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Tess of the D'Urbervilles - the role of Chance

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Introduction

Thomas Hardy professed himself disillusioned with the idealised traditional Victorian d�nouement or 'regulation finish', which he described as 'indescribably unreal and meretricious'. His distaste for such unrealistically happy endings is obvious in Tess' fate, which he retained despite the fact that he received letters from readers imploring him not to let her die. Her death was the natural and, in one way, the more satisfying ending. It is therefore somewhat jarring to find in the work of one who was so vehement in his wish that Tess should be 'Faithfully Presented' to find irregularities in the flow of events which impede the smooth consistency of the plot and characters. Most strikingly, throughout the book are incidents of the failure of characters to perform the right action or make the right decision, in a situation in which it may have greatly reduced their suffering and resulted in a naturally happy ending. For example, after Tess' confession and Angel's rejection of her, Hardy repeatedly refers to the fact that 'if she had been 'a woman of the world [she] might have conquered him' by exploiting the 'back current of sympathy' which remained in Angel (Ch XXXVI); 'If [she] had been artful' he would 'not have withstood her' (Ch XXXVII). ...read more.

Middle

Tess stands as a symbol of the split between to two worlds of traditional agriculture and progressive industry and also between those of traditional rural culture and the more 'refined' and educated class. Hardy's main implausibilities lie way in which the fate which the 'President of the Immortals' has in store for her seems inevitable when viewed with hindsight and is facilitated by so many acts of Chance. Chance governs Tess' fate. In the first chapter, Parson Tringham describes how his researches into the D'Urberville/Darbeyfield link had been instigated by a casual sighting of the higgler's cart and 'been led to make inquiries'. Without this fairly vital chanced happening, unless the parson had been inspired some other way, it is doubtful that any of the events that followed would have occurred. The Durbeyfields' discovery of the illustrious link gives them the idea of contacting the Stoke-D'Urbervilles and - it is hinted - marry some 'noble gentleman'. Although she at first refuses to countenance this, such thoughts lead Tess to drift off and neglect the cart - which should have been driven by her father, but for the fact that he was rendered incapable by the ale he had consumed in celebration of his newfound aristocracy. ...read more.

Conclusion

This chance meeting rekindles his lust for her, and is the direct cause of the renewed pursuit. Although she resists him for a long time, with the death of her father and the eviction of the family she finally feels it is her duty to support them by surrendering to Alec. The tragic coincidence of Angel's arrival so soon after she has given up hope causes her to become bitter, even driving her slightly mad, and she kills Alec in her distraction. There is a sense of inevitability about the remaining chapters - she has sooner or later to be hunted down by the authorities, and her seeming desire for death aids her capture. Chance is one of the most common plot devices in Tess, and coincidences and chance happenings abound to a frustrating degree, especially when they increase Tess' anguish needlessly. However, a novel cannot be expected to adhere to the pattern of real life, howeber 'Faithfully Presented' - coincidences are natural to hold the plot together and prompt dramatic events. The tragedy of the sum of unfortunate circumstances which lead to Tess' downfall are poignant because of the attachment one forms with Tess, but Tess of the D'Urbervilles is a tragic novel, most of its drama relying on the imminence of suffering in her short life. ...read more.

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