How might the presentation of belief or faith be understood in context in Tess of the d'Urbervilles?
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The context that it is important to be aware of in regard to faith and belief is Hardy's own dislike of formal, organised religion. The "arbitary law of society" that Hardy presents in this novel is something that he is deeply critical of, and this is shown through the presentation of his various religious characters, with one or two exceptions. Consider, for example, how in Chapter 14 the vicar that buries Tess's illegitimate child refuses to let it be buried in the section where baptised people can be buried, and Tess is forced to watch her beloved child buried in the area where those who committed suicide and drunkards are placed:
So the baby was carried in a small deal box, under an ancient woman's shawl, to the churchyard that night, and buried by lantern-light, at the cost of a shilling and a pint of beer to the sexton, in that shabby corner of God's allotment where He lets the nettles grow, and where all unbaptized infants, notorious drunkards, suicides, and others of the conjecturally damned are laid.
The reference to the "shabby corner of God's allotment" and "conjecturally damned" makes clear Hardy's own criticism of such a religion, where somebody as helpless and defenceless as a baby is condemned by a religion that has no understanding of what the child has been up against. Note, too, the presentation of Alec as a preacher, which is another of Hardy's criticisms of religion and those who follow it. It is clear that apart from Angel Clare's father, who is one of the few religious characters that is shown in a good light, Hardy's own distaste for organised religion and the way that it judges and condemns the most helpless of society is clear.
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