Tess of the D`Urbervilles

Tess of the D’Urbervilles
Lecture 4
Phase the First – The Maiden
(Chaps 7 – 11)
To what extent can Tess’s plight be attributed to the following
factors? By what means does Hardy show this?
Factors leading to Tess’s downfall:
- Gender relations – male-female & female-female
- Tess’s personality
- Coincidence / fate
Literary methods
- Imagery (symbolism, metaphor)
- Setting
- Narrative voice and perspective
Angel, Alec, Mrs Durbeyfield, and the
Trantridge women ‘construct’ Tess in
particular ways that entrap her in
stereotypical roles as defined by an
intersection of class and gender expectations
Hardy shows these different gender
constructs through the use of shifting
narrative perspectives (mediated by the 3rd
person omniscient narrator)
Male-female relations
Alec and Angel arrive at contrasting interpretations of Tess’s
personality, in response to the image of her in the white muslin
dress she wears at the May-Day dance
Angel’s viewpoint: Tess is ‘a white shape’ among a troop of
‘country hoydens’, albeit a ‘pretty maiden’ who is ‘modest’,
‘expressive, ‘soft’  ie. Woman as Madonna (Ch 2, p.18)
Angel’s silent acceptance of his brothers’ judgement (‘dancing
in public with a troop of country hoydens’) makes his first
encounter with Tess a non-encounter, because he is unable at
that point to see Tess as anything more than a country girl to be
dismissed from his mind.
Male-female relations
Alec’s viewpoint: Tess is a ‘farm girl’ whose position
as ‘poor relation’ can be used to obtain / force her
sexual surrender without the necessity for love or
Alec constructs Tess as an object of male desire,
using stereotypical ‘props’ like strawberries and
roses (Ch 5)
Alec typecasts Tess based on his understanding of
the sexual ethics of her class – assumes her sexual
availability  Woman as Whore
“You are mighty sensitive for a farm girl!” (Ch 8, p.56)
Male-female relations
The relationship between Tess and Alec involves an
unequal balance of power that is rooted in class,
economic and gender differences
Alec – characterised as a stock villain (‘the
moustachioed seducer of Victorian melodrama’)
‘an almost swarthy complexion, with full lips, badly
moulded, though red and smooth… a well-groomed
black moustache with curled points… touches of
barbarism in his contours… singular force… bold
rolling eye’ (Ch 5, p.40)
Male-female relations
Often presented on horseback or driving a carriage / cart –
symbolic representation of his position of power & control over
Eg. the dog-cart ride shows Alec’s mastery of the mare - “If any
living man can manage this horse I can”; ‘…it was evident that
the horse, whether of her own will or of his (the latter being the
more likely) knew so well the reckless performance expected of
her that she hardly required a hint from behind.’ (Ch 8, p.54)
Compare with Gerald’s taming of the mare in WIL
Eg. on the horseride through The Chase immediately before the
rape / seduction scene, Alec’s literal manipulation of their route
mirrors his manipulation and emotional blackmail of Tess
Male-female relations
Hardy shows how patriarchal power is asserted in
various ways – verbally, economically, sexually.
Verbally – seen in the way Alec assigns her different
names which define her identity and her relationship
with him
‘my Beauty’ (Ch 5), ‘my pretty Coz’, ‘Durbeyfield
only, you know – quite another name’, ‘Miss
Independence’ (Ch 10) – NB: use of possessive
Male-female relations
Economically – Alec uses his position as Tess’s de
facto employer to get close to her; tries to ‘buy’ her
affection with gifts for her family.
‘It was in the economy of this regime that Tess
Durbeyfield had undertaken to fill a place… A
familiarity with Alec D’Urberville’s presence – which
the young man carefully cultivated… But she was
more pliable under his hands than a mere
companionship would have made her, owing to her
unavoidable dependence upon his mother, and,
through that lady’s comparative helplessness, upon
him.’ (Ch 9, p.62)
Male-female relations
Sexually – Hardy builds up the narrative tension through the
progressive escalation of Alec’s sexual advances.
Tess’s resistance becomes gradually more muted – from her
spirited, strategic resistance during the first journey to
Trantridge, to her silences during the horseride through The
‘He was inexorable, and she sat still, and D’Urberville gave her
the kiss of mastery.’ (Ch 8, p.56)
Sentence structure (parallel clauses) highlights the contrast
between Alec’s sexual aggression and Tess’s passivity
Male-female relations
Use of animal imagery
 Symbolic significance of the caged bullfinches (Ch 9)
 Ironically, like the bullfinches, Tess is trapped by her
situation, even during the times when it appears that
her captors are looking out for her welfare
 Compare and contrast with the images of the caged
hawk in WIL – bullfinches can be tamed and
managed, while hawks are untameable birds of prey
Male-female relations
Symbolic significance of the ‘community of
fowls’ Tess is entrusted with (Ch 9, p.58)
Domestication of these hens and cocks
mirrors the domestication that Tess gradually
undergoes under Alec’s careful cultivation of
her acquaintance
Female-female relations
Social reproduction of gender roles in the motherdaughter relationship
“… 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. For that he’s all afire wi’ love for her any
eye can see.”
“What’s her trump card? Her D’Urberville blood…?”
“No, stupid; her face – as ‘twas mine.” (Ch 7, p.53)
Enacted when Mrs D dresses up Tess in a way that
‘might cause her to be estimated as a woman when
she was not much more than a child’ (Ch 7, p.49)
Female-female relations
Sexual rivalry that contributes to Tess’s fall
Imagery of war suggests a power struggle between
Tess and the other women
No genuine female solidarity – ‘united… against the
common enemy’ (ie Tess), and the men’s attempt to
‘make peace’ only serves ‘directly to increase the
war.’ (Ch 10, p.67)
Tess’s decision to accept Alec’s help is partly
motivated by ‘fear and indignation at these
adversaries’ that she knows ‘could be transformed…
into a triumph over them’ (Ch. 10, p.68)
Coincidence / fate
Prince’s death functions as an ominous double
foreshadowing of
a) the Chase scene
b) Tess’s murder of Alec
Parallels in plot patterns, imagery / symbolism
Parallels suggest that events are caused by ‘fate’,
but the actual plot mechanics are largely driven by
The Chase scene
The ‘central ambivalence’ in the novel (Kristin Brady)
Enormous implications for the question of Tess’s
“purity” and culpability
The Chase scene
A continuation and intensification of the relationship
dynamic established at their first meeting: a mixture
of resistance and passivity
Note: Tess’s silences (eg. p. 69: ‘She did not reply’,
‘She was silent’)  ambiguity
In contrast: Alec’s active manipulation of the situation
– prolonging the horseride, telling her about his gifts
to her family, the ‘well-known cordial’
The Chase scene
Ambivalence in Tess’s response
‘still panting in her triumph, yet in other respects
dubious’ (Ch 11, p.69)
‘between archness and real dismay’ (Ch 11, p.71)
Tess’s apparent receptivity – suggested in imagery
and descriptive language
‘She passively sat down on the coat that he had
spread’; ‘He touched her with his fingers, which sank
into her as into a billow’ (Ch 11, p.72)
The Chase scene
Use of setting
 The Chase: represents a pagan past in which
conventional codes of morality do not apply
 The darkness & silence mirrors the narrative silence
about what really happens
 The fog literally and figuratively obscures events,
creates a sense of ambiguity
The Chase scene
Intrusive narrator
 Defends Tess – mitigating circumstances (eg. p.70:
‘She was inexpressibly weary….’)
 Insistent rhetorical questions that are strongly
suggestive of Tess’s innocence
 Alternative scenarios projected – accentuate the
sense of waste and what could have been
 Closing comments impose an interpretation on the
reader  Tess is undone by unjust social prejudices
regarding female sexuality
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