«Introduction..2 - 10 Chapter One: Evangelical Principles and Hardy’s Fiction.11 - 36 Chapter Two: Nature, the Law and Christian Ethics in The ...»
Chapter three investigates Hardy’s concept of the “Immanent Will” as it appears in his poetry with a view to exploring Hardy’s concept of the nature of God, suffering and the meaning of life. The focus here is on Hardy’s search for a means of reconciling the concept of a benevolent creator God with man’s fallen (in the Biblical sense) condition which condemns him to a life of suffering and woe on this earth. Hardy raises a series of questions about the nature of God and offers a variety of possible answers without committing himself to any one in particular. It can be argued that Hardy’s poetry opens the window to his soul and allows an insight into his personal religious conflict. Poems dealing specifically with faith and doubt reveal a more poignant personal emotional side to Hardy’s loss of faith than can be found in his fiction. Hence they afford the reader a closer understanding of Hardy the man and his art. A sadness and sense of regret emerge, quite different from the apparent aggression, anger and cynicism that tend to emerge from his fiction. Thus Hardy’s poetry augments the sense of tragedy in his doomed universe.
***** Abbreviations for texts cited CP Gibson, James. Thomas Hardy. The Complete Poems. Numerical references from CP refer to the page number and not the number of the poem.
Jude Jude the Obscure Life Hardy, F. The Life of Thomas Hardy.
LW Millgate, M. The Life and Works of Thomas Hardy Tess Tess of the d’Urbervilles Stotko 11
Chapter 1Evangelical Principles in Hardy’s fiction Original sin and the curse on the earth A biographical look at Hardy’s religious history puts into perspective the influence of religion on his early life and the importance he attached to religion on a personal level. This religious foundation remained with Hardy all his life and his fiction and poetry reflect its presence both in language and theme. Robert Schweik claims that “Hardy’s representations of religion were most profoundly influenced by his loss of faith in Christian dogma” (Kramer 55). Yet an examination of Hardy’s mature fiction shows that Hardy’s loss of faith was not necessarily the single most important influence on his work. It appears more appropriate to suggest that this influence consisted of an allegiance to specific Old Testament teachings combined with his loss of faith. The combination of an adherence to the Mosaic Law and unbelief in the Christian doctrine of salvation can be traced in both plot and character in Hardy’s fiction. Hardy’s portrayal of the Mosaic Laws pertaining to sin and atonement in Tess of the d’Urbervilles and Jude the Obscure, and the New Testament teaching of salvation in Tess and A Laodecian sheds light on Hardy’s relation to these principles and shows how they were instrumental in the formation of his melancholic world view.
Hardy grew up in a profoundly Christian environment. In Thomas Hardy:
Distracted Preacher Timothy Hands meticulously describes the Hardy family’s involvement in the church and parish affairs and remarks that Thomas knew the morning and afternoon services by heart as a result of his regular attendance at church (5). As a young man, Hardy’s habit of marking his Bible as well as his prayer book and Keble’s Christian Year Book (Gittings 77) with passages that were significant to his life, indicates that he personalised the scripture by applying it to his own circumstances. Furthermore, Hardy’s attachment to the church was manifested in his youthful desire to become a clergyman (Hands 126). As an apprentice, Hardy frequently worked in churches which were a source of inspiration in his fiction and poetry (A Laodecian 3, CP 536).
Hands raises the important point that Hardy was not only influenced by High Church rituals and doctrines, but also by the Evangelical revival that swept over his native Dorset around 1859 (12). At the time, according to Hands, Hardy was deeply sympathetic to the Evangelical cause and the evangelical zeal for systematically studying the Bible strongly influenced Hardy who became a disciplined student of Scripture (Hands 15). His continual use of Biblical language and symbolism in his novels demonstrates his vast knowledge of the Bible and his intense preoccupation with Biblical themes even after he became an agnostic.
An investigation into Biblical themes in selected novels and poems reveals the far reaching effects the Bible was to exert on Hardy’s art.
The basis of evangelical doctrine is the concept of Original sin. According to Genesis 3.17 - 19, the sin of Adam and Eve has serious consequences for the earth and its inhabitants. Man and Woman no longer enjoy a privileged position in communion with God living in paradise. They are banished from the presence of God. Woman’s punishment is Stotko 12 that she shall be ruled by man and that she shall bring children forth in sorrow. The earth is cursed and Man has to work by the sweat of his brow and eat in sorrow all the days of his life.
The final consequence of sin is mortality.
Thus, Biblically speaking, through sin, humanity and the earth are Fallen and corrupt (Davis 104). Human beings stained with Original sin are born into suffering and damnation.
In Tess Hardy creates a heroine whose self perception and perception of the world around her manifest signs of an awareness of Original sin and its consequences. From an early age and significantly, while she is still innocent and ignorant of the horrors of the world, a sense that the earth is corrupt and fallen is evident in her consciousness. Early in the novel, in a conversation with her brother Abraham about the stars and the universe, Tess calls the stars “worlds” and compares them to a box of apples: some are “splendid and sound — a few blighted” (Tess 71). Her brother asks her whether their world is “splendid or blighted.” Without hesitation she replies “blighted”. This raises the question why a young, innocent country maiden should view the world as “blighted”. The word blighted means “diseased” or afflicted by “an obscure force which is harmful”. Hardy’s specific choice of this word suggests that the world is subject to a corrupting influence which appears to correlate with the Biblical concept of the curse on the earth following sin. He equips his heroine with an intrinsic sensitivity to the world as a “vale of sorrows” and intensifies this image of the world by expressing its melancholy aspect through nature: “the wind became the sigh of some immense sad soul, conterminous with the universe in space, and with history and time” (Tess 72). The implication is that Tess’s story is not unique. She is a symbol of the human race setting out on life’s journey, every step of which leads further and further into disillusionment, despair and ultimately dissolution both spiritual and physical.
Tess’s belief that the world is blighted is verified almost immediately after she has verbalised it. She falls asleep and her father’s horse, which is his livelihood, is killed in a collision with the morning mail-cart. Abraham’s explanation of the tragedy is: ” ’Tis because we be on a blighted star, and not a sound one isn’t it Tess?’” (Tess 73). Tess mentally extends the blight from the earth to herself. Her immediate reaction is to accuse herself: “ ’Tis all my doing — all mine! […] No excuse for me — none’” (Tess 73). Her conscience is highly developed and she is almost eager to take responsibility for things that go wrong. She holds herself accountable although the reader is specifically told: “Nobody blamed Tess as she blamed herself” (Tess 74). The true culprit is in fact Tess’s father whose drunken state prevents him from taking the hives himself, leaving the task to Tess. Yet although Tess tells her brother that if they had not lived on a blighted star “ father wouldn’t have coughed and creeped about […] and wouldn’t have got too tipsy to go on this journey’” (Tess 71), she fails to recognise his culpability in the affair. She is consumed with guilt and takes her alleged fault so seriously that she “regarded herself in the light of a murderess” (Tess 75). It appears then that Tess interprets her experiences and her environment in terms of the Biblical concept of Original sin. She does not view the death of Prince as an unfortunate accident. She views Oxford English Dictionary. 1998.
Stotko 13 the incident as a manifestation of the curse on the earth and places herself in the shadow of the curse by allowing a sense of guilt to govern her mind and future actions.
Children in Hardy’s fiction are often signifiers of man’s fallen condition. For example, Tess and her siblings are born into a family of “difficulty, disaster, starvation, disease, degradation, death”. Moreover, they are described as “captives; helpless creatures who had never been asked if they wanted life [...]” (Tess 91). They are doomed from conception to a life of poverty and misery. Importantly, children represent innocence and purity. Their suffering is not connected to any fault of their own. It seems to be simply part of the human condition in Hardy’s fiction and the root of human suffering appears to be linked to the evangelical teaching of Original sin.
The plot in Tess suggests that the Old Testament law linked with the law of Nature function as a catalyst which sets events in motion and determines their outcome. In considering the plight of the Durbyfield children, the narrator cannot accept that their predicament should be part of Nature’s plan. He questions Wordsworth’s “authority for speaking of Nature’s holy plan” (Tess 62). Interestingly, Wordsworth’s point is that Nature’s works are fair and are linked to the human soul. It is man’s role that grieves Wordsworth. He laments “what man has made of man”. Given this explicit authorial comment, it can be assumed that Hardy sees Nature’s holy plan as ironic; the malevolent forces in the universe are to blame for the misery and poverty suffered by the Durbyfield offspring. The dire irresponsibility of the parents and their hopeless inability to raise or provide for their children is seen as part of the destructive nature of human existence rather than a moral choice made by individuals resulting in injurious consequences for their dependants. Unlike Wordsworth who blames man for the evil in the world in this poem, Hardy apparently disregards man’s possible culpability.
In the seduction scene (Tess 128-129), the narrator notably omits any mention of the culpability of Tess’s mother in the affair. He rails against an uncaring or even non-existent God for failing the innocent Tess but curiously ignores the sin of omission on the part of Tess’s parents. Mrs Durbyfield purposely dresses Tess up to her best feminine advantage with a view to ensnaring Alec. Tess in her innocence trusts her mother’s judgement. Only much later does she desperately ask her mother why she had never educated her and prepared her for the “danger in men folk”. She declares her innocence and ignorance and cries out: “ You did not help me!’” ( ess 141). Even the wicked Alec raises this point: “ it is a T shame for parents to bring up their girls in such dangerous ignorance of the gins and nets that the wicked may set for them’” (Tess 437). Mrs Durbyfield does not accept any responsibility and takes a fatalistic view: “ ‘Tisnater after all, and what do please God.’” This is her definition of “the law”. Tess’s fate in her eyes is part of the law of Nature, which she equates with the will of God.
Hardy’s fiction is peopled by humans who are not free agents operating in a universe which allows them the exercise of their own free will in the Biblical sense. They are at the Wordsworth. “Lines Written in Early Spring” (377).
Stotko 14 mercy of the circumstances into which they are born and the cruel, inescapable laws of Nature determined by God after the Fall of creation. Both the characters themselves and the omniscient narrator subscribe to this view: Jude’s life is described as a “struggle against malignant stars” (Jude 320) and Phillotson bitterly declares: “ Cruelty is the law pervading all nature and society; and we can’t get out of it if we would’” (Jude 334). Indeed, the course of Tess’s life is a testimony of how a child born into a cursed world, notwithstanding the fact that she is gifted by nature with “immaculate beauty” and natural grace, follows the relentless and irreversible path of destruction that is the natural progression of human life in this fallen world.
Unlike characters in Dickens, Eliot or Gaskell who have the freedom to make choices which influence their fate, Hardy’s characters are faced with a predestined doom which, it can be argued, is determined by a combination of the Mosaic Law and the laws of Nature.
Little Father Time, Jude’s son, is the personification of the hopeless fallen condition of humanity. He is incapable of happiness. Jude and Sue’s best efforts and love are powerless to redeem him from the sorrow that is his natural aspect. He is introduced by his father who feels his attitude to life will be like Job’s: “Let the day perish wherein I was born [...]” (Jude 288). When he appears in the narrative, the child’s innate sadness is expressed in words that are incongruous for a small boy: “All laughing comes from misapprehension.
Rightly looked at there is no laughable thing under the sun” (Jude 289). Little Father Time illustrates the tragic dimensions of Hardy’s fictional creation of a world that appears to be corrupted by Original sin and afflicted by its consequences. The serious, melancholy nature of the child is so profound that he says: “ It would be better to be out o’ the world than in it..
[.]’” and wishes he had never been born (Jude 350).