Tess of the D'Urbervilles

Existential Failure in Thomas Hardy's Tess of the d'Urbervilles

When wilt thou awake, O Mother, wake and see

As one who, held in trance, has laboured long

By vacant rote and prepossession strong

The coils that thou hast wrought unwittingly;

Wherein have place, unrealized by thee,

Fair growths, foul cankers, right enmeshed with wrong,

Strange orchestras of victim-shriek and song,

And curious blends of ache and ecstasy?

(Hardy, "The Sleep-Worker")

Inherent in the ruthless progress of society, there paradoxically lies a growing moral deterioration. In Tess of the d'Urbervilles, Thomas Hardy "faithfully present[s]" Tess as a paragon of virtue, utilizing her as an instrument of criticism against a society too debauched to sustain the existence "of its finest individuals" (Wickens 104). Unwilling to compromise her strict adherence to personal morals, Tess suffers immensely; her ultimate inability to exist on this "blighted" (21) star exposes the regression of a hypocritically sanctimonious society, whose degraded values catalyze her destruction.

Innocently unaware of "cruel Nature's law[,]" (115) Tess is violated by the response which her sexuality arouses in Alec. Yet, although it is nature which induces Tess to lose her virginity, it is society...

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