Tess of the D’Urbervilles Lecture 6 Nature, Body & Text Phase The Second & The Third
Nature • Hardy’s use of pastoral settings expresses his sense of opposition btwn nature & society / culture • Opposition btwn the spontaneity of nature and the legal rigidities of social institutions & conventions
Hardy evokes Nature not only as a physical presence / landscape, but also as a principle to defend Tess’s purity. • “Most of her misery had been generated by her conventional aspect, and not by her innate sensations.” (Ch.14, p.91) • Tess as a natural “creature” that should not be condemned by society’s “arbitrary law” • “Was once lost always lost really true of chastity? …The recuperative power which pervaded organic nature was surely not denied to maidenhood alone.” (Ch.15, p.99)
Competing visions of Nature through an interplay of multiple perspectives • The ‘naturalness’ of sexuality can be used to challenge repressive social conventions… • but the ‘natural’ is also indifferent, which is wrested into meaning in conflicting ways.
“On these lonely hills and dales her quiescent glide was a piece with the element she moved in. Her flexuous and stealthy figure became an integral part of the scene. At times her whimsical fancy would intensify natural processes around her till they seemed a part of her story. Rather, they became part of it; for the world is only a psychological phenomenon, and what they seemed they were.” (Chap 13, p.85) • Tess as an isolated individual even as she is assimilated into the landscape
Conflict btwn the way Hardy’s characters experience themselves as living subjects, and the way they appear in the objectifying gaze of others • Tess’s awareness of her own pulsating life overshadowed by a sense of her “blank” externality for others • We can get Nature wrong, just as the ‘naturalness’ of Tess can be misread.
Nature in Male/Female Relations:Angel Clare & Tess • “What a genuine daughter of Nature that milkmaid is!” (Clare in Ch.18, p.120) • Angel Clare idealises Tess as a pure child of Nature, a projection of his Romantic vision of pastoral innocence. • Irony is that it is Tess’s felt alienation from Nature through her musings which draws Angel to her in the first place (e.g. “one lost in meditation”)
Angel shown to be self-deceiving in his spiritualisation of Tess’s ‘nature’: • “She was no longer the milkmaid, but a visionary essence of woman – a whole sex condensed into one typical form.” (Ch.20, p.130) • Angel names Tess Artemis and Demeter, which Tess herself repudiates: “Call me Tess” (p.130) – the use of cultural allusions exposes Angel to be more conventional than he thinks he is.
Nature – Setting, Imagery & Characterisation • Nature as setting that is both symbolic & realistic • Natural scenes of brimming fertility & growth at Talbothays mirror the burgeoning love of Tess & Angel. • Description is poetic and sensuous, which situates human desire in relation to the wider natural world.
“Amid the oozing fatness and warm ferments of the Var Vale, at a season when the rush of juices could almost be heard below the hiss of fertilization, it was impossible that the most fanciful love should not grow passionate. The ready bosoms existing there were impregnated by their surroundings.” (Ch.24, p.149) • “And as Clare was oppressed by the outward heats, so was he burdened inwardly by a waxing fervour of passion for the soft and silent Tess.” (p.149)
Natural settings, with the evocation of growing summer heat and milking as a courtship ritual, serve as a sublimation of the sexual attraction btwn Angel & Tess. • “It is the repression of the sexual nature of the attraction btwn Angel & Tess that makes the natural imagery so powerfully metaphorical.” - Marjorie Garson, 1991
Contrast btwn the Talbothays in the Valley of the great Dairies (esp. Ch.24) and the overgrown “rank” garden through which Tess moves towards the sound of Angel’s harp (Ch.19) • The “rank” garden in Ch.19 as an image of unconstrained, “uncultivated” nature: • “tall blooming weeds emitting offensive smells – weeds whose red and yellow and purple hues formed a polychrome as dazzling as that of cultivated flowers” (p.122) • Wild, exuberant, anarchic life that flourishes on the dark underside of the cultivated fertility of the valley.
Tess moves through this sensuous and even threatening garden apparently oblivious to it, “conscious of neither time nor space” (p.123) • Animal imagery associates Tess with this wild fecundity of nature – “she went stealthily as a cat”; “a fascinated bird” (p.122) • Sense of Tess as a ‘child of Nature’ extends far beneath the surface of conventional pastoral prettiness and innocence which that phrase denotes to Angel
Recap: On Nature • The natural world in itself has no moral significance (i.e. amoral & indifferent). • Natural forces and human life converge in the human sexual impulse, which is thus essentially amoral • It is characters who invest and impose conflicting meanings onto the naturalness of the sexual impulse that partly drives the tragedy. • Nature pervades setting & imagery in Hardy’s presentation of relationships in Tess
Male/Female Relations: Natural Imagery • Network of natural images built to structure parallels and contrasts btwn the Angel/Tess romance with the Alec/Tess violation: • Sun • Mist/Fog and Tear • Water • Animals
The Sun • Hardy elevates the sun-figure in Tess to the significant status of a Pagan God. • Significance of the sun in the May-dance festivity at the beginning of the novel: • “Ideal and real clashed slightly as the sun lit up their figures” (Ch.2, p.13) • Symbolic of generative energy for procreation, growth & warmth
Significant that the courting scenes btwn Angel & Tess in Phase the Third take place mainly before sunrise • Echoes the pre-creation setting, with Angel & Tess likened to Adam & Eve (i.e. Christian allusion) • “they seemed to themselves the first persons up of all the world… The spectral, half-compounded, aqueous light which pervaded the open mead, impressed them with a feeling of isolation as if they were Adam and Eve.” (Ch.20, p.130)
Parallels the seduction / rape at The Chase which takes place in the early hours of Sunday: “Already at that hour some sons of the forest were stirring and striking lights in not very distant cottages” (Ch.11, p.74) • However, unlike Angel who spiritualizes the “ethereal beauty” of Tess in that “preternatural time” of “spectral, half-compounded, aqueous light”, Alec eroticizes her “pale nebulousness” in the “blackness” at The Chase. • Complicates Tess as Eve – spiritualized mate and/or fallen woman?
Pagan vs. Christian attitude towards the sun • Complicates the characterization of Tess as a pagan at heart, though a Christian in life • “women 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 to their race at later date” (Ch.16, p.104)
Warm touch of the sun on the lovers, especially Tess • “You are like an undulating billow warmed by the sun” (Ch.23, p.145) – emphasizes Tess’s sensuousness & sensuality • In contrast, Angel’s love is said to be lacking in sexual warmth: “He saw her grow warm” (Ch.23, p.145); “the sun slanting in by the window upon his back” vs. Tess who is “warm as a sunned cat” (Phase the Fourth, Ch.27, p.169) • Though lacking in sexual warmth, Angel’s love is cultured and restrained, unlike Alec’s.
Irony – the sun seems to have chosen Tess as a victim • On her marriage evening, the sun casts an ominous spotlight on Tess – it “formed a golden staff which stretched across to her skirt, where it made a spot like a paint-mark set upon her” (Phase the Fourth - Ch.34, p.217) • Echoes an earlier simile of the evening sun as being “like a great inflamed wound in the sky” (Ch.21, p.136)
Tess sacrificed to the Sun at the altar of Stonehenge at the novel’s ending • “And you used to say at Talbothays that I was a heathen. So now I am at home.” (Phase the Seventh, Ch.58 – p.393) • Extends an earlier reference to rituals of sun worship – “the old-time heliolatries” (Ch.14, p.86) • Separation of the lovers fulfills an even earlier description of how “the rays of the sun had absorbed the young stranger’s retreating figure” (Ch.3, p.19) • Tess as a victim of her paganism as of her Christian training
Mist / Fog and Tears • Misty surroundings associated with obscurity, veiled consciousness, sexual longing & amatory anticipation • The “mists of pollen” at the garden where Tess moves towards the music from Angel’s harp (Ch.19) echoes the clouds of dust in the barn at Chaseborough (Ch.10), as well as the foggy night of the rape/seduction scene at the Chase (Ch.11)
Angel Clare embraces Tess in Ch.24 in the middle of the day at the height of summer. • Contrast to the midnight scene in The Chase. • Tess’s tears upon being embraced by Angel echoes scene in the Chase where “beginning with one slow tear, and then following with another, she wept outright” (p.72)
Angel-Tess “All the while they were converging, under an irresistible law, as surely as two streams in one vale.” (Ch.20, p.129) “an undulating billow warmed by the sun. And all this fluff of muslin about you is the froth” (Ch.23, p.145) Alec-Tess “He touched her with his fingers, which sank into her into a billow. ‘You have only that puffy muslin dress on – how’s that?’” (Ch.11,p.72) Water
Angel-Tess “She went stealthily as a cat” (Ch.19,p.122) “Having been lying down in her clothes she was warm as a sunned cat” (Ch.27,p.169) “fascinated bird” (Ch.19,p.122) Tess as emotional & sensuous, neither so intellectual as Angel nor so ‘perverted’ as Alec Alec-Tess Emphasis on Tess as the hunted, a wildness that warrants male taming & domestication Caged birds “the hopping rabbits and hares”; “A little rest for the jaded animal” (Ch.11) Queer temper of Tib, the mare (Ch.8) Animals
Woman as Object of the Male Gaze • Hardy has created a narrator who oscillates btwn the extremes represented by Angel & Alec • Misreading of the naturalness of Tess’s sexuality through the societal lenses of class & religion • Angel & Alec as opposites in their attitudes towards love • But it is both Angel’s excessive spirituality and Alec’s excessive sensuality that destroy Tess the heroine
Both men presented as insensitive to an inner Tess, the ‘Tess’ as she experiences herself, to which we as readers seem to be given a privileged insight. • Less an illegitimate pregnancy which destroys a woman than the self-righteousness of an attenuated and misapplied Christianity?
However, Angel could be said to be a much more fully developed figure, and a more believable one. • Is Hardy, even as he is critical of Angel’s treatment of Tess, using Angel as a device to spiritualise the femininity of Tess on his own behalf?
Body • Hardy assimilates Tess’s speech to her body • “her mobile peony mouth and large innocent eyes added eloquence to colour and shape” (Ch.2, p.14) • Body language encoded as feminine • Of a woman’s speaking “parts”, the heart is one of the most impt: • When Tess baptizes her dying child Sorrow, she speaks “boldly and triumphantly in the stopt-diapason note which her voice acquired when her heart was in her speech” (Ch.14,p.95)
Essential to Hardy’s presentation of Tess as a young woman who yearns to leave her body behind while stargazing is the treachery of a woman’s body as voice. • “by fixing your mind upon it [some big bright star], you will soon find that you are hundreds and hundreds o’ miles away from your body, which you don’t seem to want at all” (Ch.18, p.120)
Body / Soul split in the char. of Tess • Significance of the motif of the dream / reverie / sleep • Angel’s sin against Tess is his failure to recognize that Alec has possessed Tess’s body but not her soul. • The narrator emphasizes Tess’s growing dissociation from her own body. • By the end of the novel, Angel Clare is forced to acknowledge that “his original Tess had spiritually ceased to recognize the body before him as hers – allowing it to drift, like a corpse upon the current, in a direction dissociated from its living will”.
Body/Soul split is marked in Hardy’s women characters partly because patriarchal ideology insists that they be seen and objectified. • The novel takes Tess from being a she, to a collection of aspects, to an it, and ultimately to a nothingness, as if to free her from constructions put on her by society and individuals. • Tess’s body virtually disappears altogether at the execution, marked only as having once existed by the raising of the black flag.
Distillation of the spirit of Tess’s purity • Is this yet another idealization of women as all spirit by a male author Hardy himself? • Or, in ultimately removing Tess, is Hardy ironically mocking the idealizing aspects of Angel in himself? • Writing may lodge Tess, but cannot contain her for she and her powers are greater than the narrator’s or the novelist’s hold.