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Thread: Why did Tess kill Alec?

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    Why did Tess kill Alec?

    Tess' killing of Alec is perhaps the most puzzling part of the novel. Readers can't help but think that if Tess had simply walked away from Alec and could've lived long and happily with Angel. If Tess felt Alec would be a continuing danger to her marriage, she surely knew that killing Alec meant her marriage would only last a few days and her life would end in about a month.

    Professor James Heffernan, an English literature scholar, thinks he has the answer. He says that Alec had taken possession of Tess' soul and finding the need to break that possession, Tess believed nothing short of killing him would work.

    Heffernan's answer is put forward here to generate comments. Do you agree with Heffernan that at the time of her cohabitation with Alec he possessed Tess' soul? If you disagree, do you think Tess' soul was still her own and was it likely to remain so?

    I have my own opinion to share if we can get some interest on this thread.

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    Registered User Calidore's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Maple View Post
    I have my own opinion to share if we can get some interest on this thread.
    Wouldn't sharing your opinion be more likely to generate interest?
    You must be the change you wish to see in the world. -- Mahatma Gandhi

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    Registered User kev67's Avatar
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    I am not so interested in why Tess killed Alec. I just wish she hadn't. Alec deserved flogging, not hanging, at least not in the edition I read. In the 1981 version Alec deserves everything he gets. Tess shouldn't have thrown away her life for either Alec or Angel as neither were worth it.
    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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    Kev, we agree on Angel. Most readers have probably wondered what Tess' key mistake was. Loving Alec, a man she didn't realistically know who proved unable until too late to realistically love Tess, seems to have been her key mistake. Had she never loved Angel we can imagine all her sufferings later would have been more easily endured.

    As for Alec, I've opined earlier that by the time she killed him she wanted to die. Killing him served the purpose of bringing her life to an early end. She might have killed herself at an earlier point had Angel not insisted she never do that.

    When you say Tess shouldn't have thrown her life away on either man, you might be suggesting Tess put less value on her life than we do. If you are, I think you're right. It's not obvious Tess ever put any value on her life. She was always willing to sacrifice herself to her family, others and principles of virtue, but she didn't appear to feel she owed herself anything. Except to love Angel, I don't think Tess put any value on her life.

    An interesting question might be, why do we put more value on Tess' life than she does? How can a person sacrifice so much to pride and yet not be proud?

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    Registered User kev67's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Maple View Post
    As for Alec, I've opined earlier that by the time she killed him she wanted to die. Killing him served the purpose of bringing her life to an early end. She might have killed herself at an earlier point had Angel not insisted she never do that.
    I cannot remember Angel insisting she should never kill herself, although that does not mean he didn't. She would not have become Alec's mistress if her family were not in desperate need again, so that would be another incentive to stay alive. It's one of the odd things about her killing of Alec. Not only was it the first time she has done something bad, it was the first time she has not put her family first. After all those months of struggle, you might have thought Tess could get to like dressing in fine clothes, staying in bed until late, eating well and not having to do any work, but that's not her style.

    Quote Originally Posted by Maple View Post
    When you say Tess shouldn't have thrown her life away on either man, you might be suggesting Tess put less value on her life than we do. If you are, I think you're right. It's not obvious Tess ever put any value on her life. She was always willing to sacrifice herself to her family, others and principles of virtue, but she didn't appear to feel she owed herself anything. Except to love Angel, I don't think Tess put any value on her life.
    When she sets off to work as a dairymaid at Talbothy's, Hardy says she has recovered a lot of her spirit, but that she had resolved not to marry. Then she meets Angel and changes her mind. Towards the end of the story, with every turn of bad luck, I think she surmises that fate is against her. I seem to remember her beginning to think that on the walk back from Emminster where she had lost her nerve before she could introduce herself to Angel's parents who would have helped her. This was also the walk where she met Alec again, who made her swear an oath on what turned out to be a cursed monument. I think from there on, she had begun to resign herself to her fate.

    Quote Originally Posted by Maple View Post
    An interesting question might be, why do we put more value on Tess' life than she does? How can a person sacrifice so much to pride and yet not be proud?
    Tess does seem to have some pride. She knows she is gorgeous. She wouldn't settle for some farm hand.
    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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    On the point of Tess considering suicide, the discussion occurred towards the end of the wedding night confession scene after Angel rebukes her for her simpleness, ignorance and crudeness in being so ignorant of the rules governing divorce. Tess then says that she ought to have done it then, but criticizes her lack of courage in execution. Angel demands clarification of what she means whereupon he insists she forswear the idea. She does so on the premise that (1) she'll follow his dictates, and (2) she abhors the idea of doing anything that might bring shame upon him.

    As to Tess having never before failed to put her family first, you make me recall that upon returning her stay at the Slopes following the seduction, Tess sobbingly reveals to Joan what has happened: the seduction, Alec's deceptions and so forth. Joan's initially glad to hear of a sexual bonding believing marriage might follow and the Durbyfield's finances thereby assured. But, when it's clear to Joan that Tess walked away from all this, Joan angrily accuses Tess of never once putting the needs of her family ahead of herself. The curious point here is that while you and I feel Tess always put the needs of her family and others well ahead of her own well-being, Joan considered her selfish and prideful. This may be a clue to the basis of Tess' self-destructive characteristic of blaming herself for the failures of others and no priority being given to her own well-being.

    You're right that in killing Alec she removes Alec's financial support for her family. However, knowing what misery and penury Tess has inflicted upon herself for her family Hardy is impressing upon readers that Tess has been driven to extremis by Angel's return. Upon Angel's return she gathers the reality of her situation and her self-control is broken. This violent scene is prefigured by the D'urberville legend when an ancestor confronted by an intolerable sexual matter commits a murder. This murder, in other words, expresses the enormity of Tess' crisis in its overwhelming her well established ability to tolerate and cope with nearly anthing. Again, one might recall Tess' meek acceptance of Angel's departure and estrangement when she tells Angel what he proposes is no more than what she deserves, but don't make the punishment more than I can bear. Angel's return, ironically, has inflicted the most unendurable part of his long estrangement. The love and happiness he offers her is too late. Tess had given up on him and taken up again with Alec. She can never forgive herself for that and, not unreasonably, believes Angel won't either. In a short time he'll despise her.

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    Registered User kev67's Avatar
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    I can't argue with any of that.
    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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    I disagree with Dr. Heffernan.

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