Tess of the d’Urbervilles

 

Note: (The contents of this post is to be traversed only by those that have read the book, lest something of the plot may be given away)

I have just finished Tess of the d’Urbervilles, and so all you who have read it will know what I must be suffering.

The tragedy of the ending is made worse because there is no heaven to believe in. The book was written around the time when Darwin’s theory of Evolution had begun to make people pry deeper into the idea of God, and Thomas Hardy did this by writing Tess of the d’Urbervilles, and the conclusion seems to be in favor of Darwin. The whole story of the book is the tragic life of the heroine, Teresa Durbeyfield, and suggests strongly that God does not really watch lovingly over the lives of all human beings – for Tess is driven by the unfairness of life to commit the crimes most terrible to the Victorian public – she was twice lured into sexual relations with one she was not married to, and is even, in the end (I hope those who have not read the book are following my a advice not to read this post) a murderess. Yet, she is still, after all this, ‘a pure woman’. Were providence a real thing, these misfortunes could not have happened – Christianity suggests that be your soul pure, life will favor you and you will never have to do wrong, and Hardy suggests this idea is incorrect. In other great novels of the Victorian age providence looks after the heroines. In Jane Eyre, for instance, everything is fair and even – Mr Rochester pays for his byronic sins by being blinded, and Jane finds her way to happiness be being always pure and true, always preserving her self-respect, and above all, believing in that great power which ought to lift all worthy heroines out of difficulty. But Tess has no such good fortune – pureness does her no good – there is no God to punish her for her wrong and reward her for her wrights. One paragraph from the book describes this point – when Alec d’Urberville finds the vulnerable Tess asleep under the trees:

Darkness and silence ruled everywhere around. Above them rose the primeval yews and oaks of The Chase, in which there poised gentle roosting birds in their last nap; and about them stole the hopping rabbits and hares. But, might some say, where was Tess’s guardian angel? Where was the providence of her simple faith? 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 he was sleeping and not to be awaked.

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, the wrong man the woman, the wrong woman the man, many thousand years of analytical philosophy have failed to explain to our sense of order. One may, indeed, admit the possibility of a retribution lurking in the present catastrophe. Doubtless some of Tess d’Urberville’s mailed ancestors rollicking home from a fray had dealt the same measure even more ruthlessly towards 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 average human nature; and it therefore does not mend the matter.

The end of the paragraph brings up the idea that Tess might be being punished by having the same done to her that her ancestors had done before her to others, but, ‘it does not mend the matter’, for it is unfair for her to be punished for her ancestors’ sins. This theme is touched on again later in the book, showing at the same time the cruelty of established Christianity, when the church will not give a Christian burial to the little baby that Tess gave birth to illegitimately by d’Urberville. Why should the baby suffer for its mother’s, sins, (if sins they were)?

Ashamed to live any more at home, where all know what befell her, Tess goes to work at Tabothay’s Dairy, where she falls passionately and tragically in love with Mr. Angel Clare, a middle-class gentleman who has decided to be a farmer, instead of taking orders as his father and brothers have done (as is later revealed this is because he once had an affair and does not think it right to preach against what he had done himself). He falls in love with her, and asks her to marry him. She refuses at first, having decided never to marry, for she thinks herself in a certain way married to Alec d’Urberville, the destroyer of her maidenhood. She relents at last, however, and they become engaged to be married, but Tess is troubled in her conscience for she feels she ought to tell him about her affair with Alec d’Urberville. She writes him a letter about it and tries to post it under his door, for she has not the courage to tell him in person, but it slips under the rug.

Here is an example of the sort of frustrating sadness that occurs so often in Thomas Hardy – for later, after they are married she tells him about it, having discovered he did not receive her letter, and because, even after deciding to leave the respectable middle class of his birth, he is still without the courage to defy common custom for the sake of right, he decides it is improper for them to live together, and he goes to make his fortune as a farmer in Brazil, leaving Tess behind, enveloped in agonized misery. But while about to leave for Brazil, he says to himself, ‘Had you only told me sooner, Tess, I should have forgiven you!’ So damn and curse the stupid carpet ten million times!

After making the point about how frustrating the incident of the carpet and letter is, I will now go over the previously talked about part of the book in a little more detail.

I believe it is not completely because of a false sense of delicacy that Clare left Tess – it is also because he had formed a picture of her as a blooming, unsoiled country maiden – a sort of untried, innocent little doll or turtle-dove for him to teach and love, as a romantic book might put it ‘the picture of innocence’. He wished her to be pure as a child, to never have had any experience of the wicked world around her. Such complete innocence is impossible for any human-being – we all have our faults and blemishes, we have all gone through some experience or other of the world, and Tess was, no doubt, as near to what he wanted as he would ever have found on this earth. He wanted her as the ‘beautiful feminine tissue, sensitive as gossamer’ that she had been before she was ‘soiled’ by d’Urberville. Yet even then, she had been only ‘practically blank as snow’. To be completely blank is impossible, and Clare threw away from him the nearest thing to his dream that he would ever find.

Also, she had told him about something that her family had found out – it was speculated that they were of the ancient family of the d’Urbervilles (hence the name, Tess of the d’Urbervilles). It was because of this she had met Alec d’Urberville. She had been sent by her family to tell him and his old mother that she was related to them, but it turned out he was not really of the same ancient d’Urberville family. Anyhow, Clare got an idea that the d’Urbervilles had committed many crimes of the same sort as Tess, and that her being from that ancient family was also a blight on her innocence.

Clare had told Tess she could get money from his father, but she was to proud to do so, and she became very poor and had to work at Flintcombe Ash. But no more of the plot, for I have already asked those who do not already know it not to read this. A few more thoughts on the later parts of the book, and I will close this entry.

It is an odd thing that after murdering Alec, she seemed to see nothing at all wrong with it. She seemed almost to have been driven mad with sorrow.

The most traumatizing part of the book for me, sadder even than when she dies, is when Clare comes home to her and finds her with Alec d’Urberville, and she stands at the door and talks to him so coolly. It might be, perhaps that she is too sad to be sad – she had stopped even existing in her own head, her existence was so terrible. This may explain another interesting thing, which is that the book leaves Tess’s point of view as she is talking with d’Urberville in the church, and never really ever returns to it. It is lucky – it would be too dreadful indeed if you were looking at the events of the end with Tess’s eyes. It is interesting though, and seems to again suggest the idea that she is not even thinking to herself anymore – that it would be too bad for her to be herself, just as it would be too bad for the reader to be her.

And now, my last thought. The book seems to explore the strange pathos of life – something that is quite beyond science – a mystery far greater than the scientific mysteries of how the world began, and other such things. The book confronts and diminishes one great mystery – that of religion – and introduces another – that of life.

 

Persuasion

 

PERSUASION

Without question the softest, and often said to be the most lonely and melancholic of the Jane Austen novels, Persuasion is nevertheless one of my favourites. Though Anne does not have the lively spirit of Lizzy, she is such a gentle, pensive, good-natured heroine that I like her just as well. I am just like her about not liking cities. I always think though, that if she disliked beautiful old fashioned Bath, where it would be a treat for me to go, what would she think of a modern city? the roaring of cars and the flashing of traffic lights would seem far worse than “the dash of other carriages, the heavy rumble of carts and drays, the bawling of newsmen, muffin-men, and milk-men, and the ceaseless clink of pattens”, and the tall skyscrapers of our cities would be horrid in comparison with ‘extensive buildings, smoking in rain’ which no doubt were some gorgeous regency houses. But had I lived in Anne’s time, I no doubt would have considered Bath as I consider Manchester and London. I wish I did live at Anne’s time – no I don’t – there would be no computer for me to have this blog on.

To continue, I will talk about some of what I consider the highlights of the book.  I am sure everybody who has ever read Persuasion remembers the thrill of horror at the moment when Louisa falls from the Cob in Lime; and still more the softer bitterness of Captain Wentworth’s grief, showing (as we all think) the excessiveness of his attachment to Louisa. But the dramatic, intense parts essential to the plot are not the only highlights. I always have a great pleasure in reading the part about the autumn walk, especially the paragraph describing Anne’s delight in the charm of the countryside in autumn, and the many poems describing that charm –

”Her pleasure in the walk must arise from the exercise and the day, from the view of the last smiles of the year upon the tawny leaves and withered hedges, and from repeating to herself some few of the thousand poetical descriptions extant of autumn –that season of peculiar and inexhaustible influence on the mind of taste and tenderness –that season which has drawn from every poet worthy of being read some attempt at description, or some lines of feeling.”

But alas, Anne cannot keep her mind from wandering to sorrow, and “The sweet scenes of autumn were for a while put by, unless some tender sonnet, fraught with the apt analogy of the declining year, with declining happiness, and the images of youth and hope, and spring, all gone together, blessed her memory.”

Wonderful as all of Persuasion is, there is only one more part – the crowning of the whole book – that particularly dwells upon my memory, that I especially think has to be mentioned. One of the many merits of Jane Austen, I think, is the overpowering happiness of her endings – it is impossible not to smile as you read the end . And of all the endings, Persuasion’s is, perhaps, the happiest of all. Oh the indescribable joy of that letter! How our hearts leap at the words! How the joy rushes through body and head! I believe one of the happiest moment in my life was reading that letter.

“I can listen no longer in silence. I must speak to you by such means
as are within my reach. You pierce my soul. I am half agony,
half hope. Tell me not that I am too late, that such precious feelings
are gone for ever. I offer myself to you again with a heart
even more your own than when you almost broke it, eight years
and a half ago. Dare not say that man forgets sooner than woman,
that his love has an earlier death. I have loved none but you.
Unjust I may have been, weak and resentful I have been,
but never inconstant. You alone have brought me to Bath.
For you alone, I think and plan. Have you not seen this?
Can you fail to have understood my wishes? I had not waited even
these ten days, could I have read your feelings, as I think you must have
penetrated mine. I can hardly write. I am every instant hearing
something which overpowers me. You sink your voice, but I can
distinguish the tones of that voice when they would be lost on others.
Too good, too excellent creature! You do us justice, indeed.
You do believe that there is true attachment and constancy among men.
Believe it to be most fervent, most undeviating, in F. W.’

And before this joy, there is are gentler but just as memorable emotions exited in her conversation with Captain Harville. Never have Jane Austen’s powers of creating conversation been so wonderfully exercised. The story of Anne’s life can be traced in her words.

 

 

A Tale of the Moors

(picture above is of me, standing on Bronte moors in Howarth

 

BRONTES

Wuthering Heights

It is impossible to imagine the impulse that made Emily write such a strange, such a powerful, such a passionate, such an unaccountable – in short such a unearthly book – impossible, that is, until you stand on the Bronte moors by Penistone Crag, and look down on that incredible expanse of wild land, with the wind stirring  the heather and moaning through the hills. Then and only then can you image how such characters as Heathcliff where invented. The moors can stir strange power in you; you might say it is they who had written Wuthering Heights, not Emily.