«Introduction..2 - 10 Chapter One: Evangelical Principles and Hardy’s Fiction.11 - 36 Chapter Two: Nature, the Law and Christian Ethics in The ...»
This overpowering feeling of sorrow, hopelessness and futility climaxes when Little Father Time, seeing no solution to the misery of life, embraces death and kills his siblings and himself. Sue recognises that it was due to his “incurably sad nature” (Jude 357) and the doctor in attendance says that it is a result of the child recognising the terrors of life and “the beginning of a coming universal wish not to live” (Jude 354). The child’s consciousness of the sorrow of life on earth is extended to humanity at large and reflects the morbidity of what Page calls Hardy’s “eccentric personal vision” (Kramer 38). Tess and Little Father Time’s melancholic image of themselves and the world is possibly the result of the depressing influence of the Biblical concept of original sin on Hardy as their creator. This influence robs human existence of hope and happiness and leads to a negation of life.
References to Original sin are not exclusive to Hardy’s fiction. An allusion to the Fall can be found in the poem “At the Altar Rail” (CP 420). A man is waiting for his lover to unite herself to him in marriage. The woman decides against marriage and does not appear. The
farmer cites her reason:
“It’s sweet of you, dear, to prepare me a nest, But a swift, short, gay life suits me best.
What I really am you have never gleaned;
I had eaten the apple ere you were weaned.”’’ (11 - 14) Stotko 15 Although this is a humorous poem, the facts remain. The city woman has lost her innocence and cannot reconcile herself to retiring to a quiet life as a farmer’s wife. Interestingly, she expresses her unsuitability in Biblical terms. She has eaten of the tree of knowledge and realises that there is no going back. Hardy links the promiscuous woman directly with the Fall of Eve in the Old Testament, the root of Original sin. Even in jest the sense of the curse of sin and the disappointment it causes can be detected in Hardy’s art.
There is biographical evidence that Hardy believed in the existence of sin and that it is necessarily connected to consequences and punishment. Jêdrzjewski quotes an annotation that Hardy made in his copy of Mctaggert’s book Some Dogmas of Religion, which declares that “If there is a God who is not omnipotent it would be quite possible for a determinist to hold that we are responsible to him for our sins. Such a God might be unable to create a universe without sin [...] and he might find it possible, as men do, to check that sin by punishment” (41). Hardy’s deep concern with the nature of sin and its attendant consequences is explored in depth in Tess.
The concepts of sin and atonement form the basis of Christian doctrine and Hardy’s perception of both is important in an investigation into the influence of his religious belief system on his art. Hardy questions the concept of sin, and seeks clarity on what morally constitutes a sin, particularly with reference to sex. He draws a distinction between the morals laid down by Victorian society on the basis of Church teaching and what behaviour is an acceptable norm according to Nature. Viewing the seduction of Tess from the perspectives of different characters with the added insight of authorial comments, he outlines his multi-faceted approach to Tess’s “sin”.
Tess’s perception of her sexual relations with Alec d’Urberville is unmistakeably shaped by her traditional Christian upbringing. The narrator informs the reader that “Like all village girls she was well grounded in the Holy Scripture, and had dutifully studied the histories of Alohah and Aholibah, and knew the inferences to be drawn from them” (Tess 155). Hardy selects a gruesome Biblical reference in Ezekiel 23 to elucidate Tess’s religious mind-set. Alohah and Ahoilbah are prostitutes of the most depraved kind, whose lust is insatiable and who sacrifice their children to be eaten as food for idols. Their punishment is that they are given over to terror and plunder, they will be stoned and cut down with swords, and (significantly with regard to Tess, whose child dies) their children are killed. The “inferences” that Hardy refers to is the Biblical principle which rules Tess’s philosophy of life and can be found in the final verse of Ezekiel 23: “You will suffer the penalty for your lewdness and bear the consequences of your sins of idolatry.” Because Tess believes this, she is convinced that her sin is severe and she deserves to be punished. When her baby is dying, she cries out to God: “ Heap as much anger as you want to upon me, and welcome;
but pity the child’” (Tess 156). Tess does not view her fate objectively and acknowledge that her mother forces her into the circumstances that lead to the seduction, or the fact that she is taken advantage of against her will. She seeks no scapegoat and instinctively shoulders all Stotko 16 the blame. In her mind she is as guilty as the Old Testament prostitutes and as deserving of judgement.
Tess’s sexual experience with Alec d’Urberville leads her to perceive herself as part of the corruption of the earth. She thinks she is a “figure of Guilt in the landscape of Innocence” (Tess 145), and her consciousness labours under the burdensome notion that life constitutes “ numbers of tomorrows just all in a line, the first of them the biggest and clearest, and the others getting smaller and smaller as they stand farther away; but they all seem very fierce and cruel and as if they said I’m coming! Beware of me! Beware of me! [...]’’” ( Tess 197). The future appears to Tess to be bleak, threatening and without hope. This sense of hopelessness is a direct result of the oppression of sin in Tess’s consciousness. Hardy universalises Tess’s feelings calling them “those of the age — the ache of modernism” (Tess 197). Tess thereby becomes a signifier for all humankind tainted by sin inhabiting a world that is cursed and therefore hostile.
Tess’s preoccupation with her own guilt determines her behaviour. Tess rarely acts, on the whole she reacts to life and her reaction is strangely passive. When Alec forces his attentions on her, Tess is described in purely passive terms as: “a puppet”, “a marble term”, and “as though she were nearly unconscious of what he did” (Tess 134). Even on the rare occasions when she does act, she immediately retracts the action and becomes submissive.
Tess strikes Alec when he comes to pursue her while she is working on Farmer Groby’s farm.
She draws blood and then cries out “ Now punish me! […] Whip me, crush me […] I shall not cry out’” (Tess 458). Apparently, it does not occur to her that she has a right to defend herself. The same pattern of behaviour occurs when she kills Alec. After briefly attempting to flee with Angel she awaits judgement and the penalty without resistance. She says quietly “ I am ready’” (Tess 543).
Strangely, Tess exhibits courage and strength in taking responsibility for her siblings and her parents, yet is utterly unassertive with regard to her own life. Her docile reception of Angel Clare’s rejection on their wedding night, on the grounds that she is unchaste, is another example of guilt determining her behaviour. Although Angel is guilty of the same sin and it would be appropriate for Tess to expect his understanding and forgiveness, she meekly
accepts his judgement and in no way tries to influence him. The narrator specifically states:
“If Tess had been artful, had she made a scene, fainted, [...] he would probably not have withstood her.” But Tess’s sense of guilt overrides her sense of self-preservation. She faces Angel with “dumb and vacant fidelity” (Tess 331). Tess deems his harsh treatment to be justified. It functions as a form of penance: “And I must take my Cross on me/ For wronging him awhile”, (“Tess’s Lament” CP 176). The overwhelming burden of her guilt and the hopelessness of her situation give rise to a death wish in Tess: she denies herself to the extent that she wishes to “unbe”. She shares with Little Father Time the notion that death is the only possible escape from the storms of life. The novel demonstrates the powerful influence that a belief in sin and guilt can exert on thought and behaviour. The concepts of sin, guilt and the need for atonement emerge consistently as dominant themes. Hence it Stotko 17 seems reasonable to suggest that the plots in Tess and Jude appear to comply with the evangelical principle that man and the world are corrupt through Original sin and suffer the consequences of affliction and damnation.
Atonement takes the form of self-sacrifice in Tess and Sue. The death of Tess’s father renders the family homeless, forcing Tess to become Alec’s mistress in order to save her family from destitution. She sacrifices herself out of love for her siblings. There is a similarity between Tess’s situation and that of Sue Bridehead when she returns to her husband and sacrifices herself out of a sense of guilt. Both women are sacrificial vessels.
Their actions are governed by a sense that they must suffer to atone for their sins of inchastity. Sue says: “ self abnegation is the higher road. We should mortify the flesh — the terrible flesh - the curse of Adam. We ought to be continually sacrificing ourselves on the altar of duty’” (Jude 362). Hardy places Sue and Tess at the mercy of feelings that are specifically linked to the Old Testament Law by means of dialogue. This demonstrates the influence of the Bible on his thinking and creative output.
In examining the nature of sin and its consequences, it is interesting to note that Hardy’s fiction implies that sexual sin ranks as paramount. Both Tess and Angel are ruled by the belief that sexual sin is serious and has life changing consequences which cannot be circumvented. However, both regard murder without flinching. Tess astonishingly commits homicide without experiencing any guilt at all. She considers it to be the only possible response to the given situation. In fact, she sees the murder as a means of gaining Angel’s forgiveness and love. She says to Angel “ I don’t blame you; only Angel, will you forgive my sin against you, now I have killed him?’” (Tess 529). Angel’s response is love, tenderness and protection. He appears unconcerned that Tess is a murderess. The man, whose high moral ground so recoils from sexual sin as to extinguish in a moment the intense passionate love he has for Tess, disregards what traditionally is the most serious sin of all.
In contrast to Tess’s evangelical view of her sin, Hardy demonstrates that when her story is viewed through Nature’s perspective, Tess can only be seen as pure. As has been shown, Tess’s mother dismisses her pregnancy with the words “ ’tisnater’”. In her opinion, it is not a question of morality (Tess 164). Extensive authorial comments possibly shed light on Hardy’s views. The narrator states that her experiences “but for the world’s opinion would have been simply a liberal education” (Tess 163). He does not judge Tess harshly according to social norms (which in Victorian times were necessarily connected to Christian ethics);
rather he looks into her heart and sees there no guile. Hardy tells the reader that “essentially this young wife of his was as deserving of the praise of King Lemuel as any other woman endowed with the same dislike of evil, her moral value having to be reckoned not by achievement but by tendency” (Tess 373). While Tess sees herself as “a figure of Guilt” Hardy insists that “all the while she was making a distinction where there was none. She had been made to break an accepted social law, but no law known to the environment in which she fancied herself such an anomaly” (Tess 145). It is noteworthy that Hardy uses the passive: Tess is made to break the law, she does not actively or knowingly break the law.
Stotko 18 She is indeed more sinned against than sinning, but more importantly, her “immorality” does not count as a sin in Nature (Tess 145). In order to examine the nature of Tess’s sin objectively, Hardy asks: “Moreover, alone on a desert island would she have been wretched at what happened to her?”; and also: “If she had been just created, to discover herself a spouseless mother with no experience of life, [...] would the position have caused her despair?” (Tess 153). He concludes: “No, she would have taken it calmly, and found pleasures therein.” Tess would rejoice in her child and not see herself as guilty at all. In other words innately, or in Nature, Tess is innocent. It is in the context of a judgemental society and the Old Testament Law that she is considered guilty.
Hardy’s attitude is ambivalent. On the one hand he clearly condemns the dogmatic teaching on sex which condemns Tess. As the author he declares her innocence by subtitling the novel “A Pure Woman” and indicating that Tess is asleep when she is seduced. There is no question of consent and the sexual act is effectively rape. Ironically, Hardy uses Scriptural references (Proverbs 31, Tess 373) to emphasise Tess’s purity while in conventional theological terms she would most certainly be condemned, as indeed she perceives herself to
be. Perversely, it is the Machiavellian Alec who recognises Tess’s innocence. He declares:
“ Why I did not despise you was on account of your being unsmirched in spite of it all’” (Tess 446). In her inner self she is pure but circumstances and her own ignorance and vulnerability combined with the evil of Alec taking advantage of her make her guilty in the eyes of the church and society. Hardy undertakes to remove judgemental theology and examine Tess under the microscope of natural morality in terms of her inner self, her intentions and motivations and declares her blameless.
Yet, Hardy as the author and creator of Tess, despite his passionate defence of her innocence, delineates the progression of events in her life according to the Biblical principles
of sin and judgement as is evident from the titles he has given to each phase of the novel:
The Maiden; Maiden No More; The Rally; The Consequence; The Woman Pays; The Convert and Fulfilment. The novel proceeds from innocence through sexual “sin” to Tess’s hope of love and happiness with Angel, his discovery of her “sin” and desertion of her as a punishment, Alec’s re-entry into her life and ultimately her death, the “Fulfilment” of the Mosaic Law, which demands a life for a life. The evangelical principles of sin and its consequences emerge as determining factors in Tess.