Thomas Hardy (was: Re: survey results, part 1)

McMullin, Elise emcmullin at
Tue Jan 4 11:31:11 EST 2000

> ----------
> From: 	Melissa Proffitt[SMTP:Melissa at]
> Sent: 	Sunday, January 02, 2000 9:14 PM
> To: 	dwj at
> Subject: 	Thomas Hardy (was: Re: survey results, part 1)
> (see how I remembered to change the subject line? :)
> (okay, long post with way too much literary content--this is an Official
> Warning.)
> On Tue, 28 Dec 1999 16:41:30 -0500, McMullin, Elise wrote:
> >> Thomas Hardy - Melissa
> >I've only read Tess, and only for school.  I was deeply offended by the
> >ending.  I find, upon reflection, that I am Still deeply offended by the
> >ending.  There must be discussion in that!
	Melissa said:

	"_Tess_ is yet another story.  Again, I don't know anyone who reads
this book
> the way I did.  Some of it is that I really relate to Tess; it's been too
> long, time to reread the book, so I can't be more specific.  Maybe Jacob
> remembers the details; we had to read the book for a class we had together
> in college (in which, come to think of it, I really should have let my
> fellow classmates have it with both barrels, they were just too stupid for
> words.  Always looking for Christ imagery--as though this is the, sorry,
> Holy Grail of literary symbology--and missing every other obvious symbol
> there was)."
	Yeah, this was definitely my experience in high school when we read
it.  But my teacher said that, and I have to reach into the mists to try to
paraphrase - that Tess was impure (my reaction: huh?) and a Marked Woman (my
reaction: wha?) and therefore it was inevitable that she would do an evil
deed (me: eh?) and that the punishment was somehow predestined from long
before the crime (me: ???).  I don't know, it didn't make much sense to me.
Somehow she had it that any christ imagery to be found was to be found in
the character of Angel (???!!!) and emphatically not in that Sinner, Tess.
Honestly, the farther I get from those years the more ridiculous it all
looks.  No wonder she looked dyspeptic when I did that presentation on
Brahma by Emerson.  I was very obtuse about that sort of thing at the time,
not a worker of the system - I just thought I was dumb.

	"After thinking about it for a while, this is what I came up
> with.  Tess spends the ENTIRE book being acted upon.  Everything that
> happens to her, everything she suffers, isn't her fault.  (Now *that's*
> Christ imagery.  Did my classmates come up with that?  Of course not.)"
	Your take makes a lot more sense!

	"But the fact is that for once Tess took action--and for
> once she suffers justly.  Setting aside the mitigating circumstances, the
> bare facts are murder, and the requisite punishment for murder.  This is
> one
> of those evidences for Hardy's pitiless natural world out to get Man, and
> it
> makes total sense.  But I never once read it that way.  Call me weird if
> you
> must, but I got to the end and it was GREAT!"
	Yeah, despite the confusion I was under thanks to the dissonance
between the book and my teacher's interpretation, that Tess should be
"brought to justice" wasn't what bothered me.  The part that bothered me is
that she Gave Her Sister to Angel Clare, and he Accepted!!  What? What?!
	Now my teacher's take on that was that Tess knew she could never be
good enough for Angel (impure, marked woman etc.) so she was making amends
(to him - ??!!) by donating her sister to the cause, as it were - and this
was right and just because her sister was Pure in a way she could never have
been.  Somehow in some mysterious way, whatever good thing came Angel's way
was meager recompense for his total wonderfulness.  And I believe there was
something in there about this being Tess's, I dunno, redeeming action
somehow - the best she could do in her miserable state.

	I'm really glad that you addressed this because I honestly never
thought about this again in the intervening years.  It may be that my
distaste was largely to be ascribed to how my teacher construed the events.
Did Tess commend her sister to his care for the reasons I took away in my
head from that experience, or did she do it because he was a benign person
and she didn't want her sister to be vulnerable in the way that she was? Or
why?  Hey, I *will* read that book again.

	"_Tess of the d'Urbervilles_ is really hard for moderns to read, I
> There's just too much in it that we've rejected.  Hardy despised many of
> the
> mores of his culture, particularly the sexual double standard, but he took
> the Mark Twain approach and showed how utterly wasteful and stupid it all
> was without ever directly condemning it.  It's subtle and lacks the
> pleasure
> of a direct denunciation.  A lot of what happens to Tess is just
> infuriating; why isn't there anything to protect her?  Like sexual
> harassment laws?  Or a decent father who isn't a drunken slob so hung up
> on
> his fantasies that he sends his oldest daughter off to be attacked by
> wolves, so to speak?  Or assertiveness training--or better yet, karate
> lessons?"
	Heh heh, according to my teacher I believe the idea was if she had
been decently humble and had no trace of impudence or arrogance, none of
those terrible things would ever have happened to her.  Honestly.  How
dunderheaded - this is exactly the sort of environment that creates a spur
posse type situation, if you ask me.  It's unclear to me if this was all her
idea or if she thought Hardy thought that.  I took away with me that it was
Hardy who thought all these things.

	"...or Angel won't be such an utter ass--he's such a
> wuss, he doesn't deserve her anyway."
	Those were my feelings exactly.  Imagine my chagrin at the school
interpretation. And of course I always doubted my own take first and never
the other people, sheesh.  What a dumb thing.  It's an outrage.  If I wasn't
so sure my classmates never paid any mind to any of this hooey, I might be
more outraged.

	"See, I told you you wouldn't get it.  But you did ask."

	Makes more sense now than before, that's for sure.  You should have
heard what the teacher had to say about Young Goodman Brown and the Scarlet
Letter.  I think we had to read Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God that
year, too.  But enough about that, you have definitely given me reason to
have a fresh look at Hardy.  Thanks!


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