Tess of the D'Urbervilles
by Thomas Hardy
Tess of the D'Urbervilles Time Quotes
How we cite our quotes: Citations follow this format: (Chapter.Paragraph)
Phases of her childhood lurked in her aspect still. As she walked along to-day, for all her bouncing handsome womanliness, you could sometimes see her twelfth year in her cheeks, or her ninth sparkling from her eyes; and even her fifth would flit over the curves of her mouth now and then. (2.21)
The distinctions of time and age are dissolved in the entire group of club-walkers in Marlott because old and young women, with dresses old and new, are all participating in the modern version of a very ancient custom. The distinctions of age are completely dissolved in Tess individually, as well: she's only about sixteen years old, but she looks very "womanly" for her age. And all the "phases of her childhood" can still be seen in her features. She's almost like a hodgepodge of different ages: twelve-year-old Tess is still visible in her cheeks; nine-year-old Tess is still apparent in her eyes; her smile occasionally offers a glimpse of five-year-old Tess. If you think that's a pretty strange way of describing the heroine of this novel, you're not alone. Take a look at Tess's "Character Analysis" for more on this – for now, in this context, we're interested in the way that Hardy uses this description to collapse the distinctions of time.
Between the mother, with her fast-perishing lumber of superstitions, folk-lore, dialect, and orally transmitted ballads, and the daughter, with her trained National teachings and Standard knowledge under an infinitely Revised Code, there was a gap of two hundred years as ordinarily understood. When they were together the Jacobean and the Victorian ages were juxtaposed. (3.37)
During the 19th century in England, the government passed all kinds of Reform laws making education mandatory for boys and girls all over the country, and they made a standard curriculum that everyone had to follow. So all of a sudden, the country had this massive population of reasonably well-educated citizens. But the shift happened so quickly that there was a huge gap in education between children and their parents. The idea of a "generation gap" is nothing new to us, because pop culture and music change so rapidly nowadays that we're used to the idea of a cultural disconnect between ourselves and our parents. But in the nineteenth century, this was a new thing.
And the contrast between Tess, with her book-learning, and her superstitious mother isn't just about education – Hardy describes it as a contrast of different times. Tess is "Victorian" (i.e., from the nineteenth century, during the reign of Queen Victoria), and her mother is "Jacobean" – or, from the late 1600s, during the reign of King James ("Jacobus" is Latin for James, if you were wondering). So, yet again, we have an example of a character who seems out of sync with the passage of time.
In consternation Tess jumped down, and discovered the dreadful truth. The groan had proceeded from her father's poor horse Prince. The morning mail-cart, with its two noiseless wheels, speeding along these lanes like an arrow, as it always did, had driven into her slow and unlighted equipage. The pointed shaft of the cart had entered the breast of the unhappy Prince like a sword, and from the wound his life's blood was spouting in a stream, and falling with a hiss into the road. (4.77)
Wow. Poor Prince! Pierced by a mail cart. We know that this scene is important, because the death of Prince is what precipitates Tess's decision to go to the D'Urbervilles to ask for help. So there's probably more to this passage than just a bloody accident.
Why is it a mail cart that kills the horse? Well, mail carts were symbols of modernity. Hard for us to imagine, in this age of email and instant communication, but the mail cart in the nineteenth century was just about as fast as it got. They were notorious for being fast and silent on the roads, and because they often traveled at night (mail had to be delivered first thing in the morning!), they often caused accidents of this kind. Prince is an old horse, we know – and his name, "Prince," seems to represent a kind of old world order – the decaying aristocracy, which we already know (see the quotation above that discusses the rise of the middle class) is something that Hardy was interested in. So the accident that kills Prince could be seen as a stand-in for the way that modernization was doing away with tradition and the old world order.