Tess of the D'Urbervilles
Time Quotes Page 3
How we cite our quotes:
"The trees have inquisitive eyes, haven't they? – that is, seem as if they had. And the river says, – 'Why do ye trouble me with your looks?' And you seem to see numbers of to-morrows just all in a line, the first of 'em the biggest and clearest, the others getting smaller and smaller as they stand farther away; but they all seem very fierce and cruel as if they said, 'I'm coming! Beware o' me! Beware o' me!' … But you can raise up dreams with your music, and drive all such horrid fancies away!" (19.31)
Did we mention that Tess – both the character, and the novel as a whole – is obsessed with the passage of time? The sense of a whole string of "to-morrows" that you can't stop just drove the late Victorians crazy. It's that oppressive sense of time that brings in the modernist movement in the early 20th century, with writers like Virginia Woolf and T.S. Eliot. Hardy is expressing some of those anxieties about time through Tess's voice.
He was surprised to find this young woman […] shaping such sad imaginings. She was expressing in her own native phrases […] feelings which might almost have been called those of the age – the ache of modernism. (19.32)
Hardy must have been aware that Tess's speech about her oppressive sense of the "numbers of to-morrows just all in a line" would sound strange coming from a relatively inexperienced milkmaid. So he calls attention to the strangeness of it by having Angel wonder about it. Her consciousness of time and of "the ache of modernism" is part of what makes Tess so complex and unique.
Tess was now carried along upon the wings of the hours, without the sense of a will. The word had been given; the number of the day written down. Her naturally bright intelligence had begun to admit the fatalistic convictions common to the field-folk and those who associate more extensively with natural phenomena than with their fellow-creatures; and she accordingly drifted into that passive responsiveness to all things her lover suggested, characteristic of the frame of mind. (32.24)
This passage is important both to the idea of "Time" in the novel, and to the theme of "Fate and Free Will." Now that Tess has named the day of the wedding, she is tied down to a specific time frame. She feels that she can't fight time anymore, and just has to wait, passively, for the wedding to take place. Before, when the day was still up in the air, the thing was somehow out of time, but now that the date is pinned, it's become more real and immediate.