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Thread: Tess's Choices

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    Tess's Choices

    Some Tess readers say Tess made bad choices. What do you think were the choices she made and which do you think were poor ones?

    My view is that the only choice Tess made in the novel was her murder of Alec, which was probably made in the moment but done deliberately and was premeditatedly. All the other choices she made were choices of necessity. Probably her fatal flaw was to love Angel, but in my view who we love isn't a matter of choice. Once in love I'd argue most of us are not responsible for our actions. Boldwood in Far from the Madding Crowd would probably agree.

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    Registered User kev67's Avatar
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    Her courage sometimes failed her. She walked all the way from Flintcombe Ash to Emminster to introduce herself to Angel's parents, but was too upset on overhearing Angel's brothers talk about her to carry it through. It was more rotten luck and bad timing, and I wouldn't blame her, but if she had been more resolute, Mr and Mrs Clare would have looked after her. Her courage also failed her on the cart trip back from the railway station, where she and Angel had been dropping off the produce from the dairy. She meant to tell Angel the real reason why she thought she could not marry him, but instead told him about her ancestors having been d'Urbervilles (Angel had a theory that all the old, noble families had become effete and worn out). She was too generous to her feckless family. She gave her mother half the 50 that Angel had given her to keep herself while he was away, which her parents no doubt spent at Rolliver's or The Pure Drop. Another bad decision she made was suggesting to Angel that they should part, her to go to her parents and Angel to look at some farms. I suppose the absolute worst decision was to tell Angel about her past. I think most of the bad decisions she made were mitigated though by concern for others. She was just too conscientious.
    Last edited by kev67; 11-04-2012 at 02:35 PM.
    According to Aldous Huxley, D.H. Lawrence once said that Balzac was 'a gigantic dwarf', and in a sense the same is true of Dickens.
    Charles Dickens, by George Orwell

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    Registered User kelby_lake's Avatar
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    Tess's honesty is virtuous but it is also her downfall. Many people would have brushed the thing with Alec under the carpet and wouldn't have told the husband. I also agree with kev- Tess is very conscientious, never thinking of herself but always thinking of others. When she does think of herself, she becomes wracked with guilt and sees it as selfishness.

    I feel so sorry for Boldwood. His love was based on a delusion. Were it not for the joke Valentine, he would never have fallen in love with Bathsheba.

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    Quote Originally Posted by kev67 View Post
    I think most of the bad decisions she made were mitigated though by concern for others. She was just too conscientious.
    I read Tess ages ago. I still have the impression that Tess, like Henchard in The Major of Casterbridge, is subject to more than her fair share of rotten luck. Any decision is bad if fate undermines it. She's like a poor Jew stranded in Nazi Germany.
    "Love does not alter the beloved, it alters itself"

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    Quote Originally Posted by Gladys View Post
    I read Tess ages ago. I still have the impression that Tess, like Henchard in The Major of Casterbridge, is subject to more than her fair share of rotten luck. Any decision is bad if fate undermines it. She's like a poor Jew stranded in Nazi Germany.
    Jude doesn't have it too good either.

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    As twenty-first century Western readers, we're inclined to judge Tess' life an avoidable failure. Certainly her choices were key in her downfall. If personal happiness and fulfillment are the ultimate judge of a successful life, Tess' life was a failure. But, that's twenty-first century thinking.

    In Hardy's nineteenth century he and others felt one's ethical evolution were the measure of one's life, not personal well-being or happiness. While Tess' choice often brought her misery, she never surrendered her virtues to well-being or happiness. She willingly accepted misery as the price of virtue. The people closest to Tess, Angel and her family, all benefited from Tess' life, and so to Hardy and others of his time, her life was a qualified success. To the extent her life failed, Hardy obviously put a lot of blame of her Victorian society. It was Hardy's conviction the society would be improved by more individual within it understanding the wrongness of its treatment to members like Tess.

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    The last sentence of my earlier comment might be a little more understandable if I'd included the plural "s" after "individual." Hardy's idea was that society's evolve as the result of the people within it evolving. Obviously a purpose of Tess was to present an appealing character terribly abused by her societal standards which were unequal, sometimes unjust and on occasionally ruinous. As I understand this novel, it was designed to be persuasive social criticism intended to help bring along constructive reform.

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    the beloved: Gladys's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Maple View Post
    In Hardy's nineteenth century he and others felt one's ethical evolution were the measure of one's life, not personal well-being or happiness. While Tess' choice often brought her misery, she never surrendered her virtues to well-being or happiness.
    Well expressed. There's nothing of the mediocre about Tess.
    "Love does not alter the beloved, it alters itself"

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    Registered User kelby_lake's Avatar
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    Tess does indeed have true tragic status.

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