Study Guide

Tess of the D'Urbervilles Quotes

By Thomas Hardy

  • Memory and the Past

    Phase I: "The Maiden," Chapter Two

    The club of Marlott alone lived to uphold the local Cerealia. It had walked for hundreds of years, and it walked still. (2.6)

    The women's club in Marlott is a holdover from the ancient springtime rituals of the pagans – which is why Hardy references the "Cerealia," or festival to the Roman goddess Ceres, who was the goddess of the earth, agriculture, and all growing things. Yes, our word "cereal" comes from the name of the Roman goddess Ceres. Springtime festivals in honor of the earth goddess were the especial responsibility of women, because those festivals were all about new life and seeds, and nurturing – all things associated with femininity and motherhood. So Tess and her female friends are being associated with this long and ancient lineage of women that is even older than the D'Urberville connection on her father's side of the family. After all, the spring festival and the worship of the earth goddess go back way before 1066, the time of the first Sir Pagan D'Urberville. So again, this passage dissolves the distinction between the contemporary and the time-out-of-mind ancient.

    In those days, and till comparatively recent times, the country was densely wooded. Even now, traces of its earlier condition are to be found in the old oak copses and irregular belts of timber that yet survive on its slopes […] The forests have departed, but some old customs of their shades remain. Many, however, linger only in a metamorphosed or disguised form. The May-Day dance, for instance, was to be discerned on the afternoon under notice, in the guise of the club revel, or "club-walking," as it was there called. (2.4-5)

    This passage shows the contrast between old and new that is so important to Hardy in this novel. Old customs might evolve and take on new names, but they still linger in some form. It's also interesting that he associates the old customs, like the May-Day dance, with the old forests of the area (the "old customs" came from the "shades" of the old forest). The forests are ancient, and seem to have an almost supernatural power (they were, after all, associated with the druids), and the origins of old, pseudo-pagan customs like the May-Day dance can be traced back to the days of the druids and the ancient, primeval forest. This description of Tess's club-walking ties the contemporary custom of dancing in the springtime with the older custom of the May-Dance, and traces both of those customs back to the ancient, primitive forest. It almost dissolves the distinction between the modern and the ancient.

    Pedigree, ancestral skeletons, monumental record, the D'Urberville lineaments, did not help Tess in her life's battle as yet, even to the extent of attracting to her a dancing-partner over the heads of the commonest peasantry. So much for Norman blood unaided by Victorian lucre. (2.37)

    Tess might have noble blood, and an ancestry that she could trace back to the Norman Conquest (see the Historical Context note in our summary of Chapter One), but because she's poor, she's in the same boat as the rest of the peasant class in Marlott. This ironic remark by the narrator doesn't just reflect on Tess's disappointment that Angel asked another girl to dance at the club-walking festival. It pulls back and makes a general remark about the whole Victorian period – lots of noble families were strapped for cash, and the Victorian period is often considered the time when the middle class rose to prominence, as people worked hard and made their way up the social ladder. So by the time Tess's story is taking place, many people who were officially in the middle class (they had earned their money as merchant or entrepreneurs, or as doctors or lawyers) were actually more wealthy than those who were officially "noble" (i.e., those who had inherited their money and lands from their parents and grandparents). So, in this passage, Hardy is taking Tess's immediate disappointment and putting it in the context of this huge socio-economic trend of the rise of the middle class. It's really a drastic juxtaposition, if you think about it.

    Ideal and real clashed slightly as the sun lit up their figures against the green hedges and creeper-laced house-fronts; for, though the whole troop wore white garments, no two whites were alike among them. Some approached pure blanching; some had a bluish pallor; some worn by the older characters (which had possibly lain by folded for many a year) inclined to a cadaverous tint, and to a Georgian style. (2.7)

    The group of women participating in the spring club-walking in Marlott reinforces the contrast between old and new, past and present that Hardy suggested in the passage quoted above. Only here, it's the ages of the women's dresses that create the contrast. Some of the dresses are fresh and new, while others are yellowed and "cadaverous" – that particular word choice suggests dead bodies, or cadavers, which seems a rather incongruous description for a costume to be worn for a festival celebrating spring and new life.

    Besides the contrasting color of the dresses, the styles create a contrast between past and present: some of them are of a "Georgian" style. The novel, as we know, takes place in the late Victorian period (Queen Victoria reigned between 1837-1901, and the novel was written in 1887-1890). A "Georgian"-style dress would be a dress made during the reign of George IV, who died in 1830. But there were three Georges who reigned before George IV – the first one became king in 1714. So a "Georgian" dress could be really old. After all, the description does suggest that those dresses had "lain by folded for many a year."

    Phase I: "The Maiden," Chapter Three

    There still faintly beamed from the woman's features something of the freshness, and even the prettiness, of her youth; rendering it evident that the personal charms which Tess could boast were in main part her mother's gift, and therefore unknightly, unhistorical. (3.13)

    Tess's mother is still attractive even after having given birth to nine children (nine!). So her mother isn't only pretty, she's fertile (maybe too fertile, in Tess's opinion – her parents have a hard enough time supporting themselves, let alone a large family that's getting bigger all the time). And the "personal charms" that Tess has inherited from her mother include the prettiness and the fertile womanliness.

    The narrator's claim that that inheritance is "unhistorical" and "unknightly" just means that it has nothing to do with the family vault at Kingsbere or the aristocratic D'Urberville lineage. It might be "unhistorical" in that it's not something that an "antiquary" like Parson Tringham can trace in the library, but it is something that connects Tess to a matriarchal, or female, lineage that goes way, way back. Remember the women's club-walking from the previous chapter? That female custom had its origins way back before Sir Pagan D'Urberville ever arrived in England. This quotation, like the description of the female club-walking, connects Tess to an ancient female inheritance, as opposed to her old and historical, though not quite so primitive, father's lineage.

    Phase I: "The Maiden," Chapter Five

    [The Slopes] was of recent erection – indeed almost new […] Far behind the bright brick corner of the house […] stretched the soft azure landscape of The Chase – a truly venerable tract of forest land, one of the few remaining woodlands in England of undoubted primaeval date, wherein Druidical mistletoe was still found on aged oaks, and where enormous yew-trees, not planted by the and of man, grew as they had grown when they were pollarded for bows. All this sylvan antiquity, however, though visible from The Slopes, was outside the immediate boundaries of the estate. (5.21)

    Alec D'Urberville's house, called "The Slopes" (what, doesn't your house have a pompous-sounding name?), is fantastically shiny and new. Its modern construction forms a drastic contrast with the ancient, "primaeval" forest of The Chase that stretches out behind the house and lawn. So again, Hardy is contrasting old and new, ancient and modern, pre-industrial and post-industrial. But he takes care to point out that The Chase doesn't belong to The Slopes – the ancient forest of The Chase is "outside the immediate boundaries of the estate." So the modern D'Urberville family doesn't control the forest – no one does.

    Phase I: "The Maiden," Chapter Eleven

    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. The narrator rejects this idea (for more on this idea, check out the analysis for the "Fate and Free Will" theme), but it still brings up the idea of sin.

    Who is sinning here? Against whom? Is Tess to blame for any of this? Hardy doesn't think so – look at the subtitle of the novel: "A Pure Woman." But contemporary critics thought so, and so do other characters in the novel. So this is an important passage to consider – maybe Tess is paying for the "sins" of others, but we don't have to look so far back to find the cause. It's not some kind of divine retribution for the sins of the ancient D'Urberville family that got Tess into this pickle, but her father's laziness. If he were a more responsible parent, Tess wouldn't have had to take that late night journey that ended with the death of their horse. And a responsible parent wouldn't have sent a sixteen-year-old girl so far from home without knowing anything about the people who would be taking care of her. So maybe this passage is asking us to look more closely at cause and effect – to reject romantic ideas about sin and retribution, and to consider the effects of our actions more carefully.

    Phase III: "The Rally," Chapter Sixteen
    Tess Durbeyfield

    "Pooh – I have as much of mother as father in me!" she said. "All my prettiness comes from her, and she was only a dairymaid." (16.7)

    Tess is rejecting her patrilineal inheritance – the noble lineage passed down from her father's side, in favor of her matrilineal inheritance from her mother.

    Phase IV: "The Consequence," Chapter Thirty

    The light of the engine flashed for a second upon Tess Durbeyfield's figure, motionless under the great holly tree. No object could have looked more foreign to the gleaming cranks and wheels than this unsophisticated girl, with the round bare arms, the rainy face and hair, the suspended attitude of a friendly leopard at pause, the print gown of no date or fashion, and the cotton bonnet drooping on her brow. (30.20)

    Again, past and present are juxtaposed here. Tess represents the past, or perhaps not so much the past, as something timeless: either way, the contrast between her figure and the modern train with its "cranks and wheels" is pretty striking, and Hardy wants to call our attention to it.

    Phase VI: "The Convert," Chapter Forty-Seven

    The old men […] talked of the past days when they had been accustomed to thresh with flails on the oaken barn-floor; when everything, even to winnowing, was effected by hand-labour, which, to their thinking, though slow, produced better results. (47.8)

    The old men working with the steam-powered threshing machine are nostalgic for the good old days, when everything had to be done by hand. There was a lot of resistance to industrialization in the nineteenth century, especially among the older generation, because the invention of all these new machines meant fewer jobs for the workers.

  • Women and Femininity

    Phase I: "The Maiden," Chapter Two

    There were a few middle-aged and even elderly women in the train, their silver-wiry hair and wrinkled faces, scourged by time and trouble, having almost a grotesque, certainly a pathetic, appearance in such a jaunty situation. In a true view, perhaps, there was more to be gathered and told of each anxious and experienced one […] than of her juvenile comrades. (2.9)

    The club-walking group of women includes both young women, like Tess, and old women. Again, Hardy wants to collapse the distinction between past and present, old and young – all of those women are together in the same group, performing the same ancient ritual festival to springtime, so the distinctions of age hardly matter: they're all women.

    The club of Marlott alone lived to uphold the local Cerealia. It had walked for hundreds of years, and it walked still. (2.6)

    The women's club in Marlott is a holdover from the ancient springtime rituals of the pagans – which is why Hardy references the "Cerealia," or festival to the Roman goddess Ceres, who was the goddess of the earth, and agriculture, and all growing things. Yes, our word "cereal" comes from the name of the Roman goddess Ceres. Springtime festivals in honor of the earth goddess were the especial responsibility of women, because those festivals were all about new life and seeds, and nurturing – all things associated with femininity and motherhood.

    So Tess and her female friends are being associated with this long and ancient lineage of women that is even older than the D'Urberville connection on her father's side of the family. After all, the spring festival and the worship of the earth goddess go back way before 1066, the time of the first Sir Pagan D'Urberville. So again, this passage dissolves the distinction between the contemporary and the time-out-of-mind ancient.

    Phase I: "The Maiden," Chapter Eleven

    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)

    We looked at this passage in the context of the "Fate and Free Will" theme, but it's very important to the theme of femininity, as well. First of all, the narrator uses words that denote delicacy and fragility to describe Tess's body – "tissue," "gossamer," and "snow." (Gossamer is a poetical word for the dew-covered cobwebs that appear on grass in the early morning). This seems strange, given that at other points in the novel, he describes her as strong, healthy and robust – even able to defend herself physically on occasion (take, for example, the scene in which she almost shoves Alec off his horse at 11.20). But here, in The Chase, as Alec takes advantage of her relative helplessness and their isolation, Tess is described as "sensitive" and delicate – she seems temporarily, at least, to have lost her ability to defend herself.

    This description seems to be an effort by Hardy to pin the blame of her rape firmly on Alec, despite the complaints of contemporary critics that Tess could have done more to ward him off – Tess is asleep when he finds her, and Hardy's choice of words makes Tess seem even more delicate and vulnerable than she was. It's also interesting to note that while Hardy associates femininity elsewhere with "fullness of growth" (5.63), in this passage, it's her delicacy and "sensitiv[ity]" that makes Tess seem more feminine.

    Phase II: "Maiden No More," Chapter Fourteen

    It was impossible for even an enemy to feel [that Tess was unattractive] on looking at Tess as she sat there, with her flower-like mouth and large tender eyes, neither black nor blue nor gray nor violet; rather all those shades together, and a hundred others, which could be seen if one looked into their irises – shade behind shade – tint beyond tint – round depths that had no bottom; an almost typical woman, but for the slight incautiousness of character inherited from her race. (14.24).

    Hardy just loves describing Tess's physical appearance. Her mouth, her eyes, her – ahem – "womanly fullness." This description of her eyes makes them seem almost supernatural: they just go on and on. Why describe her eyes in this way? They're not just "bedroom eyes." They show how complex her character is. She's unusual, and her complexity is what makes her unique.

    [The women] were the most interesting of this company of binders, by reason of the charm which is acquired by woman when she becomes part and parcel of outdoor nature, and is not merely an object set down therein as at ordinary times. A field-man is a personality afield; a field-woman is a portion of the field; she has somehow lost her own margin, imbibed the essence of her surrounding, and assimilated herself with it. (14.10)

    Once again, the narrator suggests that women can become one with nature. Women have some inherent, natural quality that allows them to "assimilate" themselves with "outdoor nature," that men lack. This passage hearkens back to the earlier scene describing the women's club-walking at Marlott (2.6), which was just a modern form of the feminine celebration of the nature goddess, Ceres. There's a connection between women and nature that is an inherent aspect of their femininity.

    Phase III: "The Rally," Chapter Sixteen

    Their large-veined udders hung ponderous as sandbags, the teats sticking out like the legs of a gipsy's crock; and as each animal lingered for her turn to arrive the milk oozed forth and fell in drops to the ground. (16.26)

    If you're thinking that this is kind of a disturbingly sexual description of cow udders, you're right. Nature and fertility are just overflowing onto the ground here. Tess followed the cows into the gate, and arrived when they did, so she's kind of associated with them. Tess, as Hardy has repeatedly assured us, is a very "womanly," (i.e., curvaceous) girl. She, too, seems to just ooze fertility. If you think we're pushing the point, check out the "Symbols, Imagery, Allegory" section.

    [W]omen whose chief companions are the forms and forces of outdoor Nature retain in their souls far more of the Pagan fantasy of their remote forefathers than of the systematized religion taught their race at later date. (16.16)

    Again, women are connected with old, primaeval, Pagan religion, and "outdoor Nature," while men are (implicitly) connected with the "systematized," man-made religion that came later.

    Phase III: "The Rally," Chapter Twenty
    Angel Clare

    He called her Artemis, Demeter, and other fanciful names half teasingly, which she did not like because she could not understand them.
    "Call me Tess," she would say askance; and he did. (20.10-11)

    Angel thinks Tess is some kind of "Every Woman" – some ideal fantasy of femininity. So he calls her the names of Greek goddesses. But she doesn't like being generalized like that – she can't understand those names, and they detract from her unique individuality. She just wants to be called Tess, and understood for herself.

    She was no longer the milkmaid, but a visionary essence of woman – a whole sex condensed into one typical form. (20.10)

    In the early morning hours, Tess's beauty seems other-worldly to Angel. They're the only two people awake on the farm, and he can imagine that she's the only woman in the world. And so he condenses every thought and fantasy of what all women are or ever could be, and projects that ideal onto Tess. In other words, he's making her his ideal woman.

    Phase IV: "The Consequence," Chapter Twenty-Seven

    She was yawning, and he saw the red interior of her mouth as if it had been a snake's. She had stretched one arm so high above her coiled-up cable of hair that he could see its satin delicacy above the sunburn; her face was flushed with sleep, and her eyelids hung heavy over their pupils. The brimfulness of her nature breathed from her. It was a moment when a woman's soul is more incarnate than at any other time; when the most spiritual beauty bespeaks itself flesh; and sex takes the outside place in the presentation. (27.4)

    We look at this passage for the "Sex" theme, because it's pretty darn sexual, but it's also important to consider it in light of what it's doing with the theme of "Femininity." After all, the narrator is making a generalization about all women here – he's suggesting that a woman is less spiritual, and more bodily, when she's just woken up than at any other time. The implication is that women normally have some kind of balance between the physical and the spiritual. But that balance isn't constant. We've seen this with Tess in other passages: sometimes her beauty seems almost unreal, and sometimes she seems totally human. This is one of the totally human moments.

  • Contrasting Regions

    Phase I: "The Maiden," Chapter Two

    The dialect was on her tongue to some extent, despite the village school: the characteristic intonation of that dialect for this district being the voicing approximately rendered by the syllable UR, probably as rich an utterance as any to be found in human speech. The pouted-up deep red mouth to which this syllable was native had hardly as yet settled into its definitive shape, and her lower lip had a way of thrusting the middle of her top one upward, when they closed together after a word. (2.20)

    Tess's speech and accent are mentioned frequently in the novel, so this early description and explanation of her dialect are important. The "village school" Hardy mentions is a Victorian institution. During the 19th century, schooling for boys and girls became mandatory, and instructors were trained to teach common, standardized English as opposed to regional dialects. So Tess's English is standardized, but she still has a bit of the regional accent.

    It's also interesting that Hardy gives us such specific detail about what kind of accent Tess has: he's especially interested in the way she pronounces the syllable "UR." Try saying that syllable. Notice how your lips kind of pucker out? Hardy is always interested in describing Tess's mouth. In fact, the next sentence is a seemingly gratuitous description of the way Tess's lips appear when she speaks. It's a sexy description, really – the description of her "pouted-up deep red mouth" is kind of slipped in sneakily in the middle of this otherwise detached linguistic account of the local dialect.

    It is a vale whose acquaintance is best made by viewing it from the summits of the hills that surround it […]. An unguided ramble into its recesses in bad weather is apt to engender dissatisfaction with its narrow, tortuous, and miry ways. (2.2)

    This description of the Vale of Blackmoor or Blakemore, Tess's childhood home, suggests that to appreciate the beauty of the place, you need a bird's-eye view – you have to see it from above, from the "summits of the hills." In other words, you need a wider perspective and a consciousness of the wider world in order to appreciate what's going on in the valley. That's all very well for a visitor – but what about for the folks who live there? Is the narrator suggesting that, because they're in the valley in good weather or bad, they're doomed to "dissatisfaction with its narrow, tortuous, and miry ways"? Or maybe the narrator isn't referring to the characters that live in this fictional valley at all, but is referring to the reader as the visitor, and he, the narrator, is our guide.

    As a narrator, he can offer us any perspective he wants. We might be reading this novel in a coffee shop in Collegetown, USA, but Hardy's narrator is able to guide us to the top of these hills that overlook the Vale of Blackmoor to offer us the bird's-eye view we need to appreciate what goes on in that valley. We need to keep that universal perspective in the backs of our minds in order to understand the more particular accounts of the residents of the valley that will follow – otherwise we might become "dissatisfied" with the seemingly "narrow" ways of the inhabitants of the valley – or the characters of the novel.

    Phase I: "The Maiden," Chapter Five

    Everything looked like money – like the last coin issued from the Mint. (5.22)

    Have you ever opened up a celebrity gossip magazine, or watched red-carpet interviews on E!, and marveled at how shiny and polished everything is? That's basically what Tess is doing here, as she gazes all slack-jawed and amazed at Alec D'Urberville's house. Everything there is brand-spanking new, and a pretty serious contrast to the worn, if not shabby, aspect of everything she's been used to at home.

    Phase II: "Maiden No More," Chapter Fourteen

    The narrow lane of stubble encompassing the field grew wider with each circuit, and the standing corn was reduced to smaller area as the morning wore on. Rabbits, hares, snakes, rats, mice, retreated inwards as into a fastness, unaware of the ephemeral nature of their refuge, and of the doom that awaited them later in the day when, their covert shrinking to a more and more horrible narrowness, they were huddled together, friends and foes, till the last few yards of upright wheat fell also under the teeth of the unerring reaper, and they were every one put to death by the sticks and stones of the harvesters. (14.8)

    The mechanical reaper seems to progress around the outside of the field of its own volition – the workers follow it to tie up the bundles of wheat that it leaves in its wake, but the folks driving it aren't described. The effect of this is to make the machine seem like it has its own personality – it's slowing hemming in the animals in the field until they have nowhere to hide, and they're killed. It's like a metaphor for what industrialization does to people – in the nineteenth century, various inventions (like the steam engine, for example), made more and more poor folks move to cities where they could make money working in factories. But the machines they worked with slowly but surely hemmed them in, and made them prisoners in the factory.

    Phase IV: "The Consequence," Chapter Thirty

    They crept along towards a point in the expanse of shade before them at which a feeble light was beginning to assert its presence, a spot where, by day, a fitful white streak of steam at intervals upon the dark green background denoted intermittent moments of contact between their secluded world and modern life. Modern life stretched out its steam feeler to this point three or four times a day, touched the native existences, and quickly withdrew its feeler again, as if what it touched had been uncongenial. (30.18)

    The world of Talbothays dairy is somehow out of sync with modernity – its only contact with modern life is through the railway, and the train is described as a "feeler" that starts to explore their "secluded world" at various intervals, and then withdraws itself again. It's like the two worlds – the antiquated world of tradition and superstition at the dairy and the modern world of London, represented by the train – are somehow incongruous: they can't mix.

    Tess Durbeyfield

    "Londoners will drink it at their breakfasts to-morrow, won't they? […] Noble men and noble women, ambassadors and centurions, ladies and tradeswomen, and babies who have never seen a cow. […] Who don't know anything of us, and where it comes from; or think how we two drove miles across the moor to-night in the rain that it might reach 'em in time?" (30.22-25)

    As Tess and Angel unload the milk to send on the train to the London market, Tess muses on the journey the milk is about to take. Critics call the huge gap between those that consume the milk and those that produce it "alienation." It's one of the by-products of industrialization and urbanization. People move to cities to work in factories and have no idea where their milk (or any other food) comes from. And the things they produce in the factories (fancy clothing, for example), gets sold to wealthy men and women who have no idea where the clothing came from, or under what conditions it was made: alienation. Congratulations, you just learned one of the basic tenets of Marxist thought. And it's something that Tess seems to understand instinctively.

    Phase IV: "The Consequence," Chapter Thirty-Two
    Tess Durbeyfield

    From the whole extent of the invisible vale came a multitudinous intonation; it forced upon their fancy that a great city lay below them, and that the murmur was the vociferation of the populace.
    "It seems like tens of thousands of them," said Tess; "holding public meetings in their market-places, arguing, preaching, quarrelling, sobbing, groaning, praying, and cursing." (32.4-5)

    Here, their imagination makes it seem to Tess and to Angel that the great city is somehow overlaying the peaceful countryside. A trick of the noise made by the rivers and streams make Tess imagine the bustle of the city – thousands of human lives, all going through the various overwhelming assortment of human emotions and activities.

    Phase V: "The Woman Pays," Chapter Forty-One

    Not being aware of the rarity of intelligence, energy, health, and willingness in any sphere of life, she refrained from seeking an indoor occupation; fearing towns, large houses, people of means and social sophistication, and of manners other than rural. (41.12)

    Tess avoids towns and cities by instinct – she doesn't trust them. The "manners" of "rural" people are more natural, and, though less "sophisticat[ed]," they are somehow safer.

    Phase VI: "The Convert," Chapter Forty-Seven

    He was in the agricultural world, but not of it. He served fire and smoke; these denizens of the fields served vegetation, weather, frost, and sun. He traveled with this engine from farm to farm, from county to county, for as yet the steam-threshing machine was itinerant in this part of Wessex. […] The long strap which ran from the driving-wheel of his engine to the red thresher under the rick was the sole tie-line between agriculture and him. (47.4)

    This guy rents out his steam-thresher to different farmers all over the county, since the technology is still so new that not everyone has their own. But the new technology doesn't seem to have any place in the fields, where tradition and superstition are still the rule. He travels through these rural areas, but he never becomes part of them. He's always an outsider.

    […] it was the engineman. The isolation of his manner and colour lent him the appearance of a creature from Tophet, who had strayed into the pellucid smokelessness of this region of yellow grain and pale soil, with which he had nothing in common, to amaze and to discompose its aborigines. (47.3)

    The man who runs the steam-powered threshing machine doesn't belong in the field – he's a representative of the modern, industrialized world. He's not painted in a very flattering light, either – he's like a "creature from Tophet" (the Hebrew version of hell), and has nothing "in common" with the field workers.

  • Time

    Phase I: "The Maiden," Chapter Two

    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.

    Phase I: "The Maiden," Chapter Three

    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.

    Phase I: "The Maiden," Chapter Four

    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.

    Phase I: "The Maiden," Chapter Five

    In the ill-judged execution of the well-judged plan of the things the call seldom produces the comer, the man to love rarely coincides with the hour for loving. Nature does not often say 'See!' to her poor creature at a time when seeing can lead to happy doing; or reply 'Here!' to a body's cry of 'Where?' till the hide-and-seek has become an irksome outworn game. We may wonder whether at the acme and summit of the human progress these anachronisms will become corrected by a finer intuition, a closer interaction of the social machinery than that which now jolts us round and along; but such completeness is not to be prophesied, or even conceived as possible. (5.73)

    The narrator laments that Tess should fall into Alec's path rather than connect with Angel, and blames the tragedy on Fate with a capital F. Life is full of missed connections, and reality is always just out of sync with the ideal. The narrator does hint at a possible future in which humans progress or evolve into a state in which we're able to make reality closer to the ideal, but then he backs away from that possibility. Kind of a bummer.

    Phase II: "Maiden No More," Chapter Fifteen

    She philosophically noted dates as they came past in the revolution of the year; the disastrous night of her life at Trantridge with its dark background of The Chase; also the dates of the baby's birth and death; also her own birthday; and every other day individualized by incidents in which she had taken some share. She suddenly thought one afternoon, when looking in the glass at her fairness, that there was yet another date, of greater importance to her than those; that of her own death, when all these charms would have disappeared; a day which lay sly and unseen among all the other days of the year, giving no sign or sound when she annually passed over it; but not the less surely there. (15.4)

    After Tess's baby dies, she becomes obsessed with marking the passage of time. But if you stop to think about it, we all do this – we count off birthdays, and presidents' birthdays, and random holidays like Labor Day and Administrative Assistants' Day, and Mother's Day, besides all of the religious holidays. Every second of every day is accounted for and named, according to our system of time-keeping. But in Tess's world, they keep time somewhat less precisely – not a lot of stop watches or second hands to mark time down to the smallest increments. And in the midst of counting off the days of the year that are particularly important to her, she begins to wonder about what day she will eventually die. Kind of a morbid thought for a young person to have, but it's an interesting question – we're all going to die one day, and the question that bothers Tess isn't the "how" or even the "how soon?" but "on what day?"

    Phase III: "The Rally," Chapter Sixteen

    On a thyme-scented, bird-singing morning in May, between two and three years after the return from Trantridge – two silent reconstructive years for Tess Durbeyfield – she left her home for second time. (16.1)

    There's a possible pun here – did you spot it? For a novel that's so obsessed with the passage of time, and being in sync, or out of sync with the passage of time, the homonym "thyme" at the opening of this chapter didn't occur by accident. Hardy could have used lavender, or rosemary, or any number of other summer herbs.

    Phase III: "The Rally," Chapter Nineteen

    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.

    "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.

    Phase IV: "The Consequence," Chapter Thirty-Two

    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.

    Phase VII: "Fulfillment," Chapter Fifty-Eight
    Angel Clare

    "Older than the centuries; older than the D'Urbervilles!" (58.30)

    When Angel realizes that he and Tess have arrived at Stonehenge, he exclaims immediately about how old it is. It's older than the D'Urbervilles, and "older than the centuries." Older than time? Earlier in the novel, the ancient, "primaeval" forest of The Chase near Trantridge, and the May Dance tradition were our previous markers of the really, really ancient. Now, Stonehenge just blows them all away in the absolutely, time-out-of-mind, ancient-beyond-belief category.

  • Sex

    Phase I: "The Maiden," Chapter Five

    She had an attribute which amounted to a disadvantage just now; and it was this that caused Alec D'Urberville's eyes to rivet themselves upon her. It was a luxuriance of aspect, a fullness of growth, which made her appear more of a woman than she really was. She had inherited the feature from her mother without the quality it denoted. It had troubled her mind occasionally, till her companions had said that it was a fault which time would cure. (5.63)

    Yes, Alec's eyes are "rivet[ing] themselves upon" Tess because – you guessed it – she has big breasts. This is just one passage that contemporary critics pointed to when they complained that Hardy included too much detail about Tess's sexiness. Why, they asked, did Hardy need to include this description of Tess's chest? Because Tess's "fullness of growth" "denote[s]" her femininity – her curvaceousness is supposed to make her seem like some kind of primitive nature goddess, which is probably why Hardy connects Tess's "fullness" to her mother – he wants to tie her to a matrilineal history that reaches back to pagan times when femininity and motherhood were considered sacred, and were worshipped in the form of nature goddesses.

    Alec D'Urberville

    "Well, my big Beauty, what can I do for you?" said he, coming forward. (5.30)

    Point of interest here – this is the first thing Alec D'Urberville ever says to Tess. Why does he call her "my big Beauty"? Why not just, "my Beauty"? Aren't Victorian heroines supposed to be all tiny and petite and corseted? Well, Tess is repeatedly described as a blooming, country girl – she's also described as very "womanly" for her age (see the next quote for an example). We're going to give you one guess what that means.

    P.S. Not all editions include the word "big," so be sure to double check your version.

    Phase I: "The Maiden," Chapter Eleven

    The obscurity was now so great that he could see absolutely nothing but a pale nebulousness at his feet, which represented the white muslin figure he had left upon the dead leaves. Everything else was blackness alike. (11.60)

    The scene of Tess's rape by Alec is deliberately ambiguous. Hardy never once uses the word "rape" to describe it, although that's certainly what it was by today's definitions. The sense of ambiguity is set up from the moment that Alec finds Tess sleeping under the tree – Hardy uses words like "obscure" and "nebulous" to indicate that what's about to happen is hard to interpret. Impossible, in fact, if you take into account the "blackness" that surrounds them. And because the actual act of the rape is left out (or "elided" to use the literary critical expression), we're left grasping at straws. There's "absolutely nothing" to interpret – but even that, as you can see from these lines, can mean something.

    Phase II: "Maiden No More," Chapter Twelve
    Tess Durbeyfield

    "Why didn't you tell me there was danger? Why didn't you warn me? Ladies know what to guard against, because they read novels that tell them of these tricks; but I never had the chance of discovering in that way, and you did not help me!" (12.81)

    What's interesting about Tess's complaint to her mother is what she assumes about the purpose of reading novels. After all, we're reading a novel right now. What does Hardy want us to get out of it? Are we just supposed to learn what "tricks" to "guard against"? Perhaps this passage is partly a defense against those contemporary critics who accused Tess of the D'Urbervilles of being immoral – Hardy seems to suggest that reading novels, even novels with sex parts, is important for women, because too much innocence can be dangerous, like it was for Tess.

    Phase III: "The Rally," Chapter Eighteen

    The outskirt of the garden in which Tess found herself had been left uncultivated for some years, and was now damp and rank with juicy grass which sent up mists of pollen at a touch; and with tall blooming weeds emitting offensive smells – weeds whose red and yellow and purple hues formed a polychrome as dazzling as that of cultivated flowers. She went stealthily as a cat through this profusion of growth, gathering cuckoo-spittle on her skirts, cracking snails that were underfoot, staining her hands with thistle-milk and slug-slime, and rubbing off upon her naked arms sticky blights which, though snow-white on the apple-tree trunks, made blood-red stains on her skin. (19.11)

    If you're thinking that this description of Tess in the garden is disturbingly provocative, you're absolutely right. She's getting pollen smeared all over her. You know what pollen is, biologically? Yeah, so did Hardy.

    Phase IV: "The Consequence," Chapter Twenty-Seven

    She was yawning, and he saw the red interior of her mouth as if it had been a snake's. She had stretched one arm so high above her coiled-up cable of hair that he could see its satin delicacy above the sunburn; her face was flushed with sleep, and her eyelids hung heavy over their pupils. The brimfulness of her nature breathed from her. It was a moment when a woman's soul is more incarnate than at any other time; when the most spiritual beauty bespeaks itself flesh; and sex takes the outside place in the presentation. (27.4)

    See, this is the kind of description that Hardy's contemporary critics described as overly "succulent." Tess is snake-like: it's not just that her mouth is wide open, but her hair is "coiled" like a snake. Her beauty is more human, and less ethereal or other-worldly, than ever: she's all "flesh" and "sex."

    Phase IV: "The Consequence," Chapter Thirty-Four

    He then told her of that time of his life to which allusion has been made when, tossed about by doubts and difficulties like a cork on the waves, he went to London and plunged into eight-and-forty hours' dissipation with a stranger. (34.83)

    Angel confesses his sexual "crimes" to Tess on their wedding night, just before she tells him about what had happened with Alec. Angel's reaction is obviously unjust, given what he's just confessed, but the sexual double-standard was pretty well engrained in the society at this point. It takes Angel more than a year, and a brush with death to overcome that convention, and realize just how wrong he was.

    Phase V: "The Woman Pays," Chapter Thirty-Five

    He was pale, even tremulous; but, as before, she was appalled by the determination revealed in the depths of this gentle being she had married – the will to subdue the grosser to the subtler emotion, the substance to the conception, the flesh to the spirit. Propensities, tendencies, habits, were as dead leaves upon the tyrannous wind of his imaginative ascendancy. (35.25)

    The whole problem with Angel, Tess is now realizing, is that he is too intellectual. He wants things to be ideal, and not real. He values the spiritual over the material, instead of looking for a balance or harmony between the two. And when he realizes that Tess has a material, physical history, and isn't just an ethereal, other-worldly being, he freaks.

    Phase VI: "The Convert," Chapter Forty-Six
    Alec D'Urberville

    "I say in all earnestness that it is a shame for parents to bring up their girls in such dangerous ignorance of the gins and nets that the wicked may set for them, whether their motive be a good one or the result of simple indifference." (46.14)

    Here, Hardy voices his argument for simple sex education through the converted Alec D'Urberville – hardly a likely mouthpiece for the opinions of the author, but still, it's hard not to think that this is an opinion held by Hardy himself. Tess expresses the same frustration about her lack of education to her mother back in 12.81 – if she had known about sex, she would have been better able to defend herself against Alec's advances. This is a controversial opinion, though – in the late 19th century, it wasn't just a debate about whether or not to teach children about contraception as opposed to "abstinence only" – the general practice was not to explain sex to girls at all. People thought that the mere knowledge of sex would somehow make girls less pure and virginal. Through this whole novel, Hardy seems to be arguing that such a practice is short-sighted.

    […] her mouth he had seen nothing to equal on the face of the earth. To a young man with the least fire in him that little upward lift in the middle of her red top lip was distracting, infatuating, maddening. […] Perfect, he, as a lover, might have called them off-hand. But no – they were not perfect. And it was the touch of the imperfect upon the would-be perfect that gave the sweetness, because it was that which gave the humanity.

    Tess's beauty is sometimes described as ethereal, or other-worldly, and at times, as totally human. Which is it? She's both a goddess, and a human woman – both a kind of "every woman," and totally unique.

  • Marriage

    Phase I: "The Maiden," Chapter Seven
    Joan Durbeyfield

    "[…] she ought to make her way with 'en, if she plays her trump card aright. And if he don't marry her afore he will after." (7.37)

    Mrs. Durbeyfield can tell that Alec is totally lusting after Tess, but she sends her off to work for the D'Urbervilles anyway, assuming that if Alec doesn't marry her "before" (sleeping with her), he will "after."

    Phase II: "Maiden No More," Chapter Twelve
    Joan Durbeyfield

    "And yet th'st not got him to marry 'ee!" reiterated her mother. "Any woman would have done it but you!" (12.76)

    Tess comes home having been raped by Alec, but without having married him. This totally overturns Mrs. Durbeyfield's views of sex and marriage. Yes, marriage is generally supposed to happen first, but on the occasions when sex happens first, marriage is sure to follow – or so Mrs. Durbeyfield had persuaded herself.

    Phase IV: "The Consequence," Chapter Thirty-One

    There was hardly a touch of earth in her love for Clare. To her sublime trustfulness he was all that goodness could be – knew all that a guide, philosopher, and friend should know. She thought every line in the contour of his person the perfection of masculine beauty, his soul the soul of a saint, his intellect that of a seer. (31.6)

    Tess looks up to Angel as some kind of supreme being. Not surprising, given his name (see "Character Analysis" section for Angel, and the "Character Clues" section for more on that). But the tragedy of the second half of the novel really stems from the fact that both Tess and Angel love the other as a supreme being – and both are disappointed when the find that the other is only human.

    Phase IV: "The Consequence," Chapter Thirty-Two
    Angel Clare

    "[…] since you will probably have to leave at Christmas, it is in every way desirable and convenient that I should carry you off then as my property." (32.18)

    It's surprising to realize that even a relatively good man like Angel Clare would buy into the idea that a wife is her husband's property.

    Phase IV: "The Consequence," Chapter Thirty-Three

    By the time they reached home she was contrite and spiritless. She was Mrs. Angel Clare, indeed, but had she any moral right to the name? Was she not more truly Mrs. Alexander D'Urberville? Had intensity of love any power to justify what might possibly be considered in upright souls as culpable reticence? (33.53)

    Just after her marriage to Angel, Tess muses on the difference between natural law and social laws. Is there a difference between the two? If "marriage" is just a physical union between two people resulting in procreation then, sure, she married Alec D'Urberville. Or, to be fair, he married her. Without permission. Or is love a social union? If so, then she's only married to Angel.

    Phase V: "The Woman Pays," Chapter Thirty-Six
    Angel Clare

    "How can we live together while that man lives?" (36.82)

    In other editions, Angel adds that Alec is Tess's husband in nature, if not legally. So again, there's a distinction between natural law and social law.

    Such is the vulpine slyness of Dame Nature, that, till now, Tess had been hoodwinked by her love for Clare into forgetting it might result in vitalizations that would inflict upon others what she had bewailed as a misfortune to herself. (36.86)

    Tess realizes that if she manages to persuade Clare to stay with her by getting him to consummate their marriage (i.e., to have sex with her), she might get pregnant. But to call those potential children "vitalizations" sounds awfully clinical and distant. She thinks of their possible children as future sufferers at the hands of an unjust world, and simply as "vitalizations" – living things. And living things, as we know from reading Hardy, suffer.

    Phase V: "The Woman Pays," Chapter Forty-One

    She was ashamed of herself for her gloom of the night, based on nothing more tangible than a sense of condemnation under an arbitrary law of society which had no foundation in Nature. (41.33)

    Tess sees the dying birds in the early morning, and puts them out of their misery out of pity. She realizes that she's not actually the most miserable living creature in the world – she hasn't been shot by hunters and left for dead. She's only been "condemn[ed]" by "an arbitrary law of society." So again, there's a distinction being made between Nature's laws, and the laws of society. The only law Tess "broke" (sex before marriage) is a social law, and one that has "no foundation in Nature."

    Phase V: "The Woman Pays," Chapter Forty-Two
    Tess Durbeyfield

    "I'll always be ugly now, because Angel is not here, and I have nobody to take care of me. My husband that is gone away, and never will love me any more; but I love him just the same, and hate all other men, and like to make 'em think scornful o' me!" (42.5)

    Angel might have left her, but Tess remains fiercely loyal to him to the point of making herself ugly so that other men won't admire her good looks. Her idea of marriage seems to be that no other men should even look at her if she can help it. But really, her decision to make herself ugly is a practical one – she was getting harassed on the road.

    Phase VI: "The Convert," Chapter Forty-Seven
    Alec D'Urberville

    "Remember, I was your master once! I will be your master again. If you are any man's wife you are mine!" (47.39)

    Alec is angry after Tess smacks him with a heavy work glove, and he actually says what he thinks: that he has some kind of natural right to Tess, just because he's the first man to have had sex with her. In his mind, this makes him her "natural" husband.

  • Man and the Natural World

    Phase I: "The Maiden," Chapter Nine

    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.

    Phase I: "The Maiden," Chapter Eleven

    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.

    Phase II: "Maiden No More," Chapter Twelve
    Joan Durbeyfield

    "'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.

    Phase II: "Maiden No More," Chapter Thirteen

    On these lonely hills and dales her quiescent glide was of a piece with the element she moved in. Her flexuous and stealthy figure became an integral part of the scene. (13.14)

    Once again, the narrator associates Tess with nature. Here, she actually seems to become one with nature. She becomes "an integral part" of the landscape, and is "of a piece" with nature. It's more of the earth goddess thing again, although it sounds pretty hippy.

    Walking among the sleeping birds in the hedges, watching the skipping rabbits on a moonlit warren, or standing under a pheasant-laden bough, she looked upon herself as a figure of Guilt intruding into the haunts of Innocence. But all the while she was making a distinction where there was no difference. Feeling herself in antagonism she was quite in accord. She had been made to break a necessary social law, but no law known to the environment in which she fancied herself such an anomaly. (13.15)

    Tess thinks that she's broken a universal law – something natural and fundamental. But really, the only law that she's broken is a social law – one that humans invented. It's a "necessary" social law, the narrator adds (he doesn't go so far as to say that the taboo against pre-marital sex is a bad one), but it's not a natural law. And notice also that he says that she was "made to break" that law – in other words, she isn't at fault, and the sin isn't hers.

    Phase II: "Maiden No More," Chapter Fourteen

    So passed away Sorrow the Undesired – that intrusive creature, that bastard gift of shameless Nature who respects not the civil law. (14.58)

    It's another juxtaposition of nature and civilization – Sorrow was a "natural" child in that he (or she?) was born according to "natural" laws, as opposed within the socially sanctioned bonds of marriage.

    Phase V: "The Woman Pays," Chapter Thirty-Five

    The night came in, and took up its place there, unconcerned and indifferent; the night which had already swallowed up his happiness, and was now digesting it listlessly; and was ready to swallow up the happiness of a thousand other people with as little disturbance or change of mien. (35.80)

    Thanks, Hardy – what a depressing thought. Misery is spread equally over "a thousand other people," and the world itself doesn't care or notice. The idea here is that we're all alone in an unfeeling and unsympathetic universe. That's certainly how Angel is feeling the morning after Tess's confession to him.

    Phase V: "The Woman Pays," Chapter Forty-Two

    Towards the second evening she reached the irregular chalk table-land or plateau, bosomed with semi-globular tumuli. (42.11)

    So the landscape here is covered in rounded hills, or "tumuli," that Hardy compares to "bosoms"? Yes, this is weird. Yes, this needs a closer look. What do breasts generally signify? They usually symbolize fertility, life, and sustenance. So the land here seems to be nurturing and fertile, but it's really "chalk[y]" and, as Marian calls it, "starve-acre."

    Inside this exterior, over which the eye might have roved as over a thing scarcely percipient, almost inorganic, there was the record of a pulsing life which had learnt too well, for its years, of the dust and ashes of things, of the cruelty of lust and the fragility of love. (42.8)

    Tess's body seems almost to dissolve into the landscape as she works in the turnip field. Remember that earlier scene in which the narrator suggests that the female field workers become one with the field in a way that the men cannot? This is similar – but here, she's not just in sympathy with the ground, she herself is "almost inorganic," or without life. Almost, but not quite – there's still a "record" of life, but it's the "record" of a sad life.

    Thus Tess walks on; a figure which is part of the landscape; a field-woman pure and simple, in winter guise. (42.6)

    Remember when Tess was working at the harvest way back in Phase II? The narrator describes all the female field workers as being part of the field (14.10). This is a similar moment, but it doesn't seem as positive here. Here, Tess is anonymous – she's a "figure," and a "field-woman." She melts into the landscape because of the monotony of the work. She's not unique anymore.

  • Fate and Free Will

    Phase I: "The Maiden," Chapter Eleven

    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!

    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)

    Okay, 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.

    [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.

    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?

    Phase IV: "The Consequence," Chapter Thirty-Two

    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." Tess has named the date of the wedding, and has lost any sense of agency in the matter. Now all she can do is wait, "passive[ly]," for the wedding to take place. It's out of her hands, and she's given up personal responsibility for it.

    Phase IV: "The Consequence," Chapter Thirty-Four
    Joan Durbeyfield

    "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.

    This incident had turned the scale for her. They were simple and innocent girls on whom the unhappiness of unrequited love had fallen; they had deserved better at the hands of Fate. (34.72)

    When Tess hears the bad news about Retty's attempted suicide and Marian's drunkenness, she blames it on "the hand of Fate." Sure, the two girls were disappointed, but blaming fate for a suicide attempt and the decision to forget her troubles by getting blistered shifts the responsibility onto an abstract idea.

    Phase V: "The Woman Pays," Chapter Thirty-Five
    Angel Clare

    "Decrepit families postulate decrepit wills, decrepit conduct." (35.61).

    Angel blames Tess's past (i.e., her rape) on the fact that she comes from a "decrepit" family. Broken-down families create people with broken-down wills – people who can't think and act for themselves. So Angel seems to be coming down pretty firmly on the side of "free will" for the reason of Tess's rape, and he's putting an awful lot of the blame on the side of her "will," as opposed to Alec's. We all know that Tess's "will" and wishes weren't consulted at all by Alec, but Angel assumes that they were, and that she complied.

    Phase VII: "Fulfillment," Chapter Fifty-Six
    Alec D'Urberville

    "I couldn't help your seeing me again!" (56.107)

    Alec argues that his meeting with Tess again after so many years was fate, and that it means that they are meant to get back together. Tess still argues against fate, and insists that it's free will, and not fate, that makes the world go round. Of course, once again, her will wasn't consulted in the matter: she couldn't "help" that he saw her again.

    Alec D'Urberville

    "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.

  • Justice and Judgment

    Phase II: "Maiden No More," Chapter Thirteen

    She had no fear of the shadows; her sole idea seemed to be to shun mankind – or rather that cold accretion called the world, which, so terrible in the mass, is so unformidable, even pitiable, in its units. (13.13)

    Tess has often been associated with nature and with the ancient worship of female nature goddesses (see 2.6, for example, where Tess and the other women of Marlott participate in the ancient celebration of the earth goddess, which now takes the form of the club-walking). So it makes sense that she should feel safe in the woods. Her only real danger is from people – especially people as a group, or an "accretion" – because it's as a group that people judge and gossip.

    Walking among the sleeping birds in the hedges, watching the skipping rabbits on a moonlit warren, or standing under a pheasant-laden bough, she looked upon herself as a figure of Guilt intruding into the haunts of Innocence. But all the while she was making a distinction where there was no difference. Feeling herself in antagonism she was quite in accord. She had been made to break a necessary social law, but no law known to the environment in which she fancied herself such an anomaly. (13.15)

    We discuss this passage in the analysis of the theme of "Man and the Natural World," but it's also important to consider in this context. The only law that Tess has broken is a social law, that people shouldn't have sex before they're married – and that is a law that was invented by humans. But she, and most other people, have so internalized those social laws that they have forgotten where they came from. They've forgotten that those laws are not actually a natural or fundamental part of the world.

    Tess is mixing up epistemology (social codes and man-made ways of understanding the world) with ontology (the way the world really is, without the perspective forced on us by society). Civilization provides us with epistemology, the social framework through which we see the world, while nature represents ontology, because it just is, with or without that social framework. Congratulations, you just passed Metaphysics 101!

    Phase II: "Maiden No More," Chapter Fourteen

    But now that her moral sorrows were passing away a fresh one arose on the natural side of her which knew no social law. When she reached home it was to learn to her grief that the baby had been suddenly taken ill since the afternoon. (14.30)

    Once again, we're seeing a distinction between "social law" and "natural" law – between epistemology and ontology.

    Phase IV: "The Consequence," Chapter Twenty-Six

    The fireplace confronted him with its extinct embers; the spread supper-table, whereon stood the two full glasses of untasted wine, now flat and filmy; her vacated seat and his own; the other articles of furniture, with their eternal look of not being able to help it, their intolerable inquiry of what was to be done? (36.1)

    When Angel wakes up the morning after Tess's confession, his whole world has collapsed. All his perceptions of Tess seem to have been wrong, and his whole outlook on life seems to fall apart. And yet the room itself looks just the same – the supper that they never ate is still sitting there. The inanimate objects around him, like the furniture, are still the same as ever, and their sameness, after the collapse of everything he ever thought he knew, seems almost to mock him.

    Phase V: "The Woman Pays," Chapter Thirty-Five

    All material objects around announced their irresponsibility with terrible iteration. And yet nothing had changed since the moments when he had been kissing her; or rather, nothing in the substance of things. But the essence of things had changed. (35.2)

    After Tess confesses to Angel, his inner world goes all topsy-turvy. Everything he ever knew, or thought he knew, has to be re-evaluated. Tess isn't the person he thought she was (or is she?). But of course his state of inner agitation and confusion isn't reflected in the outside world – the room itself, and all the "material objects around" them, stay the same. The world itself is utterly indifferent to what's going on in the hearts and minds of these two people. They're both utterly alone.

    Phase V: "The Woman Pays," Chapter Forty-One

    […] but, outside humanity, she had at present no fear. (41.27)

    Again, it's civilization, and people, that Tess fears – nature and the outdoors seem safe to her.

    She could not have borne their pity, and their whispered remarks to one another upon her strange situation; though she would almost have faced a knowledge of her circumstances by every individual there, so long as her story had remained isolated in the mind of each. It was the interchange of ideas about her that made her sensitiveness wince. (41.13)

    Tess doesn't mind the idea of each person at Talbothays dairy knowing what happened to her, individually, but she hates the idea of them gossiping about her. People aren't to be feared individually – as individuals, they can pity and understand one another. But as a group, as a society, they are to be feared because they form social laws and conventions, and judge more severely.

    Phase VI: "The Convert," Chapter Fifty-One

    Never in her life – she could swear it from the bottom of her soul – had she ever intended to do wrong; yet these hard judgments had come. Whatever her sins, they were not sins of intention, but of inadvertence, and why should she have been punished so persistently? (51.8)

    Tess is crying out against the injustice of the universe – if she's never knowingly done wrong, or at least, has never had bad intentions, why should she be punished? The answer would seem to be that the universe is, in fact, an unjust place. The bad aren't always punished, and the good sometimes get punished for crimes that they didn't commit.

    Phase VII: "Fulfillment," Chapter Fifty-Three
    Angel Clare

    […] he had asked himself why had he not judged Tess constructively rather than biographically, by the will rather than by the deed? (53.25)

    Angel realizes his own injustice, and that the only real justice is in judging people by their intentions, rather than by their actions: "by the will rather than by the deed."

    Phase VII: "Fulfillment," Chapter Fifty-Nine

    "Justice" was done, and the President of the Immortals (in Aeschylean phrase) had ended his sport with Tess. (59.8)

    The reference to a play by the ancient Greek playwright, Aeschylus, seems at first kind of out of place here. But Aeschylus wrote tragedies, and the phrase that Hardy borrows, the "President of the Immortals," comes from Aeschylus's play, Prometheus, and Prometheus was considered by many to be the ultimate tragic hero. That play is all about punishment and justice, so it's an appropriate reference at this point in Tess. You should also note that "justice" is ironically set off in quotation marks in this passage.