Tess of the D'Urbervilles
by Thomas Hardy
Tess of the D'Urbervilles Man and the Natural World Quotes
How we cite our quotes: Citations follow this format: (Chapter.Paragraph)
The house was overrun with ivy, its chimney being enlarged by the boughs of the parasite to the aspect of a ruined tower. The lower rooms were entirely given over to the birds, who walked about them with a proprietary air, as though the place had been built by and for themselves. (9.1)
The poultry house at The Slopes where Tess works is being "overrun" by nature – the ivy is taking over the outside and creeping in through the chimney, and the interior has been taken over by the birds.
Darkness and silence ruled everywhere around. Above them rose the primaeval yews and oaks of The Chase, in which were poised gentle roosting birds in their last nap; and around them the hopping rabbits and hares. (11.61)
It's strange that in the climactic moment of Alec's rape Hardy chooses to pull back and describe the woods and the animals that surround them. Why does he do that? What's the effect? Well, as we suggested in the previous quotation, it seems that Hardy wanted to leave the scene ambiguous. So pulling back to describe the setting seems appropriate – it's like putting your hand over your eyes or looking away at a particularly gruesome scene in a movie – only Hardy's doing it for us.
But why describe the woods and trees in this way? Again, here's that word "primaeval," which means primitive (in a non-derogatory sense), and time-out-of-mind ancient. So Hardy is setting Tess's rape in the context of something ancient. Is he suggesting that rape is something that's happened for millennia? Maybe – but that doesn't mean that he's excusing it.
"'Tis nater, after all, and what pleases God." (12.83)
This is Joan Durbeyfield's fatalistic response to the news of Tess's rape. Her response is like the response of the people the narrator quotes in the passage quoted above: "It was to be." Her remark that it's "nater" (i.e., "nature") puts the blame of it on someone other than Alec or even Tess. It's only "natural" that Alec should have taken advantage of Tess. So again, here's another character who's suggesting that fate is stronger than free will, but it's not a character who is particularly trustworthy or reliable. We can't take Mrs. Durbeyfield's words at face value.