Life and Works
Hardy was born, brought up and educated in the county of Dorset, so he had a deep knowledge of local life and folklore.
After some years spent in London, he went back to Dorset and became a novelist.
Among his most famous novels, Far from the Madding Crowd and Tess of the d’Urbervilles.
His last novel, Jude the Obscure, was criticized because it advocated an open treatment of sexual relationships.
He devoted to writing short stories.
The philosophy of his works echoes Schopenhauer’s The World as Will and Idea, with the Immanent Will which makes notions of free will illusory. To Schopenhauer, the Will is a malignant, metaphysical existence which controls not only the actions of individual, intelligent agents, but ultimately all observable phenomena; an evil to be terminated via mankind's duties: asceticism and chastity.
Charles Darwin: life in evolutionary terms.
French naturalism: subject was ordinary life, which was viewed scientifically, that is pessimistically determined by social environment, historical factors and heredity (Emile Zola).
Greek tragedy: Gods are indifferent, Nature and Fate hostile.
Main features of his novels
Pessimism, determined by the acceptance of scientific theories he found ultimately depressing, probably because they were the causes of his loss of his faith in God.
Determinism: his characters often leave their native environment, but this causes their ruin, as their destiny is anyway determined by natural laws and economic processes. They are deprived of the consolation of Divine order. Man’s life is controlled by hostile, cruel fate, “insensible chance”.
The setting is an imaginary place in Wessex (Anglo-Saxon name for Hampshire and Dorset) and the characters are often countrymen.
Interest in the life of the peasants in an age of decline and decay of peasantry.
Nostalgia for the pastoral and patriarchal way of life.
Hardy’s characters speak effectively and naturally, often in dialect.
The country characters often behave like the chorus of a Greek tragedy: comment, interpret, offer some relief.
Nature is indifferent to man’s destiny, sets the pattern of growth and decay; implies regeneration, expressed through the cycle of seasons.
Criticism of the most conventional, moralistic, hypocritical aspects of Victorian society.
Polemic attitude to religion: Christianity is no longer capable of fulfilling the needs of modern man.
Tess of the d'Ubervilles
Tess is a poor country girl, but educated. Her family claims kinship with the noble and powerful d’Urbervilles.
She is sent to service in the family of the same d’Urbervilles.
She is seduced by young Alec and abandoned.
She goes back home and delivers a child, who soon dies.
She goes to work in diary farm away from her village and falls in love with Angel Clare.
During the May Festival Angel wants to marry her.
Before the marriage, she sends him a letter revealing her secret, but he doesn’t receive it.
Immediately after the marriage she uncloses her past life and Angel abandons her.
Tess goes to work on another farm, where she is cruelly exploited.
She meets Alec again and accepts to go and live with him.
Angel, repented, comes back.
Tess kills Alec, who doesn’t want her to leave with Angel, and Angel and Tess run away.
She is captured and hanged.
Angel keeps the last promise made to her, to take care of her younger sister.
One important flashback: Tess narrating to Angel her past life.
Tess: she is educated, but she is not ready to deal with the external world, so she becomes a puppet in the hands ofAlec and Angel, losing her dignity.
Alec: noble, powerful, rich, used to have always his own way, he embodies the typical domineering attitude of manover woman and of the rich over the poor.
Angel: embodies Victorian Puritanism and obsession with respectability.
The narrator speaks in the third person, and looks deep into the characters’ minds.
He has an omniscient understanding of future implications of characters’ actions as they happen.
He leaves the reader to judge, even if he often betrays his sympathy towards Tess
Rural Dorset and its society, where old traditions and customs survive, but where modern farming methods arebeing introduced, with the result workers are exploited and middle/upper class families enrich
Stonehenge, where Tess is captured, as a symbol of the indifference of Gods and hostility of Nature.
Hostility of both natural and social world: Tess is cruelly treated by society, but also nature is hostile, as it is shown when Tess travels and work, suffering the cold and the heat.
Determinism: Tess is condemned from the beginning, as no one can escape from his/her social environment, which determines human lives.Criticism of Victorian morality: Angel’s behaviour, Tess’s feeling of guilt when she’s pregnant, even if the people of the village do not condemn her. Criticism of religion: Angel’s Puritanism. The novel as a ballad: the dramatic and violent story reminds of old folkloric ballads.