear from the very start that each idealizes the other. Though they have problems getting to know each other because of their preconceptions, Tess and Angel are strongly attracted to each other and share a feeling of isolation from society.
Tess, who has been hiding the d'Urberville heritage that has caused her so many problems, now thinks that it may make her more attractive to Angel. She asks Farmer Crick how Angel feels about old, aristocratic families. Crick surprises her when he says that Angel hates them and feels they deserve to die out. In Angel's eyes old blood is tired blood, and Tess is, relieved that she didn't tell him about her d'Urberville background.
Hardy traces the germination of Tess' and Angel's romance, comparing it to the fertile abundance of summer at Talbothays. In this rich, lively environment, each rediscovers his or her own strength and vitality. Although they find each other interesting, at this point they stand on "the debatable land between predilection [preference] and love," which, Hardy assures us, may be the most idyllic part of any romance. Right now they don't have any pressures on them- they don't have to consider how the other will fit into his or her life scheme. But is this a mature relationship? Don't Tess and Angel need both to accept and express their feelings and to consider their interdependence before they can become adults?
Herding cows at dawn draws them together in an isolated and euphoric fog. Hardy describes them as Adam and Eve, the first man and woman on earth, free from external moral structures and shame. As they walk through beautiful green pastures in misty morning light, Angel again idealizes Tess; the fog makes her look more like a spirit than a living girl. He teases her, calling her by the names of Greek goddesses, but she humbly asks him to call her by her real name- Tess. She doesn't want to be a magical muse to him, but a flesh-and-blood woman, vulnerable and fallible.
NOTE: Although this is a very short chapter, read it with much care because it's one of the finest examples of Hardy's using poetic voice to convey complex impressions and elusive feelings, rather than directly telling the story and advancing the plot. He does this by concentrating on the landscape and using it to color and shape our feelings toward the characters.
CHAPTERS 21 AND 22
While Angel and Tess play in an earthly paradise, mechanical problems on the farm (the butter won't go through the churn) draw them back to real life. Local superstition has it that the "butter won't come" because someone on the farm is in love. This omen certainly applies to Angel and Tess, though they may not yet be aware of it.
Many omens and signs in Tess foreshadow actions and crises. Because the dairy is paralyzed by this churning problem, Mr. Crick tells a true story of love gone sour. One of their farmhands, Jack Dollop, had to hide in the churn when the mother of a girl he had seduced came to force him to marry her. Everybody laughs at the funny story, except Tess, who identifies with the misled girl. Once again the external world reflects her inner state- even the sun at dusk, so often beautiful to her, is "now ugly to her, like a great inflamed wound in the sky." What a painfully different aspect of nature this is compared to the lovely, ecstatic one shown in the last chapter! Hardy shows us that our emotional changes can be just as extreme as changes in the weather- when a sunny day can become a blinding rainstorm in seconds.
There may have been times in your life when you and your friends were all romantically interested in the same person. If you were good friends, like Tess and the dairymaids Izz, Retty, and Marian, there probably wasn't too much jealousy or competition among you. The three milkmaids sharing a bedroom with Tess all adore Angel Clare, but knowing that Tess is his favorite they accept their fate, true to the peasant code.
NOTE: These three girls act like a Greek chorus amplifying Tess' affection and showing us the comical side of love that our two protagonists are too serious-minded to appreciate. Hardy uses Greek imagery to show us that Fate, or a force beyond our control, has a great deal to do with our destinies.
The dairymaids' bedroom scene shows us how different Tess is from her girlfriends. Her passions are deeper, as is her sense of doom. She's convinced she can't have Angel, not because of her poor social background, but because she's not a virgin. Tess decides to deflect Angel's interest in her by drawing him toward the other dairymaids, whom she feels are more worthy than she. (Does Tess have the right to decide whom Angel is to be interested in? Isn't her martyrdom a bit egotistical?)
The following day Tess and the other workers are thrust back into real life, for there's another crisis at the farm- garlic in the butter! All hands hunt the wide pastures for the guilty garlic plants. Angel gently pursues Tess while she tries unsuccessfully to draw his attention to the other dairymaids.
Did you ever find yourself falling in love with someone by watching how kindly he or she treats others? Tess is amazed by how respectfully Angel treats the other girls, whom he knows are desperately in love with him. After her experience with Alec, Tess expects all men to take advantage of women. Angel doesn't seem to see women as prey, but as individuals deserving consideration and respect.
Angel's gallantry continues in this chapter, but we'll have to see if it's as selfless as Tess thinks. After a summer downpour Angel carries each of the milkmaids over a huge pool of water so they can get to church clean and on time. When at last he carries Tess, he whispers, "Three Leahs to get to one Rachel," meaning that he helped the other girls so he could help her. Angel is not as altruistic as Tess had believed, but who is when one is in love?
Later that night in their bedroom, one of the dairymaids reveals that Angel is promised to a preacher's daughter named Mercy Chant. What a shame, as Tess is beginning to succumb to her love for Angel. Now she resolves to forget the whole thing. Cynically, she views their relationship as just another summer fling for gentleman Angel Clare.
"Amid the oozing fatness and warm ferments of the Var Vale, at a season when the rush of juices could almost be heard below the hiss of fertilization," Angel does just what Tess does not expect- he declares his love for her.
Like love itself, the magic of this chapter has little to do with what the lovers say to one another but concentrates on an erotic charge in the air. Like most lovers about to reveal their feelings for the first time, they can barely get any words out. We experience their love through Hardy's descriptions of the land, like the one quoted above. These passages evoke sensations of passion and erotic languor.
Meanwhile everyday life plods on. Farmer Crick milks his cows, unaware that a confession of eternal love is occurring a few yards away. Angel makes his proclamation practically under the udders of a cow. This is a rather humorous setting, pointing up love's charming innocence as well as its physical basis- an aspect that the delicate Angel tries to avoid. While he envelops Tess in his arms, she's in certain peril of her cow knocking over the milking pail. She uses this danger as an excuse to break free of Angel's embrace. Actually she's afraid that her own emotions and desires will overcome her. It's also possible that she doesn't trust Angel's love and fears that she may place herself in a compromising position if she returns his affection. Whatever her hesitations, however, it's clear that Angel's protestation of love for Tess has changed the world for both of them. Angel's vow of love to Tess has changed how they see not only themselves but everything around them. They begin to view life not as isolated beings but in terms of each other. Reality seems fuller, heightened, because they are seeing it with two sets of starry eyes.
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© Copyright 1984 by Barron's Educational Series, Inc.