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Thread: Chapters 57-8: A new interpretation

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    Chapters 57-8: A new interpretation

    As we all know, near the novel's end Tess kills Alec, reunites with Angel, the two live in a room at a vacant mansion (Bramshurst Court), and part at Stonehenge. In these few days Tess believes she's experienced the bliss for which she longs.

    A new interpretation of Chapters 57-8 seems reasonable and is suggested. In this interpretation, after rejecting Angel and killing Alec, Tess remains in her lodging a relatively short time before being captured there by police. The intervening events Hardy described were all a dream state fantasy in which Tess only imagines her happiness.

    Supporting this interpretation is that during this imagined episode, Tess seems to have no purpose other than to be with Angel in the moment, avoiding thoughts of the past, the future and exterior world. At Bramshurst she keeps to a darkened bedroom. Hardy is describing an essentially spiritual existence in which there's only she and Angel expressing their mutual love. What Hardy describes is perfect fulfillment without clutter, but as we know realistic fulfillment comes imperfectly and not entirely as we imagine.

    Tess' happy moments, entirely imagined in my view, can't have a future because she's certain that when Angel objectively takes stock of her he'll despise and reject her again. She's now not only a woman with a blemished premarital past but an adulteress, a virtual prostitute and a murderer. Angel might be more enlightened than earlier, but Tess is justified in thinking Angel can't accept her now. In reality she can't chase after Angel because as much as she longs to be with him, his rejection of her would be unendurable.

    By Tess relying on her fantasy of fulfillment rather than attempting the impossible real one, a reader's appreciation of her terrible misery is deepened and intensified. In believing her fantasy was real, Tess reveals to us how emotionally withered and damaged she's become. She reminds us of the fatally wounded pheasants whose agonies she mercifully ended by breaking their necks. Tess gladly anticipates the same from her hangman.

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    Registered User kev67's Avatar
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    I read somewhere that Hardy said that Tess was correct in thinking that Angel would eventually come to despise her again, which is why she is happy to die before that happens. I cannot remember anything that suggested Tess was fantasizing about her last few days with Angel. Angel was hardly likely to turn her in when to do so would have brought forward her death sentence, and she probably knew that. She might also have absorbed Angel's question when she first admitted not being a virgin regarding whether her lover was still alive. That the only man to have had carnal knowledge of her was dead would have made her more acceptable to Angel, although at a terrible price.

    It's a bit rotten of you to take away her last few days of happiness after all her struggles. The whole ending is rather unlikely anyway, including the hanging. Tess would have been sentenced to death, but by that time, it is likely her sentence would have been commuted to imprisonment as the murder was not premeditated.
    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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    Every reader of Tess would surely appreciate Hardy's poem, Tess' Lament, which can be easily found on the Internet.

    In context of the idea that Tess never had the reunion with Angel this poem seems to support the idea. In the poem, Tess is desolate, feels her life has been a waste, her purposes come to nothing and her mistreatment of Angel the cause of her misery. She wishes to be forgotten, her life blotted. This doesn't sound as though she found happiness or ever accomplished anything of value. Of course, Hardy might've intended the poem to represent Tess' frame of mind before the reunion with Angel, possibly. Yet, the poem seems to express the enduring meaning of Tess' life. This is who she was and what she felt--a failure, the cause of misery to herself and Angel despite her intentions. And since Tess is only a particularly admirable exemplar of the Wessex female working class, the poem applies to much of Wessex as well.

    Hardy frequently describes characters by presenting other characters with contrasting qualities. In this case, the understanding of her profound misery, he may be using a fantasy of impossible happiness to describe the depths of her unrelieved desolation.

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