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210 TESS AS AN ANIMAL IN NATURE By T. E. M. Boll (University of Pennsylvania) When, in TESS OF THE D'URBERVILLES, Hardy dons a philosopher's gown to argue against an arbitrary conventional attitude which society tries to sublimate into a moral law, and in favor of nature's moral law, without guaranteeing that nature has one (chs. 13» 14, 15, 23, 36, and 41), he does not allow space for a rebuttal. But even as we are analyzing the argument for its weaknesses, we appreciate the compassion for Tess that led Hardy to formulate the questionable opinions that society is separable from nature, that natural moral law is the supreme law even in the context of a social environment, and that society wreaks injustice by opposing natural law as it functions spontaneously. All three principals in the novel at some time or other build upon Hardy's belief that a physical mating in nature, even a mating by coercion, is no sin, but rather a "liberal education" (ch. 15) according to the assumed moral law of nature, the further belief that such a mating may even constitute a marriage in society; in contrast to society's conventional view that a voluntary gift of the body and a recognised, formal pronouncement that the union is a permanent one, are necessary to a marriage in existing society. Tess holds that second belief immediately after her return from her wedding, when she wonders if she has any moral right to the name Mrs. Angel Clare, and if she is not more truly Mrs. Alexander d'Urberville (ch. 33). Angel Clare, after he has learned of Tess's relationship to Alec, refers to Alec as Tess's husband in nature, (ch. 36) Alec, when he reclaims Tess, despite her legal marriage to Angel, declares, "If you are any man's wife, you are mine!" (ch. 47) And Tess, after Alec's argument has taken hold of her mind, seriously wonders if "in a physical sense this man alone was her husband." (ch. 51) It is only when Angel, at a time when he has risen above the negative phase of conventional morality, returns as a penitent, that Tess rebels against her earlier feeling that she had been made a wife by natural, that is, an animal union. Insight tells her that love and a complete freedom of choice originating in respect, constitute a real marriage. Now Tess understands that love is a distinctly civilized and social emotion, far superior to the simple natural condition that is created when two bodies link in a fertility clasp. Angel, she now realizes, is her "true husband." (ch. 56) Hardy is more persuasive as novelist than as philosopher. As novelist he puts aside the lifeless abstractions to deal in Images. He uses a simple figure of speech to show us Tess as a representative of nature, tragically hurt by her chance collisions with two representatives of conventional society. He makes his alignment of Tess with nature clear by simply comparing her to an animal. The figure enables him economically to imply that the basis of both Alec's lust and Angel's early passion and his eventual compassion a re Tess's characteristics as an animal; an inexperienced animal when she met Alec, an experienced animal when she met Angel. The recurrent figure forms a motif that always modulates with the particular scene in which the figure appears to mark a stage of progression or regression. In Chapter 8, when Alec d'Urberville rides furiously with Tess in his dog cart to frighten her into letting him kiss her, Hardy Introduces the motif in both an immediate and a predictive mood of terror: "her large eyes staring at him like 211 those of a wild animal." In chapter 18, Tess is affected to the opposite of terror: willing submissiveness, by her awareness of Angel's watching her. She "began to trace imaginary patterns on the tablecloth with the constraint of a domestic animal that perceives itself to be watched." The third mention of the figure occurs in chapter 27. Angel's telling her about Alec's insulting remarks to the Reverend Clare, who had been preaching...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1559-2715
Print ISSN
0013-8339
Pages
pp. 210-211
Launched on MUSE
2010-05-21
Open Access
No
Archive Status
Will Be Archived 2021
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