02 narrative techniques

Tess of the D’Urbervilles
Lecture 2 – Paper 5
Overview of Narrative Techniques
Recap – Lecture 1
Victim of her own passivity – her
internalization of the sexual
moral codes in society (?)
Conflict btwn her moral
ideals & the double
standard in patriarchal
Victorian sexual
Woman as Victim
Victim of her own
physical charms
Victim of her innate
innocence – purity a
natural disposition
Victim of her high
moral standards
– her pride
Complexity of Tess’s victimization – is the
source of the tragedy within and/or outside
of her?
A tragedy solely due to gender?
What about family & social class?
Role of Fate & Chance?
The force of the novel stems from the
narrative methods used by Hardy to convey
an intense sympathy for Tess
“Nothing is more remarkable in the novel
than the extraordinary passion with which
Tess is described and justified.” (Biographer,
Michael Millgate – 1971)
1. Setting
Wessex – a “partly real, partly dream country”
(Preface to 1895 edition of Far From A
Madding Crowd)
Up until the last quarter of the 19th C.,
‘Wessex’ was purely a historical term defining
the south-western region of the island of
Britain that had been ruled by the West
Saxons in the early Middle Ages
With Hardy’s appropriation of ‘Wessex’ in his
literary creation, the term has come to mean
a tradition bound region that is rural and preindustrial, well steeped in superstition, folklore & folk customs.
Hardy’s Wessex centred in his native county
of Dorset (South Wessex)
Visual effect of Hardy’s descriptive language
Careful handling of scenery & season, so
that time & place reinforce mood
Use of dialect that adds a degree of
authenticity in characterizing class diff.
Novel marked by a degree of verisimilitude
TUB characterized by the emphasis of movement
and the landscape changes with the changes in the
phases of Tess’s history
Careful handling of scenery & season, so that time &
place reinforce mood
E.g. Contrast btwn the lush landscape of the Valley
of the Great Diaries & the drabness of Flintcomb Ash
 parallels Tess’s wintry loss of sensuality and love
Natural setting is used symbolically and bears
an integral relationship to the physical &
psychological state of Tess
“a daughter of the soil”; “a figure which is part of
the landscape, a fieldswoman pure and simple,
in winter guise.”
Tess as a symbol of agricultural purity stained by
industrialized society – conflict btwn the two
worlds of country & city
Concept of Nature as the presence that remains
unaffected by, indifferent to human suffering.
Sometimes, Nature exercises an active influence
on the course of events.
“like a fly on a billiard table of indefinite length”
(Chap 16, p.105) – Tess as defenceless &
2. Use of Coincidence / Chance events
As the external expression of Fate which is
omnipotent & indifferent
Chance – a subordinate agency of Fate;
something that happens unpredictably
without discernible human intention or
observable cause
Cumulative effects of chance / coincidence
that thwart Tess’s well-intentioned actions
E.g. Tess’s wish to confess to Angel Clare
before marrying him is frustrated by chance
which has her confessional letter slipped
under the carpet, so that Angel never sees it.
Inevitability of suffering
Too far-fetched? Excessive?
3. Irony
a) Cosmic irony
 Cosmic irony or the irony of fate exists when
God, or destiny, or the universal process, is
represented as though deliberately
manipulating events to frustrate and mock the
protagonist – M.H. Abrams
 Ironic references to Christianity, God or gods
“But where was Tess’s guardian angel?
where 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.” (Chap
11, p.74)
b) Irony of circumstance
 Two features: when a person desires one
thing & the outcome is opposite, and when a
person marries, he usually makes a wrong
 E.g. The d’Urbervilles residing at The Slopes
are not the true d’Urbervilles and instead of
receiving help, Tess ironically loses her
virginity because of her innocence.
4. Omens & Foreshadowing
Images connected with omens of misfortune
Death of Prince, the horse and Tess seeing herself
as a murderess
Tess pricked by a thorn from the roses that Alec
d’Urberville gives her on her first visit to his house
Crowing of the cock on her wedding day signifies
either a bride’s unchaste nature or just ill-luck
Builds up a pessimistic atmosphere of fatality and
impending misfortune
5. Imagery & Symbolism
Natural imagery – earth, flowers, agriculture
Animal imagery
Colour (esp. red)
Clothing, dressing up
Symbolic use of setting – sun, mist / fog, light
vs. dark, seasons
6. Point-of-view: Voice & Perspective
Third-person omniscient narrator
Events ‘seen’ through the eyes of different
characters (i.e. multiple perspectives)
Intrusive voice of the author
“Darkness and silence ruled everywhere
around. Above them rose the primeval 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.
But where was Tess’s guardian angel?
where was Providence?” (Chap 11, p.74)
Critical evaluation
How do we as readers respond to this strength
of feeling? – involved & moving or too heavily
insistent, even contrived?
Does this undercurrent of emotion conveyed by
a significantly male voice complicate or perhaps
even compromise Hardy’s social criticism of
women’s issues?
Forcefulness of sympathy for Tess’s plight is
At one level, such forcefulness exposes the
hypocrisy of Victorian sexual norms and its
cruel injustice inflicted on women (in his time).
Yet, at another level, some feminist critics
have suggested that Hardy, in his fascination
with Tess, is creating an ideal subjected to the
voyeuristic male gaze.
Contradictory positioning of Hardy as a writer
in presenting women and their experiences
Hardy still sees Tess’s self-effacing character
(her meekness & patience) as good and
admirable, which paradoxically endorses a
moral pattern of womanhood which the novel
demonstrates is damaging and repressive
Hardy was sympathetic to women’s
dilemmas and demands, but this sympathy
was still embedded in a culture which was
still essentially patriarchal
Fictional stereotypes of women (as natural,
instinctive) remodelled, but not transformed
Is this contradiction also found in Lawrence’s
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