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"The Woman Pays" or: Fate Represented by the Male Sex in Hardy's Tess of the D'Urbervilles

How Tess Durbeyfield struggles against the patriarchal world in which she lives.

?The Woman Pays?
Fate Represented by the Male Sex in Hardy?s [u]Tess of the D?Urbervilles[/u]

Christina Grabner
May 9, 2003


Chapter 1: Is Tess a Feminist?
Chapter 2: Which Category of Female Characters Does Tess Belong to
Chapter 3: Tess and the Patriarchal World She Lives in
Chapter 4: Tess?s ?Struggle? against Fate Represented by Men Chapter 5: A Modern Woman?s Reading of [u]Tess of the D?Urbervilles [/u]


Since I regard the psychological questions raised by Hardy in Tess of the D?Urbervilles (henceforth referred to as TU) sufficiently topical, I have decided to investigate this novel of gender-issues and withheld emancipation in a feminist, hermeneutic-interpretative and contrastive approach. I will not only compare Tess and her fellow-characters with protagonists of other Wessex-novels (Jude the Obscure-JO, Under the Greenwood Tree-UGWT, The Mayor of Casterbridge-MC, Far From the Madding Crowd-FFMC), but also mention echoes found in the works of Shakespeare and Richardson.

In my attempt to focus on Tess?s tragical development due to her being a woman I will start with throwing a light on her personality and try to prove that she is an exceptional heroine standing at the edge of decline between two eras (the Victorian Age and the period of Modernism). Furthermore, I will take a close look on the causes of her failure which are ? to my mind ? the men in her life (especially Alec and Angel) whom Fate (ab)uses as instruments for Tess?s destruction.
To be able to do so, I am, first, going to explain the prerequisites of Tess?s failure which are embodied by the patriarchal system of her time, its values and norms.
Last, but not least, I will reflect on my personal reading of TU as a 21st century-woman outlining the relevance of Hardy?s themes to the present and attempting to place the novel among the wide range of other works of emancipation which were written after Hardy?s productive literary career.
In a conclusion, I will summarize my findings and round my paper up by connecting my title to the results of my investigation.

[b]Chapter 1: Is Tess a Feminist?[/b]

There are hints in the novel which clearly demonstrate that Tess possesses certain character traits which earlier female figures ?moulded? in Hardy?s literary ?workshop? do not show the tiniest glimpse of. Due to this, some critics state that Hardy?s intention was to foster ?sexual revolution? by writing emancipatory novels (cf. Reitz 275).
Even if Tess Durbeyfield is not as vain and fickle as Fancy Day in Under the Greenwood Tree or Bathsheba Everdene in Far from the Madding Crowd and seems to have stronger philosophical views of life and man?s ? respectively, woman?s ? place in the universe, I do not agree with Reitz and Cunningham at all (cf. 98 and Reitz 275). Both, Sue Bridehead who is often considered as the ?first feminist heroine? in English fiction (Preface to Jude the Obscure 8 f.) and Tess, fall victim to a restrictive marriage law and are sexually and socially suppressed.

It is true that Hardy paints a very realistic social portrait of his time including ?double standard? (cf. Reitz 275) and false religious devotion entailing in fanaticism and blind obedience, however, he does not by any of his narrator?s or character?s utterances explicitly favour female liberation.
And if we take account of biographical writings which report his personal opinion on female suffrage and women denying their traditional role as devoted wives and mothers (cf. Showalter 393), we cannot any longer seriously believe that Hardy is a spokesman of an early women?s rights movement.

Sue and Tess are both punished cruelly for their ?break of rules? ? the former for having left her legal husband to live with the man she loves in ?wild unison? (cf. JO 305), and the latter for having had premarital intercourse with Alec Stoke-D?Urberville (cf. TU 119) and born an illegitimate child (cf. ibid. 140), although she is not guilty, since she has been seduced and raped.

Both protagonists fit perfectly well into the melodramatic pattern of the seduced, fallen woman whose ?failure? can only be expiated by death, suicide or banning from society (cf. Reitz 281).
Character features which identify Tess clearly as a non-feminist who rather meets romantic than modernist clich?s are the following ones: first and foremost, her extraordinary beauty which frequently awakens male desire, secondly, her absolute purity in terms of moral integrity or asexuality and thirdly, her superhuman altruism which often leads her to forget about her own misery compared to the sufferings of other humble creatures, called her ?Apostolic Charity? by Hardy?s narrator (TU 312).
All these properties place the protagonist among the long line of classical romantic heroines whose striking qualities are heavenly physical attraction, total ignorance of sexual matters, innocence, abundant benevolence and accomplishment (cf. ibid. 58). These are also the idealised characteristics of the ?Victorian Angel of the House? (Poovey 34),of which Elizabeth-Jane of the MC is another illustrating example.

A reflecting mind can easily gather from a comparison of these classical ideals with Tess or Sue that neither of them can be said to be a feminist. Even Reitz admits on page 276 of his critical essay that Hardy?s last two novels offer sufficient evidence of his rather conservative attitude towards the role of women in society and family.
Hardy rather seems to prefer the fostering of the emancipation of a new genre, namely the realistic-naturalistic problem-play disguised as a novel, than to claim equal sexual and social rights for women (cf. ibid. 279 f.). He never really questions the norms of the patriarchal system in TU, for he considers it essential for an author to merely ?reflect [?] life as it is? including ?the relations of the sexes? and ?catastrophes based upon [them]? (ibid. 278) without commenting on their justice or cruelty.

I am convinced that most modern-thinking women and men would agree that neither a feminist nor an emancipated adult woman only defines herself through
her role as a subordinate wife. Nor would she give up her freedom of thinking and speaking from the only motive of pleasing her husband or escaping his anger. Patient endurance and passive suffering do certainly not represent the typical qualities of a modern, self-confident woman.
Since Tess, and finally even Sue, completely surrender to the male code of marriage by subordinating their individual opinions and innate free will to Fate ? represented by Tess?s father, Alec, Angel, the priest who refuses to bury Sorrow in holy ground, her employer exploiting her to the extreme, Phillotson, the church through Felix and Cuthbert, Gillingham, the conservative boarding school at Melchester - , they are much more similar to the glorified representatives of the ?weaker sex? we find in romantic novels than to the ?New Women? of feminist writings.

Tess never really dares to stand up and fight against Angel?s sudden reactionary views of her as a fallen woman not worthy to share his life any longer. Her speechlessness is as amazing to a modern reader as is Bathsheba?s, when Boldwood asks her if she likes him, ?It is difficult for a woman to define her feelings in language which is chiefly made by men to express theirs.? (FFMC 356).
Even in her philosophical views and religious beliefs she prefers to copy Angel?s attitude instead of expressing her own opinion based on hard lessons of experience of life. Even the insensitive Alec takes notice of her total devotion to her husband and sarcastically remarks on it, once he has decided to make her his wife (cf. TU 410).

[b]Chapter 2: Which Category of Female Characters Does Tess Belong to?[/b]

Although Tess is by no means a feminist, she has at least the psychological strength to follow the voice of her conscience (cf. Reitz 292 f.) and sometimes really takes ethically responsible decisions, as e.g. when she determines not to keep her secret hidden any longer, but build the happiness of her matrimony on honesty, sincerity and a pure conscience, so that her beloved husband Angel would be able to respect her. What she achieves by doing so is the exact opposite of her expectations: he immediately starts to despise her and lets himself guide by the extremely reactionary forces he condemned so sharply during their stay together in the ?Valley of the Great Dairies? (TU 156, 290 f., 298 f.).
In spite of this dooming risk, Tess selects the harder, stony path and does not compromise by not telling the truth only in order to be socially accepted and materially secure, as her mother suggests in her letter in answer to her wedding announcement (cf. Reitz 293, TU 256).

However, on the other hand, Tess never really fights for her love and is essentially marked by ?Patience, that blending of moral courage with physical timidity? (ibid. 360) which means that she simply learns to accept circumstances as they are, never disputes Providence or God and either avoids men (cf. ibid. 397, 354) or, if she has to depend on them for earning her humble living, passively subdues herself to their wishes and exploitation of her (cf. ibid. 405).
Moreover, she blames herself for all the misery her family and herself have to suffer from. Due to this, she takes care of ?her siblings? (ibid. 61), fetches her irresponsible, drunken parents from the village inn (ibid. 62), feels guilty of having murdered the family horse (ibid. 63) and even puts the blame for Alec?s cheating and raping her on herself (!) (ibid. 133, 303, 310). Butler formulates this disposition of character clearly as one of ?assum[?ing] guilt where the blame is not really hers, [even] capable of wishing that she had not been born? (106).

Nonetheless, many passages of the novel prove that Tess does not lack inherent pride which often guides the steps she takes or does not take. No matter, whether this quality is part of her natural socialisation or the effect of her father?s obsession and constant emphasis on his descent from the ancient aristocratic family of the D?Urbervilles (from whom the Durbeyfields even inherited a seal and silver spoon), it becomes frequently obvious in her refusal to appeal to Angel to come back to her, to ask his father for money, to marry Alec in the beginning or accept any financial support for the baby and herself from him (cf. ibid. 51, 74, 125, 346 f., 415, 438 f.).
Tess even prefers labouring hard on the threshing machine to depending on Alec?s intervention and support (cf. ibid. 405). All these character features are very praiseworthy and would certainly suit an emancipated woman of the present.

But one must not forget that Tess?s pride mostly brings about more misery, as well as increased dependence and humiliation, so that she, finally, cannot even help marrying her arch-enemy Stoke-D?Urberville (cf. ibid. 466). Even if she does so due to having lost her faith in Angel?s love and forgiving her and a sense of duty towards her impoverished, homeless family, one cannot deny that in marrying her devilish violator she by no means acts wisely and independently, since thereby she consents to give up every chance of freedom and self-determination by becoming his wife or ?possession?.
Even Angel once refers to her as his future ?property? (ibid. 268) and ?think[s] to himself [?] how careful he would have to be of her when she depended for her happiness entirely on him? (ibid. 261). In addition to this, Alec has never ceased to regard her as his possession and even after having been informed that she was a married woman predicts that he ?will be [her] master again? (ibid. 412). Tess?s reaction is once more timid speechlessness (cf. ibid. 412).

Butler draws a parallel between Tess and Shakespeare?s Desdemona, for both lack dynamic action and resoluteness. They share a certain ?tragic resignation [?] to [their] death [?] and [?] great devotion to [?] their husband[s]? (107) ? an observation which I consider as exact. The following extracts from the novel shall give evidence of the statement above:
After Angel has explained to her that they should separate to prevent having children together who could be damaged by a discovery of her terrible secret, ?[s]he [?] could not [at all] withstand his argument.? (TU 314).

[q]At breakfast, and while they [Angel and she] were packing the few remaining
articles, he showed his weariness from the night?s effort so unmistakably that
Tess was on the point of revealing all that had happened [his nightmare and
sleepwalking of the preceding night]; but the reflection that it would anger
him, grieve him, stultify him, to know that he had instinctively manifested a
fondness for her of which his common-sense did not approve; that his inclina-
tion had compromised his dignity when reason slept, again deterred her. It was
too much like laughing at a man when sober for his errative deeds during into-
xication.? (ibid. 321 f.)[/q]

[q]?She took these reproaches [Angel blaming her for having told her of her descent and secret] in their bulk simply, not in their particulars; he did not love her as he had loved her hitherto, and to all else she was indifferent.? (ibid. 303).[/q]

[q]There was, it is true, underneath a back current of sympathy through which a
woman of the world might have conquered him [Angel]. But Tess did not
think of this; she took everything as her deserts, and hardly opened her
mouth. The firmness of her devotion to him was indeed almost pitiful; quick-
tempered as she naturally was, nothing that he could say made her unseemly;
she sought not her own; was not provoked; thought no evil of his treatment of
her. (ibid. 312)[/q]

[q] ?She tried to pray to God, but it was her husband who really had her supplication. Her idolatry of this man was such that she herself almost feared it to be ill-omened.? (ibid. 281).

These quotations demonstrate that Tess adores Angel and is not strong enough to stand up against him.

Tess, furthermore, only absorbs Angel?s philosophy and does not express her own opinion on matters of life and marriage, except that she thinks she is doomed to be
punished and that her matrimony might be destroyed by an evil force she cannot clearly identify (cf. ibid. 180 f.). Compared to her, Sue Bridehead is a bit more intellectually independent (cf. Williams 95) and not as afraid of men as Tess (cf. ibid. 94), however, she also fails.

In spite of all this, Williams admires Tess for her ?dignified reticence [?] patient fortitude [and] resoluteness? (83 f.). I cannot find any real resolution in Tess ? even if she refuses Alec twice before consenting to his marriage proposal (!), she could do it out of purely fearful instinct. Murder normally also requires some faculty of determination, but if we read the scene closely, we will discover that Tess commits the crime in a state of total despair after having realised that Angel has come back to live with her and love her at last and that Alec has betrayed her once more in telling her she could not trust in her legal husband (cf. TU 466 f., 469).

Tess, is certainly no second ?Joan of Arc?, because she does not even psychologically overcome the social and sexual limits of her time and culture and therefore, cannot be described as brave in action and belief (cf. Williams 85 f.).
In her desperate letter to Angel we can distinctly see that Tess looks for slavery, and not married life on an equal basis of mutual understanding. She, in fact, humbles herself a great deal when she writes, ?I would be content, ay, glad, to live with you as your servant, if I may not as your wife; so that I could only be near you, and get glimpses of you, and think of you as mine.? (TU 418).

Moreover, Tess often thinks she does not deserve happiness and constantly looks out for some ill-omen which could destroy her scarce moments of release (cf. ibid. 108, 271, 69, 54 f., 282).

Butler does not only describe the milkmaid as an asexual being (cf. 133), but also compares her to the biblical Job who is also ?[c]aught in the web of fate? and does not overcome his ?stoicism?, or rather ?masochism? (108).
Nevertheless, Tess is not only a totally weak masochist lacking any strength and courage, but rather a complex, paradoxical being full of contradictions, for she preserves within herself a will to survive beside a strong inclination to die, a warm, devoted love beside estrangement, purity beside sensuality (cf. ibid. 292).
In fact, Tess and Sue have not yet developed into the role of ?New Woman?, but rather resemble those modern women who claim to be emancipated, but do not take any active steps to eliminate sexism and suppression and thereby, secretely hold up the patriarchal system by electing machos, marrying dominant men, educating their sons according to old-fashioned role-clich?s aso. asf.
Perhaps this phenomenon is due to a lack of dynamic examples in the past. Tess?s ancestresses were certainly no useful models for her. Quite opposedly to setting an example, her mother keeps her completely ignorant by not telling her about the snares of aggressive, lecherous men (cf. TU 131). So Tess finds herself at a transitory stage bridging the gap between reactionary past clich?s and the new-born ?baby? of female emancipation.

[b]Chapter 3: Tess and the Patriarchal World She Lives in[/b]

According to Reitz, it is no crisis within herself which causes Tess?s social ?failure? and death, but the system of values she lives in which brings the catastrophe from outside. And amazingly, Hardy never questions this strict code of norms. The above-mentioned critic calls it a ?polarity of good and bad? which dictates human behaviour and helps to interpret actions as right or wrong (cf. 285).
Under the impact of such a rigid moral code Tess behaves inadequately to the utmost degree.

Williams hints at the fact that Hardy strongly believed in the ?subordination [of women] to physical laws which no human effort can control? (99) and which ?constitut[? ed] an insurmountable barrier between the two sexes? (98).
This attitude can be underlined by several extracts from the Wessex novels which reveal the author?s, respectively the narrator?s, view of marriage and woman?s condemnation to a subordinate, humble existence. The latter becomes clearly evident in the dormitory scene of JO:

[q]Half-an-hour later they all lay in their cubicles, their tender feminine faces up-
turned to the flaring gas-jets which at intervals stretched down the long dormi-
tories, every face bearing the legend ?The Weaker? upon it, as the penalty of
the sex wherein they were moulded, which by no possible exertion of their
willing hearts and abilities could be made strong while the inexorable laws of
nature remain what they are. They formed a pretty, suggestive, pathetic sight,
of whose pathos and beauty they were themselves unconscious, and would not
discover till, amid the storms and strains of after-years, with their injustice,
loneliness, child-bearing, and bereavement, their minds would revert to this
experience as to something which had been allowed to slip past them insuff?-
ciently regarded. (168)[/q]

Another example of Hardy?s subjective view of matrimony as a ?torture-chamber? (cf. Butler 133), especially for wives, becomes evident in the conversation between Sue and Jude in which they talk about marrying after their respective divorces. Jude strikes a balance by uttering, ??Our experiences of matrimony with others have not been encouraging, I own.?? (308) whereupon she replies, ?I think I should begin to be afraid of you, Jude, the moment you had contracted to cherish me under a Government stamp, and I was licensed to be loved on the premises by you ? Ugh, how horrible and sordid!? (ibid.).

This scene reminds me of a modern version of a less tragical love story between Hugh Grant acting a British dandy falling in love with an American lady who, first, does not marry him, although she is infatuated with him, but becomes the wife of an aristocratic Scotsman who disappoints her. Both, Hugh Grant and the disillusioned lady confess to each other that they are afraid of marriage, because it could destroy their respect for and devotion to each other. However, it is evident that the woman and the man can look back on several love affairs, whereas Sue and Jude had only one spouse before starting to live under the same roof.
And naturally, there is a happy end to the film, but what struck me most when I saw it for the first time: the lover finally asks his just-divorced mistress, after he has escaped an unwise wedding by the skin of his teeth, ?Would you agree not to marry me?? and she happily consents to living with him without signing a contract.

Additionally, Hardy obiously thought a lot about marriage and his omniscient narrator informs us that e.g.

[q][Jude?s and Arabella?s] lives were ruined, [?]; ruined by the fundamental
error of their matrimonial union: that of having based a permanent contract
on a temporary feeling which had no necessary connexion with affinities
that alone render a life-long comradeship tolerable.? (ibid. 81).[/q]

And, later, when Jude meets Sue as Phillotson?s wife he remarks, ?Wifedom has not yet squashed you up and digested you in its vast maw as an atom which has no further individuality.? (ibid. 226).

Ingham confirms this harsh view of the holy bond by stating that ?married women [were] non-existen[t], had [no] control of their own property and [no] right to legal custody of children and were totally free [?] from materialistic taint? (10).

Apart from this, the average reader of the Victorian Age was ?a tender mother, an industrious housekeeper, a judicious mistress? (11) not being entitled to vote, having no occupation outside of her home and no access to higher education. Moreover, innocent girl-subscribers had to be kept ignorant of sexual matters and prevented from becoming aware of themselves as sexual or sensual beings. Therefore, the heroines of the novels they read also had to stick to these conventions or die.

By being raped and bearing an illegitimate child Tess leaves the conventional code of female behaviour for the first time and is punished by society, respectively men representing the patriarchal system. Driven by her sincerity she confesses her secret which represents her second break of an unwritten moral law and is severely stricken by losing her husband almost for good. And in the end, when hope has at last yielded to despair she disobeys a commandment which is simultaneously religious and secular. For doing so she has to pay with her life and is perhaps lost forever (?).

Since fate disguised as Alec, Angel and the patriarchal society she is born into strike her so mercilessly, she cannot help losing her identification with her conventional role as a woman. She does not voluntarily give it up. She is not prepared for an outcast?s life. She simply has to face evil, when it attacks her on her most vulnerable side ? her innocence and naivet?. This seems to be the work of a devil testing an angel by forcing her to ?drain the cup of bitterness to the dregs?.

Another male invention ? machines ? also contribute to the torture of Tess, the pure, who is enslaved to do mechanical work which is too hard for a woman and, through its boring regularity, awakens the image of shift-work at the conveyor-belt.

[b]Chapter 4: Tess?s ?Struggle? against Fate Represented by Men[/b]

Bradford maintains that in Hardy?s novels the tragical course of the protagonists and antagonists is always steered by ?coincidence, chance and fate? (291) and that ?the insignificance of man against the universe? (290) and the ?essential loneliness of the individual human existence? (ibid.) are elaborated to the extreme.

This attitude is underlined by Williams?s mentioning ?a circumstantial cul-de-sac? into which Tess is ?led? and which is the ?resultant of forces which play a prominent part in the dynamics of human life? (83).

Reitz also evokes ?Fate? when he categorizes Tess of the D?Urbervilles as a ?drama of defeat? in which an ?innocent protagonist becomes Fate?s victim and also the victim of a reckless villain.? (283 f.).

However, we do not necessarily have to study the critics to prove that Providence, destiny and fate play a crucial part in the decline of Hardy?s tragical heroines and heroes. The primary text itself offers enough evidence for this statement. Even the primitive country-girl Marian comes to the conclusion that ??it must be something outside?? Tess and Angel making her fellow-milkmaid so miserable.? (TU 358).
Almost at the beginning (in chapter V), after Tess has happened to meet Alec for the first time, the narrator points out how significant this unforeseen encounter is and even foreshadows some ill consequences.

[q]Thus the thing began. Had she perceived this meeting?s import she might have asked why she was doomed to be seen and coveted that day by the wrong man, and not by some other man, the right and desired one in all respects ? (ibid. 82). [/q]

[q][I]t was not the two halves of a perfect whole that confronted each
other at the perfect moment; a missing counterpart wandered in-
dependently about the earth waiting in crass obtuseness till the
late time came. Out of which maladroit delay sprang anxieties,
disappointments, shocks, catastrophes, and passing-strange
destinies. (ibid. 83)[/q]

Or when the narrator mentions that Tess originally wanted to become a teacher he adds, ?but the fates seemed to decide otherwise.? (ibid. 88).

Of course, it is also intervening fate which leaves Tess in the lurch and prevents the protective forces of Heaven to come to her rescue, when Alec plays his pitiless trick on her.

[q]But, might some say, where was Tess?s guardian angel? where was
the providence of her simple faith? Perhaps, like that other god of whom the ironical Tishbite spoke, he was talking, or he was pursuing, or he was in a journey, or he was sleeping and not to be
Why it was that upon this beautiful feminine tissue, sensitive as
gossamer, and practically blank as snow yet, there should have
been traced such a coarse pattern as it was doomed to receive:
why so often the coarse appropriates the finer thus, the wrong
man the woman, the wrong woman the man, many thousand
years of analytical philosophy have failed to explain to our sense
of order.
[?] ?It was to be.? (ibid. 119).[/q]

And again Providence plays her sport with Tess, the bride, when she tries to confess to Angel every detail of her pre-marital experience by writing a note to him which she secretely slips under his door at night. The next day Tess realises that he has not found it, looks for it and destroys it. Thereby she eliminates her last chance to tell him the truth before their wedding (cf. ibid. 275, 277).

From the quotations above we could gain the impression that in Hardy?s fiction it is always an unknown, dangerous force which arbitrarily decides to either ruin an individual or let her/him prosper. However, we can find many proofs for the fact that Hardy preferably introduces Fate disguised as male characters whose acting or not acting determines the heroine?s destiny.

Tess actually has to face and endure ?forces which often find an embodiment in men? (Williams 103), namely in Alec - a mere shadow of the classical feudal master who enslaves people, in Angel who suppresses his love for her and suddenly starts obeying conventional rules he does not really believe in, in her own father who is a drunkard and does not give a damn for her or the other family-members? wellfare, in Farmer Groby who takes revenge for her husband?s once insulting him by forcing her to work like an ox, in the priest at her home village who refuses to offer a Christian funeral to her baby ?Sorrow the Undesired? (TU 146) and in Felix and Cuthbert who represent Christianity and antiquated church dogmas.

Reitz draws the constellation of the central characters in TU as a classical triangle consisting of the melodramatic heroine (Tess), her lover (Angel) and a villain (Alec) (cf. 201).
On the one hand, Angel (note his name!) resembles the romantic heroes of the former Age of Sensibility (cf. Richardson?s Sir Charles Grandison), while on the contrary, the seductive Alec appears like the devil incarnate. His satanistic personality is clearly hinted at in the scene in which Alec compells Tess to take an oath not to seduce him any more by her striking looks and erotic radiance. Unwillingly, Tess obeys to this command and swears. While doing so, she is not at all aware of the fact that the so-called ?Holy Cross? is not Christ?s crucifix, but the devil?s haunting place or as the passing shepherd puts it, ??Tis a thing of ill-omen, Miss. It was put up in wuld times by the relations of a malefactor who was tortured there by nailing his hand to a post and afterwards hung. [?] They say he sold his soul to the devil, and that he walks at times.?? (ibid. 391).
So the na?ve protagonist unconsciously makes a deal with the Master of Evil.

In a preceding chapter I have already mentioned that women had long been considered as the personal property of their husbands and masters, before Hardy started to write TU. Particularly the upper classes represented by feudal masters often brutally exercised their social and financial power over their servants. Among the great variety of humiliations a Lord was allowed to inflict on his female housemaids was to possess them physically (cf. Richardson?s Pamela).
Although Alec Stoke-D?Urberville is no genuine aristocrat, but only stole the honoured name by betrayal (TU 285 f.), he behaves precisely as his noble literary predecessors of early romanticism did. As soon as he realises that Tess refuses him when he has converted himself to marry her, he attempts to purchase her like a slave and manipulates her by giving presents to her landless family (TU 286).

Certainly, Angel Clare never exploits or oppresses Tess in the way Alec does, but neither is he able to prevent fate from destroying his wife, nor is he a real support to her in her darkest moments of suffering and depression.
In fact, he even seems to assist the villain?s cruel work on Tess?s transformation into a victim by his frequent absence at crucial instants (when Tess is raped by Alec; owing to his stay in Brazil), by taking the wrong decisions (separating from his devoted wife when she most needs him; failing economically which prolongs his absence enormously) and by missing chances he does not get a second time (when he does not select Tess as a dance partner at the May dance; by not finding the note of confession before their wedding). So Angel indeed more often endangers Tess?s happiness than fosters it.
Time plays an essential part in the novel: If the right moment is missed, you cannot catch up any more. ??It is too late,?? Tess utters when Angel finds her at last at Sandbourne and, to his terror, discovers that his beloved one has already married Alec (ibid. 466).

Angel on the whole is described as a rather weak male character, reminding the critic of similarly asexual romantic protagonists. When the narrator introduces him to the reader shortly after Tess?s arrival at Talbothays, he characterizes him as follows,

[q]Angel Clare rises out of the past not altogether as a distinct figure, but
as an appreciative voice, a long regard of fixed, abstracted eyes, and
a mobility of mouth somewhat too small and delicately lined for a man?s,
though with an unexpectedly firm close of the lower lip now and then;
enough to do away with any inference of indecision. Nevertheless, some-
thing nebulous, preoccupied, vague, in his bearing and regard, marked
him as one who probably had no very definite aim or concern about his
material future.

[?] Angel, [?] was the only son who had not taken a University degree,
though he was the single one of them [Vicar Clare?s three sons] whose
early promise might have done full justice to an academical training.
(ibid. 169).[/q]

While he gets to know Tess during her common work at dairyman Crick?s farm, he repeatedly appears as the typical sentimental hero who glorifies Tess?s femininity and wanders in a world of dream and utopia.

[q]Being so often [?] the first two persons to get up at the dairy-house, they
seemed to themselves the first persons up of all the world. In these early
days of her residence here Tess did not skim, but went out of doors at
once after rising, where he was generally awaiting her. The spectral, half-
compounded, aqueous light which pervaded the open mead, impressed
them with a feeling of isolation, as if they were Adam and Eve. At this
dim inceptive stage of the day Tess seemed to Clare to exhibit a dignified
largeness both of disposition and physique, an almost regnant power, pos-
sibly because he knew that at that preternatural time hardly any woman so
well endowed in person as she was likely to be walking in the open air
within the boundaries of his horizon;
[?] She looked ghostly, as if she were merely a soul at large. [?]
It was then, [?] that she impressed him most deeply. She was no longer
the milkmaid, but a visionary essence of woman ? a whole sex condensed
into one typical form. He called her Artemis, Demeter, and other fanciful
names [?]. (ibid. 186 f.)[/q]

Another scene in which Angel appears rather weak and helpless is the one in which he meets Izz by chance when returning to the ancient D? Urberville farmhouse where Tess and he spent their wedding night and asks Izz to accompany him to Brazil. His motives for doing so might be loneliness or unwillingness to face the facts and admit to himself that he has failed as a husband and comrade. In any case, the reader gets the impression of Angel as a coward when he decides to take Izz home to get her luggage ready for the voyage ? a woman whom he has never loved.
Apart from this, we can clearly discover his philosophy of double standard here. The night before he cruelly punished his wife with indifference for a law-break she is not responsible for, and within some hours only he determines to leave the country with a single milkmaid whom he does not have the least intention to marry. He even explicitly says so (ibid. 343).
In addition to this, if we remember Tess?s and Angel?s wedding night, we can come to the same conclusion. Does not he tell her of his moral slip(s) before their marriage first? And does not he expect her to fully understand his one and only ?mistake? only due to the fact that he was born as a man? (ibid. 292)
Unfortunately, this is the only explanation we can find for his behaviour: Angel is not free of the prejudices of his sex, time and culture.

Even if we could state that Angel Clare?s love for Tess is pure and honest in its core, his heart or rather mind already seems to be full of doubt about their common future, when he pays a visit to his family at his birthplace.

[q]He loved her; ought he to marry her? Dared he to marry her? What would
his mother and his brothers say? What would he himself say a couple of
years after the event? That would depend upon whether the germs of staunch
comradeship underlay the temporary emotion, or whether it were a sensuous
joy in her form only, with no substratum of everlastingness. (ibid. 216)[/q]

These are certainly not the thoughts of a man who exactly knows what he wants in

Moreover, Angel first, appears to ?shrink back into the bloodless cant and hypocrisy of the class from which he imagines he had freed himself? (Alvarez in the Preface to TU 20) and finally, even yields to a vague, doubtful future with Tess?s younger sister as his wife ? an imperfect substitute for Tess who, according to Izz, ?would have laid down her life for [him].? (TU 343).

As a conclusion of this character analysis of Angel it seems to me that Tess?s husband has to undergo a process of ?unmanning? similar to the one which Mayor Henchard has to go through and which transforms him decidedly until he reaches a state of forlornness and sensitive feeling (cf. Showalter 394 ff.).
During the first phase of their ?emasculation? both men experience total estrangement from their wives and female values. Then, in the second phase, they are practically purified by hardships and losses which convert them into human beings realising their respective fault. And finally, the female voice calls them back or returns to them, leaving them a tiny sparkle of hope which is eliminated by brutal destiny and a chain reaction of consequences they cannot undo any more.

Arrived at this stage of interpretation we could again detect a similarity to Shakespeare?s Othello whose jealous temperament once aroused by Iago?s sly intrigue cannot be mitigated any more and breaks out excessively in his last act of wife-murder (cf. Shakespeare 1010). Therefore, it can be stated that the essence of tragedy also underlies Hardy?s novels and that men and male institutions are the dominant agents of his heroines? terrible fates.

[b]Chapter 5: A Modern Woman?s Reading of [u]Tess of the D?Urbervilles[/u][/b]

As I do not at all meet the highly praised qualities of the average female reader of Tess of the D?Urbervilles and Jude the Obscure at the time of their creation, among which there are: ?aspir[ation] to womanliness, ignoran[ce], innocen[ce] of the physiological facts about sex, [?] gent[ility], pi[ety] [?and] intellectual[?] unrobust[ness]? (Ingham 12), I tend to view Tess in a completely different light than those much-honoured ancestresses.

To my mind, both novels clearly hint at the misogyny of the Victorian and early Modernist eras during which woman was still regarded as the supplement of man and, as such, treated as an inferior creature suffering from a lack of intellectual faculties and defined as a sexless, unreasonable being which has to be subdued, guided and exploited as a mother, wife and daughter.

I cannot find any hint in Hardy?s fiction that points out his ambitious activity for the feminist movement or even his understanding of individualistic women trying to free themselves from the classical burdens of wifehood and child-bearing. In his novels all individual strife (if it is there) fails and, neither modernist female characters, nor tolerant male figures, overcome Nature and her laws or patriarchal society.

Since the 20th century has not brought about complete emancipation, neither of the female sex nor of discriminated ethnical groups (although we have already achieved a lot, but not enough), the fight is not over yet. Or does the Catholic Church accept the equality of women when it comes to birth control, abortion or the ?sacred cow? of ordination? And do companies and economic institutions promote and pay women equally? The painful answer to these questions is still no.

All this evidence, therefore, motivates my conclusion that Tess Durbeyfield is neither a feminist nor a romantically glorified divinity, but rather an ambivalent creation full of paradoxes set into a time and place of transition, who is not yet mature enough to defend herself against the attacks of reactionary forces, but still appears stronger and wiser than the heroines of romantic fiction.


?The Woman Pays? with everything she is, has and represents. This is sadly true for Tess Durbeyfield, Sue Bridehead and for many other heroines born in Hardy?s mind.
The price of male dominance is speechlessness, poverty, hard work, contempt, humiliation, physical and psychological torture, negligence, expulsion from church, family, society, matrimony, motherhood and comradeship, exploitation, rape, subordination and even death and isolation from God or the universe.
Hardy?s protagonists are not even sure, if the ?heavenly Jerusalem? (JO 18) really exists, if life is undestructable and goes on after death, execution or suicide.
There is no divine grace, no human pity, no real release from suffering: human beings are doomed and guided by the laws of Nature. So is Tess. And sometimes it seems the laws of Nature or Providence act against the heroine in a rather masculine manner, although Fortune and Mother Earth have been regarded as essentially female from the very beginning of human existence.

So we could ask ourselves whether there is any Darwinistic philosophy prominent in Hardy and TU? And the way in which the theories of ?chance? and ?the survival of the fittest? influence Hardy?s protagonists could be elaborated in more detail.


Bradford, Richard (ed.). Introducing Literary Studies. London: Prentice Hall/Harvester Wheatsheaf, 1996.

Butler, Lance St. John. Thomas Hardy. Cambridge: CUP, 1978.

Cunningham, Gail. The New Woman and the Victorian Novel. London: Macmillan, 1978.

Hardy, Thomas. Far from the Madding Crowd. London: Macmillan, 1912.

---. Jude the Obscure. London: Penguin, 1994.

---. Tess of the D?Urbervilles. A Pure Woman. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1978.

---. The Mayor of Casterbridge. The Life and Death of a Man of Character. London: Penguin, 1997.

---. Under the Greenwood Tree. A Rural Painting of the Dutch School. London: Penguin, 1998.

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Reitz, Bernhard. ??The Fiction of Sex and New Woman?? ? Zur Thematisierung von Emanzipation, Melodrama und Trag?die in Thomas Hardys Tess of the D?Urbervilles?. Frauen und Frauendarstellung in der englischen und amerikanischen Literatur. Ed. T. Fischer-Seidel. T?bingen: Narr, 1991. 273-294.

Richardson, Samuel. Pamela. Or, Virtue Rewarded. London: Penguin, 1980.

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Showalter, Elaine. ?The Unmanning of the Mayor of Casterbridge?. Critical Approaches to the Fiction of Thomas Hardy. Ed. Dale Kramer. London: Macmillan Press, 1979. 391-405.

Todd, Janet. Sensibility. An Introduction. London: Methuen, 1986.

Williams, Randall. The Wessex Novels of Thomas Hardy. An Appreciative Study. London: Dent, 1924.

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