Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 2426
The Sign-painter: a man whose evangelical messages unsettle our heroine
The Parson: a vicar whose adherence to established rules nearly outweighs his true religious feelings
Infant Sorrow: Tess’s child by Alec D’Urberville, whom she is forced to baptize and bury without benefit of clergy.
Several weeks after the night in the Chase, Tess walks home to Marlott, “her views of life” having been “totally changed” by recent experiences. D’Urberville catches up to her in a carriage and offers to ride her home if she is not willing to return to him at Trantridge. Tess refuses to continue being Alec’s “creature,” and turns down his offers of financial help. Alec reiterates these offers, especially “if certain circumstances arise,” an allusion Tess does not pick up on. Alec then bids good-bye to his “four months’ cousin.”
Shortly after this encounter, Tess is overtaken by a man whose avocation is to paint Bible verses on walls in the countryside. After reading his oddly punctuated message, “THY, DAMNATION, SLUMBERETH, NOT,” Tess feels horror and shame that this man seems to know her sinfulness.
At home, Tess first speaks with her mother, who is surprised and upset that Tess does not intend to get Alec to marry her. Joan tells her daughter she should have been more careful if she did not want Alec’s affections to lead to marriage. Tess replies that her mother had not informed her of the danger men represent to women. Despite her disappointment that Tess has ruined a good chance for the family’s advancement, Joan soon is resigned to what her daughter has done, and vows to “make the best of it.”
A few friends visit, and their envy of Tess’s romantic conquest of D’Urberville lifts her spirits, but only temporarily. A few weeks later she attends church, but the whispering of the congregants convinces Tess she is not welcome even there. To avoid such gossipy disapproval, Tess takes long walks at night, hiding herself from the eyes of her fellow villagers while contemplating her own guilt.
By next harvest time, Tess has ended her isolation and participates in the work of reaping wheat. One day at noon Tess nurses her baby in the fields, but later that afternoon it is apparent that the baby, never large or healthy, is now sick and dying. Tess realizes she must get the baby baptized, but her father, inflamed again by pride over his knightly roots, and not wishing anyone to meddle in his domestic affairs, refuses to let the parson in the house. Tess improvises a baptismal ceremony, enlisting the prayers of her younger siblings. Shortly after, the baby dies. When Tess sees the parson, he says Tess’s baptism will save the baby’s soul, but he initially balks at the idea of the baby being buried in consecrated ground. (The baby is buried in a corner of the graveyard.)
Tess remains in isolation all winter, until she realizes that she could never be comfortable in a place which knew about her recent history. Hearing of a summer job at a dairy, coincidentally located not far from her D’Urberville family seat, Tess vows to start a new life there.
Phase the Second functions as a transition between Tess’s experiences with Alec and her later life. The title of the Phase gives a sense of the changes Tess is going through physically, spiritually, and psychologically. It is important to realize that Hardy uses the idea of Tess being a “Maiden No More” in a double sense.
In one meaning, Tess is no longer a maiden in the technical, Victorian sense of the term: she is no longer a virgin, having been Alec D’Urberville’s lover. By such reasoning, Tess is a completely different person who no longer can be accorded the respect given to an untouched or a married woman.
Hardy describes Tess’s neighbors in Marlott as making her feel unwelcome at church, where their humanitarian feelings should be most engaged. Hardy uses the language of Victorian morality only to critique it. He wishes to transvalue or transform the idea that Tess has become a different person and to put in a different context the notion that she is guilty and to be looked down on, morally and socially.
In this more positive sense, Tess is a “Maiden No More” because her experiences have altered her sensations, her perspectives, and her knowledge of the world. She is now a woman and not a child, not merely because she is not a virgin, but because she has painfully accumulated knowledge of life’s dangers and burdens.
Hardy’s depiction of Tess as a seduced, abandoned maiden differs radically from the treatment of this same theme in Victorian literature. This difference resides mainly in the fact that Hardy refuses to explicitly criticize his heroine. Instead, his emotions become fully engaged in sympathizing with her. A frequent fate of fictional women engaging in illicit sex in Victorian literature was to commit suicide when they could no longer bear their shame. Hardy’s emotional commitment to and respect for the spiritual purity of Tess, no matter what she does or what people may think of it, is developed in this Phase. Hardy’s depiction of Tess in the baptism scene shows how much Hardy feels for and approves of his heroine. Her face, he writes, acquires a “touch of dignity which was almost regal.” She pours forth thanksgiving “from the bottom of her heart…uttering it boldly and triumphantly.” Hardy seems to be so enamoured of Tess’s beauty and dignity that he momentarily forgets she is only a character he has created.
Hardy is careful to note that the moral disapproval which Tess feels does not solely come from society or other people. Tess’s conscience functions as her most powerful critic. Her consciousness that she is guilty and sinful is great, and, in Hardy’s opinion, much greater than it needs to be. When looked at within the context of natural life, which implies the necessity of growth and generation, her activities have been normal and unexceptionable, not sinful or shameful. “Walking among the sleeping birds in the hedges, watching the skipping rabbits on a moonlit warren, or standing under a pheasant-laden bough, she looked upon herself as a figure of Guilt intruding into the haunts of Innocence. But all the while she was making a distinction where there was no difference. Feeling herself in antagonism, she was quite in accord. 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.” The conventional disapproval Tess feels so keenly is nothing more than a creation of her fancy, “a cloud of moral hobgoblins” with no foundation in the realest of worlds, the natural one.
Phase the Second contains two sections with themes characteristic of Hardy’s deepest aims as a novelist. The first section is an extended description of fieldwork and the relationship of farm workers to their environment. Hardy includes many details about how reaping was done at Tess’s time, while his descriptions also emphasize Tess’s sense of capability and satisfaction in doing such traditional work.
The other notable section, dealing with the makeshift baptism and burial of infant Sorrow, critiques the practice of organized religion in England as deficient to the ideals of what true religion should be. The sneering tone in his comment about the parson is unmistakable: “Having the natural feelings of a tradesman at finding that a job he should have been called in for had been unskillfully botched by his customers…he was disposed to say no” to Tess’s questions about the efficacy of Sorrow’s baptism. This vicar cannot recognize authentic spirituality when it is in front of his face. He apparently believes that true religious feeling is allowed only to those whose job it is to be religious.
Hardy does not describe any of the events that occur between the night in The Chase and Tess’s return to Marlott, and his presentation of the encounter in The Chase is oblique and indirect. Thus, we are left with difficulty in determining what has happened between Tess and Alec and are uncertain about how much Tess truly acceded to Alec’s pursuit of her. Did she want or accept this sexual relationship at any time, or was it always something forced on her by D’Urberville? Was the incident in The Chase a seduction or a rape? Tess never speaks of it as such, though some farm workers quoted in this Phase believe or have heard that “A little more than persuading had to do wi’…it.” The narrator puts it in a slightly different way: “She had…succumbed to adroit advantages he took of her helplessness; then, temporarily blinded by his ¬ardent manners, had been stirred to confused surrender awhile: had suddenly despised and disliked him, and had run away.” It is thus ¬apparent that the liaison went on for those several weeks with some sort of consent from Tess. The phrase “stirred to confused surrender awhile” implies some degree of agency on Tess’s part. Far from being purely a victim of others, Tess becomes an active figure complicit in what happens to her and marked with the same moral vulnerability given to each of us. The implication is that we as readers cannot idealize Tess as a creature of perfect innocence. Hardy’s description of the affair emphasizes her relative innocence but nevertheless reveals that her participation was not always unwilling.
Tess does not explicitly denounce D’Urberville’s unprincipled conduct. She does not criticize his lasciviousness or mount a full argument against the sexual double standard being applied to her. Her closest approach to directly evaluating D’Urberville’s behavior and sexual assumptions occurs when she exclaims, in reference to her protestations of innocence, “Did it ever strike your mind that what every woman says some women may feel!”
Tess has left Trantridge after she discovered that her recent behavior goes against her principles; she has “woken up” from her attachment to D’Urberville. Tess cannot share in the world’s sexual hypocrisy and will not partake of the arrangements by which men and women trick each other into marriage. Tess is too honest and takes marriage too seriously to be like many other women who get married only to avoid scandal. When Joan says any woman would use the affair as a pretext to force a marriage, Tess replies with simple dignity, “Perhaps any woman would except me.” The singularity of Tess’s behavior, her reliance on her conscience, and not the customs of society as a guide for authentic behavior, is constantly stressed by Hardy.
Readers of Thomas Hardy’s novels have long noted the great care with which Hardy develops detailed accounts of natural landscapes. The importance of the many descriptions of landscape and Nature in Tess is always psychological. The landscape Tess is placed in is immediately revealing of her mental state: the less hospitable the environment, the more negative her psychological condition. Landscape appears as a symbolic reflection of Tess’s state of mind.
The psychological treatment of landscape becomes clear near the end of Chapter 13. Hardy discusses Tess’s wish to isolate herself, to lose herself in her natural environment, and her feeling that she is wronging that environment through her guilt. Tess goes so far as to interpret natural phenomena as if they were in fact a commentary on her past behavior: “At times her whimsical fancy would intensify natural processes around her till they seemed a part of her own story. Rather they became a part of it; for the world is only a psychological phenomenon, and they seemed they were. The midnight airs and gusts, moaning amongst the tightly-wrapped buds and bark of the winter twigs, were formulae of bitter reproach. A wet day was the expression of irremediable grief…” Readers should note that “the world is only a psychological phenomenon” not just here to Tess, who interprets nature as an extension and reflection of her own mood, but throughout the novel in its descriptions of natural environments.
Tess finally realizes that “The past was past; whatever it had been it was no more at hand.” Tess does not succumb to her poverty, her experiences, her guilt, her ostracization. She is not “demoralized.” She assimilates her experience and finds a way to re-enter life, to put the past behind her. Throughout this passage of maturity, Hardy indicates the respect he holds for the heroine he has created by describing her beauty, her dignity, and her seriousness. Her voice takes on a note of tragedy, her eyes become more eloquently expressive, her soul is deepened. She realizes that there is more life to be lived. A spirit of “unexpended youth” has not been permanently stilled by her sufferings, and the “invincible instinct towards self-delight” given to all creatures draws Tess out of her isolation and self-punishment and into further engagement with the world.
Interestingly, references to death dot this Phase. Tess is so depressed “she could have hidden herself in a tomb.” She tells D’Urberville she would rather not have been born. The hellfire-and-brimstone messages of the sign painter turn on the concepts of death and damnation. The death of Sorrow occupies much of this Phase, and the baptism and burial are set at night, in contrast to the reaping scene, which is preceded by a description of the warm, life-giving sun. While absent-mindedly enduring a winter of empty days, Tess wonders which will be the day of her death, and muses that the date will in the future be unexceptional even to those who knew her. These thoughts prompt Hardy’s statement “Almost at a leap Tess thus changed from simple girl to complex woman.” A small part of her attraction to going to Talbothays is that the dairy is not far from the family vaults of Tess’s D’Urberville ancestors, and thus she will be able to compare her own “lapse” to theirs. Taken together, these references suggest a strong association, if not an affinity, between Tess and death. Hardy is choosing to prepare his readers for later events. Additionally, some readers may wonder that Tess’s morbidity and passivity might indicate a self-destructive personality. Why does Tess not fight harder against her fate? Is her ultimate preference not to fight, not to live?
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