In Our Time talked about Tess of D’Urbervilles. I read the book when I was in my Hardy phase a long time ago. At the end of the show, there was a bit of discussion about the rape of Tess. I got really curious and pulled out the book from the shelve and started my re-reading.
Alec’s behaviour is very creepy and very much manipulative and grooming. I can completely appreciate why she would have felt repulsed, confused and even resigned but maybe attracted to Alec. Here was a well off person whom she did not love who was pursuing her relentlessly. The attention is strange but exciting. Unlike Fantine who knew a time when men were kind and their words inviting. Tess did not know kindness and invitation. She knew there was something strange about this Alec but she didn’t listen to her gut feel that this guy is bad. Young girls make mistakes in trusting the wrong people. She was young and she was raped in her sleep. That’s terrible. She had to suffer the death of her rape baby. She suffered society’s prejudice that the woman is the seductress. Did she realise Alec’s manipulation and groom? Yes, at the end. She doubted his conversion. He proved her right. She was at the last of her rope, so to speak, when she was propositioned again. When under extreme stress, it is understandable she exercised bad judgement again. Under stress, we all try to achieve short term goals then long term goals. However, I do personally think that she should have not engaged Alec both times. If she had kept quiet, he couldn’t goad her into being his mistress. Alec is a total asshole – he just does whatever fancies that enters his head. Angel is also an asshole who cares about what is in his head than the real world. He can’t even see that Tess loves him deeply. He doesn’t know and care what happens when he abandons Tess. He may think he has discharged his responsibilities by making sure she is materially taken care off. He doesn’t know Tess won’t approach his parents. He doesn’t know Tess will follow his orders to the exact. Even Alec knows it!
How would I advise Tess? Don’t engage the men until you observed they are good in behaviour. I would also advise her to trust her gut and think about her desire to be a selfless martyr. I would advise her engage in her thinking side than her feeling side. Initially I thought she was too passive. However, I saw Les Miserables recently and Fantine was both assertive and attractive and she ended up being a prostitute, being sick and dead.
I felt Hardy’s presence very strong in the story. Hardy wants Tess needs to pay for it (to illustrate his points and themes). He refers to God, Fate, angels who are suppose to protect Tess and innocent – I don’t know. Is it a Christian thing to expect the innocent to be protected? It’s the bad side of human to want to exploit the innocent. To refrain from exploiting is to practice good morals. Does protection come from God, Fate and angels? Well, in my opinion, God can only protect if everyone does as they are told. There are some people who just didn’t follow or misunderstand the religious text. There is not much God, Fate and angels can do to protect lambs living amongst wolves.
Perhaps Hardy hasn’t been around kids. A 16 year old who has been basically in charge of the family since she was young becomes a lot sharper due to her burdens and responsibilities. She was the parent. She may not know how to parent but she won’t be naive in the extreme. I felt that she exercised poor judgement in continually engaging Alec. I thought that even if Marian was miraculously transported to the start and reminded her that Alec is evil in the shape of a friend, Tess may not pay heed. She wanted to be compassionate and selfless. She wanted to feel the extra guilt that nobody heaped on her. She wanted to be the martyr. (Or maybe Hardy wanted her to be the martyr. She had no choice but be scarificed.) While I believe and understand that in those times, she would have no means of escape because the society gives lower class woman very little rights and considers them the seductress. I felt extremely distressed by the circumstances she was placed in. At the last, I felt Angel wronged her as much as Alec did – she was innocent but she wordlessly accepted their guilt and blame.
She realised the mistake and went on with her life. Alec is really bad. He manipulates an innocent girl to achieve his desires.