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Here is my entry for lisal825's Celebration of Women in Literature! 

(Warning - the post is quite long, so make sure you have plenty of time so spare before reading).

Calling Thomas Hardy’s female characters ‘heroines’ might seem a little controversial to those who have been brought up on the most popular and traditional literary women, such as Jane Eyre, Lizzie Bennet, Scarlett O’Hara, Anne Shirley, etc. They don’t particularly achieve anything great, or have positive or greatly empowering character arcs. Hardy’s women are strangely hybrid – they are women with modern mindsets who struggle with living under medieval and stifling gender norms, women who belong to the future but suffer because they are stuck in their present. They are normal, everyday women with ordinary and traditional goals. But Hardy never attacks them for the misfortunes that befall them – he mostly attacks the society that holds them back and condemns them. I’ve always thought that Hardy had some great, superseding affection for his female characters that greatly overpowered that of his male ones. Hardly any of the men in Hardy’s novels are as interesting or as sympathetic as his women, and that is something that has always made him my favourite Victorian author.

Tess Durbeyfield

It’s always kind of hard to explain why I’m so attached to Tess Durbeyfield as a heroine. She’s not a spunky Canadian redhead coming of age, she’s not a keenly observant, sharp-tongued, witty daughter of an aristocratic family, and she isn’t a feisty Southern Belle fighting against social convention to save her family and restore her livelihood during the midst of war and turmoil. But Tess as a person and fictional construct is still so fully realised and deeply felt by the author himself and the reader. I think it’s because her story is still extremely resonant with womanhood as an entirety. The fact that she is just a simple, naive country girl who just wants to survive in a world that’s so hell-bent on dooming her to failure is what makes the novel and character so compelling and tragic.

Gender and class were hugely interlocked with each other during the Victorian Age; you only had to look at the poem ‘The Angel in the House’ written by Coventry Patmore to realise just what kind of pinnacle women had to reach in order to be considered good or the ideal. Very often, the ‘good’ woman was often associated with the middle to upper class home or family during this time – the ideal Victorian woman was subservient to her husband’s ideals, took pleasure in domestic affairs of the home and was expected to take on the role of the loving, wise matriarch to the scores of children that her husband so nobly ‘blessed’ her with. On the opposite end of the social spectrum, you had the working class woman; from the Victorian perspective, she symbolised and reflected the disorder and chaos of her environment – the crime, the lack of sexual inhibition, the alcoholism and so forth. Working class women were often depicted as prostitutes or whores with a heart of gold in literature - Charles Dickens was often attacked for using this trope all too frequently in his own writing.

Within this context lies the reason why Thomas Hardy’s description of Tess within the headline of his novel as ‘A pure woman faithfully presented’ is so striking and incredibly effective.

Tess is a character constantly at war with the expectations that society had for a woman of her class. She is an honest, hard-working and exceptionally intelligent woman for someone brought up in her simple society; she is deeply caring and loving towards her family, to her own detriment. She stands far apart from the old fashioned ideals that her mother upholds about love and marriage, and does not share the indolent or drunken habits of her father’s in the slightest. Indeed, the incident by which Tess actually ‘falls’ is purely causal and nothing which she herself helped bring about, other than being remarkably beautiful towards men (something which that in no way places any blame upon Tess’s shoulders for what Alec did to her, I hasten to add). Hardy is insistent on reclaiming the word ‘pure’ for womanhood and what it meant for women like Tess. He wanted to expose his love for the country and for the simplicity of the community that lived in it. He wanted to expose the horrible patriarchy for what it was, rather than castigating or condescending down to the women who constantly suffered underneath such a system. And Hardy only embellishes his point by making the two most prominent male characters in the novel some of the most utterly despicable and contemptible characters in literature.

It’s almost impossible to discuss Tess as a character without delving into her relationships with Alec and Angel. Any other author writing during that time would have probably set Angel up as the nobly heroic saviour to Alec’s moustache twirling villain; however, Hardy is painstakingly aware of the utter bullshit that Victorian society constantly served up, and what he ends up doing is much more effective and sets him apart from so many of his contemporaries. It’s hard to say which character I detest the most. Alec is by all means an unforgivable and infallibly caustic human being. He’s a stalker and a rapist by all intents and purposes. The more dealings she’s forced to have with him, the more Tess despises him (and may I also THANK Hardy for refusing to romanticise or redeem the ‘bad guy’ of the novel a la Bronte’s Rochester – he remains hated and despised by Tess to the end. Alec D’Urberville is the terrifying, real life version of the Byronic anti-hero). But Alec is set up as the villain from the beginning. On Tess’s way back home from Trantridge, he remarks to her: “Well, Tess, dear, I can say no more. I suppose I am a bad fellow — a damn bad fellow. I was born bad, and I have lived bad, and I shall die bad in all probability.” He makes no excuses for who he is, I suppose (though this does not endear him one bit), and thus the reader is not felt as though he or she has to make any excuses for him. I also love this little passage, for some reason:

“If I had gone for love o’ you, if I had ever sincerely loved you, if I loved you still, I should not so loathe and hate myself for my weakness as I do now! . . . My eyes were dazed by you for a little, and that was all.”
He shrugged his shoulders. She resumed —
“I didn’t understand your meaning till it was too late.”
“That’s what every woman says.”
“How can you dare to use such words!” she cried, turning impetuously upon him, her eyes flashing as the latent spirit (of which he was to see more some day) awoke in her. “My God! I could knock you out of the gig! Did it never strike your mind that what every woman says some women may feel?”

Juxtaposing the two characters of Alec and Tess is also interesting: Alec is rich and a member of a newly acquired bourgeoisie, but also bored, lazy, misogynistic and selfish. Tess may be poor and working class, but she is bright and morally upright, and praised throughout the novel for her intelligence and intellectual curiosity.

On the other hand, if Alec violated Tess physically, then Angel Clare violated her spiritually, in a much more long-lasting and almost more harmful way. Unlike Alec, the reader is at first rooting for Angel because he re-appears at a point in the narrative when you’re practically desperate for someone to treat Tess well. As such, Angel’s betrayal after Tess’s confession is almost breathtaking in its hypocrisy and almost offends and disappoints us more than Alec’s transgressions; we’re constantly given hints here and there about his idealisation of her throughout their courtship, but nothing mentally prepared me for this particular line:

“No, I shan’t do anything, unless you order me to; and if you go away from me I shall not follow ‘ee; and if you never speak to me any more I shall not ask why, unless you tell me I may.”
“And if I order you to do anything?”
“I will obey you like your wretched slave, even if it is to lie down and die.”
“You are very good. But it strikes me that there is a want of harmony between your present mood of self-sacrifice and your past mood of self-preservation.”

These were the first words of antagonism. To fling elaborate sarcasms at Tess, however, was much like flinging them at a dog or cat. The charms of their subtlety passed by her unappreciated, and she only received them as inimical sounds which meant that anger ruled.

Let us also not forget these gems:

“I repeat, the woman I have been loving is not you.” “Then who?” “Another woman in your shape.”
• “Don’t, Tess; don’t argue. Different societies, different manners.
You almost make me say you are an unapprehending peasant woman, who have never been initiated into the proportions of social things. You don’t know what you say.”
!!!!!!!! It’s quite obvious at this point that not only does Tess appear to him as some sort of pure, chaste and angelic country-woman idyll, he also thinks she’s the perfect blank slate whom he can mold and shape to suit his own ideals. GROSS. WHY DO YOU HAVE TO BE SO GROSS, ANGEL? Congratulations, you have earned the label of My Most Hated Character In Literature.

In any case, I do not think there is another Victorian novel published that better depicts the patriarchal system as the double-sided coin that it was, and still is. For a novel written and released in 1891, it is bitingly realistic in ways that most of literature wasn’t back then. Villains like Alec are scores a plenty in literature and fiction, but characters like Angel are rarely so well exposed and laid bare as they are in Tess of the D’Urbervilles. Hardy was, undoubtedly, a man far, far ahead of his time. He took both Angel/House and Whore/Disorder tropes and subverted them completely. He went for realism, instead of satisfying readers with a happy ending, which is what makes the novel achingly modern for its time as opposed to most works of the Victorian Age.

On a personal note, I also love the novel’s setting and background; it doesn’t take place within the streets of Dickens’s London or the grim estate of Edward Rochester, but the pastoral themes give it such a free and spiritual, unattached feeling. Tess as a character doesn’t exist as an agent independent of her surroundings so much as she is a part of it – she is almost a nymph like, Pagan figure, flying defiantly in the face of rigid, organised religion and its unbending rules. The countryside and nature is described so lovingly by Hardy that it’s hard not to associate his fondness of it with the love he feels for Tess as a character, and how much he ties together the downfall of agriculture to her own downfall in society. He’s also been described as somewhat of an eco-feminist by some. As someone who identifies as much more of a rural creature rather than an urban one, it’s a theme within the novel that resonates with me very much. The moors of Wuthering Heights are also one of my favourite literary devices for similar reasons.

It’s all too easy to paint Tess as a victim, but there’s just something about her that’s incredibly resilient, and part of that is to do with the fact that she’s poor, has worked for a living all her life, and has that innate pride belonging to her aristocratic ancestors that prevents her from seeking charity or handouts from others. I think one cannot accuse her of giving up every time something bad happens to her (and bad things happen to her A LOT); rather, she absorbs her tragedy, lets it sink in within her and then carries on, in the fatalistic and hard worn manner of her people. She seeks tirelessly for employment until she gives in to her mother’s insistences on going to visit the Stoke-D’Urbervilles (which, tragically, only serves to be the start of her undoing), she picks herself up after her baby dies and goes away from home to start a living elsewhere as a milkmaid, she refuses to remain at home with her family and cause them and herself continued embarrassment after Angel’s rejection, and would rather suffer under hard, gruelling work underneath a master that scorns her than be her former rapist’s mistress. She only gives in when her family is homeless – it’s almost always her love for her family that leads to the cause of her debasement, which is a tragedy in itself.

So Tess may not be the smartest, or the bravest, or the most adventurous heroine in literature. She has very traditional goals and doesn’t particularly concern herself with affairs that occur outside of her small, countrified world. She isn’t what some would call a Strong Female Character. But I still think her story is incredibly important and relevant to this very day, and therefore it’s one that would be a huge mistake to overlook or dismiss. It’s a very in-depth, compassionate and overwhelmingly insightful view of the double standards that women were and still are held to.

Sue Bridehead

One of my favourite quotes used in Jude the Obscure is the following:

"Whoso prefers either Matrimony or other Ordinance before the Good of Man and the plain Exigence of Charity, let him profess Papist, or Protestant, or what he will, he is no better than a Pharisee." – John Milton.

Basically, it states that people who prefer any legal institution before the good of mankind are no better than a Pharisee; the law is capable of killing the human spirit.

It’s this kind of belief that Sue Bridehead wants so desperately to believe in and to stand for. Out of all the characters that Hardy has created, she is the most intellectual, well read, well spoken and high minded. In a way, her dreamy, free spirited nature represents the Angel to Jude’s Tess, especially when compared to Arabella, who is described at one point as being ‘a complete and substantial female animal - no more, no less’. However, there is one important difference between Angel and Sue – Sue does not benefit from male privilege in the way that Angel Clare does, and it’s something that constantly embitters her and which eventually contributes to her downfall. In fact, it is Jude who again follows in Angel’s footsteps and idealises Sue from a distance, from the first time he catches sight of her in Christminster - “she remained more or less an ideal character, about whose form he began to weave curious and fantastic day-dreams.” Jude is not nearly as awful as Angel Clare, but he does put a certain amount of pressure on Sue because he’s built her up in her mind to be this perfect intellectual soulmate, and no woman – no human being, actually, is ever comfortable with being put on this kind of pedestal by another. Sue spends the entirety of the novel trying to not to disappoint or hurt Jude, whom she does love deeply, whilst at the same time trying desperately to hold onto her own beliefs.

It’s admittedly been a while since I read Jude the Obscure with the kind of depth that it deserves. But I do think that Sue is the most complex female character that Hardy ever created. She’s a study in contrasts, and it’s easy to see how she might come off as unlikeable to some. But I think she is the most modern minded and androgynous female character in Victorian literature. (A lot would say Jane Eyre, but... I am not a fan of Jane, for reasons I can’t really delve into right now). A lot about her and the way she chooses to present herself is clear, clipped, direct and logical. Due to these characteristics, she self identifies much more with the Victorian male than the female – caught amidst stifling gender norms, she unfortunately knows no other way other than to reject ‘the feminine’ completely in a struggle to be comfortable with herself and her intellectual curiosity. She’s extremely well read – better well read than Jude, even, and in different times would have been a top student in Christminster. She has a far less appraising view of religion than Jude does – one of my favourite scenes in the novel is Sue falling asleep beside statues of Apollo and Diana, whilst elsewhere Jude is pouring over ancient biblical texts. She’s more confident, holds more initiative and in a way possesses a far stronger personality than Jude does.

Sue is a study in duality – she wants to be unconventional and spite society’s laws, yet at the same time is afraid of loving her cousin openly, to the extent that she runs off and marries a much older man that she does not love. She wants to reject organised religion, but is terrified of admiring Apollo and Diana publicly. She wants to be Jude’s lover outside of marriage, but is scared of the physicality of sex and sexual intimacy. She tells Jude not to love her, and the next minute, she implores him to love her. She tells Jude not to visit, the next minute, she begs him to. She’s exhausting, but incredibly interesting to me – and very, very human. She is ostensibly there to represent Jude’s struggle between his spiritual and physical self and his attempt to reconcile both, but she also is the greatest example of a woman trying her hardest not to succumb to what society expects from her but having so precious little resources to do so. It doesn’t help that Jude so often refers to her as ‘sexless’ or a ‘flirt’ or ‘coquette’ – Sue is a character that sadly absorbs shame and criticism so easily. Because she is a woman, she is therefore much more aware of society’s limitations, double standards and hypocrisy than Jude is. However, it is often quite hard for me to ‘pick sides’ with Jude and Sue, because both are such flawed characters who at certain points in the novel do treat each other quite cruelly – only because the world itself treats them so unkindly. But they both suffer from inescapable external obstacles out of their control – Jude because of class, Sue because of gender. But the way that Jude does treat and speak to Sue at times makes me uncomfortable.

One of my favourite Sue moments is her using a J.S. Mill quote to justify her separating from Richard. It’s like, damn, Sue, you are one COLD mofo. LOL. But it is one of the best examples of her using her intellectual capability to escape emotional culpability:

“And do you mean, by living away from me, living by yourself?”
“Well, if you insisted, yes. But I meant living with Jude.”
“As his wife?”
“As I choose.”
Phillotson writhed.
Sue continued: “She, or he, ‘who lets the world, or his own portion of it, choose his plan of life for him, has no need of any other faculty than the apelike one of imitation.’ J. S. Mill’s words, those are. I have been reading it up. Why can’t you act upon them? I wish to, always.”
“What do I care about J. S. Mill!” moaned he. “I only want to lead a quiet life! Do you mind my saying that I have guessed what never once occurred to me before our marriage — that you were in love, and are in love, with Jude Fawley!”
“You may go on guessing that I am, since you have begun. But do you suppose that if I had been I should have asked you to let me go and live with him?”

It’s like, I should be disliking Sue for this? Because it’s so cold-blooded? But I cannot. It’s actually kind of awesome and liberating, T B Q H. I love that she doesn't try and sugarcoat this. I've never felt much sympathy for Phillotson in the way I have for Jude. I don’t feel very warmly towards middle aged men who pursue women so much younger than themselves – and anyway, their dynamic always creeped me out, with Phillotson always blurring the line between mentor/father figure and husband. Sue, intellectually, is always one step ahead of HIM. A telling passage:

"Your cousin is so terribly clever that she criticizes it unmercifully," said Phillotson, with good-humoured satire. "She is quite sceptical as to its correctness."
"No, Mr. Phillotson, I am not -- altogether! I hate to be what is called a clever girl -- there are too many of that sort now!" answered Sue sensitively. "I only meant -- I don't know what I meant -- except that it was what you don't understand!"
"I know your meaning," said Jude ardently (although he did not). "And I think you are quite right."

Phillotson is so condescending here. I think it’s a fine example of what the ‘New Woman’ or budding Victorian feminists so often had to put up with. Being patted on the head and called a ‘clever girl’. Etc. And of course, the tragedy here is that neither man understands her, and one only pretends to because he wants in her pants.

The undoing of Sue and the tragedy that meets her is one of the most tragically ironic in the novel. The murder and death of her children hits her so harshly that it drives every sort of spirit or ideal that she holds so dear right out of her. Already worn down by society’s constant rejection of her and Jude’s way of life, the immediate retaliation from her is to revert to an extreme form of self-punishment – a mentality that suits the most religious and Christian devotee. She goes from one extreme to the other. She convinces herself that she belongs to her ‘real husband’ – Richard. When Sue gives up, Hardy gives up, and the novel loses. Everything falls apart, and everyone fails. I would go so far as to say that Hardy is almost far more attached to Sue than he is to Jude, even though the latter almost serves as his own self insert within the story. Sue becomes more or less the driving force of the novel and of Jude’s life, and when she goes back to Richard, she dies a spiritual death, and as so much of her character is wrapped up in incorporeality and quasi-mysticism, it makes no difference that we do not see her die physically, like Jude. Sue commits a spiritual suicide when she returns to Mr. Phillotson. To examine a quote made by her earlier in the novel:

"I have been thinking," she continued, still in the tone of one brimful of feeling, "that the social moulds civilization fits us into have no more relation to our actual shapes than the conventional shapes of the constellations have to the real star-patterns. I am called Mrs. Richard Phillotson, living a calm wedded life with my counterpart of that name. But I am not really Mrs. Richard Phillotson, but a woman tossed about, all alone, with aberrant passions, and unaccountable antipathies....”

So yeah. The above quote really sums up just how badly Sue had been broken down by society at the end of the novel in order to accept her self-imposed punishment. Despite how flawed Sue is, I like that Hardy doesn’t necessarily blame her for what befalls her – the biggest culprit in the novel is the society that she and Jude are forced to live in, and the way it literally destroys their life together.

Jude the Obscure is without a doubt my favourite Thomas Hardy book, and I just wish I had the time to re-read it closely and unpack everything properly. But above are all my immediate impressions and recollections of everything that I love about Sue’s character. She is the most important one in the novel, IMO, and one of Hardy’s most tragic and, in a way, angriest characters.

Bathsheba Everdene

Far From the Madding Crowd is one of Thomas Hardy’s earliest novels, so it’s not as gloomy or sad in tone as Tess or Jude, although a certain amount of tragedy does befall quite a few characters.

It has been even longer since I read FFTMC than Jude, but I think Bathsheba is such a rich, ripe character. She’s somewhat a mixture of both Tess Durbeyfield and Sue Bridehead – a country girl with a huge amount of spirit, independence and intelligence. Despite being arguable the most conventionally developed out of all his heroines, Hardy empowers her by making her a young woman in charge of a farm, a position which attracts no shortage of derision or mockery from the men within the community. But Bathsheba doesn’t give two fucks, tbqh. When the bailiff turns out to be a thief, she takes it upon herself to do his job. She’s fully aware of how others see her, but it doesn’t really affect her so much as how men or other people find her attractive – which is hilarious. Sexism is awful, but god forbid a dignified, older farmer not pay her attention at the Casterbridge market! LOL.

The biggest theme of FFTMC is that of what constitutes a good marriage. Bathsheba does have something of a marriage complex (reminiscent of the future Sue Bridehead); one of things she says to Gabriel after he proposes to her:

“What I meant to tell you was only this," she said eagerly, and yet half conscious of the absurdity of the position she had made for herself -- "that nobody has got me yet as a sweetheart, instead of my having a dozen, as my aunt said; I HATE to be thought men's property in that way, though possibly I shall be had some day. Why, if I'd wanted you I shouldn't have run after you like this; 'twould have been the FORWARDEST thing! But there was no harm in hurrying to correct a piece of false news that had been told you."

This kind of sums up Bathsheba’s biggest flaws: immaturity, pride and vanity. No, she doesn’t to marry Gabriel, but god forbid he thinks of her as this loose, scandalous sort of woman! But it also pinpoints her main fear of losing herself and her identity through making a bad marriage and what exactly marriage entails for her, which points to a certain hidden depth within her personality that’s hidden underneath the rashness and impulsiveness. Yay for multi-dimensional female characters.

Yet another interesting passage, right after she rejects Boldwood:

Bathsheba, not being the least in love with him, was eventually able to look calmly at his offer. It was one which many women of her own station in the neighbourhood, and not a few of higher rank, would have been wild to accept and proud to publish. In every point of view, ranging from politic to passionate, it was desirable that she, a lonely girl, should marry, and marry this earnest, well-to-do, and respected man. He was close to her doors: his standing was sufficient: his qualities were even supererogatory. Had she felt, which she did not, any wish whatever for the married state in the abstract, she could not reasonably have rejected him, being a woman who frequently appealed to her understanding for deliverance from her whims. Boldwood as a means to marriage was unexceptionable: she esteemed and liked him, yet she did not want him. It appears that ordinary men take wives because possession is not possible without marriage, and that ordinary women accept husbands because marriage is not possible without possession; with totally differing aims the method is the same on both sides. But the understood incentive on the woman's part was wanting here. Besides, Bathsheba's position as absolute mistress of a farm and house was a novel one, and the novelty had not yet begun to wear off.

However what I do appreciate about Bathsheba’s flaws is that they’re not glossed over or glamourised to a ridiculous extent. I kind of dig that she can be such a rude person, sometimes – she does use the novelty that being a female farmer gives her to endow herself with some silly airs or graces, but I like that – it makes her so realistic. Even Gabriel calls her out when she’s being rude or bratty towards him. Bathsheba eventually comes to see how her actions do affect people in a big way and the consequences that follow have a deep effect upon her. She develops a lot as a person without losing that which makes her Bathsheba, and her growing romance with Gabriel is one of my all time favourites in literature.

If anything, Gabriel Oak is the anti-Angel Clare – he eventually learns to grow as a person himself and not be as idealistic or blind to Bathsheba’s faults (and Bathsheba really was in the right to reject him the first time, even if she was arrogant about it – he hardly knew her!), and she in turn comes to appreciate his honesty and lack of pretence about his feelings or thoughts, even and especially when it comes to her mistakes. I do draw a lot of amusement from the fact that Gabriel plays the role of Sassy Gay Friend throughout most of the novel – with him running around being all “What, what, WHAT are doing” whilst Bathsheba runs around and generally makes a mess of things. But when they do eventually reconcile at the end (and even then, you get the sense of a slight resignation and tired acceptance from Bathsheba’s part? Hardy’s growing pessimism towards marriage shines through even here) it gives way to one of my favourite passages within the novel:

Theirs was that substantial affection which arises (if any arises at all) when the two who are thrown together begin first by knowing the rougher sides of each other's character, and not the best till further on, the romance growing up in the interstices of a mass of hard prosaic reality. This good-fellowship -- CAMARADERIE -- usually occurring through similarity of pursuits, is unfortunately seldom superadded to love between the sexes, because men and women associate, not in their labours, but in their pleasures merely. Where, however, happy circumstance permits its development, the compounded feeling proves itself to be the only love which is strong as death -- that love which many waters cannot quench, nor the floods drown, beside which the passion usually called by the name is evanescent as steam.

Excusing me for gushing, but this is so romantic :’) and accurate. One of my favourite literary tropes is that of old friends becoming lovers – because it is true that the best kind of love arises from good friendship. Gabriel Oak is one of the very few male characters that Hardy seems to like and deem a good man worthy of a woman like Bathsheba. 

I could of course go into the hot mess that was Bathsheba’s dalliance or what she did to poor Farmer Boldwood, but unfortunately my memory of these two incidents is fuzzy at best and I don’t think I’d be able to do them justice. Besides, this has been a long entry! If anyone would like to add anything about Bathsheba in the comments, PLEASE do. Because I luff her and she deserves more than these hurried few paragraphs.



"Tess" directed by Roman Polanski (starring Nastassja Kinski) OR the BBC version with Gemma Arterton is quite good too (although Polanski's is my favourite).

"Jude" directed by Michael Winterbottom with Kate Winslet and Christopher Eccleston - amazing performances, cinematography and score, but the ending is changed a bit

"Far from the Madding Crowd" by Nicholas Renton.

If you've actually made it til the end, THANK you so much for your attention!!!


( 46 comments — Leave a comment )
Oct. 21st, 2012 01:42 am (UTC)

I love and agree with everything you have to say about why Hardy's female characters are so worthwhile to study and read and love--he was really ahead of his time in so many ways, and you're right: you can really feel his love for the characters, and I think that's why they come to life so vividly on the page.

Your analysis of Alec and Angel, in particular, was brilliant. And yes, it's so great that Hardy doesn't go the simplistic route of elevating Angel in comparison to Alec: I love your breakdown of them as two sides of the patriarchy.

Tess is a character that I wouldn't have imagined myself absolutely loving, if I just read a description of her in a summary, or something: but when I read the book I ended up completely adoring her. (I think you may have been the anon I had a Tess-conversation with at gganon, BTW. :D)

Did it never strike your mind that what every woman says some women may feel?

I love this line, too. It's pretty awesome that Hardy had an awareness of rape culture before the term even existed.
Oct. 21st, 2012 07:30 am (UTC)
I'm so glad you enjoyed reading it! Thomas Hardy is my favourite author from his era in so many ways.

And yes, I was probably that anon, lol. xD
Oct. 21st, 2012 04:57 pm (UTC)
OMG THIS POST! THIS POST! I am such a Hardy fangirl. I read Tess at just the right point in my life, when I was 15 and around Tess's age and it's one of those books that just absolutely slaughtered me.

For a novel written and released in 1891, it is bitingly realistic in ways that most of literature wasn’t back then.

God, it's bitingly realistic for now. It's actually really disturbing how much of the social commentary and critique of the patriarchy hold up today.

So Tess may not be the smartest, or the bravest, or the most adventurous heroine in literature. She has very traditional goals and doesn’t particularly concern herself with affairs that occur outside of her small, countrified world.

Hmmm, have to disagree with you here. I think one of the most interesting and dynamic things about Tess is how her tragedies ultimately push her outside herself. There's this whole conversation she has with Angel very early in their courtship where she is struggling with why the sun shines on the "just and the unjust alike" and he is actually taken aback that someone he took for a simple country girl is capable of philosophical thought. And these are things she probably would never have bothered with if she hadn't been raped and then had a child and then lost that child. I mean that's one of the great things about Tess in general and Angel/Tess. They are absolutely doomed from the beginning and Hardy points this out by having them almost meet at the very beginning of the book and then having Angel LEAVE, because even though he's attracted to her, he isn't attracted enough to stay. Later on Tess and Angel realize that they had this encounter and she kind of bitterly asks why he didn't stay and marry her then. And the difference between those two times is the multitude of horrible experiences she has had between them. The very things about her he finds abhorrent are the very things that attract him to her the second time they meet when they actually fall for each other and marry. Like I can't with how brilliant I find this bit of plotting/characterization. It's amazing!
Oct. 21st, 2012 05:11 pm (UTC)
God, it's bitingly realistic for now. It's actually really disturbing how much of the social commentary and critique of the patriarchy hold up today.

IKR! That's why I think Hardy was ahead of his time in so many ways. It's sad how much controversy his novels received, to the extent that he gave up writing altogether. He was a genius. And it is disturbing when you think of how little has changed. It's incredible impressive that for a man writing in the 19th century he was able to critique the patriarchy so harshly 0 and accurately - as he did.

There's this whole conversation she has with Angel very early in their courtship where she is struggling with why the sun shines on the "just and the unjust alike" and he is actually taken aback that someone he took for a simple country girl is capable of philosophical thought.

Oooh, I had forgotten about this part! I guess what I meant to say is that Tess doesn't have any HUGELY ambitious outside goals that transcend the area Wessex? Like, all she wants to be is happy, and to have as normal an existence as possible, despite all her problems. I think one of the most touching aspects about Hardy's framing of Tess is that he writes about this lower class, country girl as if she were a great lady, a queen, almost a goddess - just as if she really were a real life D'Urberville. Like, just because she's not rich or upper class doesn't mean she's not an important person with problems that don't matter - because she is and they certainly do. I mean, you have all these great stories in literature about rich, privileged, upper class women, which, while not taking away from how interesting or great their stories or characters are, they don't affect me in the same way that Tess's does, because she's such realistic character with great strength, despite how 'small' her world is compared to theirs.

I did a quick search on goodreads (lol) and I think this quote kind of sums up both what you and I are trying to say:

“Many...have learned that the magnitude of lives is not as to their external displacements, but as to their subjective experiences. The impressionable peasant leads a larger, fuller, more dramatic life than the pachydermatous king.”
Oct. 21st, 2012 05:23 pm (UTC)
I guess what I meant to say is that Tess doesn't have any HUGELY ambitious outside goals that transcend the area Wessex? Like, all she wants to be is happy, and to have as normal an existence as possible, despite all her problems.

Yes, that's certainly true. And all the terrible things that happen to Tess are because her father finds out that they used to be nobility and then gets all these ideas into his head. When really she's happiest when she's working on the farm milking the cows. Those victorians and their pastoral themes!

(which reminds me of being in the Musée d'Orsay and seeing this picture of a bull and my sister was like "...Why is there a picture of a bull on the wall?" and I was like "Oh it was a reaction against industrialism and the victorians started worshiping nature and that's reflected in art." Which I guess proves my English degree is useful sometimes? Sort of?)
Oct. 21st, 2012 05:50 pm (UTC)
lol! I am considering writing my long essay or thesis about the pastoral and eco-feminist themes in Hardy, so... Musee d'Orsay better watch out, is all I'm saying :P
(Deleted comment)
Oct. 21st, 2012 06:33 pm (UTC)
Yay, thank YOU and glad you enjoyed reading it!!
Oct. 21st, 2012 08:34 pm (UTC)
I haven't read all of Hardy's novels, but OMG MY TESS DURBEYFIELD FEELINGS. AHHH. You summed everything up so beautifully - especially that neither Alec nor Angel are heroes in the narrative, they use and abuse Tess in entirely different ways, and just because Angel seems nicer doesn't mean he is.

One of the most heartbreaking parts of that novel for me was when Tess was traveling and she cut her hair and her eyebrows and tried to make herself ~ugly. Like she just wanted so desperately to be free of this thing that isn't even in her control - her beauty - because she feels like it's the source of all her troubles when really she's just surrounded by assholes.
Oct. 21st, 2012 09:15 pm (UTC)
I know, that part is so sad! And when she arrives at her destination everyone starts calling her 'an ugly mommet of a maid', ugh. poor Tess. she deserved so much better.
Oct. 23rd, 2012 05:42 pm (UTC)
I've never read any Hardy novels, but this makes me want to! I just need a few more hours in my day, sigh. Thanks for such a thoughtful post.
Oct. 23rd, 2012 06:35 pm (UTC)
You're welcome, glad you found it interesting!

I'd suggest starting with Far From The Madding Crowd, it's not as heavy as the other two and is the most accessible one :)
Oct. 28th, 2012 09:22 pm (UTC)
Wow, fantastic post. I've only read The Mayor of Casterbridge but you've made me want to try his other work.
Oct. 29th, 2012 12:36 am (UTC)
Thanks for reading! I love The Mayor of Casterbridge, though Tess and Jude are probably my faves and I'd definitely recommend them :)
Jul. 24th, 2013 11:14 am (UTC)
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Apr. 29th, 2015 09:33 am (UTC)

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Aug. 30th, 2016 02:40 am (UTC)

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Sep. 1st, 2016 10:32 am (UTC)
( 46 comments — Leave a comment )

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