Thursday, October 20, 2011

Tess of the d'urbervilles

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Tess of the dUrbervilles was considered a very controversial novel when it was printed. It dealt with incestuous deeds and sins of all nature. There have been many complaints about how it was a horribly written book, how all of the content was botched up, or how the murder at the end of the book was badly done (Lawrence 1). The book owes most of its success to the main character Tess, but without it’s two supporting characters, the readers would have never seen the main character defining sides of Tess. Alec dUrberville and Angel Clare provided the necessary conflict that molds Tess into the character that everyone either loves or hates. Hardy, though, set the two men up as complete opposites in the novel, Alec being the evil sinister character who defiles Tess, and Angel Clare being the man that loves Tess for being a pure and innocent creature of his own making. Despite their differences, which range from religious views to their treatment of Tess, Alec and Angel are very much alike as they share a common unethical background. Without these two men though, the novel would have never been the success that it was.


The first man that Tess encounters is Alec d’Urberville, a distant family member whom she is to make ties with (Hardy 0). Unfortunately for Tess, Alec only sees her as a servant girl that he can manipulate and use for his personal pleasures instead of the family connection that she is coming to create. In the novel, Hardy portrays Alec as a devilish rogue who lives in the fast lane of life. He was even describes as having dark physical features and a black wiry mustache that curled at the very ends (Hardy 4). This description of him is very similar to that of the Dick Dastardly character in the old Dudley Doright shows. Alec’s main role in the novel was to be the antagonist to Tess and the character opposite of Angel Clare, a man that Tess meets later in the novel. When Alec first saw Tess he knew immediately that he wanted her and that he was going to have her for his very own whether or not she cared. He didn’t even care about her feelings on the matter or if the outcome might even ruin her reputation as a respectable girl. The man had absolutely no morals whatsoever. If he wanted something or someone he got it and no one got in his way (Braybrooke 5). Alec was also not a God fearing man and he often did things that defied Him or His word. This is apparent in his treatment of Tess and many of the other women who worked for him. He was described by Hardy as having a “roving eye” and was well known around the town to have had many affairs with many of the other women. This is showed to the readers at one instance when Tess was caught laughing at one of the other maids. Alec came to save her from a fight that the other maid was ready to pick and the other maid’s mother said “Out of the frying pan and into the fire” while stroking a fake mustache (Hardy 66). He was a sneaky and very manipulative man. There are many parts in the novel where Tess has just given up and plays the role of the lawful “wife” to Alec, giving in to his follies. She lets him kiss her cheek and eventually her lips though she doesn’t like it at all (Hardy 76). This upsets Alec as hes used to not being rejected by his objects of affection. He would often spy on Tess like in the scene where Tess is trying to teach the bullfinches how to sing, there is a rustle behind the curtains and Tess has a gut feeling that it was Alec (Hardy 57). He also tended to show up in many places where Tess might be like the barn dance in the city. He tried to get her to go back home, but Tess felt that it would be better if she stayed with the group of servants and went home with them. Alec acknowledged this and left only to show up when Tess needed “rescuing” from one of the other servants on the way home. This was good for him as he was able to finally seduce her even though she was asleep and unable to fight him off at the time (Hardy 71). He feels absolutely no remorse about taking advantage of her or guilt about the fact that she ends up pregnant with his child. She was just a new toy that he was able to play with at the time and was easily forgotten after she left.


On the other side of the character spectrum from Alec is Angel Clare, the son of a preacher and the youngest son of an upper-middle class family. He came from a very well educated family and had two brothers who had attended the university, following in their fathers footsteps. Angel is described as the epitome of a gentleman. He’s handsome, well bred, intelligent, and generally nice to everyone that he meets. Though he was raised in an ultra-Christian family, Angel doesn’t seem to feel God’s presence as strongly as his father does. Unlike his brothers, Angel decided against going to the university and to instead take a tour of southern England and learn about farming from the masters of their trades. He went around to different farms and learned the skills to excel at that particular task, like milking cows or plowing fields (Hardy 11). It is during this time that he met Tess Durbeyfield and falls in love with her. Angel was the kind of person who was obsessed with the idea of “feminine purity” (Carpenter 100). His ideal woman was one that was untouched, not necessarily religious but definitely without sins, and had a good social background even though he didn’t believe in family lines. Tess never returned Angel’s affections, though secretly she was very much in love with him as well and this had something to do with the fact that his love grew quickly for her. He asked her to marry him and Tess refused, saying that she was not what he wanted and not good enough for him. She basically told him that she wasn’t the pure woman that he thought she was and that he should go look elsewhere so that his heart wouldn’t be broken. Angel had this view of Tess being a pure and angelic beauty. He didnt know about her history with Alec dUrberville or about the child she bore to him. Angel was impressed with how innocent Tess seemed that he had no qualms about the sins that she wanted to confess to him, but couldnt find the courage to. It was obvious throughout the whole book that Angel was in love with Tess. He lavished his attention on her even though she kept refusing him and when he finally heard her story, he was outraged, hurt, and completely confused at how he could miss such a character flaw as that. Angel was so blinded by his prejudices and moral limitations that he didn’t see that Tess was really pure and innocent (Carpenter 100). It wasn’t her fault that Alec took advantage of her. Unfortunately, Angel wasn’t convinced of this until the end of the novel. He was disgusted with the flesh of Tess, meaning her outer shell or cover, but he still loved her spiritually and it was this love that made him angry. He was angry that he still loved her. How could he love a woman that wasnt pure? He didn’t realize that he was childish in having left her until he went a year without her and found himself miserable at his failing farm in South America. When he rushed back to his lover’s arms he was too late and she slipped through his fingers again at the end of the book with her death.


Despite both of their obvious differences, Angel and Alec have a few similarities. They are both lovers of Tess, for one. Their views on love are very different, but they each wanted Tess for their own. Towards the end of the novel, Alec persuades Tess to come live with him again and she does. They live together for some time before Angel comes back into the story. Angel loved Tess from the beginning of the novel because of her pureness. The only difference between each man’s love is that Alec’s was more of a carnal passion where he wanted her to be his lover and Angel’s love was more of a wanting to be pure like Tess and to have her as is wife. Both of the men were also adulterers. This to varies on degrees between them. Alec had the roving eye and was with almost every common girl in his town. Angel had one night of passion with some woman whose name he can’t even remember (Hardy ). The difference between them is that Alec isn’t upset with Tess for sleeping with him. He blames her for making him want her, but he doesn’t hate her for it. Angel hates Tess for what she’s done with Alec, but really Angel has done the exact same thing that Tess did, two fold. Angel spent 48 hours with this woman and was conscious of what he did. Tess, on the other hand, was taken advantage of while she was asleep and had no time to stop it.


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“The reader pities [Angel] Clare profoundly, yet cannot but feel a certain contempt for the shallowness of his casuistry, and a keen resentment of his harsh judgment upon the helpless woman” (Watson 80).


Another similarity is that both men at one point or another don’t believe in God. Angel loses his faith in himself and in God when he has the 48-hour romp with the harlot and Alec never had faith to begin with. Towards the end of the novel, Alec is showed as preaching to a barn full of people. Ironically, he is described as looking much like the devil (Hardy 8). Alec soon loses his religion once he sees Tess again and of course, he wants her to marry him this time.


All in all, it is clear to say that Angel Clare and Alec d’Urberville are two very different people. It is also accurate to say that they are somewhat similar too though. Without these two characters, the story of Tess of the d’Urbervilles would not have been as successful as it was. These two men helped mold the character of Tess and in doing so, were more of an influence on the reader then they were meant to be. Without them, Tess would have never seemed so illy used or so despised for being taken advantage of. The audience would not have had someone to so wonderfully hate and another to love and then despise because of his faults if these two characters were not so well developed in the novel.


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