Tess of the D'Urbervilles
by Thomas Hardy
Tess of the D'Urbervilles Fate and Free Will Quotes
How we cite our quotes: Citations follow this format: (Chapter.Paragraph)
Why it was that upon this beautiful feminine tissue, sensitive as gossamer, and practically blank as snow as 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, many thousand years of analytical philosophy have failed to explain to our sense of order. (11.63)
OK, so that previous passage suggested that fate had nothing to do with it – Tess's rape was something that people were responsible for. But here's a passage that comes two paragraphs later that uses words like "doomed," which suggests that it was Tess's "doom," or "fate" to be raped. Which is it? It's another ambiguity in a scene that's already incredibly ambiguous.
One may, indeed, admit the possibility of a retribution lurking in the catastrophe. Doubtless some of Tess D'Urberville's mailed ancestors rollicking home from a fray had dealt the same wrong even more ruthlessly upon peasant girls of their time. But though to visit the sins of the fathers upon the children may be a morality good enough for divinities, it is scorned by the average human nature; and it therefore does not mend the matter. (11.63)
Tess's rape, the narrator suggests, could be an echo of the similar "wrong[s]" committed by Tess's D'Urberville ancestors. After all, a rich and powerful man taking advantage of a poor and relatively defenseless woman is not a new story. The narrator even suggests that the "sins" of Tess's ancestors are being revisited on her. But while allowing for that possibility, the narrator brings the story back to the "average human," and rejects the idea of fated "retribution." But the possibility is still there, even if the narrator "scorn[s]" it – was she fated to be raped, or not?
As Tess's own people down in those retreats are never tired of saying among each other in their fatalistic way: 'It was to be.' There lay the pity of it. (11.64)
The rape scene is shrouded in ambiguity. First of all, none of it gets described – the narrator backs away and talks in general terms about how rapes have always happened, and describes the setting of The Chase where it's happening. Secondly, the narrator seems to go back and forth about whether "fate" or "free will" is to blame for the rape. This final paragraph of the chapter (and of the whole first phase of the novel) doesn't resolve any of the ambiguity. The narrator quotes the village people's "fatalistic" expression, "It was to be," but he's only quoting what other people say. The narrator adds, "there lay the pity of it" – is he saying that it's a "pity" that Tess should have been fated to be raped, or that it's a "pity" that the village people should blame things on fate, when they could do something to stop it? More ambiguity!