Psychological Determinism in Tess of the d’Urbervilles

  • Leon Waldoff


The conception of tragedy in Tess of the d’Urbervilles rests on an assumption of inevitability. ‘The best tragedy — highest tragedy in short’, Hardy thought, ‘is that of the WORTHY encompassed by the INEVITABLE.’1 Throughout Tess of the d’Urbervilles Hardy invokes several discrete yet interrelated forms of determinism to make his heroine’s fate seem inevitable. Heredity is the most obvious of these. Tess’s ability to see or hear the d’Urberville Coach of the legend and her resemblance to the d’Urberville women of the portraits in the farmhouse at Wellbridge (‘her fine features were unquestionably traceable in these exaggerated forms’ [xxxiv; p. 277]) suggest that she has the fateful blood of the ancient d’Urbervilles in her veins. A somewhat different form of determinism is in Hardy’s use of the laws of Nature, particularly in the great pastoral scenes in which Angel and Tess first discover and resist their love for each other. ‘All the while’, we are told, ‘they were converging, under an irresistible law, as surely as two streams in one vale’ (xx; p. 165). Tess, with her sensuousncss, is an embodiment of the principle in Nature of irresistible sexual attraction. Her flower-red mouth, her pretty face, her fine figure, and her unselfconscious affinity with all that is natural suggest how Nature is a force in her character and determinant of her fate.


Critical Approach Double Standard Male Character Female Character Sexual Object 
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© Leon Waldoff 1979

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  • Leon Waldoff

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