Jude the Obscure

I’ve long believed that great literature reveals what you already subconsciously “know” but haven’t yet been able to articulate on your own. A corollary to that might be that you can only get out of a book what you’re ready to get.

My Thomas Hardy project my senior English class was a life-changing event but I’m sure the novel I just finished is not the same novel I read in high school, though it’s the very same book. My senior year I was just beginning to realize that I wasn’t going to be able to go to the private colleges that were recruiting me because of my advanced classes, good grades and high SAT scores. My parents couldn’t afford to help me pay for college, and if I moved away I’d never manage to get as good of a job as I had in Seattle, my only source of income. The thought of getting a “loan” never crossed my mind.

I don’t think I’d ever consciously thought about where I want to go to college before my senior year, but it was always a “given” I would go. I didn’t know what I wanted to study in college or what career I wanted to pursue, but I knew I wanted an “education,” what used to be called a “liberal arts” education.

I’d just watched my older brother drop out of college after a quarter, get married, and head for a divorce after marrying someone he had little in common with. My own hormones were in play, too, but when the girl I’d dated most of my senior year suggested we were “getting too serious” I dropped her like a hot potato, possibly right after I’d read Jude the Obscure. The only thing I was really serious about was getting through college, and I knew that would never happen if I got married before I graduated.

Small surprise, then, that the main theme I locked into in Jude the Obscure was the dashing of his life-long dream.

“It is a city of light,” he said to himself.

“The tree of knowledge grows there,” he added a few steps further on.

“It is a place that teachers of men spring from and go to.”

“It is what you may call a castle, manned by scholarship and religion.”

After this figure he was silent a long while, till he added:

“It would just suit me.”

Only someone who’d been denied the privilege of going to school would dream like this (I certainly never did) but like Jude I’d grown up believing college “would just suit me.”

And like Jude, or any teenage boy, for that matter, it was hard to resist sexual desires:

In short, as if materially, a compelling arm of extraordinary muscular power seized hold of him–something which had nothing in common with the spirits and influences that had moved him hitherto. This seemed to care little for his reason and his will, nothing for his so-called elevated intentions, and moved him along, as a violent schoolmaster a schoolboy he has seized by the collar, in a direction which tended towards the embrace of a woman for whom he had no respect, and whose life had nothing in common with his own except locality.

Luckily, I hadn’t succumbed to those powers by the time I read this book, but Jude made me more aware of the dangers of premarital sex than the pathetic “Health” class I was required to take my senior year, a class that seemed more interested in describing human plumbing than having any kind of meaningful discussion of sex, or its consequences.

Despite the fact that no one in the family ever discussed sex with me, I never doubted that my family would expect me to marry the girl if I ever got one pregnant.

“You knew better! Of course I never dreamt six months ago, or even three, of marrying. It is a complete smashing up of my plans–I mean my plans before I knew you, my dear. But what are they, after all! Dreams about books, and degrees, and impossible fellowships, and all that. Certainly we’ll marry: we must!”

However, I don’t think I’d ever given the whole concept much thought before I read Jude. I’m sure it’s the first time I ever heard this social mandate questioned as it was when Jude is told that Arabella wasn’t really pregnant:

There seemed to him, vaguely and dimly, something wrong in a social ritual which made necessary a cancelling of well-formed schemes involving years of thought and labour, of foregoing a man’s one opportunity of showing himself superior to the lower animals, and of contributing his units of work to the general progress of his generation, because of a momentary surprise by a new and transitory instinct which had nothing in it of the nature of vice, and could be only at the most called weakness. He was inclined to inquire what he had done, or she lost, for that matter, that he deserved to be caught in a gin which would cripple him, if not her also, for the rest of a lifetime? There was perhaps something fortunate in the fact that the immediate reason of his marriage had proved to be non-existent. But the marriage remained.

It had never crossed my mind that a girl would fake pregnancy in order to trap someone even though I had some vague notion that some girls used sex to trap a guy, and it was wise to avoid that kind of girl. The novel probably wouldn’t have had much impression on me, though, if it were only sex that kept Jude from reaching his dream. After all, I could control that.

What made the most impression on me was another wall that stood between Jude and the school of his dream:

It was not till now, when he found himself actually on the spot of his enthusiasm, that Jude perceived how far away from the object of that enthusiasm he really was. Only a wall divided him from those happy young contemporaries of his with whom he shared a common mental life; men who had nothing to do from morning till night but to read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest. Only a wall–but what a wall!

Until high school I don’t think I’d been aware of class differences, or even intellectual differences. Those differences became clearer as college approached, and while some in my class talked of going off to Ivy League schools or choosing fraternities, others of us talked about forming car pools to commute to the local college. Until I read Jude, I’m sure I hadn’t given a second thought to those who couldn’t even afford to go to a local college.

Although my grandfather was a graduate of Harvard and MIT, he died quite young and none of his sons graduated from college, and none of my cousins appeared headed there, either. It probably wasn’t until the next year when I attended college that this passage really seemed true:

“Just what we thought! Such places be not for such as you–only for them with plenty o’ money.”

“There you are wrong,” said Jude, with some bitterness. “They are for such ones!”

Still, the remark was sufficient to withdraw Jude’s attention from the imaginative world he had lately inhabited, in which an abstract figure, more or less himself, was steeping his mind in a sublimation of the arts and sciences, and making his calling and election sure to a seat in the paradise of the learned. He was set regarding his prospects in a cold northern light. He had lately felt that he could not quite satisfy himself in his Greek–in the Greek of the dramatists particularly. So fatigued was he sometimes after his day’s work that he could not maintain the critical attention necessary for thorough application. He felt that he wanted a coach–a friend at his elbow to tell him in a moment what sometimes would occupy him a weary month in extracting from unanticipative, clumsy books.

It was decidedly necessary to consider facts a little more closely than he had done of late. What was the good, after all, of using up his spare hours in a vague labour called “private study” without giving an outlook on practicabilities?

I worked my way through college, often working 40 hours a week at my janitorial job. Working that many hours, it proved impossible to keep my grades as high as I had become accustomed to in high school. Despite a love of ideas, college was a grind, not the care-free years that they are so often portrayed as. That was reserved for rich kids whose parents could pay for college.

I found it impossible not to feel sorry for Jude when he realized after years of dreaming and studying by himself that it was nearly impossible for him to ever go to the school he now lives so close to:

Meanwhile the academic dignitaries to whom Jude had written vouchsafed no answer, and the young man was thus thrown back entirely on himself, as formerly, with the added gloom of a weakened hope. By indirect inquiries he soon perceived clearly what he had long uneasily suspected, that to qualify himself for certain open scholarships and exhibitions was the only brilliant course. But to do this a good deal of coaching would be necessary, and much natural ability. It was next to impossible that a man reading on his own system, however widely and thoroughly, even over the prolonged period of ten years, should be able to compete with those who had passed their lives under trained teachers and had worked to ordained lines.

The other course, that of buying himself in, so to speak, seemed the only one really open to men like him, the difficulty being simply of a material kind. With the help of his information he began to reckon the extent of this material obstacle, and ascertained, to his dismay, that, at the rate at which, with the best of fortune, he would be able to save money, fifteen years must elapse before he could be in a position to forward testimonials to the head of a college and advance to a matriculation examination. The undertaking was hopeless.

He saw what a curious and cunning glamour the neighbourhood of the place had exercised over him. To get there and live there, to move among the churches and halls and become imbued with the genius loci had seemed to his dreaming youth, as the spot shaped its charms to him from its halo on the horizon, the obvious and ideal thing to do. “Let me only get there,” he had said with the fatuousness of Crusoe over his big boat, “and the rest is but a matter of time and energy.” It would have been far better for him in every way if he had never come within sight and sound of the delusive precincts, had gone to some busy commercial town with the sole object of making money by his wits, and thence surveyed his plan in true perspective. Well, all that was clear to him amounted to this, that the whole scheme had burst up, like an iridescent soap-bubble, under the touch of a reasoned inquiry. He looked back at himself along the vista of his past years, and his thought was akin to Heine’s:

Above the youth’s inspired and flashing eyes

I see the motley mocking fool’s-cap rise!

It seems particularly disappointing that the only letter he gets back after asking for advice from teachers at the college suggests he stay at his trade, though, sadly, it may have been the best advice he could have gotten considering the alternatives.

Like Sue we may find ourselves asking:

“Why should you care so much for Christminster?” she said pensively. “Christminster cares nothing for you, poor dear!”

“Well, I do, I can’t help it. I love the place–although I know how it hates all men like me–the so-called self-taught–how it scorns our laboured acquisitions, when it should be the first to respect them; how it sneers at our false quantities and mispronunciations, when it should say, I see you want help, my poor friend! … Nevertheless, it is the centre of the universe to me, because of my early dream: and nothing can alter it. Perhaps it will soon wake up, and be generous. I pray so! … I should like to go back to live there–perhaps to die there! In two or three weeks I might, I think. It will then be June, and I should like to be there by a particular day.”

Unfortunately, we don’t always choose our dreams, sometimes they choose us.

Jude was meant to be a scholar, as he points out near the end of his struggles:

But finding himself the centre of curiosity, quizzing, and comment, Jude was not inclined to shrink from open declarations of what he had no great reason to be ashamed of; and in a little while was stimulated to say in a loud voice to the listening throng generally:

“It is a difficult question, my friends, for any young man–that question I had to grapple with, and which thousands are weighing at the present moment in these uprising times–whether to follow uncritically the track he finds himself in, without considering his aptness for it, or to consider what his aptness or bent may be, and re-shape his course accordingly. I tried to do the latter, and I failed. But I don’t admit that my failure proved my view to be a wrong one, or that my success would have made it a right one; though that’s how we appraise such attempts nowadays–I mean, not by their essential soundness, but by their accidental outcomes. If I had ended by becoming like one of these gentlemen in red and black that we saw dropping in here by now, everybody would have said: ‘See how wise that young man was, to follow the bent of his nature!’ But having ended no better than I began they say: ‘See what a fool that fellow was in following a freak of his fancy!’

“However it was my poverty and not my will that consented to be beaten. It takes two or three generations to do what I tried to do in one; and my impulses–affections–vices perhaps they should be called–were too strong not to hamper a man without advantages; who should be as cold-blooded as a fish and as selfish as a pig to have a really good chance of being one of his country’s worthies. You may ridicule me–I am quite willing that you should–I am a fit subject, no doubt. But I think if you knew what I have gone through these last few years you would rather pity me. And if they knew”–he nodded towards the college at which the dons were severally arriving–“it is just possible they would do the same.”

“He do look ill and worn-out, it is true!” said a woman.

Sue’s face grew more emotional; but though she stood close to Jude she was screened.

“I may do some good before I am dead–be a sort of success as a frightful example of what not to do; and so illustrate a moral story,” continued Jude, beginning to grow bitter, though he had opened serenely enough. “I was, perhaps, after all, a paltry victim to the spirit of mental and social restlessness that makes so many unhappy in these days!”

“Don’t tell them that!” whispered Sue with tears, at perceiving Jude’s state of mind. “You weren’t that. You struggled nobly to acquire knowledge, and only the meanest souls in the world would blame you!”

Jude shifted the child into a more easy position on his arm, and concluded: “And what I appear, a sick and poor man, is not the worst of me. I am in a chaos of principles–groping in the dark–acting by instinct and not after example. Eight or nine years ago when I came here first, I had a neat stock of fixed opinions, but they dropped away one by one; and the further I get the less sure I am. I doubt if I have anything more for my present rule of life than following inclinations which do me and nobody else any harm, and actually give pleasure to those I love best. There, gentlemen, since you wanted to know how I was getting on, I have told you. Much good may it do you! I cannot explain further here. I perceive there is something wrong somewhere in our social formulas: what it is can only be discovered by men or women with greater insight than mine–if, indeed, they ever discover it–at least in our time. ‘For who knoweth what is good for man in this life?–and who can tell a man what shall be after him under the sun?'”

“Hear, hear,” said the populace.

Though he begins with this failed efforts to attain a degree from Christminster, Jude shifts to the larger theme in the tale he relates, one I was less aware of as a teenager. It is surely a tragedy that Jude was unable to attend Christminster, but the far greater tragedy, the one that occurs later in the novel, is the one that befalls he and Sue because they have challenged society’s “social formulas” and at least one of them is not strong enough to bear the burden of that defiance.

Since Hardy wrote the novel, education has come a long ways and poor students have an infinitely better chance of earning a college degree than Jude did, though I have to believe that there are still thousands of “Judes” in the world whose dream of academic success are thwarted. There’s no way to keep people from making “wrong” choices in their life, but let’s hope society finds ways to ensure that everyone who works hard to get a college degree can do so. When I see recent trends, particularly escalating costs, I fear that society may actually moving in the wrong direction, ironic when we consider society’s growing need for educated workers.

Mea Culpa

It’s been a slow week on this blog for many reasons. Probably most importantly, the weather has been terrible for photography. Not only has there been near constant rain, the clouds have been so low and so thick for the most part that any pictures I might have taken would have been underexposed.

I’ve also had to attend to some personal matters, like getting a driver’s license and attending a memorial for a friend from the YMCA.

I’ve been rereading Jude the Obscure and am only about three fourths of the way through the book. And although I regularly comment on poetry books or non-fiction as I read, I find it nearly impossible to do the same for novels. Perhaps that’s merely the result of habit, but it seems nearly impossible to discuss themes without considering the whole book.

I’m also discovering that I no longer have the ability to sit down and read a book straight through like I used to do in college. It wasn’t uncommon to read a novel in a single day, usually a Saturday or Sunday, or two days at the most. I’ve never been particularly fond of dragging a book out over a week or two, no matter how the work was assigned by an instructor.

Perhaps it’s just harder to maintain interest when it’s a second or third reading, as this is for Jude The Obscure. Of course, there’s very little suspense to drive me as there is in a first reading.

At times I worry that I may be losing some of my ability to really concentrate for long periods of time. It may not be a good sign that I’d rather check Facebook to see if someone has made a move in Scrabble or Lexulous than read 120 pages of Hardy straight through.

It may just be that as I’ve aged I have less tolerance for metaphors like this one

He retired to rest early, but his sleep was fitful from the sense that Sue was so near at hand. At some time near two o’clock, when he was beginning to sleep more soundly, he was aroused by a shrill squeak that had been familiar enough to him when he lived regularly at Marygreen. It was the cry of a rabbit caught in a gin. As was the little creature’s habit, it did not soon repeat its cry; and probably would not do so more than once or twice, but would remain bearing its torture till the morrow, when the trapper would come and knock it on the head.

now than I did when I first read the book while in high school. I suspect this all seemed new and exciting when I was eternally optimistic, but in retrospect it seems more depressing than I would have thought.

This may be the very same book I read as a high school senior, but I’m finding it difficult to remember what I thought about the book then. I am sure I’m seeing it quite differently this time around.

Still, I’m pretty sure I’ll have the book finished by this weekend and will be posting more regularly next week. I’d like to promise some new photos, but when I look at the seven day forecast there’s nothing but rain showing up, not even cloudy days. Of course, the weathermen have been known to be wrong, but around here they’re most apt to be wrong when they’re predicting sunshine, not rain.

Age Discrimination

My birthday is coming up and I had to renew my driver’s license this year. Since Leslie got a notice saying she could renew her license online this year, I was hoping I could do the same. Turns out that anyone over 65 has to go in and renew their license. To put it politely, I was rather pissed off that I couldn’t renew online just because I was 65. It reeks of age discrimination to me, and there’s far too much of that for my taste.

I checked online yesterday and the closest office to me has been closed down, probably because of a major budget shortfall because of the recession. When I checked the next closest office, it reported an hour-and-a-half wait. Since those are usually optimistic estimations, I decided I should go another day.

That turned out to be today. Leslie told me that the best time to go was early in the morning. So I got there about ten minutes before the office opened. I was a little shocked to see a long line of old folks lined up at the door when I arrived, at least it seemed long to me. The gentleman in front of me said that he was there the day before and this was a “short” line in comparison. He left the day before when he guesstimated that his wait would actually be nearly three hours.

Standing in line, I suggested that recent budget cuts seemed to have made the lines much longer, not surprising since they’ve closed several offices as part of budget cuts, and apparently those cuts haven’t been offset enough by people renewing their license online.

I was a little surprised by others’ responses, though I probably shouldn’t have been. One gentleman was outraged that they had made cuts in state offices that provided direct service to the public, arguing that service to the public should have been their first priority (particularly service to those of us waiting outside the licensing door). I didn’t bother telling him that I thought it was more important to finance medical care for the poor and maintain realistic class size than it was to keep lines short at the license office.

A gentleman driving a Cadillac suggested cuts weren’t necessary at all, that the State was making them in places like the licensing office in order to increase support for raising taxes next year.

Luckily, the staff seemed relatively efficient, and despite long lines I barely had enough time to open my copy of Hardy’s Jude the Obscure before my number was called.

Tess: A Pure Woman

It’s hard to imagine the critical reception Hardy’s Tess of the D’Urbervilles received when it was first published. Yet, “Literature at the Turn of the Century (1890 – 1918)” states:

“In two of Hardy’s final novels, Tess of the D’Urbervilles (1891) and Jude the Obscure (1896), his bleak and open treatment of sexuality and marriage caused such an outrage among the puritanical Victorian public that he was deeply disillusioned. Hardy abandoned fiction, and for the rest of his life wrote only poetry.”

Hardy’s title “TESS OF THE D’URBERVILLES: A Pure Woman” makes it clear that he’s attacking the Victorian attitude toward premarital sex, particularly the double standard. In order to prove that Tess was a “ A Pure Woman,” Hardy shows that Tess was a victim of both Alec’s taking advantage of her innocence and her mother’s efforts to marry her off to help the family. Alec’s own words prove that he acted badly:

“One would think you were a princess from your manner, in addition to a true and original d’Urberville–ha! ha! Well, Tess, dear, I can say no more. I suppose I am a bad fellow–a damn bad fellow. I was born bad, and I have lived bad, and I shall die bad in all probability. But, upon my lost soul, I won’t be bad towards you again, Tess. And if certain circumstances should arise–you understand–in which you are in the least need, the least difficulty, send me one line, and you shall have by return whatever you require. I may not be at Trantridge–I am going to London for a time–I can’t stand the old woman. But all letters will be forwarded.”

Of course an observant reader didn’t need the confession to know Alec was a villain, it’s obvious from the first time he meets Tess and hires her in order to seduce her.

It’s equally obvious that Tess’s mother is more interested in getting a rich son-in-law to help support her family than she is in protecting Tess. She pushes Tess into seeking help from rich “relatives” despite Tess’s reluctance to do so. She tacitly admits her guilt when Tess returns home pregnant:

“And yet th’st not got him to marry ‘ee!” reiterated her mother. “Any woman would have done it but you, after that!”

“Perhaps any woman would except me.”

“It would have been something like a story to come back with, if you had!” continued Mrs Durbeyfield, ready to burst into tears of vexation. “After all the talk about you and him which has reached us here, who would have expected it to end like this! Why didn’t ye think of doing some good for your family instead o’ thinking only of yourself? See how I’ve got to teave and slave, and your poor weak father with his heart clogged like a dripping-pan. I did hope for something to come out o’ this! To see what a pretty pair you and he made that day when you drove away together four months ago! See what he has given us–all, as we thought, because we were his kin. But if he’s not, it must have been done because of his love for ‘ee. And yet you’ve not got him to marry!”

Get Alec d’Urberville in the mind to marry her! He marry HER! On matrimony he had never once said a word. And what if he had? How a convulsive snatching at social salvation might have impelled her to answer him she could not say. But her poor foolish mother little knew her present feeling towards this man. Perhaps it was unusual in the circumstances, unlucky, unaccountable; but there it was; and this, as she had said, was what made her detest herself. She had never wholly cared for him; she did not at all care for him now. She had dreaded him, winced before him, succumbed to adroit advantages he took of her helplessness; then, temporarily blinded by his ardent manners, had been stirred to confused surrender awhile: had suddenly despised and disliked him, and had run away. That was all. Hate him she did not quite; but he was dust and ashes to her, and even for her name’s sake she scarcely wished to marry him.

“You ought to have been more careful if you didn’t mean to get him to make you his wife!”

“O mother, my mother!” cried the agonized girl, turning passionately upon her parent as if her poor heart would break. “How could I be expected to know? I was a child when I left this house four months ago. Why didn’t you tell me there was danger in men-folk? Why didn’t you warn me? Ladies know what to fend hands against, because they read novels that tell them of these tricks; but I never had the chance o’ learning in that way, and you did not help me!”

Her mother was subdued.

“I thought if I spoke of his fond feelings and what they might lead to, you would be hontish wi’ him and lose your chance,” she murmured, wiping her eyes with her apron. “Well, we must make the best of it, I suppose. ‘Tis nater, after all, and what do please God!”

Strangely enough, at least on her final point, Hardy seems to agree with her. It is 
“nature, after all.” Perhaps in the most controversial claim of all, he suggests that the guilt Tess feels is un-natural:

But this encompassment of her own characterization, based on shreds of convention, peopled by phantoms and voices antipathetic to her, was a sorry and mistaken creation of Tess’s fancy–a cloud of moral hobgoblins by which she was terrified without reason. It was they that were out of harmony with the actual world, not she. Walking among the sleeping birds in the hedges, watching the skipping rabbits on a moonlit warren, or standing under a pheasant-laden bough, she looked upon herself as a figure of Guilt intruding into the haunts of Innocence. But all the while she was making a distinction where there was no difference. Feeling herself in antagonism, she was quite in accord. She had been made to break an accepted social law, but no law known to the environment in which she fancied herself such an anomaly.

Pronouncing “social law” to be little more than “moral hobgoblins” “out of harmony with the actual world” is bound to draw criticism, no matter how valid the point may be. I tend to be more and more cynical as I grow older, but I’m not sure even I would go that far. At the very least, though, it should make one wonder how much of our “social law” is “out of harmony with the natural world.”

Hardy argues that at the same time her experience with Alec had made her stronger society’s values incapacitated her:

“By experience,” says Roger Ascham, “we find out a short way by a long wandering.” Not seldom that long wandering unfits us for further travel, and of what use is our experience to us then? Tess Durbeyfield’s experience was of this incapacitating kind. At last she had learned what to do; but who would now accept her doing?

If before going to the d’Urbervilles’ she had vigorously moved under the guidance of sundry gnomic texts and phrases known to her and to the world in general, no doubt she would never have been imposed on. But it had not been in Tess’s power–nor is it in anybody’s power–to feel the whole truth of golden opinions while it is possible to profit by them. She–and how many more–might have ironically said to God with Saint Augustine: “Thou hast counselled a better course than Thou hast permitted.”

Simply put, we can all learn from inevitable mistakes, and it seems wrong to condemn someone just for their mistakes. We must also consider if they’ve learned from their mistakes and become better human beings because of them.

As it turns out, it is Tess’s sharpened perceptions that attract Clare to her rather than to the other girls he works with:

He was surprised to find this young woman–who though but a milkmaid had just that touch of rarity about her which might make her the envied of her housemates–shaping such sad imaginings. She was expressing in her own native phrases–assisted a little by her Sixth Standard training–feelings which might almost have been called those of the age–the ache of modernism. The perception arrested him less when he reflected that what are called advanced ideas are really in great part but the latest fashion in definition–a more accurate expression, by words in _logy_ and _ism_, of sensations which men and women have vaguely grasped for centuries.

Still, it was strange that they should have come to her while yet so young; more than strange; it was impressive, interesting, pathetic. Not guessing the cause, there was nothing to remind him that experience is as to intensity, and not as to duration. Tess’s passing corporeal blight had been her mental harvest.

I’m not sure “the ache of modernism” would make a woman more appealing to me — I surely have enough of that on my own — but it’s proof that her mistake weighed on her and experience made her a better person.

No doubt it was a mistake for Tess not to tell Angel about her past, following her mother’s advice (she should certainly have realized what kind of advice her mother gave by this point in her life) but she did try to tell Angel that she was not worthy of him. It was inevitable that Angel would have eventually heard of it, and nothing could have come from finding it out after the fact. Of course, Angel chose to tell Tess of his own discretions AFTER their marriage, too:

“Well, a certain place is paved with good intentions, and having felt all that so strongly, you will see what a terrible remorse it bred in me when, in the midst of my fine aims for other people, I myself fell.”

He then told her of that time of his life to which allusion has been made when, tossed about by doubts and difficulties in London, like a cork on the waves, he plunged into eight-and-forty hours’ dissipation with a stranger.

“Happily I awoke almost immediately to a sense of my folly,” he continued. “I would have no more to say to her, and I came home. I have never repeated the offence. But I felt I should like to treat you with perfect frankness and honour, and I could not do so without telling this. Do you forgive me?”

She pressed his hand tightly for an answer.

“Then we will dismiss it at once and for ever!–too painful as it is for the occasion–and talk of something lighter.”

“O, Angel–I am almost glad–because now YOU can forgive ME! I have not made my confession. I have a confession, too–remember, I said so.”

“Ah, to be sure! Now then for it, wicked little one.”

“Perhaps, although you smile, it is as serious as yours, or more so.”

“It can hardly be more serious, dearest.”

“It cannot–O no, it cannot!” She jumped up joyfully at the hope. “No, it cannot be more serious, certainly,” she cried, “because ’tis just the same! I will tell you now.”

She sat down again.

Their hands were still joined. The ashes under the grate were lit by the fire vertically, like a torrid waste. Imagination might have beheld a Last Day luridness in this red-coaled glow, which fell on his face and hand, and on hers, peering into the loose hair about her brow, and firing the delicate skin underneath. A large shadow of her shape rose upon the wall and ceiling. She bent forward, at which each diamond on her neck gave a sinister wink like a toad’s; and pressing her forehead against his temple she entered on her story of her acquaintance with Alec d’Urberville and its results, murmuring the words without flinching, and with her eyelids drooping down.

This confession gives Tess the confidence to reveal what she has always wanted to reveal to Angel but had been afraid to do so, apparently still too naive to realize the double standard that Angel, like society, held to.

Tess may have been shocked that after admitting to having sex before marriage that Angel is unwilling to forgive her for precisely the same thing, though the reader probably shouldn’t be. I’m sure a Victorian reader wouldn’t have been.

“Forgive me as you are forgiven! _I_ forgive YOU, Angel.”

“You–yes, you do.”

“But you do not forgive me?”

“O Tess, forgiveness does not apply to the case! You were one person; now you are another. My God–how can forgiveness meet such a grotesque–prestidigitation as that!”

He paused, contemplating this definition; then suddenly broke into horrible laughter–as unnatural and ghastly as a laugh in hell.

“Don’t–don’t! It kills me quite, that!” she shrieked. “O have mercy upon me–have mercy!”

He did not answer; and, sickly white, she jumped up.

“Angel, Angel! what do you mean by that laugh?” she cried out. “Do you know what this is to me?”

He shook his head.

“I have been hoping, longing, praying, to make you happy! I have thought what joy it will be to do it, what an unworthy wife I shall be if I do not! That’s what I have felt, Angel!”

“I know that.”

“I thought, Angel, that you loved me–me, my very self! If it is I you do love, O how can it be that you look and speak so? It frightens me! Having begun to love you, I love you for ever–in all changes, in all disgraces, because you are yourself. I ask no more. Then how can you, O my own husband, stop loving me?”

“I repeat, the woman I have been loving is not you.”

“But who?”

“Another woman in your shape.”

The problem, of course, is that Angel loved the woman of his imagination rather than Tess herself. I suspect we are all guilty of that, certainly when we first fall in love with someone.

The irony is that though Angel can admit

“Angel!–Angel! I was a child–a child when it happened! I knew nothing of men.”

“You were more sinned against than sinning, that I admit.”

“Then will you not forgive me?”

“I do forgive you, but forgiveness is not all.”

“And love me?”

To this question he did not answer.

he still can’t love her even though he thinks she was sinned against, not a sinner. How can someone blame the victim for what’s happened to them; that can only be justified by a “cloud of moral hobgoblins.” Though Hardy blames that more on Angel Clare than on Tess:

This night the woman of his belittling deprecations was thinking how great and good her husband was. But over them both there hung a deeper shade than the shade which Angel Clare perceived, namely, the shade of his own limitations. With all his attempted independence of judgement this advanced and well-meaning young man, a sample product of the last five-and-twenty years, was yet the slave to custom and conventionality when surprised back into his early teachings. No prophet had told him, and he was not prophet enough to tell himself, that essentially this young wife of his was as deserving of the praise of King Lemuel as any other woman endowed with the same dislike of evil, her moral value having to be reckoned not by achievement but by tendency. Moreover, the figure near at hand suffers on such occasion, because it shows up its sorriness without shade; while vague figures afar off are honoured, in that their distance makes artistic virtues of their stains. In considering what Tess was not, he overlooked what she was, and forgot that the defective can be more than the entire.

If Clare had been as enlightened as the narrator would have him be, he would have maintained an independent judgement that would have allowed him to see through society’s condemnation of Tess for her past actions and see her true self, her “tendency” toward moral goodness. Unfortunately, faced with a crisis he fell back on the “custom and conventionality” of “his early teachings,” a Hardy theme that becomes even more prominent in Jude the Obscure.

The tragedy, and the novel seems as close to a true Tragedy as any modern novel I can remember, is that despite their unique strengths, their goodness, neither is able to free themselves from society’s conventions and, thus, seem fated to unhappiness. Only when it is too late does Angel seem to free himself enough to accept Tess for who she really is:

During this time of absence he had mentally aged a dozen years. What arrested him now as of value in life was less its beauty than its pathos. Having long discredited the old systems of mysticism, he now began to discredit the old appraisements of morality. He thought they wanted readjusting. Who was the moral man? Still more pertinently, who was the moral woman? The beauty or ugliness of a character lay not only in its achievements, but in its aims and impulses; its true history lay, not among things done, but among things willed.

How, then, about Tess?

Viewing her in these lights, a regret for his hasty judgement began to oppress him. Did he reject her eternally, or did he not? He could no longer say that he would always reject her, and not to say that was in spirit to accept her now.

Of course. the reader may find himself left wondering how one measures “things willed.” If it’s difficult to judge people based on their past actions, isn’t it more difficult to judge them on their intentions?