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Thread: how do you think Hardy questions the existence of God?

  1. #1
    the jazz mann
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    how do you think Hardy questions the existence of God?

    Hey everyone, this is my first post on this site and I love reading everyone's personal interpretations / views on literary topics.

    In any case, I recently read Tess of the D'Urbervilles, and thought it was interesting how Hardy deals with God's role in the unfolding of events. How do you perceive Hardy's message in the novel, regarding God's existence?

    Personally, I view the scene with the painter (when he paints "thou shalt not commit adultery" on the fence) as a prime example of God's existence as very persistent and never leaving. Tess obviously tries to find refuge in places that do not know of her dark reputation (like going to Talbothays). No matter how she tries, God seems to stalk Tess like a hawk tracks a rabbit, and God constanty reminds her of the consequences that will come, no matter how futilely she tries to dodge her doom.

    What do you all think? if you can think of some good examples, that'd be admirable.

    -Will G

    the jazz mann


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    ∂αяк муѕтι¢α Dark Mystica's Avatar
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    I must say, i adored Tess (one of my favourite novels), however, i was never struck by a sense of "God" in the novel. Fate, however, was a different matter.

    Do God and Fate coexist? Most religions would say no, as God gives free will, whilst Fate takes that away. In Tess, Fate is undoubtedly the main player against her. There is such a profound sense of her being stalked by this malevolent fate throught the novel's enitrety, from the start, with her speech about "blighted stars" to the end with "The President of the Immortals..."

    So in my opinion, i didnt see any thoughts on God. There were numerous descriptions comparing Tess to Eve though.
    Did my heart love till now?
    Forswear it sight,
    For I ne'er saw true beauty till this night.


    From William Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet

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    God seems to run everywhere in the book (or I should say religion). Angel turns away from his family profession and the church because of his views on the teachings. Alec converts to the ministry and then falls out of it again. There are several references to churches. Tess's family is desposited beside one with all their belongings after her father dies. Angel and Tess pass a huge church on the way to Stonehenge. The "gothic" structures in the last chapter probably refer to churches. But, interestingly, Hardy uses these images to show the weakness of the church. The church is never an inviting, comforting retreat. It fails Tess in everyway. She watches her baby being buried among the drunkards and suicides. Alec picks her family up out of the churchside when they are destitute. At the end, it looms over her death, right beside her black flag.
    Hardy instead embraces nature figures, classical Greek references, and pagan religions. He throws in tons of biblical references to make points throughout the novel, but mostly they are in speech to further flesh out characters. The church = society for Hardy, and he makes Tess out of place in both, but comfortable and accepted in nature.

  4. #4
    Haribol Acharya blazeofglory's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by wgrisaitis View Post
    Hey everyone, this is my first post on this site and I love reading everyone's personal interpretations / views on literary topics.

    In any case, I recently read Tess of the D'Urbervilles, and thought it was interesting how Hardy deals with God's role in the unfolding of events. How do you perceive Hardy's message in the novel, regarding God's existence?

    Personally, I view the scene with the painter (when he paints "thou shalt not commit adultery" on the fence) as a prime example of God's existence as very persistent and never leaving. Tess obviously tries to find refuge in places that do not know of her dark reputation (like going to Talbothays). No matter how she tries, God seems to stalk Tess like a hawk tracks a rabbit, and God constanty reminds her of the consequences that will come, no matter how futilely she tries to dodge her doom.

    What do you all think? if you can think of some good examples, that'd be admirable.

    -Will G

    the jazz mann

    I read this novel long ago and indeed it was a beautiful book, one of the fewest kinds I have ever read and that of course touched me beyond imagination.

    I have no book and I will be really indebted if you kindly let me access this book or the summary of it if not the book.

    “Those who seek to satisfy the mind of man by hampering it with ceremonies and music and affecting charity and devotion have lost their original nature””

    “If water derives lucidity from stillness, how much more the faculties of the mind! The mind of the sage, being in repose, becomes the mirror of the universe, the speculum of all creation.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Luna1968 View Post
    God seems to run everywhere in the book (or I should say religion). Angel turns away from his family profession and the church because of his views on the teachings. Alec converts to the ministry and then falls out of it again. There are several references to churches. Tess's family is desposited beside one with all their belongings after her father dies. Angel and Tess pass a huge church on the way to Stonehenge. The "gothic" structures in the last chapter probably refer to churches. But, interestingly, Hardy uses these images to show the weakness of the church. The church is never an inviting, comforting retreat. It fails Tess in everyway. She watches her baby being buried among the drunkards and suicides. Alec picks her family up out of the churchside when they are destitute. At the end, it looms over her death, right beside her black flag.
    True enough: the church as an institution is seen as rather nefarious (after all, it's a parson who causes Tess's downfall, if you go right back to the beginning). At the same time, Mr Clare is treated rather gently! probably because his religious is sincere. I think that Hardy rather respects individual faith, when it is thought out, not hypocritical, and not puritanical...

    Hardy instead embraces nature figures, classical Greek references, and pagan religions. He throws in tons of biblical references to make points throughout the novel, but mostly they are in speech to further flesh out characters. The church = society for Hardy, and he makes Tess out of place in both, but comfortable and accepted in nature
    At the same time, Nature is practically always seen as an inhuman, indifferent force... and it seems to me that the characters are deluded when they have the impression that they live in harmony with nature. Nature in Tess reminds me of the "will to live" in Schopenhauer, in fact (nothing new): human beings think that they count as individuals, whereas in fact there's this supra-human force which makes them pale into total insignificance. And it's Angel who often sees Tess as a daughter of Nature... this seems to be, in fact, one of the many fallacious ways of categorising her that are presented in the novel.

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    Tess as a Pagan allegory

    I read a convincing article which I then used as a basis for my year 1 uni essay on the novel. I can't remember the name of the critic, but he argued that essentially Hardy criticizes the way in which Victorian Christianity rejected the rural poor, leaving them openly vulnerable to dispossession by greedy rich landowners and the effects of mechanisation. If therefore there is no welcome place for the rural poor in the Christian industrial society, then, Hardy supposedly argues, the poor have no choice but to turn back to the harsh reality of the Pagan understanding in which life is in essence like a pendulum swinging back and forth between light and dark, summer and winter, life and death.

    This is why the novel is clearly divided into two - the rise (summer, fertility, beauty) and the fall (winter, darkness, ugliness). In this reading, Tess is a manifestation of the goddess herself, she is brimming with buxom fertility during the summer, with a possible symbolism and association of the dairy and milk with the sexual juices of male and female, yet in the winter she assumes the goddess dark side. Furthermore, this explains the symbolism of Stonehenge, for it is there that (according to Victorian understanding) that the Druids sacrificed maidens (Tess lies upon the slaughter stone before her arrest). In essence, before any kind of transformation (presumably of the society as a whole and its attitudes) can be achieved, there has to be a sacrifice.

    In this reading, Angel assumes the role implied by his name i.e. a guardian angel, with the task of protecting Tess from the harsh blunt reality of Pagan cycles of nature. He fails to achieve this task, he abandons her, and so condemns her to her ultimate fate. In Angel is an implied criticism of Victorian Christianity i.e. Christianity has failed the poor, and so they have no choice to turn to the land, ruled by its darker Pagan spirits.

    So, what do you all make of that then, ha, ha?


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    Registered User kiki1982's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by beaky View Post
    So, what do you all make of that then, ha, ha?
    That's just what I thought, put in nice words, actually! The most important thing here is that Hardy doesn't actually criticise God himself, put rather Christianity which is a man-made structure. In that, he really criticises man as a whole, rather than God. That's where most people go wrong, and probably why Hardy got so frustrated that he stoppe writing altogether...
    One has to laugh before being happy, because otherwise one risks to die before having laughed.

    "Je crains [...] que l'âme ne se vide à ces passe-temps vains, et que le fin du fin ne soit la fin des fins." (Edmond Rostand, Cyrano de Bergerac, Acte III, Scène VII)

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    It is true that I always come back to the book.

    What do you think about Angel's question: What would have happened if Greeks conquered Europe instead of Romans? I am not sure the exact phrases but it was something along that line. I thought it was implying the negative influences of Christianity. It may be the time I reread the book. Maybe someone can enlighten me here before I actually lift the book again.
    Walk, meditate, forget - Victor Hugo
    Life is bigger than literature - Michael Cunningham

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    It seemed to me that at the beginning of the novel Hardy was advocating Angel's views i.e. no religion but by the end was showing that Tess's misfortunes had been brought about by lack of religion.
    Her first and greatest misfortune was her seduction by Alec who cared about religious matters not at all. If he had, then he would not have been a sexual predator. Angel, also irreligious, also mistreats Tess gravely. He then thinks over his conduct and comes to the conclusion that it was his pagan philosophy which had caused him to act so harshly. Later, when Tess lies on the altar at Stonehenge it seems like Hardy's most critical argument against a lack of Christianity, for the altar is very conspicuous and practically offers her to those chasing her.

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