Tess of the D'Urbervilles
Fate and Free Will Quotes
How we cite our quotes:
"And take the Complete Fortune-Teller to the outhouse" […] The Complete Fortune-Teller was an old thick volume, which lay on a table at her elbow, so worn by pocketing that the margins had reached the edge of the type. (3.34-5)
Tess's mother is superstitious about keeping the Complete Fortune-Teller indoors after dark, so they tuck it into the outhouse. Her mother's superstition contrasts strongly with Tess's pragmatic realism, and we discuss that in the "Memory and the Past" theme analysis. But for our discussion of Fate and Free Will, it's interesting that Tess's mother puts so much faith in the ability of this particular book to prophesy Tess's future. Whenever you're reading a book that discusses a book that gets read and re-read until its pages are "so worn" that "the margins had reached the edge of the type," it's a good idea to stop and pay attention.
This is clearly a book that Mrs. Durbeyfield reads frequently. But the trouble is that she's not a good reader. As we learn in the next chapter, the book tells her that Tess will marry a gentleman – that's true. But the circumstances under which she marries the gentleman (and which gentleman she marries) are still fuzzy. Mrs. Durbeyfield doesn't read critically – she interprets what the book tells her in the most superficial possible way, and sees her own desires reflected in the text. Hardy is showing his readers what not to do.
"Why do you own such a horse?"
"Ah, well may you ask it! It was my fate, I suppose. Tib has killed one chap; and just after I bought her she nearly killed me. And then, take my word for it, I nearly killed her. But she's queer still, very queer; and one's life is hardly safe behind her sometimes." (8.12-13)
Alec uses "fate" as an excuse for owning a horse that occasionally tries to kill him when he's attempting to frighten Tess on the carriage ride to The Slopes. And the strange thing is, Tess seems to accept his answer – "fate" is real to her, something that can be called up to explain the unexplainable.
[W]here was Providence? 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 peradventure he was sleeping and was not to be awaked. (11.61)
The superficial meaning of "Tishbite" is pretty clear: the narrator is suggesting that "Providence" must have been "sleeping" to have allowed this to happen to Tess. This is a bitingly cynical remark, of course – and goes against all of the fatalistic language elsewhere in this chapter that suggests that it was Tess's "fate" to fall into Alec's hands at this point in her life. This passage thrusts the responsibility firmly on the people involved: "Providence" was sleeping; it wasn't the fault of "fate" or anything outside of the control of ordinary people.