Thomas Hardy's Tess of the D'Urbervilles: interpretations, evaluations and analyses since 1891
Keeler, Phoebe Forrestine
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Through careful examination of the reviews, criticisms, and comments about Thomas Hardy's Tess of the D'Urbervilles which have been made since 1891, the author has tried to determine the various opinions of Hardy's ability to portray setting and character snd the divers interpretations and evaluations of Tess. Although there were many variations of interpretations of Tess, it was found that there were two general schools of thought. One, that Tess was an indictment of the injustice of man's own moral and social laws. This interpretation was influenced by Hardy's sub-title, "A Fure Woman." The other, that Tess was a treatise of indignation at the laws of the universe which were inexorable and beyond man's control. Those who maintained that this was the correct interpretation believed so partially because of Hardy's statement in the final paragraph of Tess, "'Justice' was done, and the President of the Immortals, in AEschylean phrase, had ended his soort with Tess." The majority of critics since 1912 have tended to combine these two interpretations and have come to the conclusion that Tess was an expression of dissatisfaction at the injustice of the laws of both man and the universe. Hardy's sub-title, "A Pure Woman," did more than influence the interpretation of Tess, it started a long debate over the correctness of such an epithet being applied to Tess, and the whole moral aspect of the novel was therefore discussed. The question of Tess's purity or impurity was never agreed upon by the two sides, but after Hardy's death the whole controversy disappeared and has not been considered since. Instead, the critics came more and more to discuss the heroine as an artistic creation. The present opinion of Tess is that she is Hardy's most complete creation of a woman character. Of the secondary characters of Tess, Angel Clare and Alec D'Urberville were the only ones who received more than a passing comment. The opinion of Angel has been divided since the day of publication of the novel. It has not yet been agreed upon whether Angel was a "rrig" and did not act as a man would have acted, or whether he was "a spiritually beautiful character" whose actions were in line with the character Hardy delineated him as having. The majority of critics have agreed that Alec D'Urberville was an excellent psychological study of a sensual man. The one subject on which there has been no dissension is that Hardy was a master at portraying the Wessex country vividly. Even in the severest criticisms of Hardy between 1891 and 1893 no critic had any fault to find with Hardy's descriptions of the landscapes. Although Hardy's portrayal of the country-side has ever been thought powerful, the later critics found a close, even symbolic, relationship between the background of the story and the characters who moved against that background. This fact has made the modern critics have a deeper appreciation of the artistic genius of Thomas Hardy. Tess of the D'Urbervilles was not a perfect novel, but had many sensational or too melodramatic incidents in it. The different episodes which the critics objected to have been pointed out, as have certain scenes which were thought unusually good. The two more discussed incidents were the sleep-walking scene and the murder of Alec. Despite certain "flaws" in Tess, the whole of the novel represented Hardy at his best. Although many smaller details of Tess were criticized harshly, when the novel as a whole was considered, it was recognized from the beginning by most of the critics as an unusual novel. During the first few months following its publication, the novel was predicted to take rank among the best of Hardy's work and high among the Victorian novels. Today one sees that the early predictions were correct and Tess of the D'Urbervilles is considered Hardy's best novel and as Carl J. Weber so aptly wrote, "an Anglo-Saxon social landmark."
This item was digitized by the Internet Archive. Thesis (M.A.)--Boston University