Tess of the D'Urbervilles
Contrasting Regions Quotes
How we cite our quotes:
It is a vale whose acquaintance is best made by viewing it from the summits of the hills that surround it […]. An unguided ramble into its recesses in bad weather is apt to engender dissatisfaction with its narrow, tortuous, and miry ways. (2.2)
This description of the Vale of Blackmoor or Blakemore, Tess's childhood home, suggests that to appreciate the beauty of the place, you need a bird's-eye view – you have to see it from above, from the "summits of the hills." In other words, you need a wider perspective and a consciousness of the wider world in order to appreciate what's going on in the valley. That's all very well for a visitor – but what about for the folks who live there? Is the narrator suggesting that, because they're in the valley in good weather or bad, they're doomed to "dissatisfaction with its narrow, tortuous, and miry ways"? Or maybe the narrator isn't referring to the characters that live in this fictional valley at all, but is referring to the reader as the visitor, and he, the narrator, is our guide.
As a narrator, he can offer us any perspective he wants. We might be reading this novel in a coffee shop in Collegetown, USA, but Hardy's narrator is able to guide us to the top of these hills that overlook the Vale of Blackmoor to offer us the bird's-eye view we need to appreciate what goes on in that valley. We need to keep that universal perspective in the backs of our minds in order to understand the more particular accounts of the residents of the valley that will follow – otherwise we might become "dissatisfied" with the seemingly "narrow" ways of the inhabitants of the valley – or the characters of the novel.
The dialect was on her tongue to some extent, despite the village school: the characteristic intonation of that dialect for this district being the voicing approximately rendered by the syllable UR, probably as rich an utterance as any to be found in human speech. The pouted-up deep red mouth to which this syllable was native had hardly as yet settled into its definitive shape, and her lower lip had a way of thrusting the middle of her top one upward, when they closed together after a word. (2.20)
Tess's speech and accent are mentioned frequently in the novel, so this early description and explanation of her dialect are important. The "village school" Hardy mentions is a Victorian institution. During the 19th century, schooling for boys and girls became mandatory, and instructors were trained to teach common, standardized English as opposed to regional dialects. So Tess's English is standardized, but she still has a bit of the regional accent.
It's also interesting that Hardy gives us such specific detail about what kind of accent Tess has: he's especially interested in the way she pronounces the syllable "UR." Try saying that syllable. Notice how your lips kind of pucker out? Hardy is always interested in describing Tess's mouth. In fact, the next sentence is a seemingly gratuitous description of the way Tess's lips appear when she speaks. It's a sexy description, really – the description of her "pouted-up deep red mouth" is kind of slipped in sneakily in the middle of this otherwise detached linguistic account of the local dialect.
Everything looked like money – like the last coin issued from the Mint. (5.22)
Have you ever opened up a celebrity gossip magazine, or watched red-carpet interviews on E!, and marveled at how shiny and polished everything is? That's basically what Tess is doing here, as she gazes all slack-jawed and amazed at Alec D'Urberville's house. Everything there is brand-spanking new, and a pretty serious contrast to the worn, if not shabby, aspect of everything she's been used to at home.