«Introduction..2 - 10 Chapter One: Evangelical Principles and Hardy’s Fiction.11 - 36 Chapter Two: Nature, the Law and Christian Ethics in The ...»
Nor thou with shadow’d hint confuse A life that leads melodious days. (Tess 258) Angel does not understand that Tess’s days have been all but melodious and that she has long been undergoing a spiritual decline. He appears to be blatantly oblivious to the profound impact his agnostic, Hellenistic ideas have on her. He does not seem to notice that she abandons her own faith completely and throws her spiritual lot in with his. Her faith in the power of prayer is extinguished by Angel. Tess says she is “forbidden to believe that the Stotko 31 great Power who moves the world would alter his plans on [her] account” (Tess 443). She tells Alec she has been “cured” of Christian belief by Angel. Hardy’s various perspectives of Tess’s spirituality are at odds with one another. While Angel sees Tess as a good Christian girl, she sees herself as a heathen. Furthermore, she proclaims these assumed doctrines of Angel’s to Alec although she freely admits that she does not fully understand them, and thus she becomes the instrument that eradicates Alec D’Urberville’s new found faith after his conversion which Angel’s father has been at pains to secure.
Angel’s condemnation of Tess at her confession on their wedding night proves that his liberal ideas are built on quicksand. He treats Tess like a sinner in a religious and conventional sense. If he truly did not believe in sin and damnation, he would be able to accept Tess as a child of nature and see her as pure, as indeed Hardy is keen to assure the reader she is. Angel is described as being independent and advanced, in fact, “a model product of the last five-and-twenty years” (Tess 373), yet even he is unable to break away from convention and custom when it comes to the test. His choice of words in his response to Tess’s suggestion that he rid himself of her by divorce is significant: “ Oh Tess you are too childish — [...] You don’t understand the law — you don’t understand!’” (Tess 340). In this case the law refers to the Victorian social code of conduct based on the Biblical prohibition of fornication, which Angel conveniently omits to apply to himself. Here is an instance of the inversion we often find in Hardy that demonstrates the contradictory nature not only of belief, but also of unbelief. As an agnostic, Angel should be above judging Tess on Christian principles. However, he uses the standard he has ostensibly rejected to condemn Tess. This duplicity is further emphasised by Angel’s asking Izz to accompany him when he goes to Brazil.
His paradoxical behaviour is magnified when he returns home alone after his marriage and his mother hints at the possibility of Tess not being chaste. Angel hotly defends her, insisting that she is “spotless”. The narrator entering into Angel’s psyche continues: “and felt that even if it had sent him to eternal hell there and then he would have told that lie” (Tess 372). Hardy’s ambivalent attitude to belief is voiced in this remarkable statement placed in the mind of a model agnostic who allegedly does not believe in an afterlife or sin and punishment. It demonstrates that an outward profession of agnosticism is no guarantee against the all pervasive influence of Christian doctrine which emerges when a character is particularly vulnerable. This schooled modern agnostic cries out in anguish: “ God’snot in his heaven, all’s wrong with the world’” (Tess 359). When things turn out badly he instinctively tries to explain them in religious terms. Angel is unable to extricate himself from his Christian upbringing, a trait he apparently shares with his creator.
Angel creates an image of Tess that is the embodiment of spiritual womanhood.
When he realises that she does not live up to his vision of spiritual perfection, she is dead to him. He crucifies the image he has created of her. In his dream he sleepwalks carrying Tess crying out: “ My wife — dead, dead!’” Tess 351). This statement operates on two levels.
( One is that Tess’s “sin” causes her to die spiritually for Angel because he reverts to the Stotko 32 doctrinal mindset of his youth. The other is that Angel’s condemnation and unforgiveness, which is his sin, cause Tess to seriously consider suicide and ultimately lead to her actual death. On both counts, the Biblical principle “the wages of sin is death” applies. It is important, however, that only the woman suffers the penalty. Angel experiences a fair deal of suffering and finally comes to the realisation that he has misjudged Tess. It is too late for them both when he reaches this point of maturity. But Tess is condemned to death whereas Angel, who is the direct cause of Tess’s dreadful fate, walks off into the sunset with Liza Lu and probably lives happily ever after. It gives one cause to reflect on Hardy’s motivation for this ending. One wonders why Hardy could not allow Tess to be deported, as Hetty Sorrel is for infanticide in Eliot’s Adam Bede. Angel could have emigrated, as he planned to do, and their love could have been redeemed.
It could be argued that Hardy’s doomed universe does not allow for such an ending because Tess has to atone for her sin according to the Mosaic Law. He entitles the Seventh and final phase of the novel “Fulfilment.” The number seven in the Bible signifies completion.
In the seventh phase, the fulfilment and completion of the cycle of life, Tess dies, while Angel is spared. Fulfilment in this context is likely to refer to the fulfilment of the Law which demands a life for a life (Genesis 9.6; Exodus 21.23). Tess must give her life for the life she took.
Angel is paired with “a spiritualised image of Tess” in the form of her sister. The couple resemble Adam and Eve leaving Paradise after the Fall. The background is one of light and beauty. A religious tone is set by their being “bent down to the earth as if in prayer” (Tess 586). It appears that fate singles Tess out for destruction but saves Angel and gives him a second chance to achieve ideal love. Angel’s search for the physical embodiment of his
and idealised concept of love (which Hardy later develops more fully in The Well Beloved), is elevated to a priority. Tess falls short of perfection, but her sister who is “half girl, half woman” is presented as an unblemished replacement.
Tess’s loss of faith results in her total indifference to her own personal future after death. She frequently expresses her desire to die or “unbe” and she wishes that she had never been born, as death to her mind is equivalent to oblivion and freedom from suffering and pain. She faces death with equanimity despite the fact that she faces the hangman’s noose for murder. Under Angel’s tuition she successfully frees herself from the church dogma she grew up in and so reverses roles with her tutor, who displays evidence of those doctrines still operating in his life.
Tess initially embodies spiritual perfection for Angel and he in turn is the incarnation of Tess’s yearning for spiritual fulfilment. This spiritual aspect of their relationship is emphasised by the Biblical and religious language Hardy employs in describing them: They are “Adam” and “Eve” and Tess is a “Madonna” in Angel’s eyes (Tess 204). Their meetings remind Angel of “the Resurrection hour” (Tess 204). It is ironic that an agnostic and avowed opponent of a belief in the miraculous should be inspired to such a comparison. Tess’s love for Angel is described as “devotion,” and she regards him with “worshipful eyes”. Indeed, “he Stotko 33 was like something immortal before her” (Tess 283). In spiritual terms, Tess transfers her need for a saviour from Christian belief to Angel Clare. He eclipses any ideology she previously held and becomes her God.
For Tess, Angel is a “divine being” and is “godlike in her eyes” (Tess 270) as opposed to the “vague ethical being” that constituted the God of her childhood. Tess expresses the religious nature of her love for Angel in a letter to him: “It has been so much my religion ever since we were married to be faithful to you […]” and declares that her past was “a dead thing altogether. I became another woman, filled full of new life from you” (Tess 465).
Thus Hardy reinforces the concept of a religion of love by Tess’s words which are a paraphrase of Paul’s in 2Corinthians 5.17 saying that all the old is passed away and believers are new creatures in Christ. In effect Tess is literally making an idol out of Angel.
The narrator verifies Tess’s statement by relating that when Tess tries to pray to God, “it was her husband who really had her supplication. Her idolatry of this man was such that she herself almost feared it to be ill-omened” (Tess 310). Tess has made Angel her Christ, her saviour. She has substituted religion with love. It is possible that Hardy connects this idolatry with the previous reference to Ezekiel 23.48 (Tess 155). In this case Tess would be guilty under the law and have to bear the consequences of her sin of idolatry. The penalty for idolatry is death. Tess instinctively senses impending tragedy and her love is marred from the outset by an undercurrent of foreboding. She fears, that as in the case of Romeo and Juliet, “these violent delights have violent ends” (Tess 310). Subconsciously she labours under the belief that because she has sinned she does not deserve to be happy and calamity is inevitable.
Tess’s overwhelming sense of futility and hopelessness in the world is initially a result of her sense of guilt, but as she loses her faith it increases exponentially. As an agnostic, Angel shares these sentiments which Hardy defines as “the chronic melancholy taking hold of the civilized races with the decline of belief in a beneficient Power” (Tess 190). Through this authorial comment, Hardy specifically links a pessimistic world view with a loss of faith and suggests that the removal of God from humankind’s belief system means that hope is forfeited leaving despair and wretchedness in its wake.
At Talbothays both Angel and Tess feel able to overcome these moribund feelings and are injected with life giving forces of Nature in the summer overflowing with imagery of fertility. It is their Eden and the Froom River is their River of Life. But as the novel progresses, it seems that the dark laws which control this corrupt and fallen world shroud Tess and Angel’s potential for happiness. Angel, whose name suggests a being who will bring light into Tess’s life metamorphoses into a fallen Angel who wreaks her ultimate doom.
When Angel deserts Tess, she is doubly forsaken. Not only is she unable to turn to the God of her youth for guidance and solace, she is bereft of the object of her overwhelming love that has become a religion to her. The death of Tess’s father robs Tess of the last form Hands remarks in this respect that having “abandoned the love of religion”, Hardy created an “alternative religion of love”, (54).
Stotko 34 of protection she had in the world. She finds herself in a godless, husbandless and fatherless state, utterly alone. The hymn her siblings sing on the occasion brings home to Tess how far she has departed from the faith that comes so naturally to them.
Here we suffer grief and pain, Here we meet to part again;
In Heaven we part no more.
The children unconditionally accept the validity of the words they sing but Tess is overcome by melancholy as darkness both physical and metaphoric descends. She is struck by the difficulty she now faces because she is unable to believe in the vision of hope that the children rest in. If she could only believe “how different it would all now be; how confidently she would leave them to Providence and their future kingdom! But in default of that it behoved her to do something; to be their Providence” (Tess 492). Hardy universalises Tess’s plight by an authorial comment which states : “to her and her like, birth itself was an ordeal of degrading personal compulsion, whose gratuitousness nothing in the result seemed to justify, and at best could only palliate” (Tess 492). For Tess there is no cure for the suffering and pain in her life. She is desolate and is at her most vulnerable.
Tess realises that she must fill the role of a provider for her family and it is ironic that the only means at her disposal to be their Providence is to accept Alec’s offer of assistance which forces her into a life of degradation devoid of love. Hardy emphasises the connection between Tess’s ultimate recognition of her loss of faith and her fate initiated by her falling into the hands of D’Urberville by placing these two events in immediate chronological order. Tess is not at liberty to make a moral judgement. There is no question of her exercising her free will as she is forced by circumstance or Fate to go with Alec in order to save her family from destitution. She accepts her role as a victim because she believes herself to be condemned to this fate by law. She says to Alec: “ Once a victim, always a victim. That’s the law!’” ( ess T 458). Tess makes no effort at all to try to avert evil because she believes it to be the natural consequence of her sin. The law decrees it and she accepts it unquestioningly. Hardy’s Biblical heritage seems to act as a prism through which his creative expression is refracted.
The evidence in the novel suggests that as a writer, he holds his characters accountable to the Old Testament law of sin and atonement which is the determining factor in their fates.
From this time forth, there is no longer any trace of Tess’s childish faith in Christianity. Hardy has traced her spiritual decline to the bitter end. In his world there is no room for hope or faith. Life is governed by a harsh law which precludes happiness and fulfilment: Tess has no free will to exercise to alter the course of her life and Hardy’s God is cold and uncaring. He does not intervene.
In the Preface to Tess Hardy defended his radically gloomy vision of the universe at the mercy of malevolent forces which he had variously named as The First Cause, the President of the Immortals and the Immanent Will, as having a precedent in Shakespeare, yet Gittings points out in his biography that Hardy was immersed in reading Greek tragedy at the Hands uses the term “fallen angel” to describe Angel Clare (75).