Tess of the d’Urbervilles: Part 2 – The Wessex Artemis

The thatched cottage in Marnhull believed to have inspired the Durbeyfield’s Cottage in Marlott (Credit:Philip V. Allingham via The Victorian Web)

CONTENT WARNING: Contains discussion on sexual violence, sexual assault, infant mortality and cruelty to animals.

When we left our Tess she had returned home from the serpentine clutches of Alec ‘the twat’ Stoke-d’Urberville, basically had her rape dismissed by everybody as her own fault, had a baby, had it die, undergone a process approaching deification, baptised her own baby, buried it with the name “Sorrow” and was, apparently ready to move on with her life.

To achieve this she disappears from the judgements and scornful gazes of the obnoxiously Jacobean people of Marlott to spend time at Talbothays Dairy. Compared to her hometown it’s a liberal paradise that asks no questions. She spends a great deal of time walking her way there and, whilst she has always been a child of nature her previous, innocent, Eve-like aspect is morphed.

She knows sin now, she knows death now, she knows pain now and yet she, in this walk, despite all the tragedies that have befallen her, is in quite high spirits. She is master of these elements, the rustling trees, the chirping birds and the grasses flowing like streams in the breeze. Tess is now Artemis, the Greek Goddess of hunting and of nature – very Tess like – but also of chastity and protector of young girls – very ironic.

Later on, I believe, Angel Clare will go on to call her exactly that but I was thinking it long before he said it. Of the old Gods, Artemis or her Roman equivalent Diana is one of my favourites.

Diana, particularly, is said to have had a strange ritual in order to become her head Priest or Priestess. It was the duty of her head charge to live in the wilderness, hunting and gathering for food away from society and its all-too judgemental eyes. If one wanted to take that position all you had to do was successfully hunt the prior head Priest or Priestess.

Tess, like Diana’s head Priest, will lead the hunt at Talbothays Dairy but whether the reward is worth it is questionable.

I mentioned before that this will be less of a run-through of what happens with analysis and more an analysis of themes because, frankly, what happens in this part of the book bores and annoys me.

It’s a romance. Tess arrives at the Dairy where a young gentleman named Angel Clare, who once scorned her at the Cerealia in Marlott, is taking up a residency with a view to learning the arts of farming and becoming a gentleman farmer.

Tess is hot, he is horny, she’s been through some shit so has an air about her that sets her apart from the others – never mind that she is of d’Urberville stock so may have a knightly aura about her. Whatever their dumb reasons they’re dumb and into each other.

There’s not much else happens, sometimes events conspire or stories remind Tess of her past and she goes off in an understandable sulk, but for the most part it is just setting out Mr. Angel Clare as being this wonderful loveable gentleman whilst simultaneously undermining him by letting him be himself.

Now there is a lot of educated, middle-class, modern, feminist-minded interpretation of Mr. Clare that is, frankly, very harsh and very unfair to him and I think it would be wise to take a different look, especially from a male perspective and in my case a working-class male perspective.

They’re not nearly harsh enough.

‘Wet blanket’ doesn’t even begin to sum up the absolute foppery of this snivelling little twat.

If you want the hard-arsed, cold, working-class man’s opinion of Angel Clare he’s all mouth and no fucking trousers. Gentleman farmer? He’s none of the former and too much of a weed to be the latter.

He’s pretentious. That’s his main character trait.

He loathes the old families until he finds out Tess may be from one and then, oh it’ll please his parents so and he’s ever so excited. He plays a harp. He bought a harp. A man, named Angel, bought himself a harp. What kind of eye do you have to have for pretentious aesthetics to be called ‘Angel’ and specifically choose to play a harp?

He considers himself a thinker, but at the end of the day all he really does is all his family has ever done. Recite scripture and play by the rules. His entire treatment of Tess is bound in this building her up in his own mind as a platonic ideal of a woman only then to have that illusion shattered when he finds out she’s a real person, and anyone of any intelligence would have the cognitive plasticity to actually fucking think their way around it but instead he runs away like the coward he is.

He runs away, and then having run away, experiences real life, trauma, sickness, abuse and death and then realises maybe Tess is not such a gobshite after all, now that he’s realised there’s worse in the world than your twatty priest brothers not liking you or being so beloved by your father that even though he doesn’t send you to Cambridge to study he saves up a shit-ton of money for you to pursue whatever dream it is you want to pursue. Angel Clare has been so fucking protected all his life it takes him experiencing true suffering to forgive his wife for having had suffering thrust upon her…Well what a redemption story, buy him a celebratory fucking drink! Nah – fuck him, he’s a coward and a fool.

Angel Clare is a bitch. The only person worse than him in the entire book is Alec and even then Alec at least knows he’s a dick. There’s self-awareness to Alec that it takes the trauma of a trip to Brazil for Angel to develop.

A view over the river Froome and the lush valley where the Great Dairies are (Credit: Nigel Mykura / Thomas Hardy Locations, Tess of the Durbervilles (1) / CC BY-SA 2.0)

I have often said that I can bring myself shake hands with a villain who is honest in their villainy (not Alec, he’d get a fucking slap), but I’ll always beware of anyone who proclaims themselves good. Angel is that ‘good’, even his name is an irony.

So uncared for is Angel Clare that I can only imagine this is deliberate from Hardy. Even the author knows that Tess’ beloved is a shit-rolled-in-sugar. If it’s unintentional he couldn’t have done a better job if he’d tried!

It’s one of the reasons I find these segments so unlikeable, because all this time Tess is doe-eyed and submissive to a man who she could probably knock seven-shades-of-shit out of when it comes to a contest of who can really suffer. He rejects her when it is he who is undeserving of her adulation.

This part of the book is where a lot of the social commentary takes place. As mentioned Clare’s family are relatively well to do, his father is the Vicar of his local church, his other two sons are both following his path into the clergy but Angel was a little too independent minded to be considered for that path.

As a result, and his father seeing no point investing in an Oxford education for someone who isn’t joining the clergy, Angel has to find his own path and decides to be a pastor in a different sense, in that he will take over a farm.

I got the feeling we were supposed to ‘feel’ for Angel – something in this rejection is supposed to have hurt him. The problem is we’ve just got through a bit in the story where a girl is raped, has a baby and then the baby dies.

If it is intended to make us ‘feel’ for Angel it’s pretty bad timing because his problems are so microscopic in terms of what Tess has been through that you just think if he can’t get over that is he actually that good of a man at all? Where’s his mettle? Where’s his god-damn cock-and-balls? That’s what’s so obnoxious about Angel is he’s all misogyny with no masculinity to back it up! If you want to hate yourself for being less than a man be my guest but Tess deserves better.

Her fall from grace is being raped. His fall from grace is not quite believing in God enough to be a vicar.

The consequences of her misfortunes are being totally socially ostracised and considered ‘tainted’ for life. The consequences of his misfortunes are his dad gives him money to set up a farm.

Never mind chalk and cheese, these two are fucking chalk and obsidian. One is white, soft and crumbly and the other hard, sharp and dark.

This must, surely, all be part of the social commentary. To some animals the biggest hardship they will go through is not getting to eat the best food that day. To other animals they’ll get shot and die slowly. Angel Clare and Tess Durbeyfield exist in this odd social world that mimics the natural in so many ways and yet decrees itself so far away from it.

The other thing we need to address with Angel is the very same thing that bothers me about this part of the novel – Romance.

Romanticism, primarily an artistic movement, also reflects somewhat of a philosophical outlook. It is characterised by emphasis on the ‘individual’, the emotions and their interior world, and a glorification – to a fault – of nature. It is heavily conflicted with rationalism, which causes Angel significant problems because he seems to think himself a rationalist whilst acting the romantic.

Romanticism, and its links to emotion, would thus become entangled with notions of love, of coupling and sex.

It would also link almost directly to decadence, a movement associated with a recognition of decline, an emphasis on self-indulgence and excess and as we’ll get to in the next part, influencing the notion of the ‘gothic’ and a recognition of the beauty in horror and terror and decay.

So as mentioned, Angel is self-deluded into believing himself an intelligent rationalist and yet, in Hardy’s own words;

“He grew away from old associations, and saw something new in life and humanity. Secondarily, he made close acquaintance with phenomena which he had before known but darkly—the seasons in their moods, morning and evening, night and noon, winds in their different tempers, trees, waters and mists, shades and silences, and the voices of inanimate things.”

He’s a fucking romantic. His first thought about Tess is;

“What a fresh and virginal daughter of Nature that milkmaid is!”

Already, without knowing her, he is romantically categorising her. A true rationalist would say “What an attractive young woman.” But as a romantic she must be a ‘daughter of Nature’ – deliberate capital ‘N’! Not merely nature, the everything, but Nature the goddess, the Mother Gaia! But also ‘virginal’. There are socio-romantic connotations then. For him to perceive a woman as worthy of admiration she must be a virgin. This was the social view at the time, this is the whole reason Tess has had such a troubled life so far – because that stamp of socio-romantic authenticity, that mark of social purity, her status, like her hymen, was forcibly broken.

In Angel’s pursuit of her she tries multiple times to tell him that she has aspects of her past that he would not like, that would make him think differently of her and he ignores her. Blinded by his ‘romantic’ vision, he portrays Tess in his own mind as a Nature Goddess, as ‘Artemis’. She is the pure and virginal because in his internal world, his romantic world, that is what she must be.

She isn’t, of course. Any rational person would see this, would heed her words when she says she has reason to refuse his hand but he doesn’t. His rational mind cannot compete with his romantic vision. He’s a fool. He’s an idiot. Angel Clare is an idiot.

How much of that is deliberate, I don’t know. We shall see as this tale goes on that, despite this being a romance it is a tragic one. How ‘romantic’ of mind Thomas Hardy was is debatable. He is clearly of a pastoral inclination but his constant use of nature, of season, of life and death going on around, would incline me to believe he has a tendency towards a Sadean decadence. There’s blood spilled in those pastoral scenes, milk turns sour, the butter refuses to churn, a few leaves of garlic in the field make the butter taste funny, at one point Tess – like Demeter – takes possession of the rights of life and death and kills pheasants dying slowly having been shot by hunters in a mindless bloodlust.

I think Hardy was a self-loathing Romantic. He never quite pushes far enough to revel in the suffering, to glory in it, as a true decadent would. But he sees it, and knows it is there. Romantics hide behind the flower in bloom, ignoring the corpse rotting next to it providing its soil with the nutrients it needs to grow so vibrant. Hardy doesn’t revel in the corpse, nor does he hide it from you, he merely paints the whole scene.

Anyway, I told you this part would be a muddled discussion on various themes and so it turns out to be. The upshot of it is Angel Clare thinks he is a rationalist, but actually he’s a romantic and a fool.

We are also introduced to the other milkmaids, the female characters who are all flawed and broken in some capacity.

Marian is already noted to be plump and a little over-indulgent. Later on, after her unrequited love for Angel Clare is firmly secured as unrequited, she turns to alcoholism.

Retty Priddle, like Tess is allegedly from an old-blooded noble family long since turned to bones and, in her despair at not being the chosen-one of Angel Clare decides the best course of action is to throw herself into a river.

Izzy Huett is the archetypal ditz, weirdly though, the most ‘together’ of the three, possibly due to her comfort with her flighty, in-the-moment nature. At one point she nearly runs off to Brazil with Angel Clare as his mistress until she is foolish enough to let Angel know that nobody could love him as much as Tess does and so he kicks her off the wagon and pisses off. Angel Clare is a dick.

Either way, as mentioned in the last part, Hardy’s women all seem to have some kind of fracture to them. His girls are pure whilst his women are broken. Quite what he intends by this I have no idea.

Perhaps, deep down, there is some recognition that the way of life, the way of society, breaks girls such that in womanhood all are in some way disordered. Perhaps, however, he’s merely a misogynist. It is really hard to tell because his women are also capable of demonstrating exceptional strength.

And despite their brokenness his woman are also all more morally competent than almost all of the male characters excluding Dairyman Dick – the owner of Talbothays who, him and his wife are almost normal!

Getting back to plot, it’s basically life on a dairy farm, mixed with Angel Clare and Tess talking to one another.

At various points Tess tries to get Angel to consider gettin’ it on with one of the other milkmaids but Angel, blinded by his ludicrous romanticism and deaf to Tess’ warnings about her past, only has eyes for Tess.

There is a scene where the women are on their way to church but their path is blocked by an overflowing river and the heartthrob Angel has to come and rescue them by carrying them over.

Lower Lewell Farm, the inspiration for Talbothays Dairy in the novel. This is where Angel and Tess will meet and start their ill-fated romance by not properly talking to one another and wishy-thinking everything will be okay. (credit: Nigel Mykura / Thomas Hardy Locations, Tess of the d’Urbervilles (2) / CC BY-SA 2.0)

Chapter XXIV (that’s 24 to you non-latin numeralists) opens with the most overt innuendo possible;

“Amid the oozing fatness and warm ferments of the Froom Vale, at a season when the rush of juices could almost be heard below the hiss of fertilization, it was impossible that the most fanciful love should not grow passionate. The ready bosoms existing there were impregnated by their surroundings.”

This doesn’t make it into the unintentional innuendoes article because it’s so intentional. It should come as no surprise that in this chapter Angel finally admits his love for Tess. Indeed, he acts upon his feelings by planting a kiss on her.

Clearly the ‘rush’ of his ‘juices’ happens sometime that night, though there will be no ‘hiss of fertilisation’ as he releases into a cheesecloth or burlap sack. He’s a wanker.

Clare goes back to his family to have a chat about how he wants to marry a milkmaid. Why it should matter to an individualist rationalist is beyond me, but it happens mainly because Angel is actually a socially conscious romantic and misogynist.

It turns out that, far from being the biggest fucking idiot in his family he has two brothers who are significantly worse. His father is made out to be a strict and devout man and yet at the same time he has a distinct fetish for sin and the redemption thereof.

There’s a great irony that occurs here in that Tess, despite everything that happens, never meets her Father-In-Law and yet he would have absolutely adored her for the fact that she is an erudite and beautiful sinner plump and ripe for redemption. He is made out to be a kind of strict and active disciplinarian when actually he is a passive force, a soft, comforting teddy bear of God, who you can cuddle and make all your sins go away.

This is evidenced by the story of him having confronted some dandy around Trantridge for his sinful life, asking him to repent and getting a beating for the pleasure. The dandy in question is Alec Stoke-d’Urberville! In almost Catholic masochism, Father Clare takes his beating with pleasure, revelling in it, in fact, as a sign and symbol that what he is doing is right and just. As Christ took his lashings whilst carrying the cross, so must the Reverend Clare take his in converting sinners.

There’s a stark contrast between the way in which Father Clare goes about his Christian business and the other pastors and vicars we have encountered. Indeed, one could argue he is the only true Christian in the book. His other sons are merely Christianised socialites, members of the clergy for the status and ability to snobbishly judge others that it brings. The parson who tells John Durbeyfield of his past is clearly more interested in matters of legacy, of the past, than saving souls for the future and when it comes to getting poor Baby Sorrow buried there can be no doubt that Father Clare would have blessed the infant as much as he could and given a ceremonious burial whilst instead the child lies in the corner devoted to the unloved and the sinners.

Father Clare suffers, puts himself in the way of suffering, in order to try and convince others to live right. No other Christian in this book behaves in as Christ-like a fashion as him and he is a stark and heavy contrast to everyone else. It is a major part of the tragedy that Tess’ experiences with other members of the Clergy, and especially Angel’s brothers, leads her to hesitate to speak to her father-in-law, because he would love her, to him she would be as Mary Magdalene, and he would stand in the way of the stones society would have cast at her. No matter the injury to himself he would have saved her soul, for all that it needed saving because he would have recognised the innate goodness in her.

Back to the plot…So Angel visits his family, they try to convince him to marry a neighbour child, of good family, but he says “Nah!” and that he wants a wife who can milk a cow (oo-err) and there is an interesting passage here;

“Angel therefore refrained from declaring more particulars now. He felt that, single-minded and self-sacrificing as his parents were, there yet existed certain latent prejudices of theirs, as middle-class people, which it would require some tact to overcome.”

Now we know that Angel’s mother is a snob, this much is made clear previously when she talks about how Angel needs to marry a ‘lady’ – a woman of good family. We also know his father has a strict adherence to his religion but, as explained above, that strict adherence would have given Tess an aura of holy hue in his eyes.

Is this short passage a little bit of projection on Angel’s behalf?

Angel is single-minded in his pursuit of Tess, despite her constant insistence that he would not want to marry her if he knew the truth of her past. He believes himself to be marrying a lady of no specific lineage, indeed her ‘newness’ is almost fetishized by him but at the same time is this a self-sacrifice he is willing to make? He seems overjoyed when he finds out about Tess’ d’Urberville past, despite having previous cursed Retty Priddle for her past saying all her “skill was used up ages ago in Palestine…”

Angel, too, is stuffed to the brim with ‘latent prejudices’ that will only be overcome in the most tactless way possible. He’s an idiot.

The upshot of everything is Tess, a woman with a hidden past yet to be revealed, seen in Angel’s eyes only as a pure and virginal goddess; and Angel Clare, a man who hides his true self behind a veneer, for whom Tess has an inexplicable devotion more to his façade than to his self – they agree to marry.

I found this whole thing so exceptionally painful on account of the fact that these are two people who know nothing of each other. Tess constantly warns Angel and he pays no heed, and Angel constantly shields his true nature behind this pseudo-rationalist persona.

If the two could only be honest with each other, and let’s put the true villain into the mix, society, if only social mores allowed them to be honest with each other – none of what is to occur needs to happen. Either they can decide to marry knowing who they truly are or they can go their separate ways and spare each other a heartache.

I believe Hardy himself has stated somewhere that they would never have been happily married, Tess too tainted in the eyes of Clare and Tess too strong willed to remain where she is reviled.

Either way it’s chapter after chapter of;

Angel: Marry me, Tessy dearest!

Tess: I can’t!

Angel: Why not?

Tess: I can’t say, it would hurt your opinion of me too much.

Angel: Nothing could do that.

Tess: Don’t be so fucking sure, matey.

Angel: Oh but do marry me, Tess, my Artemis, my Demeter.

Tess: I can’t…

…Repeat ad nauseam.

 I mean that almost literally, I was bored sick with it. Tess does write a letter explaining the circumstances and leaves it under Angel’s door but it slips under the carpet and he never sees it.

It’s like fortune favours the misery, determined to make these two bind together whether they like it or not.

Tess expresses it best;

“O my love, why do I love you so!” she whispered there alone; “for she you love is not my real self, but one in my image; the one I might have been!”

Hardy constantly brings up how ‘ideally’ Angel loves Tess and this is the problem. It’s a romantic fool’s notion that he is in love with, not the real woman who is so obviously loveable to anyone truly rational. We see the goodness in Tess, the devotion, the care for others, we see the latency of that omnipotent Goddess she was at the end of part 1 and yet even she crumbles before the mighty will of a romantic idiot.

They marry, and for their honeymoon, and so as to be in close proximity to the mill Angel intends to learn milling in, he gets them lodgings at a former d’Urberville mansion.

Wellbridge Manor, or in real-life, Wool Bridge Manor – The house where Angel and Tess honeymoon whilst he learns the art of milling. (Credit: Nigel Mykura / Thomas Hardy Locations, Tess of the d’Urbervilles / CC BY-SA 2.0)

They decide to play this amazing game on the first night of their honeymoon called “Now that we’re married lets explain to each other every problem we have because it’s better to tie-the-knot first and then do it rather than actually get to know each other before getting married.”

I hear some people today still play this game.

Angel confesses that he once went on a two day drink and fucking bender and Tess explains that she was raped, had a child and it died.

Tess, having been thrust into the true cruelty of the world as a young girl, accepts this reality with ease. What, after all, is a foolish dalliance in light of love? She couldn’t give a shit, she loves Angel and knows that events of the past are as bodies in a graveyard – buried and inevitably to be forgotten so why not forget them today?

Angel, on the other hand, snaps out of his romantic dream and is suddenly thrust into a world only too real for him.

His dalliance was just ‘boys being boys’ – I am loathe to use those words but it’s that patriarchal excuse for so much masculine misbehaviour.

Her rape, however, is an unforgivable taint upon the ‘virginal’ bride he supposed he was getting. His entire romantic vision is shattered by reality, by truth and – seeing as he is a romantic idiot in rationalist’s clothing – he does the only thing he can do as an idiot and a coward and runs away.

Now for one thing, kudos to Hardy. This is a brave thing to have written as he did, when he did. Tess is, despite her past, still ‘pure’ in our eyes. Angel has been built up as this great love, her saving grace, her rescue so she can finally have happiness and yet his own ‘latent prejudices’ prevent her from ever having it.

This is a very real, very stark presentation of the hypocrisy of the time. Indeed a hypocrisy that still exists. How can this woman, who took all of nature’s grossest abuses and misfortunes, be considered not good enough by a man such as Angel Clare who has been involved in the exact same sin – only he did it willingly, whilst Tess was abused?

The hypocrisy is stark, obvious and one of the reasons this book was so controversial at the time. We feel for Tess. I felt for Tess. That’s the point and Hardy hammers it home so well. Society is shit. In fact at this point Hardy is almost touching upon a notion of romantic-realism. The flowers are beautiful, but we must accept the decay from which they grow. Tess is scarred by her past, but we must accept that it makes her who she is. Angel is too unrealistic, too romantic, to realise that if he loves Tess, he loves her because of what happened to her, not despite it. She is shaped by the events of her past, the blood spilled, the abuses nature and Alec put upon her, the very decay of her own child is the fertility in the soil in which Tess the woman grows.

She truly is Artemis; half-naked and exposed she lives in spite of nature, in spite of cruelty, by mastering it and conquering it.

Angel – meanwhile – is Lucifer fallen, his own supposed rationalist ideals unable to have conquered God and Nature, for reality is cruel and his life had never taught him that. Not until now.

Around about this time we start getting some decadence and, honestly the ending of Part 2 of the book is where I started to get invested again.

The conflicts – between Tess and herself, Angel and himself, Tess and Angel, Tess and her ancestry, Angel and Tess’ ancestry. It all gets decidedly gothic.

By the time Angel is carrying Tess, in a sleepwalking dream-like state, to place her in a coffin, dead presumably for the sin of her impurity, I’m wondering where this was 10-20 chapters ago!

There’s also one passage of dialogue here that bugs me so much;

“Is he living?” Angel then asked.

“The baby died.”

“But the man?”

“He is alive.”

A last despair passed over Clare’s face.

Clearly there’s a simple way of solving this problem.

Kill the fucker.

Then he has no right to claim Tess as his own, he is buried, along with the past, along with their child and no more need be said or done. But Angel being Angel can’t even contemplate a sin like that, for as rational as he is he is bound to a Christian theology, his romanticism is now so shattered a crime of passion is beyond his reach. He’s unsexed at this point, fucked by nature, fucked by the past, he has taken the passive sexual role he expects of a woman and feels emasculated by the abusive past of Tess. He’s got no cock and balls and can’t just do the right thing and either kill a man or love his wife. It’s like a real life game of “Fuck, marry, kill” except all Angel’s got the guts to do is marry.

From the perspective of a man, and I do not consider myself the peak of masculinity but growing up as a working-class man you’re subject to violent expressions of patriarchy on a daily basis. There is not a male-male social interaction in my sphere that is not tainted with implicit competition and violence. Most literary review comes from people of a more middle-class leaning, where life is a civilised pretence compared to the terraced-house savannahs where us working-class tribals live. I am a primitive compared to most of the other people who have written an analysis on Thomas Hardy’s Tess of the d’Urbervilles.

So my opinion, maybe it’s a little different. But where I come from you deal with a situation like this, you don’t run away from it. Mind you, where I come from the assumption is that everyone’s broken anyway, so you don’t judge so much. Where I come from you’d find Alec Stoke-d’Urberville, you’d kick seven-shades of shit out him, preferably mostly with blows to his genitals and face, you’d spit on him, tell him if he comes near you and your wife, or speaks a single fucking word against them you’ll burn his house down with him in it, you take your wife home, you make sweet damn love to her and you life your fucking life happy. Because where I come from you appreciate the blessings given to you, so rarely do they appear.

But as I said, where I come from you assume everyone has a past, you trust no one completely, and you prepare for the worst because it inevitably happens.

Angel Clare is dickless, he is emasculated from the start, angels are without sex, without gender, and Clare is presented as such. He is, in his mind, above men yet in reality less than a man.

Alec Stoke-d’Urberville is obviously the biggest villain. Despite not having appeared at all in Part 2, his grubby, self-interested, sinful fingers are all over the events that occur. His villainy, though, is obvious. His lack of worth, the necessity for him to die in a fucking fire or jump off a bridge, the disregard with which we hold his existence is clear and present. But he’s a serpent who rears up, he’s a cobra, he puffs out his neck and bares his fangs before he bites.

Angel Clare is a coiled serpent, striking defensively against whatever unwilling target, in this case Tess, happens upon him. He’s just as poisonous. He is insidious, a pretender, a ‘nice guy’ who beneath that veneer of humanism and rationalism is just a fucking Christian snob like his brothers. He’s a coward, shoving his misogyny underneath so many layers of book-learning only to let it come screaming out when that pile of fantasies gets knocked over by harsh, cruel reality.

That Alec is a fucking twat is self-evident. Angel is supposed to be the salvation, but he’s just another cruelty in disguise and that disguise is what disgusts me about him. I know people like him, I’ve met people like him, been friends with people like him and they’ve all found their way out of my lives because I sense the grim truth beneath.

One of the key themes of the book is social hypocrisy and Angel Clare is the embodiment, the incarnation of that hypocrisy.

He runs away to Brazil and Tess, as is the cycle, goes home.

Meanwhile I need to stop and get my heart-rate down because I’m just about ready to ask Penny Crayon to draw me Alec and Angel so I can batter them both!

As if to prove what a piece of shit he is as he is leaving, as mentioned in the profile of Izzy Huett, he asks her to come along with him as his mistress. Fucking piece of shit. Can’t forgive his wife a sin forced upon her, a sin he himself committed too, and then he has no balls to commit the sin of murder and remove that problem but would have little problem with the sin of adultery until Izzy lets him know that Tess could not love him more than anyone else. At which point he literally discards Izzy like rubbish, leaving her screaming and sobbing, and fucks off. What a piece of shit Angel is.

After this and, with the nature reflecting the mood, Tess goes to work at what is described as a ‘starve-acre’ farm, picking turnips and swedes (rutabaga for you Americans). Despite the fact that Angel leaves Tess with a significant sum of money she tries her best not to touch it, gives half of it to her family anyway and inevitably has to work.

On her way to her new farm, escaping from the watchful eye of someone who recognises her as Alec Stoke-d’Urberville’s former victim, she runs away and sleeps in a hedge, disturbed by noises.

When she awakes she realises the strange noises are coming from pheasant, having been shot but not enough to kill them. This merciless cross of social tradition (hunting) with natural phenomenon (suffering and death) is one of the reasons I love the themes of this novel so much.

Hardy is, clearly, critical of the ‘advancements’ made by society and civilisation. To an extent, to him, we are still the naked ape wandering the savannah, full of bloodlust, raping and tribal judgement. Still casting stones at one another in fear of contamination by the ‘other’. Hardy rarely speaks of technology and when he does his machines (trains and a threshing machine) are almost UFOs landed from another planet. They are as demons, come from hell.

It is here that we see Tess as Angel of Death, guardian of the underworld, as Demeter or Azrael. Seeing the pheasants suffering, and merciful to their plight, she wrings their necks one by one. They are wounded by a society intent on trivialising, indeed making sport of, harm only to end up strangled when they, desperately, try to survive. It is a symbolism that will hold massive significance come the end of this book.

Her time on the new farm is hell. The very name of the place, Flintcombe-Ash, brings to mind fire and brimstone. Her new boss is an arsehole who works her to the bone, but she rarely complains. Instead, Tess the Sufferer, intent to shut him the fuck up, works harder than she can maintain.

This strength, this will, this is what has been missing from Tess since the end of Part 1 but even then there’s something missing. When Tess was a girl she would do what she wanted, get what she wanted, come hell or high-water, she’d freeze the flames of Tartarus, she’d part the Red Sea, she would get what she wanted.

Now she suffers and submits to suffering. As if her submission to Angel broke the rebel within her. She makes one attempt to visit her in-laws, hears Angel’s brothers, twats that they are, speak ill of her, and people make fun of her walking boots that she left in a hedge to put on a pair of beautiful shoes Angel had bought for her, and so she gives up.

She gives up.

The Vicarage at Beaminster in Dorset, the basis for Hardy’s Emminster Vicarage, the home of Angel Clare’s family (Credit: Nigel Mykura / Thomas Hardy Locations, Tess of the d’UrbervillesCC BY-SA 2.0)

By this point, Tess is learning helplessness and I’ve written a whole article about that.

She is learning to give up. Ever the rebel until the man she loved considered her tainted she is now a stoic sufferer.

I hate it.

At one point she tries to make herself ugly, to avoid comments, looks and admirations from strangers. It is a disturbing behaviour, one still common in survivors of abuse to this day. It is sad.

When walking home from her doomed attempt to meet her in-laws she bumps into Alec Stoke-d’Urberville, now operating as a Methodist preacher.

Not for long, though, as he catches sight of Tess watching him preach through the door of a barn, immediately gets a hard-on and decides he wants nothing more in this world than to possess Tess.

Just as Angels’ romanticism was nothing but a passing fancy until he discovered that the real world is cruel, harsh and built upon a foundation of misery, death and suffering; so too does Alec realise his passion for preaching was merely a replacement addiction for his passion for lust and he quickly converts back from a priest to a sex-pest and pursues Tess.

When Tess’ father dies, and their claim to their home with him, they all have to move.

In very gothic fashion they end up setting up a temporary camp near the d’Urberville tomb. Alec pursuing them, in his hunt, all the way.

He has spied a weakness in his chosen prey, the protection of her family and offers to help them out, to put them up, if only she will be with him.

She gives up.

And that is where part 2 ends.

I reckoned this part would be shorter for my disregard of it but it is amazing how dislike can inspire more words than like.

I understand that the romance is doomed from the start, but that is why its long windedness, the lack of communication between Tess and Angel, the superficiality of it all is so infuriating. This part of the book really lingers on too long.

It has also taken the character of Tess, in danger of turning into Wonder Woman at the end of Part 1 and turned her into nothing but a simpering wannabe-housewife. Angel is like a harsh sand-carrying wind that buffs and erodes Tess’ true character until she becomes what he wants her to be, but in so doing, Tess loses so much of herself, so much of her independence. How many woman of the time had this happen to them? How many women today do the same?

All I want is for Tess to be the best Tess that Tess can be, but Angel wants her to be something else and – it’s a sad conflict.

Let me make this personal – shall I. Apologies to the other party involved.

I have recently gone through a break-up after 9 years in what I thought was a mutually loving relationship. I, like Tess, am broken. Severely. I have not been subject to rape or sexual abuse in the way Tess has, mercifully. But I am broken in other ways. I am working-class, poor, autistic, a failure, bullied, punched, pushed in front of a bus, betrayed by friends, forsaken by family and left to suffer alone. I have not been sexually abused, but I was sexually used. Tricked into thinking someone loved me only for them to take my purity for sport. I respect life for the torture that it is, and try each day to find a new reason to smile because if I don’t all I see is suffering and death. I really feel for Tess.

My being broken is, I believe, one of the key reasons my relationship ended. I won’t go into details but, out of insecurity based upon past experience I made demands that my then partner found to be an ultimatum and too demanding. I regret this. My own wounds, long since closed, were burst open by circumstance and that blood stained a relationship that had become the foundation upon which I intended to build the rest of my life. Like acid, that blood spilled eroded those foundations and my whole future collapsed around me.

In a way my partner and I each reflected old wounds back on each other. One of the first articles I wrote inspired by Tess of the d’Urbervilles, explores this.

Like Tess I have held death’s hand. I have beheld its ghastly visages, misty-eyed, gaping mouthed, every death-rattle breath another knell of the inevitable until they rattle no more. You don’t get over that, but you always dream that someone will come and be the drug that takes that pain away. I had my partner, Tess saw her anaesthetic in Angel. Yet no anaesthetic heals a scar. There will always be a reminder of that past, and you will always be looking over your shoulder to see what misery, what suffering or what reaper pursues you next.

And yet I live. So, too, does Tess. We work, we suffer, we strive, we struggle, in pride, in defiance or merely because we know no other way?

I’m calling it here, that’s the end of Part 2. In Part 3 we learn the beauty of suffering and indulge in the gothic decadence that is the ending of Tess of the d’Urbervilles.

In case you missed it somehow, Part 1 – The Virgin Eve can be found here.

Or you can move on to Tess of the d’Urbervilles: Part 3 – The Sepulchral Persephone


Published by Karl Anthony Mercer

Karl Anthony Mercer is a writer, poet, author, musician and part-time dandy. He can often be found squatting in fields looking at insects (he is an unapologetic wasp fanatic), wandering around museums over-dressed, or hiding in a dank corner singing sad songs on a small guitar. His writing on WordPress consists of MercersPoems - an outlet for his poetry often using natural imagery, gothicism and decadence to explore the struggles of living as an autistic person; and We Lack Discipline - Where he writes about factual, often academic topics he has learned and is interested in (e.g. biology, psychology, Roman history etc.) with an inimitable, often light-hearted and irreverant style. You can support Karl by; Subscribing to the We Lack Discipline Patreon - https://www.patreon.com/WeLackDiscipline Or buying him a coffee (he loves coffee!) - https://ko-fi.com/welackdiscipline

4 thoughts on “Tess of the d’Urbervilles: Part 2 – The Wessex Artemis

  1. I love you. Never seen such a delightfully vicious evisceration of Angel Clare as in this essay. I heard Victorian reactions to the book consisted of supporting him and condemning Tess, but I wonder if there were class divisions in how Victorians interpreted the book. Are we reading it through a modern lens or would working men and women back then have reacted with the same disdain for Angel Clare? One thing is for sure, no one likes a pretentious fop.

    I am deeply sorry about what happened to you and admire your ability to smile and keep going. I hope you’re in a better place now. Thank you for your writing and this wonderful website which I just discovered, will be sharing with all my friends!


    1. Thanks for such a wonderful comment!

      I don’t really know enough about Victorian social attitudes to know if there would have been a class divide. My suspicion is that the level of misogyny and adherence to the social mores and rules of the time would have made Angel=Good, Tess=Bad a majority opinion across the class divide. I suspect a lot of working class people would not have read the book anyway, either having no means to obtain a copy or else being illiterate.

      My interpretation is almost certainly through a modern lens.

      Anyway, thanks again for a nice comment and your kind words. It was wonderful to wake up to!


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