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An Analysis Of Hardys Tess Shape Of Life English Literature Essay

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: English Literature
Wordcount: 3735 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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If one is asked to name the most famous Victorian Era novelists, the first names to remember are most likely to be Charlotte and Emily Brontë, Charles Dickens, George Eliot, Elizabeth Gaskell, Henry James, William Makepeace Thackeray and Thomas Hardy (O’Gorman, 2002, p. 2). In the Victorian Era, the themes that these authors wrote about included gender issues, sexuality and race, in addition to daily life, morality, ideals and fate (David, 2001). In accordance with this, in his study, Pinion stated that Hardy, who was among the most influential writers of his time, chose to write about differences in social life, education, fate and regionalism in his works (1983). In Herbert’s book, Hardy says “My aim is to give expression to the views of life prevalent at the end of nineteenth century” (1970, p. 77). This quote demonstrates Hardy interprets popular issues of his own era one of which is fate. That Thomas Hardy includes same themes in his works with those of Victorian Era is an indicator of the fact that his works belong to that period. In the Victorian period, Hardy wrote several novels that share similar themes with other authors’ works belonging to the same period and the subject of this paper is an analysis of, probably, the most famous one of them, that is, Tess of the D’Urbervilles (1891). The novel is about a country girl’s life end of whom is quite tragic. Tess, the main character, seeks for ideal love and she finally finds it; however, her past causes her downfall. At the end, she seems to unable to get rid of her bad luck which is represented powerfully in the shoes of fate. Besides, Hardy was affected from not only fate but also realism which had influence on works of this era as well. The influence of realism makes the novel plausible even for today. So ask yourself what if Tess lived in today’s contemporary world and married to her lover? Would she still get punished in that way? Or would you blame only her for what happened? In this study, I will try to analyze the characteristics of Victorian Era in Tess of the D’Urbervilles, compare Aristotelian tragedy and the novel and show how fate inevitably shapes Tess’ life.

This work is prepared by contributions of various articles and books by different authors. Their findings help me shape my arguments and results. I’ll try to prove my claims in the light of previously written works by those authors.

As mentioned above, Pinion (1983) claimed that Hardy used some themes such as daily life, education, regionalism and fate in his works. He came to conclusion that in Hardy’s novels, Wessex reflected the place that belonged to his own past. However, he also claimed that there were some conflict of views in Hardy’s novels; nevertheless, they weren’t debated in terms of style but as David Lodge thought Hardy’s novels fail “because of confusion in the handling of point of view” (Herbert, 1970). This shows us that the criticisms that were made on Hardy’s novels were not related to his interpretation of his own time; but, he was criticized because of his handling of point of view. Accordingly, that Hardy’s writing style and his views weren’t debated leads us to think that he was objective when he was representing Wessex and this fact helps us consider how realistic his representations were. From this conclusion, it can be claimed that other aspects of life such as education, professions or daily life in the novel demonstrates what was really happening in that time period and this contributes to Victorian Era argument in this paper.

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Thomas Hardy wrote narrative as well as poems, and one of his preferred forms was tragedy. This paper will focus on Aristotle’s tragedy definition as well. Hardy classified Tess of the D’Urbervilles as “personal” tragedy (Saxena and Dixit, 2001). This view contributes to this paper revealing connections between his personal life and its similarity to lives of his characters in his works. The purpose of Spivey’s study is to show his rejection to previous studies that compared Hardy’s works and his conclusion was that Hardy’s novels were lacking essential elements that Aristotle stressed as a must for a tragedy (1954). Spivey’s work is helpful in explaining why Tess should be accepted as tragedy or not in terms of Aristotle’s tragedy definition.

Hardy’s themes do not only reflect Victorian themes and tragedy, but fate is also a major component of his works. According to Pinion (1983), Hardy reflected his own life in his works and Wessex was one aspect of it. Of course this is not the only theme that Hardy uses from his own life. In his novels, in addition to setting, he also reflected fatalism which had influence on his world view. Saxena and Dixit asserted that Hardy in his novels showed signs of fatalism which was a common belief among Wessex people (2001). Their study showed how Hardy used fate in his works and how fate took role in Tess. I abundantly benefited from their study since their outcomes were clear, well-proven and related to one of my major arguments which is about how fate is represented in the novel.

From the middle of the 1800s to the beginning of the 20th century, England was ruled by famous Queen Victoria whose name was given to her ruling period. During her reign, many doctrines were reconstructed and great changes occurred in England; rise of the middle class and great improvement of industry were the two biggest ones (Atherstone, 2007). These great shifts changed values in society, and this became the inspiration of many writers. Victorian novelists educated people about changing moral values and informed “ignorant” parts of the society about the developments in the society (David, 2001). Plietzsch (2004) asserts that “novels not only represent social, economic and cultural transformation in the nineteenth-century England, but are at the same time a product of these transformations” (p. 14). This statement tells us about how writing a novel was perceived during those times. As stated above, changes happening as a result of movements in social and economic life were dealt with by Victorian novelists who aimed to educate ‘ignorant’ people about values which were losing their importance. Hardy was among these ‘educators’ with his own interpretations of his own time. His themes that he used in his works reflect the similar ones his own era, which suggests that his novels reflect Victorian Era themes, issues and topics. Considering this, I can claim that what we come across in the novel about is very likely to have occurred in Hardy’s own time.

In the light of all this information, it is possible to group major themes that the Victorian writers, therefore Thomas Hardy, used in their works. The first topic can be daily life. In Tess of the D’Urbervilles, even in the opening scene tells us about how it was living in those days like in England. It gives information about where Tess is working. She is represented in a fair dancing with several other girls. Later on, the life of mother, the duties she does at home, and how her children spend their days were represented. For example, the following phrase gives us the sense of a Victorian woman’s daily routines: “There stood her mother amid the group of children, as Tess had left her, hanging over the Monday washing-tub” (p. 11). Another representation of those times is professions. Mainly, the setting is based on rural areas; therefore, farmers take place quite often throughout the novel. Specifically, Tess’ family is represented as farmers for generations: “When Tess’s mother was a child the majority of the field-folk about Marlott had remained all their lives on farm, which had been the home also of their fathers and grandfathers.” In addition to this, cottagers, milkmen, smiths, parsons, missioners, tutors are the examples of the kinds of professions in those times represented in the novel. But, throughout the novel, even a single woman does not appear working in highly prestigious position as a lawyer, judge, banker or tutor. They are always the ones working in farms, dairies or servants. However, Tess was thought to become a teacher in the future: “She hoped to be a teacher at the school, but the fate seemed to decide otherwise” (p. 35), and I think this was the only job, rather prestigious, women could take other than working in farms. All these examples give us ideas about the role of the women in Queen Victoria’s England. They probably were not highly valued and they had to deal with domestic affairs. Regarding Hardy’s interpretations were objective, we can claim this inequality led men to gain more importance in the society and thus women were ignored, which created inequality even in the same level of hierarchy ranking which made differences in the society. The society was formed by different levels in Victorian era; however, this argument demonstrates that the division was not taking only among different levels, even women were discriminated which is a clear example for social status differences in Victorian era.

As argued above, daily life shows us those days of Queen Victoria’s England. Another topic Victorian novelists included and gave importance in their works was human morality. We can see the signs of this morality issue in Tess.Many authors of that era took the responsibility of educating society about moral issues. Schweik (1962) states that “Hardy was preaching a ‘superior moral law’ through the mouth of the repentant Angel Clare” (p. 14). Accordingly, Angel Clare is the man whom Tess is married with but he abandons her after learning her past mistakes which contradicts with his ‘pure’ view. Hardy provides us with signs of this morality issue in Tess. In the novel, characters have different moral values. For example, Tess asks for what moral is when her husband Angel leaves her when he learns Tess already had a love affair with another man. Clearly, she believes that she is pure because she was forced to have affair, so she blames the man not herself for it. However, for Angel it’s not even debatable; she has to face with the outcomes since intentions don’t matter. However we can think of Tess as pure, because her actions express that she has no intention of any “bad”. Moreover, when Angel abandons her, she doesn’t ask for money, or in the beginning of their relationship, she doesn’t want Angel to fell in love with her thinking about her past and tries to direct his attention to other girls in the farm. In another case, she does not want Alec, the man who had the affair with her without her consent, to help her folk or siblings after they had an affair in the woods, even though he offers to help several times. However the most striking example that shows her reliance on herself for what is right is her baptizing her child who is refused by pastor. This displays she is doing whatever she believes is right. The morality issue is the one both Hardy and other novelists of the same era included in their works.

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After daily life and moral issues, I want to point out the third common theme of Tess and other novels of that era. Idealism was given importance as well as moral issues, daily life and fate among Victorian novelists. Idealism in this period was understood as purity, devoting oneself to God, honesty to one’s family and getting better education. In accordance with this explanation, Tess is an ideal character with her ‘pure’ description. She is what is accepted and how a girl should live in the society. In contrast to Tess’ pure representation, the novel offers us D’Urberville brothers. Angel, the husband of Tess is one of three D’Urbervilles. The relationship of D’Urberville brothers is an objection to the ideal relationship. Because Angel was atheist, he was alienated, thus, three brothers were not so close, which conflicts with ideal brotherhood. By putting both ideal and unideal characters together in Tess, Hardy tries to show what is changing in the society and values that were once very important are losing their importance. On one hand ideal characters demonstrate which roles society puts upon them; on the other hand, the unideal characters were signs of corruption in the society. Regarding that these novels aim to educate ‘illitrate’ parts of the society, representation of idealism is very important because it reflects the values and changes in the society directly.

Another topic to underline is fate which is shared by both Victorian era and Thomas Hardy in his novels. There were some dogmas in England of that period. The society was accepting doctrines of the church without questioning them. Accordingly, since the population was made up of many ignorant people, they were easily made believe something that was not right (Saxena, Dixit, 2001, p38). In other words, authorities benefited from their ignorance so as to control the society and not to lose their power against to changing values in the society. So, Victorian writers emphasized this issue by including it in their works. For example in Tess of the D’Urbervilles, Tess is an innocent girl. However, a series of actions that develop out of her control shapes her life and she kills herself at the end as a result of outcomes of them. As a result, Tess who was sure about her purity had to kill herself as a result of outer pressure. People around her judges her without considering her intentions and blames her for being guilty. Hardy uses fate in order to emphasize this clash in Tess by leaving the judgment to readers either Tess or fate is guilty.

Now that this novel shares same characteristics with the Victorian Era which are ideals, daily life, moral issues and fate, now, I want to change my argument to tragedy which makes the form of Tess. Saxena and Dixit write “Thomas Hardy was influenced by the great tragic writers like Sophocles, Aeschylus and Shakespeare” in their books. (2001, p. 32). In their book, Saxena and Dixit dealt with Hardy’s tragedy concept and Sophocles’, Aeschylus’ and Shakespeare’s influence on it. In addition to these writers, I will have a closer look on Aristotle who was another great tragedy writer. He contributed to the “tragedy” form with his own definition and I will analyze Tess according to his tragedy definition which suggests essential elements to create tragedy. According to Aristotle, tragedy is “an imitation of an action that is serious, complete, and of a certain magnitude; in language embellished with each kind of artistic ornament, the several kinds being found in separate parts of the play; in the form of action, not of narrative; with incidents arousing pity and fear, wherewith to accomplish its catharsis of such emotions” (McManus, 1999). In the novel, Tess suffers all the time, before she marries to Angel from poverty, after that from her past. If Tess is regarded as a pure and ideal character, she can be seen as an elevated one and her suicide is thus her downfall. David’s words support this argument: “In [Hardy’s] works, all major characters die” (2008). This criticism shows that all leading characters face with death in Hardy’s novels and this creates tragedy according to Aristotle from this point. Also, Aristotle claims struggle of the tragic hero is needed for tragedy. In the novel, Tess seems to struggle whenever she makes a decision for the actions always develop out of her control and she has to sacrifice herself for the next action. For example, Alec benefits from her; therefore, she can’t fulfill her dream of becoming a teacher and she feels she has to earn money for her parents, so she leaves the house. Another example is at the end she accepts her fate but at the same time shows her challenge against it. In this connection Hardy writes “And then my dear, dear husband came home to me … and I did not know it! … And you had used your cruel persuasion upon me … you did not stop using it-no-you did not stop! … And he is dying-he looks as if he is dying! … And my sin will kill him and not kill me!! O, you have torn my life all to pieces… made me a victim, a caged wretch! … My own true husband will never, never-O Heaven-I can’t bear this!-I cannot” (pp. 486-487). The quote shows she accepts the outcomes however she is still blaming the man who had affair with her for destroying her life. The result of the analysis displays that Hardy’s tragedy understanding that he reflects in Tess goes with Aristotle’s tragedy definition for it contains a tragic hero, pity, fear and downfall of this hero.

I have analyzed Victorian Era characteristics in Tess and compared it to Aristotelian tragedy. Here I swift my focus to the issue of fate. Fate is very important in Hardy’ works for that it is both one of the characteristics of Victorian Era and is an essential element to create tragedy. It is connected to both themes and tragedy, so after explaining these issues, I want to go on with exploring how fate is used in Tess. Saxena and Dixit state pessimism is the core of Hardy’s philosophy. They go on to argue that “Irony of circumstance holds an important position in Hardy’s philosophy” (2001). The explanation for their argument is what Tess experiences in the novel. This irony means that when one event is expected, something unexpected happens. When people don’t have control over their actions, the explanation is either chance or fate. If the novel is analyzed thinking it is either fate or chance what shapes Tess’ life, it is easier to find an answer and make oneself believe it. However, Hardy’s personality, his writing style and themes implies that it must be more than ‘chance’ what leads these actions to happen in his novels. Even at the beginning, it is stated that Tess’ family belong to a wealthy descent, but they are now living in poverty. This is a sign for the life of Tess in the novel. She encounters with many actions all of which do harm Tess and she can’t escape from. Thinking that when one’s actions seem to be doomed or decided by others, we can see the effect of fatalism in Tess. I already stated pessimism has a major role in his works and the themes he writes on reflect Victorian Era themes which include fate as well as many others. Related to this fact, I can state that Hardy uses fate in his works not clearly but in a way that creates dilemma for the reader, which makes Hardy’s style so original. However, even the results can be interpreted as chance, but considering Hardy, fate seems more valid for his works. Saxena and Dixit explain that for Hardy fate is inevitable to create tragedy and man is destined to suffer by both internal and external forces. Regarding these conclusions, I invite you to argue that if Tess wouldn’t fall asleep when Alec came back, would the result be the same? Or what if she confesses her situation to Angel before marriage? Here, I want to point out Hardy’s particular skill to manipulate fate in the novel. He leaves readers with the questions in their mind even though we know all these are caused by fate. In spite of this fact, he makes us somehow think about if the reason is fate or coincidence. For example, in the novel, he writes the following statement which leaves the last decision to the reader: “How can I pray for you when I am forbidden to believe that the great Power who moves the world would alter his plans on my account?” (p. 251). If one interprets this as some other power’s decision, the explanation is fate. To sum up, Hardy uses fate in his works which end up with the same ending, that is, death. Tess, no matter what she does, seems to end with dying which shows that it is inevitable to escape from fate.

The arguments I made above lead me to the conclusion that Hardy’s works reflect characteristics of the Victorian Era. In this paper, I have argued ideals of that period, daily life and moral issues comparing to the novel and representation of fate. Other comparison was the form of the novel. I have made comparisons between Hardy’s tragedy interpretation in Tess and Aristotle’s tragedy concept and came to the conclusion that for Tess is a tragic hero, she finds herself in struggle and her story includes pity and fear, Tess is a tragedy from Aristotle’s point. In the light of Hardy’s background information, it is easier to obtain sense of fatalism in Tess of the D’Urbervilles. The effect of Victorian period gains importance here since some writers like Hardy were affected from the changes of the period and gained a fatalist approach and reflected this attitude in their works. Thomas Hardy makes use of fate successfully when creating a tragic hero -a must for tragedy- in his works which are mirrors of Queen Victoria’s England. Hardy did say “Once victim, always victim.” This quote is a brief summary of what I’ve tried to come up with. He believes outcomes are inevitable and decided neither by our choices nor our actions and this shows his worldview in a sense. He demonstrates his fatalist view in his works by killing his major characters in the end of every novel. In spite of their struggles, characters never seem to get away from their tragic ending. I’ve touched these issues indirectly; however, a detailed study may examine Hardy’s other works. This study is a result of detailed analysis of three important aspects of Hardy’s Tess. The expected result of this study is a better understanding of the 1900s England, Aristotle’s view of tragedy and Thomas Hardy’s fatalist approach in his works. Besides these subjects, a further research study may be on realism and effect of religion in Tess.


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