Sep 26, 2023
Sep 26, 2023
by Tanvi Patel
As the industrial movement swept England in the 19th century, many farmers and agriculture workers found themselves in devastation. People lost their homes, their jobs, and the simple lifestyles they cherished. The movement had an even greater affect on the English landscape when lush fertile valleys were transformed into railways and urban centers. Thomas Hardy was very concerned with the loss of beautiful rural land during the industrial development. His main belief system was founded upon the ideal that nature is the core of all existence and the murder of it would be a loss to all humanity.
Hardy's novel, Tess of the d'Urbervilles, reflects his disappointing views of urbanism through his protagonist, Tess. He characterizes Tess as a daughter of nature who endures the brutality of industrialism through the people and circumstances in her life. Using specific language, character depiction, and story development, Hardy provides a strong argument against the urban movement by showing the reader its harsh effects on the agrarian lifestyle. The overpowering and eventual destruction of Tess parallels the industrial movement's negative results on the rural landscape of England.
Hardy's protagonist, Tess d'Urberville, is a young virtuous girl that represents the change between the old agrarian lifestyle and the new industrial one. She is primarily a daughter of nature upon whom urbanity will leave its lasting marks. Hardy immediately illustrates that as, Marlott, the place of her residence, is an isolated town away from the hazards of world, Tess too has been brought up with a sheltered and safe lifestyle. This upbringing makes her an innocent and naïve. The innocence of this "fine and picturesque country girl" makes her very susceptible to manipulation just as the earth can often be victim to the people who inhabit it. (Pg. 8) As the characterization progresses, Hardy also shows Tess to be a woman with a need to grow and spread her wings. She is constantly looking to learn about the world because she has a "full zest for life." (Pg.82) Tess's character, emotions, and feelings play a large part in portraying her as a rural sacrifice to industrialism. She can be very heartfelt and sensitive to the needs of her family while her sternness and stubbornness towards Alec reflect the attributes of an urban community. This contradiction of character enables Hardy to parallel his negative ideology of the industrial movement upon Tess's life. Thus, Tess's natural persona is slowly changing, as is the landscape around her.
The natural imagery, time and location of the events in the story carefully mark Tess as a direct product of the natural world. As the novel progresses, Hardy is very careful to characterize Tess as a "child of the soil" because of the ease with which she is able understand the land. (Pg. 290) She travels best in the darkness when the only compass she has is the land under her feet because "the night is a protection rather than a danger to the noiseless pedestrian." (Pg. 271) As the seasons change, so do the actions in Tess's life. She falls in love in the month of "May" when things are fertile and growing. (Pg. 79) Her rape and the death of her baby occur in "September" when nature is slowing dying and decaying. (Pg.56) Tess weds Angel in the dead of winter, paralleling the harshness of winter to the collapse of their marriage. The locations of Tess's travels are also important. Talbothays Dairy is a lush fertile land that suggests the natural ripeness of Tess and Angel's love. Flintcomb-Ash's rugged terrain finds in Tess lots of hardship of labor and the loss of her husband. At the end of the novel, she feels "at home" when she arrives at Stonehenge, a "heathen temple" of natural worship to the sun. (Pg. 310) The daughter of nature is sacrificed just as the agrarian lifestyle was sacrificed for the movement of industry. The similarities of season, time, and location clearly establish Tess as a daughter of nature.
Once Hardy has established Tess as a production of nature to be transformed by urbanity, he begins to allow the introduction of industrial forces to have their effect on Tess's life. The first in the course of destruction is Alec d'Urberville. A young man whose family obtained the name d'Urberville to stray from the distasteful notion of new money, Alec is a clear sign of industrialism. He and his family are an "unusual find… in such an old-fashioned part of the country." (Pg. 27) Hardy suggests that the new modern industrial ways of this d'Urberville family would be more comfortable in the city instead of the country. However, Alec's associations with urbanity go beyond his new home. Tess finds Alec to have a "swarthy complexion" with "touches of barbarism" and "bold rolling eyes." (Pg. 28) The contours of his face thus give the reader another reference to his stern character and his being a presentation of the urban lifestyle. He leaves no room for compromise or loss in his own right. These characteristics prove him to be a pure industrialist, set in the ways of the new disrupting movement. His fault in Tess's tale is his need to dominate the things around him. When his normal ability to dominate with his charms fail him, he commits one of the harshest acts to nature, rape.
The manner in which he goes about manipulating Tess is as unsuspecting and savage as the transformation between rural to urban. Alec creeps up on Tess in the darkness of the Chase and lies with her without her knowing it. He uses the opportunity to take her most prized possession and "trace a coarse pattern [upon a]… gossamer tissue." (Pg.57) The harsh disruption upon a beautiful being represents the results of the urban movement upon the rural land. The notion of a slow and abrupt overtaking parallels the "gentle" movement of commercialism though the agrarian panorama. (Pg.57) Hardy once again uses natural imagery to illustrate the violation of nature through industrialism. He never clearly mentions that Tess has been raped, however the parallel he draws does more for his theme of destruction then an explicit statement of fact. As Alec attempts to dominate Tess without obstacles, the industrialists were keen on taking over the rural landscape without causing too much of an uproar in the towns they converted. The virginal maiden is ambiguously violated by the harsh man just has the rural landscape has succumbed to the atrocity of the urban movement. Hardy used the relationship between Tess and Alec to complete his first point about the destruction of English land.
The wrath of devastation to the rural landscape and Tess continues with the ecclesiastically distanced Angel Clare. Coming from a family full of clergymen, Angel rejects this idea of a formalized industry and ventures off to learn about the agricultural world. It is however, Angel's hypocritical nature that enrages most readers. He announces his natural views on life, but carries out the actions of an urbanite because "he is in the agricultural world, but not of it." (Pg. 255). His downfall then is in the struggle between his rural actions and the sentiments of his industrial mind. This conformation to society clearly portrays Angel as a hypocrite who condemns Tess for failing to follow the ideals of society while he himself has already rejected these ideals. He is not able to forgive Tess for her encounters with Alec. Although he tries to become a part of the rural world, his upbringing forces him to side with the notions of industry. Thus, even though he denies the urban movement in profession, his values and morals are very much a part of that society and this makes him yet another example of urbanity. Angel's actions parallel the urban movement because although the industry meant no great harm, it was a "tyrant" that "kept up a despotic demand upon the endurance of their muscles and nerves." (Pg. 255) The notion of industrialism was created to help people in their daily lives and ensure a better lifestyle but often times; this was not the result. The intent was a positive one, but many of the effects were very negative. Just as Angel never meant to harm Tess, the urbanites were not attempting to harm the people that they encountered. Thus, Hardy reminds us that even when intentions are on the right side, there may be negative factors that affect people. Both Angel and the industrialists did not carefully consider the consequences of their actions, and this neglect had dire results.
Along with the intervention of men in her life, Tess's own parents were a crucial example of the devastation caused by the industrial movement. In a time where the abundance of land was valued over the excess of money, the d'Urbervilles took pride in their agricultural lifestyles. The d'Urbervilles were of a class that conducted a lot of trade of agriculture throughout England. In this time period, many of these people were made to go back to the grunt work of farm life and leave their homes along with the hope of any future financial success. Once the industrial movement hit Marlott, the family was forced out of their home and had to leave the community they had grown fond of. John d'Urberville "was the last of the three lives for whose duration the house and premises were held under a lease" and so upon his death, the family was evicted from their home. (Pg. 276) Hardy shows the reader that these people were taken out of their homes to make way for the industrial movement. In times when machines did the work of farmers, people were left without jobs without choice. This uprooting of people to follow the conventions of the new urban society is the exact predicament of the d'Urbervilles. Hardy elaborately shows his reader that "rhythm of change… so do flux and reflux, alternate and persist in everything under the sky." (Pg. 277) Hardy suggests that once again, industrialism took out any obstacles in its path without looking back to realize the ruin.
After the specific usage of characters to illustrate the effects of industrialism, Hardy moves on to specific actions in the novel. The harsh events that take place in the city drastically differ from the pleasant ones that occur in the country. The mansion of Alec d'Urberville, is the first sign of the industrial taking over the rural land. This "recent erection" drew a "contrast to the evergreens of the lodge." (Pg. 26) Hardy notes that the introduction of this modern house does not fit well with the landscape it resides upon. The development of industry in this countryside is also the location of the first major devastation in Tess's life. Hardy parallels the subtle takeover of industrialism with the "catastrophe" upon "feminine tissue" of Tess during her rape. (Pg. 57) On the opposite end, a positive sort of love erupts between Tess and Angel in the country setting of Talbothays Dairy. Hardy shows that the country's beautiful scenery and landscape provides a perfect place for nature's emotions to show themselves. Thus, in allowing love to flourish in the country and figuratively die in the city, Hardy illustrates his dislike for the urban movement by placing actions in specific sites.
Along with the sentiments of love, the aspects of her work life also parallel the difference between city and country. At Flintcomb - Ash, Tess is forced to work very closely with huge machinery. The "stubborn soil" and "stony lachets" make working condition very gruesome. (Pg. 221, 223) The owner even puts her in danger of being hurt by some of the machinery, foreshadowing Tess's eventual death due to the forces of the industrial world. The machinery clearly represents the industrialism that was eating away at the farms in England. In comparison to the ease and tranquility of the work Tess did at Talbothays Dairy, Flintcomb - Ash was a grueling place. Again Hardy makes a specific point to announce his distaste for the urban movement by contrasting the lifestyles of the city and the country. The city has a harsh laborious lifestyle while the country remains pleasant and peaceful. Hardy illustrates his hatred of the change occuring in England at that time.
Tess's biological life also parallels the conflicting settings of country and city. Hardy shows that life as a maiden begins in the natural country and ends in the brutal city. Tess's life begins in the rural secluded town of Marlott where the country atmosphere allows her to grow into a virtuous caring young girl. In contrast, Tess's downfall occurs in the city. Towards the end of the tale, when Tess is once again in Alec's possession, negative consequences ensue. She murders Alec in the city of Sandbourne that was like a "fairy place suddenly created by the stroke of a wand." (Pg. 296) The suddenness with which the city is created parallels the quick actions of Tess in murdering Alec d'Urberville. In both scenarios it seems like there was no thought before the action was orchestrated. Once Tess is put to death in the city, the harsh realities of justice and punishment remind the reader of Hardy's pessimistic view of industrialism. Hardy purposely begins and ends Tess's life in such a manner to show her as a sacrifice of rural landscape to the urban movement. Through his portrayal of Tess, Hardy is able to use her entire being to make his negative attitude towards urbanity known.
Many people in England were forced to make sacrifices during the industrial revolution. Through language, character depiction, and specific scenes in the novel, Hardy illustrates the harsh effects of industrialism on certain agrarian lifestyles. He shows the reader that the commercialism and emphasis on modernistic ways of life did not fall well with all the people in the land. The substitute of machinery to manual labor came at a heavy price for the beautiful English land and the families who inhabited it. Hardy allows his readers to see that progress may not always be a positive occurrence and good intentions may cause dire consequences.
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