Tess of the D'Urbervilles: nature and setting

Categories: Nature

In the novel Tess of the D’Urbervilles, Thomas Hardy makes extensive use of nature and setting to portray personal relationships and emotions, in particular that of Tess and Angel Clare. Using features from Pathetic Fallacy to extended metaphors, Hardy presents the two characters as being at one with nature and directly linked to the seasons. In Tess of the d’Urbervilles, the characters and setting mirror each other. Tess moves between different settings through the stages of the novel, each mirroring her emotional and mental state.

In chapter XV1, the beginning of phase the third, the pleasant vale echoes Tess’s newfound happiness, which resonates in the lush surroundings and bright May sunshine. By starting the phase with ‘on a thyme-scented, bird hatching morning in May’ Hardy is presenting an optimistic viewpoint, one of hope and a new beginning. Throughout the novel there is an extended metaphor of Tess being bird like, elegant and at home with nature and the imagery of ‘bird-hatching’ presents the inference that it is a new start for Tess, full of life and energy.

This portrayal of ‘life’ is carried through this chapter with Hardy making reference to ‘the evangelist’; this is in fact John the Baptist whom sees the river of life in a vision, this significantly links to the new lease of life before Tess, a new start where there were ‘no invidious eyes upon her’. By introducing Angel almost as soon as Tess establishes her newfound freedom and hope, Hardy makes it clear from the outset that this relationship will be more significant than any other.

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This is a deliberate structural choice as Tess is at her happiest point, and the change could either make or break her character.

Although their paths cross in ‘the maiden’ chapter 2, Tess and angel do not become fully acquainted until Chapter 19 where Angel plays his harp to Tess. This is a key scene in the novel as, it establishes the terms of Tess and Angel’s relationship. They idealise each other; he sees her as a simple ‘daughter of the soil’, she sees him as an ‘intelligence’. The references to Tess’s difficulty in describing her emotions, the spirit of the age and the ‘ache of modernism’ are suggestive of Hardy’s interest in modernity. But we also see how Tess is subject to and driven by nature’s rhymes.

Tess is described animalistically, first as a bird-reminding us of chapter 9 and then as a cat; ‘she went stealthily as a cat’. The garden’s red stains, sticky profusion and clouds of pollen; echoing the clouds of dust in the barn at Chaseborough in Chapter 10, which are symbolic of abundant fertility, desire and insemination. In the chapter Tess becomes entranced by the music Angel plays on the harp, this is significant as it mirrors the cows and the effect the harp playing has on them, again signifying that Tess is animalistic and at one with nature.

The description of the scene in which they meet is very plain, and naturalistic- there is a strong semantic field of nature with lexis such as ‘cuckoo-spittle’ (insect secretion) and ‘blights’. Although all seems at peace and neutral, there are some underlying warnings within the first transactional meeting of the pair. For instance the ‘madder stains’ which is a crimson like dye, significant because of the connotations of the warning colour red and the ‘red’ theme that seemingly follows Tess throughout the novel.

Starting from her red hair bow at the town dance and continuing with the death of the horse ‘Prince’ and Tess’s blood stained body. These are omens predetermining the harsh future and the doomed relationship between Tess and Angel. Although the saying goes opposites attract, the opposites are shown to be the downfall of Tess and Alec, Hardy presents him as a well to do, respectable man; he is a man of the 1890s who rejects the precepts of Christianity, as we learn in chapter 18 where Clare rejects the key tenets of his Fathers Anglican faith.

Tess on the other hand is portrayed as plain and naturalistic. In phase the fourth after falling in love with Tess, Angel retreats to his family to ask permission to marry Tess. It is with this we see that the two do not match, Tess is not suited to the cultural life Clare can offer. Angel’s life at Talbothays is in striking contrast to that of his family; the natural, rural life of the farm is opposed to the cultured life of the traditional vicarage.

The time of day is significant, in chapter xxv when Angel is at his parents vicarage it is described as ‘dusk’ and ‘when evening drew on’, this is dissimilar to the ‘hot weather of July’ Talbothays and is a further indication that it is not suited to Tess. Nature is portrayed as a force throughout the novel, it seems to act as a challenge for the relationship and sometimes seems to be the physical motion blocking the relationship from flourishing even more.

The personification of all things naturalistic effectively acts as omens and connections, Tess is often connected to the birds, the cows and flowers; but this is only when there is no male presence. When she is seemingly with a male or in an aspiring relationship, nature turns nasty. What starts as the ‘thyme scented’ morning- implying a positive future, grows ugly; the start of chapter 18, depicts a growing Angel Clare, much like a plant, ‘Angel Clare rises out of the past’ and this is the catalyst for natures decline in mood. The chapters that proceed Angels rising, all seem somewhat negative and dark, as if nature casts a shadow over Tess.

Chapter 20 begins with ‘the season developed and matured’ and makes reference to nature being replaceable, ‘where only a year ago others had stood in their place’ – this is hardy referring to Tess’s past with Alec and giving a warning that Angel and Tess’s relationship is covering over the cracks and in fact Angel may be no different to Alec. Chapter 23 portrays nature as a force, it begins with ‘the hot weather of July crept upon them’ Personifying nature and giving it the ability to ‘creep’ makes the relationship seem unimportant and vulnerable against the world.

The chapter has numerous omens of bad will to the couple, ‘it was Sunday morning; the milking was done’ with Sunday predominantly and traditionally being the day of rest, it is an ill omen to work on this day, and with the feature of pathetic fallacy, Hardy omits the force of nature against this sin- ‘steaming rains’ and ‘heavy thunderstorms’. In phase the fifth – the woman pays, the omens are made reality, Angel rejects Tess, even though at this point they are wed, he refuses to notice any relationship but will not divorce for traditional pride and societal embarrassment.

In chapter 35 we see the consequences of Tess’s and Angel’s idealising love, repetition is used to intensify feeling , while the cottager’s observation makes Tess and Angel feel drawn out and secluded. The rest of the world seems indifferent to their plight, this is shown with the metaphorical ruined abbey portraying their dead relationship, the abbey symbolises the decline of conventional morality, but in its gothic description also adds to the feeling that Angel is haunted by the spectre of simple natural Tess, grotesquely transformed into a delinquent aristocrat.

This a melodramatic, almost sarcastic tone to the chapter, Angel emits a tear and even simple everyday objects like the fire are transformed by Tess’s confession; ‘the fire looked impish-demoniacally funny’. The three phases analysed are key to understanding the characters of Angel and more importantly Tess. We see Tess at her happiest working with nature, living in the rural farm of Talbothays. This has been her destiny throughout the novel, she has been linked to the birds and the seasons mirror her emotional state. The introduction of Angel disrupts the natural balance and leaves Tess feeling out of place and not in synch with nature.

Angels arrival see’s Tess try to become something she is not, she wants to fit in with a higher societal class and in doing so breaches class boundaries so she does not feel able to fit in any environment. Hardy cleverly uses Pathetic fallacy and extended metaphors throughout to signify changes in relationship, with rain and thunder being when Tess is at her least happy, when Angel rejects their marriage but refuses a divorce. All in all I conclude that nature acts as a great force that blocks a flourishing relationship between the two, it casts shadows over future prospects and makes like hard for Tess to fit in.

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Tess of the D'Urbervilles: nature and setting. (2016, Dec 17). Retrieved from http://studymoose.com/tess-of-the-durbervilles-nature-and-setting-essay

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